These are the top 3 things that I will be looking for today and the rest of the weekend:
-Portland has lost Brendan Leipsic to the pros from the top line he was on with Nic Petan and Paul Bittner and Taylor Leier (also to the pros) off his line with Oliver Bjorkstrand and Chase De Leo.
These two lines had been playing mostly with each other since the beginning of the 2013 season. In the case of the De Leo unit they also played together a lot in the 2012-13 season. So the major question will be: will Kompon just try to fill in the two empty slots, or will he move Bjorkstrand up to the top unit with Bittner and Petan? This would give some combination of Alex Schoenborn, Keegan Iverson and Dominic Turgeon the opportunity to move up to the top 6. Schoenborn also played a lot with Leipsic and Petan last year and so is an option on the top line.
Because they are stacked at the Center position, there is a chance that either De Leo or Turgeon gets moved to the wing of one of the top two lines. Either way, it will certainly be interesting to see which line combinations catch fire and start the season together.
2) How will the young forwards fare and is there spots for those eligible?
-Recently signed 2014 Bantam first round pick: Center Cody Glass will be getting his first WHL action this weekend, as will signed 17 year old Center Alex Overhardt and unsigned 17 year old RW Evan Weinger. As Glass, is 15, he is restricted to 5 games of WHL regular season action this year. I'm very excited to see how the Hawks first top round Bantam Pick since Nic Petan in 2010 fares against older competition. Also, Overhardt will be vying for a spot in the bottom 6 with 20 year olds: Trent Lofthouse, Adam de Champlain and Trace Elson (probably will only keep 2 at most), 19 year old RW Tyson Predinchuk, 17 year olds Colton Veloso and Ethan Price and of course 16 year olds: Skyler McKenzie and Reed Morison.
With Turgeon, Schoenborn or Iverson slotted for one of those 3rd line roles, it looks like there is only spots for 7 others (if they keep 2 extra forwards, which is the likely outcome). Preseason is when these 7 spots will be won or lost. If the Hawks keep 2 of the over age forwards, then the 6, signed and eligible forwards remaining will try to win one of remaining 5 spots in the final 23 man roster. This means one, non over age forward will be left out.
The good news for all of these players though, is that Hawks will be missing, at least 6 forwards at NHL camps (most of which are starting on September 13th). How long these players will be gone for, remains to be seen, but it gives each one of these forwards a longer opportunity to earn a spot. Of note also is the fact that Bittner will miss time as the All Americans Prospect Game on September 25th.
3) How good will the defense be?
-For the second season in a row, most of the unknowns on the roster reside on the back end. The Hawks are bringing 11 D-men up with them to Everett, all of which have signed WHL education contracts. Two of these D-men are over agers: Joshua Smith and Josh Hanson and one is eligible for the AHL: Anton Cederholm. Smith has only played a handful of WHL games, so there is a lot of unknowns with his play. Hanson is a known commodity, but has never really fit the system the Hawks run. Though he is eligible for the pros, Cederholm will, most likely come back and can be expected to be the Hawks go to guy on the blue line.
As for the other 8 guys on the roster: 17 year old Keoni Texeira is the only complete lock, as his play last season proved that he should play a huge role in this year's team. Black Heinrich was drafted by the Washington Capitals, but was very tentative in his only WHL action last year. 17 year old Nick Heid is a guy the Hawks are hoping they can count on to play a top 4 role, but has never played a WHL game. 18 year old Zach Paterson has shown flashes, but really needs to have an amazing preseason to cement a spot on the team. 19 year old Layne Viveiros played some power play quarterback last year and may be kept as a veteran who can fill this role. 17 year old: Justin Greer and 16 year olds: Carter Czaikowski and Brendan De Jong are all hoping to make a big impression and win a spot. It is likely the Hawks will put 7 D-men on their final 23 man roster, leaving 4 guys out.
Despite all of these unknowns; one thing is clear: we will know far more about these guys after the 5 preseason games, then we know now and hopefully we will be closer to some answers.