Knights still have holes to fill

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 11:59 AM ET

The dress rehearsal's over. Now the real play begins.

But it's still probably going to take a month or so before the London Knights will know who their entire cast is.

The Knights closed the Ontario Hockey League preseason schedule with a 6-5 loss to the Mississauga IceDogs last night at the John Labatt Centre. They'll open their regular season Friday at home against the Saginaw Spirit.

Six games and as a team, you won't know what you've got until most of the players are back from professional camps.

"Coaches never cut players, players cut players," said Knights coach Dale Hunter. "All teams are going through the same thing with players away. It's good though because you get to give the young players a lot of ice time and see how they fit in."

If there was anything most everyone was impressed with this preseason was the work of rookies Sam Gagner and Pat Kane. They played well again last night, with Kane scoring a pair of goals and Gagner coming up with a four-point night.

One of the biggest questions still to be answered, though, is who will be backup goaltender and who will be the three over-age players.

Todd Perry, the over-age defenceman the Knights dealt for this week, was in the lineup last night, along with Ryan Martinelli and forward Rob Drummond. The other two potential over-age players, Trevor Kell and Kris Belan, didn't play. Kell is NHL camp with St. Louis and Belan served a one-game suspension.

Drummond left Knights camp a week ago to attend Columbus Blue Jackets rookie camp and there were only four over-age players. He came back this week and there was one more player to contend with.

"It makes it a little more interesting," Drummond said. "Now you have to get rid of two instead of one. It's going to make it a harder decision for Mark and Dale. All of us are capable of playing in the OHL."

The Knights dealt two draft choices to get Perry from Barrie. The other over-agers provide a distinct difference in needs.

Drummond showed what makes him attractive. He can kill penalties and he remains one of the best skaters in the OHL. He generates plenty of chances but his biggest problem is converting those chances.

He had plenty of chances last night, especially on an evening when the Knights spent most of it on the power play. Drummond finally converted one of those in the third period to cut the IceDogs' lead to 5-4.

Kell is an exceptional defensive forward who can play on the blue-line in a pinch. Martinelli is a much-needed experienced blueliner. Belan gives the Knights a big physical presence up front.

"I feel confident that I have played enough in the past that they would keep me here," Drummond said. "I think I deserve a chance to stay here."

But in the game of hockey it comes down to needs and to marketability. Drummond is a veteran presence whose penalty-killing ability is desirable here or elsewhere. Drummond knows that two players will eventually be traded.

"It's always in the back of your mind," Drummond said. "Whatever happens, happens, but it wouldn't be much fun to leave especially with the kind success we've had here."

Once there's a clear picture of what will happen to Martinelli, who is headed to training camp with the Pittsburgh Penguins AHL affiliate, look for Knights general manager Mark Hunter to make some moves.

Knights No. 1 netminder Steve Mason is expected back from Blue Jackets main NHL camp early this week. He wants to play a lot of games for the Knights and it looks like he's going to get that chance.


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