METRO VANCOUVER - The Vancouver Giants will have to wait another year before elite prospect Tyler Benson can play full-time for them but they won't have to wait much longer to see him at his initial WHL training camp.
Benson, the first overall pick in last May's bantam draft, will be on the ice Aug. 22 at the Ladner Leisure Centre when the Giants open camp for the 2013-14 season. Coach Don Hay will finally have the opportunity to view Benson up close. So far, all he has are reports on the talented 15-year-old from Edmonton.
“I'm really anxious to see Tyler play,” Hay said this week after returning to Ladner from his off-season home in Kamloops. “I've heard so many good things about him and I'm sure he won't disappoint.”
Due to his age, Benson is only eligible to play five regular-season games for the Giants until his midget season at Kelowna's Pursuit of Excellence Hockey Academy has ended. However, there is nothing to prevent him from showing his stuff during camp scrimmages and WHL pre-season games. Benson, a 5-11, 180-pound left winger, collected a stupendous 146 points in 33 regular-season games last season as a bantam.
“It will be fun to see how Tyler fits in,” said Hay. “Everybody I've talked to who has been around him, or coached against him, has had really positive things to say.”
Hay has more on his mind that just a Benson sighting, though The Giants finished dead last in the WHL last season, winning a wretched 21 times in 72 games. They had goaltending and injury issues and, after a 2-9-0-0 start, things never improved. They wound up trading some of their top veterans for youth and draft picks and took it on the chin. Pow!
“We didn't go into last year thinking it was going to be a rebuilding year until after 10 games,” Hay explained. “But once you get behind the 8-ball, it's tough to recover. This season, we want to get back to the playoffs. That's our goal first and foremost. Everybody wants to make the playoffs. Nobody wants to miss them.
“I think we're still building. We still have young players who are learning and growing but we do have more stability in key positions like goaltending and defence.”
Netminders Payton Lee and Jared Rathjen will both return while NHL draft picks Brett Kulak (Flames) and Mason Geertsen (Avalanche) will anchor the blueline and be joined by fellow returnees Blake Orban, Tyler Morrison, Arvin Atwal and Reid Zalitach.
Russian defenceman Dmitri Osipov, taken first overall in the 2013 CHL import draft, is on his way and the Giants hope he will have an impact as well. The Giants also own the rights to 20-year-old Montreal Canadiens' draft pick Dalton Thrower, a second-rounder in 2012.
“We talked to Montreal about Dalton, who isn't signed, and if he doesn't make their farm team in Hamilton, he'll be back with us,” Hay said. “So he is a question mark.”
Thrower isn't the only question mark for one of the Giants’ three 20-year-old roster spots. Left winger Cain Franson is coming back but forwards Marek Tvrdon, the Slovakian import, and Tim Traber, the latter just picked up on waivers, are in doubt.
Tvrdon, a Detroit Red Wings' draft pick, missed most of last season due to a blood clot. He is eligible to play for the Wings' AHL farm team in Grand Rapids so his fate will be determined by Detroit GM Ken Holland, not the Giants. Traber, meanwhile, is trying out for a team in Switzerland.
Franson and Oilers' fourth-round pick Jackson Houck are expected to again lead the Giants offensively but Hay isn't certain about his No. 1 centre, or even his captain. Usually he has selected someone to wear the 'C' by this point in the summer.
“This is the first time we don't have a captain but we do have players in mind,” Hay said. “I think we're going to let it play out a little bit in training camp. Traditionally, it's always been a homegrown guy.”
Hay cited abrasive fourth-year winger Dalton Sward as a 'homegrown' candidate along with Kulak, Franson, Houck and even Geertsen, although he only joined the Giants a month into last season in the David Musil trade.
G-NOTES: There is one new face on the Giants coaching staff as Matt Erhart, 34, has replaced Glen Hanlon... Forward Jakob Stukel, who played six games for the Giants last season, is expected to miss most, if not all, of the 2013-14 season after undergoing ACL knee surgery on Tuesday. He was injured during summer training... The Giants' first pre-season game is Aug. 31 against Kelowna. Their first regular-season game, and home opener, is Sept. 20 versus Victoria.
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