Knights' young trio showing early promise

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 11:26 AM ET

T he tantalizing trio showed last night at the John Labatt Centre why they will capture most of the attention this season.

Forwards Pat Kane, Sam Gagner and Phillip McRae will have all eyes on them as they grow and slickly work their way around the OHL.

Even though it's only exhibition play and most of the top players are at pro camps, the three newest London Knights have shown why the Hunter clan pursued them so diligently.

If they survive the physical beating they are bound to take their first season, they should be something to watch in years to come.

In a 6-2 exhibition victory over the Windsor Spitfires, Kane, McRae and Gagner threw the puck around as if they had been playing together for years.

They were especially impressive as a group on the power play.

McRae had two goals, Kane a goal and two assists and Gagner had four assists.

The game turned nasty with less than six minutes left.

An abbreviated line brawl broke out that culminated with Knights' Matt Davis flying off the bench to engage in the activities. It earned him a game misconduct. Five other game misconducts where handed out.

Meanwhile the three productive prodigies will capture the headlines this year and share them with the likes of Sergei Kostitsyn and Jordan Foreman when they return to the lineup, how successful their season will be will be determined by their blueline.

The Knights will be entertaining up front but will they need to score six goals a game to win?

With the trade of hulking Matt Pelech in the off-season, the Knights have thrown their lot in with a young defence anchored by Ryan Martinelli and Scott Aarssen. While there's little question general manager Mark Hunter will eventually find an able older body to help out, the first few months will be interesting around the Knights blueline.

The development of Martinelli and Aarssen has progressed further than many expected it ever would. They had outstanding years.

With last year's Western Conference championship team, Martinelli and Aarssen logged tremendous amounts of icetime. They had to with the injury to Frank Rediker, with forward Trevor Kell playing defence and first-round draft choice Corey Syvret being given plenty of bench time.

This year the blueline corp is dotted with even more question marks. Will Syvret develop? How many young blueliners will play? And will Kell play up front or on the blueline?

"We had a bit of a rough start last year too," said Aarssen, who scored a goal in the win. "We had a lot of icetime and maybe we weren't ready but we learned.

"We have a lot of young guys. But with so many guys gone to camp, the young guys are going to get some good experience. Me and Marty will have to take leadership roles on the defence. The young guys will learn quick. They have lots of energy out there."

This is not unusual.

Every year the worry is the same.

"With the defence especially, patience is a huge thing," said Aarssen. "It's going to take a while for us to get to know each other. But we have a good bunch of guys and we'll be fine."

There are several other mitigating factors in all this.

Adam Dennis is no longer the whiteout to correct the Knights errors. Steve Mason will be in net. How well he plays will go a long way in determining how exposed this defence will be.

"(Mason) improved so much last year," said Aarssen. "He's basically a veteran goalie right now. We're really confident with him back there. We know we have a chance to win any game when he's in net."

And new assistant coach Dave Gagner will handle the defence, taking over from Jacques Beaulieu.

"I really don't know them all that well yet," said Gagner. "There's going to be opportunities for someone to emerge."

The hope is that will happen sooner rather than later.

Aarssen has been around enough now to know the drill when it comes to defence especially if you're going to see a lot of icetime.

"I just want to do my job and be safe and simple," he said.

Until Hunter makes a trade and the cavalry arrives.


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