New faces provide hope for this season and beyond

Aug 2, 2012, 9:43 AM | Updated: 9:48 am

By Tim Pigulski

As I detailed last week, the T-Birds will be missing a number of familiar and beloved faces during the 2012-2013 season. However, all is not lost, as general manager Russ Farwell has also made some strong additions this offseason, especially to the forward and goaltending ranks.

G Brandon Glover. I touched on Glover briefly when discussing what the loss of Calvin Pickard would mean to the team, but want to reiterate here how important of an addition this was by Farwell. Glover, who played with Calgary last season, has never put up great regular-season numbers, but was outstanding in last year’s playoffs when Calgary lost its series against the Brandon Wheat Kings four games to one. Glover posted a 1-1-1 record during the series, with a save percentage of 94.1 percent, a goals against average of 1.87, and a shutout in his team’s only victory of the series. He was also VAUGHN’s WHL Goaltender of the Month last November, when he went 6-1 with a 1.96 GAA and 93.3 percent save percentage.

The hope is that Glover will be able to come close to those numbers during the regular season, but that will be difficult considering the T-Birds’ weak defensive corps. However, as a 20-year-old, Glover has plenty of WHL experience that will hopefully rub off well on whoever the backup goalie is, whether it’s Danny Mumaugh, Nolan Kruizenga, or Daniel Cotton. I don’t think anyone expects the team to contend for the Memorial Cup this season, so ensuring a healthy development of the team’s younger players is vital.

Also, when you consider that Farwell only had to give up a third-round Bantam Draft pick, the price wasn’t very steep. Replacing a talent and fan favorite like Pickard would be asking for too much of Glover, but he should act as a more than serviceable replacement.

delnov
Alexander Delnov, a fourth-round pick by the Florida Panthers in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, will be counted on this season to add some much needed scoring punch to a slow T-Birds offense. (photo courtesy of MiamiHerald.com)

W Alexander Delnov. I’m extremely excited about Delnov, who was the team’s first pick in the CHL Import Draft, eighth overall. Last season playing major junior hockey in Russia, Delnov put up 22 points (11 goals, 11 assists) in 47 games. While this may not seem like much, Delnov really caught the attention of scouts while playing for Russia in the World U18 tournament. During the tournament, he showed above average speed and shiftiness to go along with a hard shot and toughness along the boards.

Said USA Today: Delnov “was a breath of fresh air among a stagnant Russian forward group that offered precious little skill or passion.” If there’s one thing this T-Birds team needs, it’s skill and passion. His performance against the top 18-and-under competition in the world led to him being picked in the fourth round by the Florida Panthers, although many believe he would have gone in the third round were he playing in North America or Scandinavia.

Having already displayed such impressive skill against 17- and 18-year-olds, Delnov will have no problem transitioning to the North American game and I believe he’ll start the season on one of the T-Birds’ top two lines. Reports also say that he’s been very excited about playing in North America for some time, so we should see him in uniform for opening night, unlike Mikhail Sentyurin, who came over from Russia in the Import Draft in 2009. After a significant amount of difficulty in getting released from his Russian contract, Sentyurin never quite got caught up and was a healthy scratch for much of the second half of the season before receiving his release from the team.

C Roberts Lipsbergs. While not quite as hyped as Delnov, center Roberts Lipsbergs from Latvia has some great potential of his own. Selected 60th overall in the Import Draft, Lipsbergs is another tough competitor with a hard shot that he likes to use. In the World U18 tournament, Lipsbergs acted as an alternate captain for Latvia’s team and registered four goals in six games played, including a hat trick against Germany that gave his team a chance to play for a spot in the quarterfinals.

With Colin Jacobs and Luke Lockhart as the only true centers on the roster, Lipsbergs will be a solid addition up the middle for the T-Birds. As I asserted in my post on the team’s losses, getting solid play out of your import players is absolutely essential for team success, so the pressure will be on both Delnov and Lipsbergs to perform at a high level.

W Riley Sheen. This is a player, unlike the three listed above, that I just can’t find myself getting very excited about. Farwell swapped fan favorite Jacob Doty, who is renowned as having no offensive skill, for Sheen, who mustered only three points in 46 games for Medicine Hat last season, four fewer points than Doty put up for the T-Birds in 55 games. Sheen is undersized, listed at 148 pounds, so I don’t think we’ll be expecting him to have much of an impact in front of the net.

The T-Birds, however, are desperately in need of some offensive playmaking skill, and Farwell seems to think Sheen can bring something in that department. One goal and two assists in 46 games tell me otherwise, but we’ll have to wait and see. Sheen did put up two points in eight playoff games, which still isn’t impressive, but it’s certainly better than his regular-season output.

Rumor has it that Doty wanted out of Seattle, so Farwell’s hands may have been tied here and this may have been the best deal that he could find. Watching videos of Sheen shows he does have some shiftiness when handling the puck, so hopefully we’ll see him capitalize on that skill and turn it into some points on the scoreboard.

Complaints have been made about nothing being done to improve team offense this offseason, but I disagree. I think Delnov and Lipsbergs will contribute immediately and certainly offer more than Gallimore, who was really their only significant offensive loss. Additionally, reports show that both are high-energy players, which should hopefully make this team much more exciting to watch.

In preparation for training camp, I’ll soon be taking a look at some of the T-Birds’ top prospects that are currently in the system. I’ll touch on the recent selections of players like Ryan Gropp and Mathew Barzal, as well as some of the other guys to keep an eye on.

You can follow Tim on Twitter @tpigulski.

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New faces provide hope for this season and beyond