Questions surround Knights

JIM CRESSMAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 2:21 PM ET

London Knights general manager Mark Hunter was going over his list and checking it twice yesterday.

Training camp opens for the defending OHL and Memorial Cup champions a week today at the John Labatt Centre.

"It's hard to answer that," Hunter said when asked for a definitive list of veteran players who will be returning for the 2005-06 season and those who won't be back.

For the most part, it was a bunch of "maybes" as the major junior clubs are always at the mercy of their NHL counterparts this time of year.

With players heading for pro camps and the usual last-minute contract signings, it leaves the juniors waiting and wondering, sometimes into the first week or two of their season.

Hunter said he has no idea what the lineup will look like when the Knights open Sept. 23 against the Saginaw Spirit at the JLC. Thirteen players are eligible for graduation.

"There are so many question marks," he said, adding the biggest ones always surround the over-agers.

Major junior teams can carry three 20-year-olds.

Hunter said possible candidates for London are goalie Adam Dennis, who will attend the Buffalo Sabres camp after being drafted; defenceman Danny Syvret, who is on the verge of signing with the Edmonton Oilers; forward Dylan Hunter, who will also be at the Buffalo camp; forward Drew Larman, off to the Tampa Bay Lightning camp; forward Kelly Thomson, and now-healthy defenceman Frank Rediker, who belongs to the Boston Bruins.

"We have feelers out there just in case all our over-agers sign somewhere else," Hunter said. "We do look around. You have to. You keep your eyes and ears open to make sure you protect your over-age spots."

Hunter said their two picks in this year's Canadian Hockey League import draft are in the country and have been cleared to play in the OHL by their respective hockey federations.

The Knights, selecting 57th and 62nd, picked Siarhei Kastsitsyn, a winger from Belarus, and defenceman Karel Kubat of the Czech Republic.

Hunter said the next step is to see how they fit in at this level. Last year, the Knights traded both their European picks, Mathis Olimb and Alexei Ivanov.

"I think we might have been the first team to win a Memorial Cup without having a European playing for them," Hunter said.

Among the players who won't be back are star forwards Corey Perry, who's signed with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks.

Also not returning are forward Dan Fritsche (Columbus Blue Jackets), defenceman Marc Methot (Columbus) and goalie Gerald Coleman (Tampa Bay).

The Knights received some bad news last week when they learned 16-year-old forward Sam Gagner, their fourth-round pick in this year's draft, decided to play with Sioux City of the United States Hockey League.

Gagner is the son of former NHLer Dave Gagner of Chatham and would have been a top-five pick in the OHL had he not indicated a preference for going to the USHL to protect his university scholarship eligibility.

The Gagners were living in Mississauga -- the family is moving to the U.S. -- and Sam played Tier 2 junior last season.

"I haven't given up hope," Hunter said of getting Gagner in a year or two. "I don't give up hope until he's done playing junior.

"I'll continue to keep working on that, but this year he won't be coming here."

KNIGHTS CAMP

(Camp all at John Labatt Centre)

- Aug. 30: Players report, 11 a.m.; fitness testing in afternoon; practice, 5 p.m. to 6:15 p.m.

- Aug. 31: Scrimmages, 8:30 a.m. to 11:45 a.m., 2:15 p.m. to 5 p.m.

- Sept. 1: Scrimmages, 9 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.; cuts to follow; veterans and remaining players practise, 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.

- Preseason games: Sept. 2 vs. Sarnia at JLC, 7:30 p.m.; Sept. 4 at Sarnia, 2 p.m.; Sept. 5 vs. Mississauga at Port Credit Arena, 3 p.m.; Sept. 8 at Windsor, 7:30 p.m.; Sept. 9 vs. Windsor at JLC, 7:30 p.m.; Sept. 16 vs. Mississauga at JLC, 7:30 p.m.

- Season opener: Sept. 23 vs. Saginaw at JLC, 7:30 p.m.


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