In junior hockey every offseason is intriguing as teams evaluate and get ready for training camp. There will be big decisions that need to be made and a direction to be decided on. Every team will have choices to undertake. Many teams will have to decide which 20-year-old players to bring back, which listed players to invite to camp and some decisions are dependent on NHL teams when it comes to pro drafted players. Trades in junior hockey also play a large roll in the offseason.
The Lethbridge Hurricanes are no different. Heading into a new season, the team will face some different challenges than in the past. So, with that, here are three big question marks headlining their offseason.
Dylan Cozens and Calen Addison
The return of Dylan Cozens and Calen Addison will be giant factors for the Hurricanes and what that could mean for the team’s depth. It will look much different if both or either one of Cozens or Addison are in the lineup. These NHL drafted players are All Stars at the WHL level and last season were counted on to provide and be the spark for the team. Cozens led the team in scoring all season, even with a few missed games while away at the World Junior Championship.
Cozens, who was drafted seventh overall by the Buffalo Sabres in 2019, is in an interesting spot with his NHL future. The team made big front office changes last week that leave his future up in the air. The direction the Sabres wish to go will dictate where Cozens plays in 2020-21. If returned to the WHL, the Yukon native will no doubt be one of the premier players in the league. Cozens was a co-captain last season and would most likely return to the role this coming season.
Addison was originally drafted in 2018 by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round. Later traded to Minnesota, the now-Wild prospect could be making the jump to pro hockey, but in this uncertain times its unclear where he will play. Of course, the Hurricanes would love to have the Brandon, MB native back. Addison is a special teams monster and last season helped the Hurricanes to the WHL’s seventh-best power play.
The Hurricanes are facing a bit of turnover. Over the last couple of offseasons, the leadership and veteran group of the team has graduated or moved on to the pro levels. These players leaving opens up leadership spots and roles for other, younger players. But who is in that next group?
Quickly, Cozens and Addison find themselves at the top of the list, again if they return. The Hurricanes could also look to their group of 20-year-olds, which includes Mitchell Prowse, Dino Kambeitz, or Oliver Okuliar. It is pretty typical for WHL teams to use their coverage players in leadership roles, so it would come as little surprise if one or more of those three are leaned on. However, the Hurricanes could look to a younger group. Names like Alex Cotton or Justin Hall come to mind. Both of those players are coming off an impressive season and could be primed for leadership responsibility.
Cotton was a big surprise for the Hurricanes this past season. The 2020 NHL draft-eligible defenceman not only led the team in scoring from the back end, but led the entire WHL in defencemen scoring with 67 points in 63 games played, 15 points ahead of his teammate Addison.
Hall also had a remarkable season, putting up career numbers with 36 points in 61 games. It’s a respectable offensive number, but what really set him apart this season was his 200-foot game and becoming a penalty-killing machine for the Hurricanes. The Edmonton native took every minute given to him and showed what he could do while pulling his linemates along. Both of these players showed they are primed for bigger roles.
One thing is for certain, head coach Brent Kisio will have no shortage of options whether he chooses to go with veterans or if he relies on some of the younger players in what is shaping up to be a season of rebuilding or retooling.
Pandemic Leads to Uncertain Times
The effects of COVID-19 on Junior hockey are yet to be seen. The Hurricanes are community-owned like many teams across the CHL and rely a lot on gate revenue to keep moving forward, which causes a big question. Can they play without fans? Limited fans? With the WHL announcing last week that they are aiming for a close to normal start time (Oct. 2, 2020) this is the biggest question facing the Hurricanes this offseason. While Oct. 2 is a lofty goal for the WHL teams, will have to plan as if that is the opening day.
This is an unprecedented time and since we haven’t faced a global pandemic like this in our lifetimes this may be the hardest question to answer. There is no manual or playbook for this situation, so we may see teams planning, trading, or otherwise operating as normal, or we may see more caution and few moves. There is just no way to predict how this will affect the league or the Hurricanes this offseason, let alone long-term.
There is little doubt that the Hurricanes and the WHL will put the safety of their players, coaches, executives, and fans as the top priority. Since no one can predict the future to know what the world will look like in October, making a plan could seem like a fool’s errand. However, contingency plans will be a must in trying to figure out how to deal with this unique situation.
This is an offseason unlike any past offseasons. Only time will tell how these questions will be answered. General manager Peter Anholt certainly has his work cut out for him ahead of the 2020-21 season.