Young and restless

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They are raw, wide eyed and often naïve.

It’s that unbridled enthusiasm that make 16 year-old players such nice additions to any junior hockey team.

A total of 10-16 year-old’s are attending Kelowna Rockets training camp this week.

Many are unfamiliar to the fan base, outside of forward Andrew Cristall.

The slick skating forward was the team’s first round bantam pick in 2020 and played in 14 games during the abbreviated-COVID season. He showed solid offensive instincts and will undoubtedly make the opening day roster.

Two other 16 year-old’s that I will be watching closely are Marcus Pacheco and d-man Caden Price.

Pacheco signed a standard WHL player’s contract in April. It was a pleasant surprise considering the Edmonton product was considering playing NCAA hockey and the WHL appeared to be his plan B. Pacheco is a third round pick from 2020.

Caden Price is intriguing because he comes with offensive upside. Lots of it in fact. A few years ago he had 31 goals in 31 games playing with the Saskatoon Generals. Can he translate those numbers to the WHL level? Not likely right away, but you can’t teach skill. I want to see him join the rush and throw caution to the wind in training camp. I need to see he can skate, has good edges and is comfortable handling the puck and distributing it. Tyson Barrie did it at 16 and look what he turned into.

The tough part for the coaching staff is making the decision on whether it’s best for these young players to remain with the big team where they will likely see limited ice time. While it is hard to swallow for the parent and the player, they are often served better by going back to midget for more seasoning.

The WHL is committing to dress 16 year-old players for no less than 40 games, so it’s hard for many teams to have more than two of them on its roster.