Thought the start of training camp is still nearly two months away, the Timmins Rock’s 2019-20 NOJHL roster is continuing to take shape — highlighted this past week by the return of 10 veterans to the lineup.
And the team bid farewell to yet another veteran following a trade with the East Division rival Kirkland Lake Gold Miners.
Up front, the Rock welcomed back two-thirds of the team’s top line from 2018-19, with captain Derek Seguin (52, 34-30-64, 52) and right winger Riley Robitaille (49, 11-22-33, 55) re-signing.
The third member of that trio, left winger Keegan McMullen (54, 15-16-31, 34) — who is scheduled to attend training camp with the Peterborough Petes who drafted him in the 30th round (300th overall) of the 2018 OHL Priority Selection — has not officially re-signed with the Rock yet, but the NOJHL squad is anticipating he will be back as well.
Riley Brousseau (53, 11-22-33, 29), who also saw time on the top line with Seguin and Robitaille, has also re-signed with the Rock.
Two other forwards who played key roles with the Rock in 2018-19 — Josh Dickson (52, 14-17-31, 34) and Linden Spencer (51, 9-10-19, 78) — have also re-signed.
In addition, Stewart Parnell (3, 0-2-2, 2), whose 2018-19 campaign was cut short by a season-ending upper-body injury, will be back in a Rock uniform.
The six returnees join earlier signees Tyler Gilberds, Cameron Kosurko, Rhys Chiddenton, Ryan Twigg, Kain Harrietha and Tyler Schwindt to give the Rock 12 forwards signed to this point in the off season.
Seguin, who finished sixth in the NOJHL scoring race and second in goals in 2018-19, was not on the ice for the Rock’s prospect camp in Oshawa (June 8-9) as he continued to rehabilitate a lower-body injury, but he was impressed by what he saw from his teammates — old and new.
“I met a lot of people and talked to a lot of the guys from last year,” he said.
“I could go down the list and compliment each one of the guys.
“It is good to have both of the Rileys, from here in Timmins, back. Obviously, they are two different types of players, but they both bring something unique to the table.
“We also have young guys who are going to be stepping into their 17-year-old year, like Keegan McMullen and (Rock defenceman) Owen Shier.
“And obviously we have a couple of impressive 16-year-olds.
“I haven’t been able to see much of Cameron Kosurko, but from what I was able to see at camp, he is a true prospect.
“Obviously, I got to see (Chiddenton), as well, and he looked good. He has been putting in the work and we are looking forward to having him back.
“The team is looking good and I am excited to get started.”
Seguin had a lot of success last season playing with Robitaille on his right side and either McMullen or Brousseau on his left, and he is hoping to get a chance to team up with them again in 2019-20.
“Having somebody you are already comfortable playing with gives you that head start on everyone else,” he said. “In Junior ‘A’ hockey, that’s not always something that happens but I was chatting with (Rock coach Corey Beer) and he was kind of talking about line combination.
“He has been going nuts down there in Oshawa with it not being September yet.”
Given that the Rock project to have at least 13 players back from last year’s squad, it shouldn’t take the team long to pick up Beer’s systems — even if they have been tweaked a little over the summer.
“It’s funny, because we kind of said the same thing last year when I think we had six or seven returning players,” Seguin said. “That helped to give us a head start last season, so I anticipate it will be even better this year.”
Seguin, who enters his third year in a Rock uniform, nearly doubled his points total and nearly tripled his goals total last season after a strong rookie campaign (41, 12-16-28, 53) in 2017-18.
“I have been putting in a lot of work and doing everything I can in the off season to better myself,” he said. “I can’t predict what my offensive output will be this year, but I have been doing everything in my ability to improve and make sure I am ready for the start of the season.”
Seguin’s lower-body injury did not require surgery and he expects to be 100 percent healthy for the start of training camp.
“I had a couple of checkups and it was determined I would be better off to not have an operation that would have resulted in seven or eight weeks of recovery, so I have just been rehabbing it,” he said.
“I am back to 100 percent now and I am doing my full workload in the gym.”
As one might expect, Beer is pleased to have Seguin back in the Rock lineup for 2019-20 and wearing the “C” on his jersey.
“Any time you get a player of his quality back in the lineup, especially given what Segs means to our team and our community, you have to be happy,” he said.
“Being a hometown guy and the captain of the team, it reflects what (Rock general manager) Kevin (Peever) and I have preached about the culture of this team and the type of program we are trying to develop here.
“For Segs to make a commitment to coming back to the team, we are really excited. Having him back is massive in terms of what we want to do as a team moving forward this year.
“I also think it is big for us, as an organization, to be able to hang onto a high-end elite talent like Segs and build this program, year-in and year-out.”
As good as Seguin was last season, his coach sees the potential for more upside to his game in 2019-20.
“There were times early on last season when he had a 16-year-old Keegan McMullen and a guy who I love in Riley Robitaille, who plays a heavier game but we were trying to develop his skill and there were some backdoor tap-ins that weren’t going his way early on,” Beer said.
“Segs never said boo about it and never demanded to play with different players. He knows the benefits of having four lines.
“Early on, he shouldered a lot of the offence for us and won us a couple of games single-handedly all by himself.”
And it isn’t just Seguin’s on-ice performance that has impressed his coach.
“His off-ice program is really second to none in terms of how he prepares and gets his body ready,” Beer said. “I think there is another level to his game and we are going to see it on display this year.”
The coach also feels Robitaille will continue to demonstrate an increased skill level next season, without having to sacrifice the grit that has made him so effective down low in the offensive zone.
“He kind of reminds a bit of how Tom Wilson, of the Washington Capitals, plays the game,” Beer said. “When Wilson first came up, he was a fourth line guy, chip and chase, keep it simple, but used his body effectively.
“Today, you look at him and he plays on the first or second line for Washington and he scores a bunch of goals, but still has that edge to his game.
“With Robi, it is the exact same thing. When we first called him up as a 17-year-old and then brought him in full time, he really kept his game simple while he was getting himself acclimated to Junior ‘A’ hockey.
“This past year, being able to make plays on Segs’ line and being able to win battles down low, play power play and penalty kill, play key situations late in games, and still have that bite to his game showed great development out there.”
Brousseau, whose father Chris was a member of the Timmins Golden Bears, will be entering his second full season with the Rock.
“Riley is the kind of guy who knows how to get under the skin of the players on the other team,” Beer said.
“He may not look like an agitator, but man is he ever. He drives us nuts in terms of a staff with some of the pranks he pulls and you need those kinds of guys in the room to take the edge off.”
The coach appreciates what Brousseau has to offer on the ice, as well.
“I don’t think, and this isn’t a knock on him at all, I have seen a player get more out of his personal on-ice qualities than Riley Brousseau and he is a very talented player,” Beer said.
“He works at it so hard, every single day, to become a better player. If everyone worked as hard as him, there wouldn’t be a team in the league that could touch us.
“I think we have just touched the surface of what his offence can bring. He has an elite shot and he puts himself in good shooting areas all the time.”
The Rock blue-line, meanwhile, has been bolstered by the return of Josh Anderson (52, 11-33-44, 81), Owen Shier (51, 7-9-16, 14), Eric Moreau (48, 0-8-8, 22) and Gregory Arnburg (16, 1-4-5, 8).
The foursome joins a group of earlier signees that includes newcomers Alec Brown, Tarcisius Tibishkogijig and Aidan Milene.
Anderson’s 44 points ranked third among all NOJHL D-men in 2018-19 and entering his third season with the Rock, he will play a role on the Timmins blue-line.
“You look at (Anderson’s) stat line and he went from single digits in terms of goals and assists going back to midget hockey and all of a sudden he exploded last season and had 11 goals and 33 assists,” Beer said. “It didn’t shock us in the slightest because we knew he had that potential inside of him.
“He is probably one of the best pure skaters I have ever seen. It doesn’t take much for him to get going at full speed.
“He is a guy who is perfectly suited to the style of game we play. He is a guy who early on relied a little too much on his skill without fully understanding the ins and outs of being able to bring pucks out the right way, how to gap up properly defensively.
“He put in a lot of work after Christmas on those aspects of his game and we saw the best of him down the stretch and in the playoffs when he was playing close to 30 minutes a night.
“It takes a special type of athlete to do that and for him to want to learn so much about the position, he has put himself in a great spot.”
As reported earlier, the Rock have settled on their goaltending situation for 2019-20, bringing in Vance Meyer to team with record-setting veteran netminder Tyler Masternak.
One veteran player who won’t be back with the Rock in 2019-20 is forward A.J. Campbell (53, 8-11-19, 33), who was traded to Kirkland Lake after two seasons in Timmins
Campbell was originally signed by the Rock prior to the start of the 2017-18 NOJHL campaign, then traded to the PJCHL’s Huntsville Otters on Oct. 12, 2017, and reacquired on Nov. 15, 2017.
Within his two stints in Timmins, Campbell finished with a combined 12 goals and 25 points to go along with 73 penalty minutes in 95 games.
“He was a key guy in helping us upset Powassan in the 2018 playoffs and I watched A.J. take the next step this past year,” Beer said. “He is a guy who is going to be missed in the locker room and I think Kirkland Lake is going to reap the benefit of some hard work he put in during his two years with us.”
ROCK ROSTER STATUS
Signed: Tyler Masternak and Vance Meyer;
Eligible to return: Jean-Marc Brisson.
Signed: Josh Anderson, Eric Moreau, Owen Shier, Gregory Arnbourg Alec Brown, Tarcisius Tibishkogijig, Aidan Milene;
Eligible to return: Carson Burlington.
Traded: Will Caston, Luka Bolduc.
Signed: Derek Seguin, Riley Robitaille, Riley Brousseau, Linden Spencer, Josh Dickson, Stewart Parnell, Tyler Gilberds, Cameron Kosurko, Rhys Chiddenton, Ryan Twigg, Kain Harrietha, Tyler Schwindt.
Eligible to return: Keegan McMullen, Gage Tremblay, Darcy Haupt;
Traded: Mahingan Decontie, A.J. Campbell.