Kamloops youngsters Blazing own trail

SCOTT FISHER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:36 AM ET

The Kamloops Blazers don't have many teams quaking in their skates.

But that could change in the next couple of seasons as their young talent matures.

Rookie Brendan Ranford, the nephew of former NHL goaltender Bill Ranford, has always been a sniper.

He led the Alberta AAA midget league last season with 33 goals and 79 points in 35 games with the Edmonton Canadians. The year before that, he notched 58 goals and 106 points in bantam AAA.

He said his teammates have helped him adjust to life in the WHL.

"In midget, you have a gameplan," Ranford said. "But here, you have to stick to the gameplan even more.

"Our captain, Scott Wasden, is probably the best veteran in the league for how he is with the rookies.

"Another guy is my roommate, C.J. Stretch. He's been there for me for those tough times that a first-year player can go through."

Ranford has managed a dozen markers and 22 points in 55 games this season.

Blazers head coach Barry Smith said the freshman has all the tools to become a star in the league.

"Brendan has done a tremendous job," he said. "He's a hard-working player and he plays in the hard areas. He's not just a skilled perimetre guy.

"When you're young, and you're willing to go to those areas and play in traffic and do all the little things, you're usually successful.

"He's tailed off a little bit here, but I think that's just youth and playing a tough schedule."

Fellow forward Jimmy Bubnick is ranked 54th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting for this summer's draft.

The Saskatoon product said he's doing his best to keep the draft in the back of his mind.

"You can't think about it too much and let it affect you," Bubnick said. "You just have to play your game."

With 22 goals and 47 points in 61 games, Bubnick has taken a big step forward this season.

"I'm playing with a lot more confidence," he said. "I'm grittier in the corners, winning more battles in front of the net, stuff like that."

Smith said Bubnick is a strong power forward who can be dangerous when he lurks in the slot.

"He'll drive off the wing and cut to the net," Smith said. "But he's not a toe-drag player. When he plays a north-south game, that's when he's successful."

Bubnick isn't the only young Blazer receiving interest from Central Scouting.

Slovakian centre Dalibor Bortnak (159th), d-man Giffen Nyren (186th) and goaltender Jon Groenheyde (15th among North American 'tenders) also cracked the mid-term rankings.

"We're really excited with our young guys," Smith said. "They've made some great strides this year. Obviously, we still have a ways to go, but it's a learning process. As a coach, you always think it's going to happen quicker.

"But I am happy with the progess. They've turned the corner and are doing the right things."


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