Kelowna Rockets open training camp with a veteran-laden lineup

Rockets ready for next step

Are the Kelowna Rocket ready to take the next step?

That's a question that will be answered in the coming weeks as the Western Hockey League team gets set to opens its 28th campaign in the city.

With 20 players returning from last year's team that battled the Kamloops Blazers for top spot in the BC Division and finished fifth in the conference, president and GM Bruce Hamilton is confident the team will be competitive this coming season.

Now, he says, they want to see players progress to the next level.

"We need to see some of these guys who were fourth line guys work their way up into the third line, and third line guys work their way to the second line," said Hamilton,

"We'll see how they come out of the summer."

While it's early in training camp, Hamilton says he's happy with the way the guys have come back.

Two players the team will be counting on this season to not only make the jump, but lead the team, Andrew Cristall and Caden Price, got a head start to their season.

Both were instrumental in helping Canada win the gold medal at the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup tournament in August.

"They are both special players," said Hamilton. Both are likely first round picks in the NHL draft, or close to that next summer. They are going to be counted on heavily.

"Andrew Cristall has had a great summer. He has another step to his game, is a little bigger and he has a skill set that is very special.

"Price is a guy I don't appreciate how good he is. He's another high, high end defenceman to come along out of our program who is going to be a high draft pick and a great pro player in the future."

Hamilton said he is also looking at some of the older group, those who played just their first full season a year ago because the 2020-2021 season was all but wiped out due to COVID, to step up.

A lot have exceptional skill sets, and need to show it now in game situations.

"The biggest challenge with this many players returning is expectations are that you naturally move up. That's not the way it works here, you have to earn your way up.

"That's something Kris has made very clear to that ll is everything has to be earned, and what you do for me today is going to be how it's based."

Hamilton added some of the younger players drafted a year ago have looked really good, creating some hotly contested battle for those final roster spots.

He says there are two or three guys they think are going to crack the team and push some of the other guys.

"That's healthy, and that is what we're all about."

One potential area of concern is the status of goaltender Talyn Boyko. The overage goaltender will miss camp while attending the New York Rangers training camp.

If he is able to secure a spot in the Rangers system, that would leave second year goaltender Jari Kykkanen to man the position.

Hamilton says the position will be up in the air until they know Boyko's future, but adds he is confident Kykkanen can carry a starters workload.

The Rockets Tuesday trimmed their training camp roster to 39, five goaltenders, 12 defencemen and 22 forwards.

They kick off their five-game pre season schedule this weekend with back-to-back games with the Kamloops Blazers.

The teams play Friday night in Kamloops before a return engagement the following night at Prospera Place.

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