It was a roller-coaster season: lots of promise heading in, things went to hell in a hurry, a change of direction was chosen, potential was eventually reached, it ended in heartbreak.
And like every season that doesn’t end with a win, we have questions. And maybe a few answers.
Had this team got off to at least a .500 start, it likely would have been adding players at the deadline, not moving Danny Zhilkin and Sasha Pastujov for picks and Jacob Oster for a fresh start.
But it didn’t, and now it’s a team that looks like it should be a top four squad next year.
But we said that this year.
How do they make sure they are? What happens now?
First, ownership needs to decide if the hockey operations end are back.
The team George Burnett shaped responded well to Chad Wiseman’s guidance. It’s hard to think they don’t deserve, given where this team is at this point, an opportunity to continue.
On the ice, the team has two pressing needs that won’t fix themselves.
First, they need to add an impact import player in this summer’s import draft. Not a prospect, not a 17 year old maybe or an agent’s pet project, but an NHL drafted 18 or 19 year old who is ready to play top six forward or top four defence minutes.
This team needs to improve, not bring in a project.
They don’t have room for a Leo Hafenrichter or a Niko Minkkinen. They need a Dmitri Samorukov, who in 2016 was the last time they drafted an import who made a notable contribution their first season.
Secondly, they need a top four defenceman, which may be connected to the import pick anyway. Other needs can be addressed as the season goes on and needs are better identified. But right now the team has a very good top three next year in Cam Allen, Michael Buchinger and (possibly) Chandler Romeo, but it’s thin and inexperienced after that.
Patrick Leaver and Brayden Gillespie likely start the year as the goaltending duo.
Some questions were answered.
We learned that Ryan McGuire and Charlie Paquette can make a difference on any given night, that Matt Poitras has the potential to lead the league in scoring, that Max Namestnikov brings so much more to his game than goals and that Braeden Bowman is an elite sniper when healthy.
But how quickly do the young players develop? Can McGuire, Paquette, Jake Karabela and Valentin Zhugin supply the much-needed secondary scoring on a consistent basis? Which young players are you willing to part with to get those missing pieces? Can Rowan Topp and Zach Sandhu play significant minutes? Will someone offer Braeden Bowman a professional contract?
Questions … questions. Some of the answers should start coming soon.