The Tri-City Americans are a week removed from the end of their season, but general manager Bob Tory is already planning for the 2010-11 season.
The Americans had their best season in franchise history, winning their third straight U.S. Division title, their first Western Conference title and advancing to the Western Hockey League finals for the first time, where they dropped a 4-1 series to the Calgary Hitmen.
The team said good-bye to overage players Johnny Lazo, Brett Plouffe and captain Jarrett Toll and have 20 guys who will be competing for roster spots this fall. Of that group, six will be overage players -- 20 years old. WHL teams can only have three on their roster.
That group is comprised of forwards Kruise Reddick (who was named team captain for next season Tuesday), Mike Brown and Sergei Drozd, defensemen Eric Mestery and Tyler Schmidt and goaltender Alex Pechurskiy.
Mestery (Washington) and Pechurskiy (Pittsburgh) have been drafted, and it's possible they could be signed by their respective teams and moved up.
"Brown, Drozd and Mestery will be evaluated as to where we are as a team," said Tory, who conducted exit interviews earlier in the week. "We are assuming Tyler (Schmidt) will be back. Alex has expressed a desire to come back to North America. If he comes back, it gives us an option to trade him."
Drozd (Belarus) and Pechurskiy (Russia) are both European players, and each WHL team can have two. Their status with the team will depend on need and the upcoming CHL import draft (June 30).
"The European draft will add two players," Tory said. "I'll try and get a defenseman there, but we will take the best player available. We draft 55th and 115th. There are no guarantees when you pick that late or if their teams will let them come."
Leading scorer Brendan Shinnimin will return to lead a talented group of forwards. Shinnimin had 27 goals and 55 assists last season, while Justin Feser is the top returning goal scorer with 36. Feser also had 37 assists and led the team with 19 power-play goals.
Brooks Macek chipped in 21 goals and 52 assists; Adam Hughesman 18 goals and 46 assists; and Reddick 20 goals and 36 assists.
"We return nine of our top 10 forwards and we would add (2009 first-round draft pick) Connor Rankin to that group," Tory said. "Up front we are in great shape. We have the option of whether to bring Sergei back. We will bring him to camp, and from there it will depend on the quality of Europeans we draft."
Feser and Macek are part of a quartet of 17-year-olds who played a big part in the Americans' success this season. Also in that group are Jordan Messier (23 goals, 24 assists) and Patrick Holland (16 goals, 20 assists).
"They should be that much better; they all had great seasons," Tory said. "Hopefully they will get drafted, go to an NHL camp and get some experience."
On the blue line, Tri-City returns Schmidt, Mestery, Zach Yuen, Brock Sutherland and Drydn Dow. Add to that group Spencer Humphries, who spent the playoffs with the team, and incoming rookies Sam Grist and Riley Guenther, Brett Pile and Justin Hamonic.
"We still don't know if we'll go with one overage defenseman or two," Tory said. "We won't answer that until Oct. 10 (overage deadline). Zach showed the promise of why we drafted him and he became a top-four defenseman. Spencer Humphries and Sam Grist give us size on the back end."
In goal, Tri-City returns Drew Owsley, who was a Western Conference second-team selection and MVP of the Western Conference finals. He finished the regular season 33-11-1-1 with a 2.51 goals against average and a .918 save percentage.
"At the start of last year we weren't sure about goaltending," Tory said. "Drew stepped up and we feel comfortable with him. We have tremendous leadership and we feel we have the potential to win another division title and have a good long playoff run if things fall into place."