They stand to look a lot different than a year ago, but the excitement level remains the same as it would for any other regular season opener.
With training camp and the pre-season in the rear-view mirror, the focus has shifted to regular season play for the Soo Greyhounds, who open up their 2022-23 Ontario Hockey League schedule Friday night at home against the North Bay Battalion.
Having lost seven of their top eight scorers to graduation, a lot will be made of the inexperience factor for the club this season.
For general manager Kyle Raftis, the hope is that the tone those players set will leave a lasting impression on the players that remain.
“The returning guys (last year) really set a tone on what the expectation is going to be every day,” Raftis said. “How they prepare, how they practice, all those things. On the other side of it, a lot of those guys that set the tone all signed NHL contracts, which is what these guys want to do.”
“For some of those young guys, although it was their first year last year, it was a good group to be around and learn from,” Raftis said.
Entering the season, some of the focus for the team shifts to NHL drafted players Bryce McConnell-Barker and Kirill Kudryavtsev.
“Bryce and Kirill are two examples of guys that, if they didn’t play on as deep a team as they were on last year, probably would have got a lot more credit for they years they had,” Raftis said.
McConnell-Barker, a New York Rangers prospect, is the Greyhounds top returning scorer while Kudryavtsev, a Vancouver Canucks draft pick, saw time in the Greyhounds top four on the blueline.
“Both of them had outstanding years and were still kind of underrated by the end of the year, which is one of those things that is going to set them up nicely to show everyone what they can to this year,” Raftis said.
On the injury front for the Greyhounds, forward Owen Allard will be out long-term, but defenceman Luc Brzustowski, who missed time during training camp, has skated this week and Raftis confirmed on Thursday night that the sophomore defenceman is ready to get back into the lineup.
On Thursday afternoon the team announced the acquisition of overage forward Mark Duarte off waivers from the Hamilton Bulldogs.
Duarte had 10 goals and 24 points in 53 games last season with the Bulldogs before adding three points in 17 playoff games during Hamilton’s run to an OHL title.
“He’s a big player, he skates extremely well, he doesn’t cheat you ever on effort,” Raftis said. “He’s a real leader in the room.”
“He’s somebody that, as he gains some more confidence in his last year, he can contribute more on (the offensive) side of things,” Raftis also said.
The team made an additional roster move as they added Duarte to the overage mix.
Forward Keegan McMullen, who was preparing to enter his first full season with the team after being acquired from Peterborough last year, is no longer with the club.
Raftis confirmed Thursday night that the overage forward passed through waivers and will attend the University of Windsor this season
The overage group entering Friday’s game includes Duarte, forward Kalvyn Watson, and defenceman Ryan Thompson, a summer acquisition from the Erie Otters.