Forward Logan Nelson, about as close to a lock as you can get at Victoria Royals training camp, doesn’t take anything for granted.
“There’s a lot of good talent here. There are no promises and we’re all competing for spots,” he said Monday as the Western Hockey League club’s 20 returning players skated officially for the first time in 2013-14.
That’s the expected sentiment from a veteran player without airs. But realistically, there is only one scenario under which Nelson won’t be on the Royals this season as one of three over-age 20-year-olds. That’s if the Buffalo Sabres assign him to their American Hockey League affiliate in Rochester, N.Y.
The native of Rogers, Minn., was in the Buffalo summer development camp and invited back for rookie camp starting Sept. 5.
If he returns to the Royals, and he likely will, he will do so a wizened player.
“When you get to an NHL camp at this [junior] age, everybody is better than you and that pushes you to a higher level, too,” said Nelson, a fifth round pick of the Sabres in 2012.
Former Royals forward Kevin Sundher, a 2010 Buffalo third-round pick who played 38 games last season for Rochester, has been helpful to Nelson.
“Kevin told me pro hockey is largely mistake-free hockey,” said Nelson.
“And that you really have to focus on your play away from the puck, which is something I am looking forward to improving on this season. I am planning to be the hardest working guy in the Buffalo rookie camp.”
Nelson, Steven Hodges (Florida Panthers), Ben Walker (Minnesota Wild) and Keegan Kanzig (Calgary Flames) have been invited to NHL rookie camps and could miss parts of the Royals exhibition season, and even potentially the start of the Royals regular season, depending on whether they advance to NHL main camps.
“In both situations [Calgary rookie camp or Royals camp], I play the same game,” said Kanzig, a blue-liner taken in the third round of the 2013 draft, and who leaves for the Flames rookie camp Sept. 3.
“Obviously, the level is higher in the Calgary camp but I don’t change the way I play against the older guys.”
The chances are all the Royals NHL rookie camp invitees will by plying their trade on Blanshard Street this season.
“We have a strong core coming back,” said Nelson.
It includes Nelson, Hodges Walker, Kanzig, Brandon Magee, Austin Carroll, Jordan Fransoo, Brett Cote, Trent Lofthouse, Joe Hicketts and goaltender Patrik Polivka.
“We’re all excited for this season,” said Kanzig.
“We’re going to be a mature team.”
Camp continues with sessions today at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre, culminating with a scrimmage at 5 p.m.
The intra-squad game is by donation Wednesday evening at 7 in the Memorial Centre.
The Royals’ five-game exhibition schedule commences Friday night in Everett, Wash.
The regular season opens for Victoria Sept. 20 at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver against the Giants, with the first home date the next night against the Giants.
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