The Kelowna Rockets have yet to play a regular season game with a full lineup.
That will change this weekend in Prince George when defenceman Lucas Johansen and forward Calvin Thurkauf rejoin their WHL club for a two-game set against the Cougars.
Johansen, a first-round NHL draft pick this summer, is back from the camp of the Washington Capitals, while Thurkauf returns from the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“From a numbers perspective, it’s going to help us a lot,” Rockets assistant coach Kris Mallette said of the addition of “With all the players we’ve had away, we’ve had some guys who have played a lot of hockey the last couple of weeks, quite a bit more than they’re used to.
“This will give us a more balanced attack, we’ll have 12 forwards and seven defenceman going for the first time, so that will be big for us.”
The Rockets are awaiting the return of two veteran players who also attended NHL camps—Nick Merkley (Arizona) and Dillon Dube (Calgary).
The Flames reassigned Dube to the Rockets this week but he won’t play in Prince George this weekend.
In Johansen and Thurkauf, Mallette said the Rockets are recouping two players who will have an important hand in the club’s success this season.
“We’re getting two players back who are going to be key pieces in our whole season, they’re not just fillers,” Mallette said. “They’re guys we’re going to lean heavily on. Calvin, we’ll count on him to be a top-six forward. Lucas is a skilled, top-four defenceman who will be expected to run our power play. This will strengthen our lineup, no doubt about it.”
Defenceman Devante Stephens (Buffalo) and Braydyn Chizen (Minnesota) returned to the Rockets’ lineup in a 2-1 loss to the Cougars on Wednesday night at Prospera Place.
Chizen left the game in the third period after crashing into the boards, but is expected to miss little, if any, action.
The win kept the B.C. Divisional rival Cougars (4-0-0) unbeaten this season, while the Rockets are 1-2-0.
After a tentative start Wednesday, the Rockets pressed hard late in the game but couldn’t solve Cougars’ stopper Ty Edmonds.
Kelowna bench boss Jason Smith said his club will need to get out of the gates considerably quicker on Friday night.
“Important that we come out and start the game the right way there, for sure,” Smith said. “They had momentum and built some confidence and that’s something we need to do going into Friday night’s game.
“We gotta go in and make it hard for them right from the start, make sure the compete level is there and the work ethic.”
The Rockets and Cougars will battle again Saturday night at the CN Centre, the third meeting in four days between the teams.
After this weekend’s series, Kelowna will head to Alberta next week for games in Lethbridge, Edmonton and Red Deer.
The Rockets’ next home action is Friday, Oct. 14 against the Saskatoon Blades.