Jack Eichel’s decision to stay south of the border this coming season leaves a wide-open competition for jobs on the Halifax Mooseheads’ top two lines.
Without the high-scoring American in the fold, the Mooseheads will be looking for secondary scoring from a group that includes over-ager Stefan Fournier, 19-year-olds Darcy Ashley, Matthew Boudreau and Brent Andrews, and 18-year-olds Luca Ciampini and Andrew Ryan.
While they need no introduction, Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin and Martin Frk are the club’s primary weapons.
“I think we’re very deep up front and everyone’s a year older now,” said Mooseheads general manager Cam Russell. “We’ve got players capable of scoring and players who are capable of bringing other assets to the table as well. Right now, I like where we’re at.”
The highest scoring players in that group are Fournier, acquired from the Victoriaville Tigres in June after a 32-goal campaign; Boudreau, who had 26 goals among 56 points last season; and Ashley, who was close behind with 23 goals among 55 points.
Andrews, meanwhile, is a faceoff wiz and penalty-killing ace who is highly effective in a third-line role.
Perhaps the most intriguing players in that group are Ciampini and Ryan. Selected high in the 2010 draft — second and 19th overall, respectively — both were big scorers at the midget level and both have untapped offensive upside. Russell believes Ciampini and Ryan are capable of taking a big step forward and isn’t concerned they haven’t done so yet.
“Every now and then guys can step in at 16 and 17 and make an impact but realistically that doesn’t happen very often,” Russell said. “The biggest difference we see with players is when they go from 17 to 18. They have a chance to come into their own, and these guys who are turning 18, 19 are going to have big years.”
All of it will make for a competitive training camp when veterans arrive at Cole Harbour Place on Aug. 20. Prime ice time will be up for grabs and nobody from that secondary group has a lock on a top-six spot.
“That’s what makes for a really good hockey team when there’s a constant competition,” Russell said. “Everybody’s pushing and you have to earn what you get. It’s not given to you. If you have a situation where players are given opportunities and spots without earning them you’re looking at a recipe for disaster.”
BY THE NUMBERS
Scoring stats for key returning Mooseheads forwards (x-acquired in off-season; GP-G-A-P):
Nathan MacKinnon — 58-31-47-78
x-Stefan Fournier — 64-32-33-65
Matthew Boudreau — 67-26-30-56
Darcy Ashley — 62-23-32-56
Luca Ciampini — 68-11-24-35
Brent Andrews — 61-13-17-30
Martin Frk — 34-16-13-29
Jonathan Drouin — 33-7-22-29
Andrew Ryan — 45-10-13-23