There won’t be nearly the quantity, but Lorne Frey still expects ample quality at this year’s version of Kelowna Rockets’ rookie camp.
With around 100 players set to take to the ice Thursday at Prospera Place—down from more than 150 last year—it will be one of the smallest rookie crops ever for the Western Hockey League club.
The Rockets’ director of player personnel said several factors have contributed to lower numbers, including cost and other teams being more proactive.
“It’s not cheap to travel and I think a lot of people think twice about that and want to stay closer to home than they have in the past,” said Frey. “What you’re seeing is a lot more players going to camps that are close to where they live.
“A lot of other teams are making more calls now, getting kids to their camps so that could be another reason.”
Still, Frey is encouraged by this year’s crop of mostly 1999-born players, led by first-round bantam draft pick Jonathan Smart. The first Kelowna product ever chosen by the Rockets in the opening round, Smart played defence last season in Penticton for Okanagan Hockey Academy.
The son of former WHL player Jason Smart, Jonathan took a bit of a growth spurt over the last few months and has Frey looking forward to his next few seasons in Rocket colours.
“He’s smart, he’s skilled and if he keeps growing, he’s going to be a big, powerful defenseman,” said Frey. “We’re looking forward to seeing him develop.”
The Rockets didn’t have a second or third round pick in the 2014 bantam draft, but had two picks in the fourth round and 11 choices in total.
And along with a few players who have been listed since the draft, Frey likes the overall quality of the rookie camp roster.
“We’re looking for some surprises, we think we might have some players who were drafted in the later rounds that have the potential to be very good,” he said. “The quality, we think, will be fine.”
With Frey and about 10 other of the team’s scouts watching from on high, Rockets’ rookie camp will run from Thursday through Sunday at Prospera Place.
The club’s main training camp, under the direction of new head coach Dan Lambert, will begin Tuesday morning.