Forward thinking

SCOTT FISHER -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:38 AM ET

The Calgary Hitmen will have a new look next year.

They'll be rock solid on the back end and extremely young up front.

All eight of the club's blueliners likely will be back in addition to both goaltenders.

But, after losing its top six forwards, the Hitmen will have an alarming lack of scoring and experience.

With the likes of Ryan Getzlaf, Andrew Ladd and Konstantin Pushkarev preparing to join the professional ranks and overagers Shaun Landolt, Brett O'Malley and Tyrel Lucas graduating to the next chapter in their hockey careers, GM/head coach Kelly Kisio is faced with a tough summer assignment.

The half-dozen departing veterans accounted for more than half of the team's 200 goals in 2004-05 and Kisio will have to address the offensive shortfall at the trade table.

"We'll be real young up front," Kisio said. "So we will probably have to do something."

The problem lies in the 2001 draft, where only Steve Covington remains among the forward ranks.

"It's unusual," Kisio said. "The '86 age group for forwards was a tough year for a lot of teams. The only guy we have is Covington, as far as a 19-year-old forward.

"Hopefully, we can find a couple of guys to fill in and help the younger guys out.

"But the young guys played a lot this year and they were solid. They'll be even better down the line and they'll be used a lot next year."

Centre Riley Merkley, Covington and possibly Darryl Moscaluk, as an overager, are the lone veteran forwards likely to return in the fall.

Merkley said there may be some growing pains but the future looks bright.

"That's the worst part when people have to leave, like Landy, O'Malley and Lucas," Merkley said. "We had a great group in there. It's a shame guys are moving on but it's part of the whole process. We've got some good talent coming up, a lot of great young guys. We had 15- and 16-year-olds playing huge minutes.

"So that's the positive you have to look at for this year and the years to come."

The good news is this squad may not need to score a lot of goals.

Justin Pogge, who shone during the playoffs, will be back between the pipes.

And the massive, mobile defence corps, including Alex Plante, remains intact.

Plante, a call-up who will be heading into his rookie campaign, displayed poise well beyond his 15 years in the post-season, leading Kisio and co-coach Dean Evason to believe the 6-ft. 4-in. rearguard is a star in the making.

"He's as cool as a cucumber back there," Kisio said. "Dean laughs after every game because it's almost like Plante gets upset when he has to come off the ice because he likes to play so much."

With Ladd likely off to join the Carolina Hurricanes' system, d-men Brett Carson and Darryl Yacboski are the other overagers eligible to return.


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