Wolves season preview: Interview with Chicago hockey writer Paul Latour

Is it really that funny, Eddie? (Chris Jerina/AHL in Photos)

The AHL kicks off this weekend, and the rosters league wide are swollen by a surplus of talent thanks to the NHL lockout. For the Chicago Wolves, their lineup has been bolstered by the likes of Zack Kassian and Chris Tanev, two players who were penciled in as regulars in the Canucks’ lineup. Players on the cusp of ‘making it,’ like Jordan Schroeder, Eddie Lack and Kevin Connauton are also in Chicago, making for an intriguing fall season for the Chicago Wolves.

All five players are keen to make an impression on their bosses, wanting to show that they don’t need any more seasoning and that their NHL-time is now.

To set up tonight’s season opener for the Wolves, Paul LaTour joins us to share his thoughts. LaTour covers the Wolves for the Chicago Tribune and has as good a feel for the Allstate Arena-based squad as anyone in the Chicagoland area.

Paul I couldn’t believe, when camp opened, the Wolves had 49 guys? What was that like? Must have been crazy – two full teams of players…

It was, they broke them into three groups. For the locker room, they had to set up a table in the middle of the room, so that the guys had enough places to sit and store their gear and stuff. They also had to use a park district – it’s a park district facility – public locker room to get everyone space.

The equipment guys must have been happy about that.

Hah, yeah, they were very happy when they made the first 11 cuts. They said ‘ok now we get to be a bit more regular here.’ Now they are down to 28 and I know that’s where they are staying, for this weekend, anyway.

I was thinking back to last year. At various points there were 26 or 27 guys on their roster.

I haven’t done it yet, but I’m almost positive that they had about the same number on the roster to start the season last year.

And they are down to eight defencemen, so it seems pretty clear that those are the guys the Wolves are starting the season with, anyway.

Yes, it’s the forwards who are going to be fighting for ice time and not dressing.

What’s the vibe been like compared with last year. It was McTavish running his first AHL camp, this year’s Arniel’s in.

I haven’t noticed a whole lot, though Arniel seems to be more ‘hands-on’ I guess I’d say. He’s working a little more with guys one-on-one after practice, that sort of thing. I don’t remember seeing Mac-T doing that as much. But that’s just different styles, I don’t read anything into it at all.

Matt Climie is back for another year in the Windy City (Chris Jerina/AHL in Photos)

There was a definite expectation that things would be different – the Canucks were always happy with Arniel when he was coaching in Winnipeg. What has he said with regards to roster management?

He hasn’t, but I talked to [Wolves GM] Wendell Young yesterday. He was saying that the coaches are in a tight spot with the roster, that they’d porbably prefer just having 20 guys. They would rather not have to deal with who is going to get down or get offended or get mad if they’re not playing. Obviously a head coach doesn’t want to have to deal with that if they don’t have to. It’s definitely a challenge.

Any sense of the lines?

If they are staying the same as what they’ve been practising it looks like Ebbett in the middle between Sterling and Haydar and the other line that looks like for sure will be Schroeder with Kassian and Sweatt.

Oh, that’s exciting.

Yeah, those two are going to be good. Wednesday they had Mallet between Miller and Davies – they’re obviously not Canucks property, but…

That’ll be a hustling line.

No doubt, they’ll be tough to defend against, and Davies also has a nice set of hands. And then another line they had was Longpre in between Rodin and Gordon.

Longpre and Rodin and Gordon, you could see that as almost a third scoring line, giving you three scoring lines and a checking line. That’s interesting.

Of course, Pinizzotto’s going to get in there and they’ve got Desbiens: Friesen and Schneider have been on a line together. I could see Desbiens getting in there because they’ll want some toughness.

That’s tough for guy like him, because he must want to believe he’s still got an NHL shot but he’s also becoming a bit of an AHL veteran and you got to believe the Canucks want to play their prospects.

The Wolves folks, they say that the Canucks don’t tell them who to play, but it’s obvious that right now these guys are the priority and that they need to get icetime.

That’s a preseason number, there, Jordan. (Chris Jerina/AHL in Photos)

We know that if and when the NHL season comes back, that Ebbett and Kassian will be back up for sure and maybe Schroeder too. How has Schroeder looked? It’s tough to tell from just practising and only a couple games.

He’s a guy that Young singled out, he’s been really impressed with how Schroeder come into camp. He came in very determined, in great shape, ready to go. [Young] said it’s something he probably couldn’t have said last year, not that he didn’t come in ready, but it’s another year, another level of confidence. I’m sure he expected to be with the Canucks if the season had started and not down here.

He’s definitely not moping though, he’s going to get a lot of ice time; he’s a guy I’m really excited to watch.

What about Kassian, what’s his mentality? What have you been seeing from him?

He’s much the same way, he’s said he’s here to play, that it’s much better to play in the AHL than to sit and wait in the NHL. He’s another guy who seems ready to play and make the most of it.

Darren Archibald would probably rather there weren’t a lockout. He’s off to the ECHL.

Look at Oklahoma City who have an entire first NHL line playing for them. The league is that much better. What are guys saying about the challenge of playing teams like that?

I haven’t talked about other teams with the guys, but there’s still an acknowlegement that the level of play is still going to be higher than it’s been in recent years. With the influx of young guys, guys who already have a pretty good NHL resume going, it trickles down to everything, who’s on what lines and who’s playing against who. It’s creating competition within the teams and between the teams. 

Anyone else?

It’s tough, I haven’t been looking at specific guys, I was only able to get up to Rockford and Archibald scored a pair of goals but he’s not here, though he’d be a guy that would probably be here if there wasn’t a lockout.