It is one of the unsavoury realities of junior hockey.
One minute you’re a high draft pick, full of piss n’ vinegar, the future looks bright and all is well. A short time later you’re on the fifth line of a four-line team and wondering what your hockey future holds.
Your own team won’t play you, and when it does, not much. Other teams given the opportunity to acquire you for very little choose not to do so.
Four veteran Storm players found themselves in that situation this year. Two of them still do.
Nick Deakin-Poot, Quinn Hanna, Levi Tetrault and Liam Stevens were all third-year players surpassed by the skill of some and the promise of others.
The deck was stacked against them before training camp even began.
Tetrault cut bait and made his own deal to go play junior B hockey in Brantford. Hanna is now chasing the dream in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
That leaves Deakin-Poot and Stevens still with the Storm. Stevens played sparingly in the team’s first two games. Deakin-Poot didn’t dress.
When Givani Smith returns to health, and if James McEwan returns to the junior ranks from a pro tryout, they will slide even further down the depth chart.
Teams like to keep one or two healthy scratches. With all hands on deck the Storm would be heading for four.
They have undoubtedly been offered to other teams for very little in return, likely cleared waivers. There were apparently no takers.
All four have outgrown the leeway granted younger players. That period where “he’s just a rookie” or “it takes a while” can buy a player some time to develop and prove that they belong.
But the four were all third-year players on a team stacked with returning players and a host of new signings. Unless you’re gunning for a championship there is little room for third year players on your fourth line or as your sixth or seventh defenceman.
Stevens, the 27th overall selection in the 2015 draft, has seven goals in each of his first two seasons. Deakin-Poot, a third round pick the same year, has totalled 10 goals.
Both can skate. Both work hard. Both are good kids. It just hasn’t come together for them here.
The chances of them earning regular playing time in Guelph are slim to none.
They are in a state of limbo, hoping to prove the coaches wrong when even if they did it would be hard to move up the depth chart.
But with so many forwards on this team, and more on the horizon, the chances of them even getting a chance to play their way back into someone’s good graces seem remote.
You can’t blame the team. It’s the nature of junior hockey. Of competitive sport. If you don’t prove you’re better than the next guy, the next guy takes your spot.
Is it too late for these players? No, there are plenty of examples of players who did not blossom until the second half of their junior career.
But it is probably too late for them here in Guelph.