It sounds like Samuel Honzek might find himself front and centre for the Vancouver Giants this upcoming season.
Giants coach Manny Viveiros says that he likes the idea of shifting Honzek from left wing to the middle of the ice.
Honzek will be Vancouver’s best player — he was the Calgary Flames’ first-round pick, No. 16 overall in the NHL Draft in June — and playing centre will have the 6-foot-4, 195-pound Slovak handling the puck more and even more of a factor defensively.
Keep in mind it’s still early days. Viveiros has been on the job for just two weeks, a late hire to replace Michael Dyck when he jumped to the AHL’s Toronto Marlies. And the Giants open their four-game WHL pre-season slate on Friday (7 p.m.), taking on the Prince George Cougars at the Port Coquitlam Community Centre. The Giants host the Victoria Royals Sunday (4 p.m.) at their Ladner Leisure Centre home base.
Viveiros will talk more with the Flames about their visions of Honzek’s development path. And there are bound to be points this season where it’s going to be tempting for Viveiros to load up a line and play Honzek alongside centre Jaden Lipinski, who was Vancouver’s other NHL Draft pick this summer as a fourth-round Flames selection.
All that said, a change in position for at least portions of the year appears very much in play for Honzek.
“For me, I would prefer him to play at centre,” Viveiros said. “I think he has the skill set.
“I think he’s skilled enough, smart enough, mobile enough and big enough to be able to do both (centre and wing). We’re obviously going to take into consideration where Calgary wants him, because we want to give him the best opportunity to play in the National Hockey League. But I also think that he could benefit from being able to play both positions.
“With how we’re going to play, he’s going to be that much more involved in the game.”
Viveiros is preaching more of a puck-possession game than Dyck, who favoured a heavy forecheck style in his time with Vancouver. Dyck, oddly enough, had also talked about moving Honzek to centre this season before taking the Marlies’ job.
Ty Thorpe was Vancouver’s No. 1 centre last season, playing with Honzek and a host of other wingers. Thorpe, who had 37 goals and 71 points last season, aged out of the league at the end of the year.
Honzek had 23 goals and 56 points in 43 regular season games. He missed 20 games midway through the season due to a gash to the back of the leg after he was stepped on by an opponent while playing for the Slovaks at the world juniors.
Viveiros wants to “sprinkle the wealth over the place” on the forward lines and try to keep the attack balanced.
Among the players in the mix for top-six minutes is 16-year-old rookie Cameron Schmidt, who was a 2022 WHL Draft first rounder, No. 7 overall, by Vancouver. He showed off flashy offensive skills in three games with Vancouver as an underage call-up last season, highlighted by scoring a goal in Jan. 6 road game against the Tri-City Americans.
He had 25 goals and 38 points in 33 games last season with the RINK Kelowna Under-18 Prep team.
“I don’t see why we couldn’t play a 16-year-old in the top six. They’re going to tell us if they’re ready or not, because you’re going to get the other teams top pairings if you’re playing in the top six,” Viveiros said. “If you’re quick enough and you’re skilled enough, I don’t see why not.”
Giants general manager Barclay Parneta said Wednesday that the team had 19 forwards, 12 defencemen and three goalies still in camp.
For several reasons, it’s hard to come up with a final roster number and timeline to get there.
Vancouver is about to lose five players for varying degrees of time to NHL camps — Honzek and Lipinski to the Flames and free-agent invitees defenceman Mazden Leslie (Toronto Maple Leafs), winger Ty Halaburda (Boston Bruins) and winger Tyler Thorpe (Ottawa Senators).
There are also five players in camp in their 20-year-old seasons — goalie Brett Mirwald, winger Skyler Bruce and defencemen Logen Hammett, Carson Haynes and Brenden Pentecost. Vancouver will only be able to keep three on their final roster. The 20-year-old cut-down day hasn’t been finalized by the league office, but it’s historically around Oct. 10.
That would be four games into Vancouver’s season. They kick off league play Sept. 22, hosting the Victoria Royals at the Langley Events Centre.
Parneta said the Giants brain trust had extended discussions about getting defender Chloe Primerano into an exhibition game but eventually opted against it, and she’s returned to the RINK Kelowna Under-18 Female Prep squad to get ready for their upcoming season. She will remain on the Giants’ 50-player protected list, according to Parneta, which leaves her in the mix to play with the club somewhere down the line.
Primerano became the first female skater ever take in any of the three major junior drafts when the Vancouver selected her in their 13th round in 2022. This was her second training camp with the Giants.
A female skater has never played in a major junior game. There have been five goalies.
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