Keenan Crossman is only a summer removed from his rookie season and he’s already sounding like a veteran.
The expectations older players had for Crossman last year are the ones he now has for those trying to make the Leafs’ roster during the team’s training camp.
“Following the team rules, buying into what we believe here, working hard, showing up the rink every day, doing everything they can to help the team win,” said Crossman.
The 19-year-old Trail native was one of few familiar faces Saturday at the Nelson Leafs training camp, which features 38 players on the ice at the Nelson and District Community Complex.
It’s not actually clear how many players will return to the Leafs ahead of the regular season, which is typical for this time of year when Junior A camps are also underway.
Leafs head coach Mario DiBella said 20 players including several of Nelson’s veterans were absent while attending Junior A camps, but that he was confident in the scouting job done on the players taking part in Nelson’s camp.
“There’s a core group of kids here who we feel comfortable and confident that they’ll be real good players for us,” said DiBella. “I think the season is made or broken by what happens in the next month basically, with the recruiting that we’ve done from spring to summer.”
The best case scenario for the Leafs is they match the success last year’s team had out of the gate.
Nelson started the 2018-19 campaign with six straight wins and went on to dominate the regular season. The Leafs won the Neil Murdoch Division title by 13 points, but key injuries broke the team down in the playoffs.
Nelson went on to make a disappointing second-round exit, which DiBella attributed in part to a lack of toughness he thinks has been addressed in the off-season.
“We’ve concentrated on acquiring that grit and the same level of skill we had last year. We’re real excited about some of the players we’ve got coming in here and excited about some of the players we believe we might see here in the next three days.”
The Leafs have also expanded their staff to include new goaltender coach Connor Potter, who previously played in Ontario prior to moving to Nelson.
DiBella said Potter’s presence will help the coaches give their goalies some extra attention.
“It’s really an issue of having someone who can mentor them and just talk to them and just be that voice of reason and that listening ear.”
Nelson opens the pre-season Sept. 1 on the road against the defending KIJHL champion Revelstoke Grizzlies. The Leafs then host exhibition games against Revelstoke on Sept. 4 and the Beaver Valley Nitehawks on Sept. 6 before finishing off the pre-season with a visit to Beaver Valley on Sept. 7.
The Leafs kick off the regular season Sept. 13 at home to the Fernie Ghostriders.