The pre-season edition of the SJHL's Power Rankings were released this week, and it forecasts the Estevan Bruins as the No. 8 team in the league.
Perhaps that should be expected, given the underwhelming results from the Bruins a year ago, but it also shows that the Bruins might be an underrated, darkhorse team for the upcoming campaign.
If nothing else, the Bruins should be able to score more than they did a year ago. You don't want to get too giddy about pre-season results, but the Bruins scored 22 goals in four exhibition games this year.
In fact, they had as many goals in their third pre-season game – a 7-2 rout of the Weyburn Red Wings – as they had in four pre-season games last year.
So they should have a better start than last year, when they won twice and scored 19 goals in the opening 10 regular season contests.
Austin Daae has the ability to be one of the top scorers in the league this year. Expect Hudson Morrison and Darcy DeRoose to take a step forward with their production. Tanner Froese, the reacquired Ben Johnstone and prized rookie Lynnden Pastachak should also be able to supply offence. The remaining forwards bring varying levels of offensive ability, too.
Overall, the forwards have depth, and a good blend of size, toughness, physical play and backchecking ability to boot.
If there is one concern among the forwards, it could be the second line centre slot behind Morrison. DeRoose has played down the middle in the past, but he looked excellent alongside Morrison last year.
The defence has depth, but since Tyler Kauk won't be back, they lack a veteran, minute-munching ace who can play in all situations. Zach Douglas, who thrived as an underaged rookie last year, might prove to be the best of the blue-line brigade.
Two players to watch this year are rookies Nolan Nicholas and Kyle Bird, who could receive extra responsibility due to the lack of a veteran who has proven capable of logging big minutes.
In goal, Matt Gibney should prove to be a reliable starter this year, but a lot of attention will likely be on Brett Lewchuk, a top young goalie who could give the Bruins the stability in goal that they've been seeking for well over a decade. (The last goalie to play two full years for the club was Billy Gerry, who played largely a back-up role in 2000-01 and 2001-02).
New head coach/GM Chris Lewgood has brought some fresh energy to the club as well. Some will view it as a risk hiring an individual with no real experience coaching at the Junior A level. But his track record in Junior B is outstanding, he seems ready to jump up to the next level in the game, and it's often better to give someone new an opportunity, than to hire a retread from the SJHL coaching carousel who'll wind up getting fired in three years.
The Bruins have one other thing working in their favour: they are in the Viterra Division, which should be the weakest in the league.
The defending league champions, the Yorkton Terriers, are in the division, and they should finish first. The other teams are the Weyburn Red Wings and the Melville Millionaires, who figure to be two of the worst.
Two years ago, Bruin fans were abuzz because of the strength of their 1993-born recruiting class. Four of the top 1993s – Steven Glass, Austin Yano, Jesse Bernard and Matt Brykaliuk – are no longer with the organization, and a fifth, Kauk, is awaiting a trade.
It's unlikely that the 1993-born talent will be leading the Bruins to a league title or even an extended playoff run this year, but the Bruins have the ability to get second in the division, 30 wins and possibly a series victory in a best-of-seven. Given the team's results from recent years, that would be a reasonable outcome.