By Mike Stackhouse
As the Melville Millionaires get set for the 2017-18 season, there is an air of optimism surrounding the club that hasn’t been as evident in recent years.
Second year GM/Coach Devin Windle is, hopeful, a pair of future considerations trades that were made in January will pay dividends beginning in September.
The Mils, who dealt outstanding defenseman Eric Sinclair to the Flin Flon Bombers, knew they’d be on the receiving end of impact if they were patient and they’ve landed a couple of big fish in the form of forward Rylee Zimmer and defenseman Troy Williams.
Williams has two years of junior eligibility remaining and he does a lot of the same things Sinclair can do although projecting that high a ceiling would be unrealistic for any player as Sinclair finished his career with back to back Defenseman Of The Year awards.
Williams scored 6-goals and 9-assists in 27-games after coming over to Flin Flon in a trade from Steinbach (MJHL), where had 14-points in 27-games. He’s been playing Junior A hockey since he was 16-years-old. “He skates well, competes hard, but his bread and butter is his offense. He knows how to run a powerplay and has great vision. He moves the puck effectively and can jumpstart the rush by getting up the ice in a hurry. We needed more scoring from everywhere on the ice and he’s going to be a part of that,” said Windle.
The other player the Mils selected in the futures trade is Zimmer, a 20-year-old from nearby Russell, Manitoba. He had 21-goals and 43-assists to finish 15-points back of the overall scoring championship last year. It’s not a gigantic leap to suggest Zimmer may be even closer to the top of the mountain this year. Windle agrees. “He has a chance to lead the league in scoring and our job is to make sure we put him in a position to do so. He’s an elite goal scorer, that’s proven. We expect the trend to continue. He’s going to get every chance to be that guy to lead our team and lead the league. Off ice, we are looking for him to lead as well. He’s been to two league finals in a row with Flin Flon and that’s valuable experience.”
The one area of strength for Melville last year was in goal, so that allowed Windle to deal the impressive Brandon Wells for help down the road and the time has arrived.
Forward Brayden Labant scored 3-goals and 1-assist as a rookie with the Spruce Grove Saints of the AJHL last year. Don’t let the stats fool you as Windle says the opportunity for Labant wasn’t nearly as available last year as it will be this. “He’s an ideal Saskatchewan based player. He’s big and strong and plays a north-south game. He’s been a captain in the past and brings some untapped offense.”
Ryan Warner comes to Melville via Trail (BCHL) and has two years of eligibility remaining. He had 2-goals and 6-assists in 40-games a season ago but has two years of junior experience on his resume having also played in the VIJHL. “He’s a big, hulking defenseman with great size,” says Windle. Listed at 6’3”, Windle says Warner is working at becoming a tougher force to go up against. “He has more offense than what’s been displayed, and he’s looking to explore that as well, but we are looking for him to come in and be that punishing, physical presence who is always challenging the opponent.”
It should be worth mentioning the Mils acquired the rights to 18-year-old goalie Connor Dochuk as well, but the WHL Calgary Hitmen have made some moves that would seem to indicate the door is wide open for Dochuk to graduate into the Western Hockey League, however the Mils retain his CJHL playing rights.
Nevertheless, goaltending isn’t expected to be an issue as Colby Entz returns for his second season. “We have so much confidence in Colby and he has confidence in himself. He’s proven to be very capable of handling the number one load and we are going to support him a lot better with an upgraded roster. This rebuild started two years ago and continued last year. There have been some tough moments and now we are looking at being closer to the light at the end of the tunnel. The building never stops, but we are a lot closer than where we have been. There’s excitement in town and once we get going it will be even more exciting to see what this hockey club is capable of.”