The numbers were down compared to past years, but as Lorne Frey suspected the overall quality of player was more than adequate at the 2014 edition of Kelowna Rockets’ rookie camp.
Close to 100 players, the majority born in 1999, auditioned their talents during the four-day camp which wrapped up on Sunday afternoon at Prospera Place.
“One thing that probably impressed us with a lot of these kids was their effort, their work ethic and how hard they competed throughout the whole week,” said Frey, the Rockets’ director of player personnel. “We were happy with what we saw.”
Frey and his scouting staff had plenty of time to peruse the club’s future talent, including defenceman Jonathan Smart, the Rockets’ first round choice in the 2014 bantam draft.
“Every session (Smart) got better and better,” said Frey. “He’s a nice player, moves the puck very well and his skating is really starting to take off. No question, he was the No. 1 D-man out here which, as the top pick, he should be.”
Smart, the son of former WHL defenceman Jason Smart, is the first Kelowna product ever to be chosen by the Rockets in the opening round of the bantam draft.
To get to officially step on the ice as a member of the Rockets was the realization of a childhood dream for Smart.
“To be from Kelowna and just being able to step out there and represent the Rockets is awesome,” said Smart, who plays at Okanagan Hockey Academy in Penticton. “It felt good…at first I was just trying to get my legs, but by the end of camp I think I found my stride and felt like I was doing well.”
Frey was pleased with the play of several other draft picks at camp, including fourth-round pick Jordan Sandhu and sixth-rounder Conner Bruggen-Cate, who was forced to leave camp early with an injury.
Frey added that the goaltending talent at this year’s camp is the strongest he’s seen in years and should bode well for the club’s future in net.
Smart, along with the other nine draft choices and a number of walk-ons, will remain with the Rockets for the start of main training camp, before returning to their respective midget teams.
On-ice sessions, featuring about 60 players will run from Tuesday through Friday at Prospera Place.
The Rockets will host the Kamloops Blazers in exhibition action on Saturday night.