Vancouver Giants general manager Barclay Parneta says the team will have a clearer picture in a week on when injured star Samuel Honzek might return to action.
Honzek was hurt in a preseason game last Wednesday with the Calgary Flames, the team that selected the Slovak forward with the No. 16 pick in this summer’s NHL Draft.
The Flames re-assigned Honzek, 18, to the Giants on Thursday. The Calgary Sun reported then that it was “not believed to be a serious injury” that Honzek had suffered.
Neither the Flames nor the Giants are saying what exactly Honzek is battling, though. He has remained in Calgary, under the care of Flames medical staff. Parneta says that the ailment will require more testing in a few days. That suggests they are waiting for the injury to settle, such as something like swelling to subside.
The Flames hadn’t responded to requests for a Honzek update as of Wednesday afternoon. The longer without a timeline, the longer Honzek, who is the Giants’ best player, will likely be missing from their lineup.
Vancouver has played one of the lighter early schedules in the WHL’s Western Conference. That’s cut into the games missed for Honzek. The Giants (2-2-0-0) host the Swift Current Broncos (2-3-1-0) on Friday at the Langley Events Centre; the Prince George Cougars (6-2-0-0) were set to play Swift Current on Wednesday night.
Vancouver went into this season expecting Honzek to miss games midway through the season because of world junior commitments with the Slovaks. He played for them at last year’s tournament, and, oddly enough, was hurt there, suffering a gash on the back of his leg after he was stepped on by an opponent during a game. He missed 20 Vancouver games because of that. He wound up with 23 goals and 56 points in 43 regular season games with the Giants.
“We have no idea when he’ll be back. We’re just doing what we’re doing every day. You just move forward,” said Giants coach Manny Viveiros. “You lost your best player, but we haven’t had him yet this year either. It would be different if he had been here for three weeks or a month and then got hurt. We didn’t have that luxury.
“There’s nothing we can do about it. It’s an unfortunate part of the game. Hopefully it’s not long term.”
The Giants were concerned enough about Honzek being out a longer term that they picked up Czech forward Patrik Kral, 17, when he was placed on waivers by the Moose Jaw Warriors on Friday to give them the maximum two import players. Kral joins Czech forward Adam Titlbach, 17, on Vancouver’s active roster.
Teams can only keep two imports on their active roster. Once Honzek is deemed healthy, the Giants will have two weeks to decide which of the three Euros they want to keep.
Honzek being out of the lineup opens up massive playing time. The WHL doesn’t publish ice time stats like the NHL does, but there were nights last year where it felt like Honzek was playing well over 20 minutes. He was utilized in all situations by coach Michael Dyck, and Viveiros, who signed on with Vancouver this summer after Dyck took an assistant’s job with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, has pledged to do the same.
Honzek was an alternate captain down the stretch last season with Vancouver, too. Without him, as well as veteran defenceman Carson Haynes, who was waived Tuesday so that Vancouver could get down to the three 20-year-old roster maximum, the Giants’ leadership group is changing.
The Giants have yet to name a captain for this year to replace Ty Thorpe, who graduated from the league at the close of the campaign. Viveiros had said that they were waiting for Honzek to return and the roster to be finalized before doing so. Honzek and centre Jaden Lipinski, 18, who wore an “A” last year as well, have been the most logical candidates to take on the “C”.
“It’s going to put an onus on some players who haven’t done it before who are going to have to now,” Viveiros said of those leadership duties. “We are going to have to help other players become leaders.”
Defenceman Damian Palmieri characterized the team as “very tight … everyone’s getting along, zero drama between the guys.”
“Every day you come to the rink and you’re excited to see everybody. I think it’s a very good group that we have,” he said.
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