By Joshua Boyd / NCDCHockey.com
It’s been a busy run up to the Provo Predators’ first NCDC season, but General Manager Nick Dreyer likes how it’s all coming together for one of the six new teams in the Tier II Tuition Free conference. The Predators will help to open the Mountain Division’s inaugural weekend when they take on the Ogden Mustangs on Friday, Sept. 22, one of six games taking place on Day 1 of the 2023-24 NCDC campaign.
The roster is not final, but Dreyer’s excited with the progress made so far.
“Overall we are very pleased with our group. I think everyone is still trying to make those last minute tweaks to get their roster in the best place possible for the season,” added Dreyer. “We feel like we have a team that skates very well. We have a lot of veteran presence on the back end to hopefully give our young forward group a chance to be creative and make some mistakes early on.”
Skating has been a strength so far through the Preds’ camp, as they continue to evaluate players with just over one week remaining until opening night. Also an early strength is the team’s leadership from a great group of ‘03’s to get the Predators going on their Tier II journey.
“Our leadership group of ‘03’s have been great since we started camp. Evan Stirling, Tyler Johnson, Jackson Lucia and Luke Faas have really done a great job of helping our younger guys learn to be a pro,” said Dreyer. “As for letters, those are TBD at this point, but we do have some younger players who are natural leaders as well.”
Lucia and Johnson come in with NCDC experience already under their blades as teammates. Stirling has Tier II experience from the Manitoba Junior Hockey League. Faas was an All-Star defenseman at the USPHL Premier level last season. One other with USPHL Premier experience coming up to the NCDC is the Predators’ own Emmanuel Nkombou, a native of Boucherville, Que., who posted a very impressive 37 points in 49 games and also added three points in the Preds’ three playoff games.
The Predators are excited to see how some of their youngest additions to the roster will fare in their NCDC debuts.
“We have a lot of exciting players that are just sort of scratching the surface here in Provo. Leo Burns, Will Rotar, Jaeseok Lee, Gavin O’Hara and Ben Picard have all show flashes of really high level play early on and we are looking forward to see them gain some experience,” added Dreyer.
They are excited to see what former Milwaukee Jr. Admirals 18U AAA teammates defenseman Leo Burns and forward Will Rotar can do. Additional bright spots include forwards ‘04 Jaeseok Lee, of South Korea (most recently with Bishop’s College of Canada), and ‘05’s Ben Picard (San Jose Jr. Sharks AAA) and defenseman Gavin O’Hara (North Jersey Avalanche).
Going even younger, we find ‘06 forward Lucca Ori getting into the roster mix. Like those mentioned just above, he’ll be one watched by both NCAA colleges and NHL scouts this year. His pedigree shows stops with the Chicago Young Americans and Chicago Fury in his home state of Illinois before playing with Lovell Hockey 16U last year in Massachusetts.
“Lucca is a player that walked on to our Chicago camp, and he has been a very pleasant surprise for us,” said Dreyer. “He has an offensive skill set that is amongst the high end of this level.”
The team held its first NCDC Draft back in April and are happy to report there are a few additional ‘06’s as well as at least one ‘07 still hanging onto roster spots as 17-and-16-year-olds.
“We have quite a few drafted players here with us. Nicholas Christianson, Campbell Epp and Gavin Black and are players drafted by us as forwards that we are expecting to have a big impact on our team this season,” Dreyer added. “JungSoo Park is one of the youngest drafted players this year as an ‘07 birth year. He has fought his way into our goaltending mix and is very mature for an 07. Technically, he is right on par with any goalie I have seen at this level.”
Christianson, Epp and Black all come from very different backgrounds – the Long Island Gulls 16U team, Winnipeg Wild AAA and Team Alaska AAA, respectively – and Park, a Calgary native, was most recently with The Edge School’s U17 team.
Picking up great recruits from literally everywhere around the map was not a casual choice, but really a necessity when all six Mountain Division teams are all going to be jockeying for position to gain the attention of college and NHL scouts early.
“Our expectations are for the division to be very strong as a whole and competitive every single night,” Dreyer said.