Battles for spots on the Rockets 2023-24 roster intensifies as training camp rolls on

Rocket battles heating up

Who will win the job of backing up Jari Kykkanen between the pipes for the Kelowna Rockets this coming season?

Who will grab the last two or three spots on the blue line and the last four or five spots up front?

Those are questions head coach Kris Mallette and the rest of the Rockets brain trust will have to determine through the balance of training camp and four pre season games.

Through the trade market last season and during the off season, the Rockets added five WHL veterans including four forwards and defenceman Ethan Mittelsteadt.

They also acquired highly touted defenceman Landon Cowper and forward Hiroki Gojsic (Penticton Vees) along with Czechia defenceman Marek Rocak who joined the team midway through last season.

"Back-up goaltender for sure," said Mallette when asked about the battles in camp.

"Jari has come in and at this point has proven himself as a number one, but the acquisitions we have made, Hiroki Gojsik, Tij Iginla, Michael Cicek...I would say the guys that are battling would be that 10 to 14 - we want to carry 14 forwards - so some of those returning players that were in those positions last year will be competing hard for those this year."

Nothing, says Mallette, will just be handed out.

"There can't be a level of comfort thinking what was given last year will be the same.

"We've got a slogan, 'everything is earned.' A great team does things two ways, they do it right or they do it again and that is our motto. Guys are going to be competing.

"We've got depth within our lineup to be able to move guys around I think this year opposed to last year. That will be the competition for sure."

The Rockets have four goaltenders in camp vying for the backup role behind Kykkanen, 2022 fifth round draft pick Nathan Kam as well as three camp invitees, 18-year-old Adam Kelly and 17-year-olds Kael Svenson and Ben Polhill.

Through the early days of camp, Mallette says the coaching staff have worked on compete levels rather than systems.

"We've got a game in Kamloops. We're trying to ramp it up a little bit but I also want to see the compete within our group and the level of competitiveness whether it's the younger guys or older guys, and seeing what they're willing to do," said Mallette.

"The practices have been short, but they've been deliberate and hard, so our guys have done really well."

The Rockets still have 50 players in camp. That number is expected to be reduced following the opening set of pre season games this weekend.

Kelowna kicks off the exhibition campaign in Kamloops Friday before hosting the Blazers Saturday.

Two dollars from every pre season ticket sold will go toward Cops for Kids.

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