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Prospects eager to impress

Gregoire, Clark concerned about lockout's effect on NHL dream

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All across North America and Europe, NHL players are keeping one eye on meetings in New York while wondering aloud about possible Plan Bs.

Whether it is Sidney Crosby or Andrew Ladd, Steven Stamkos or Bryan Little, the NHL's finest are asking this: Where do they turn to ply their trade if the NHL locks them out at the expiration of the current collective bargaining agreement Saturday night?

Fair question, that.

And then there are those like Winnipeg Jets prospects Jason Gregoire and Kevin Clark. Their Plan B is set: the lockout drags on a couple of weeks and they are on the first plane to St. John's for IceCaps training camp.

But what they are more concerned about right now is their Plan A: the NHL dream.

More specifically, getting the chance to chase their Plan A.

"I'm preparing like there's going to be a season," said Gregoire, the Winnipeg-born winger who has been skating regularly at the MTS Iceplex over the last couple of weeks.

"But I'm also preparing for a lockout, just because if they call and say there is no NHL I've got to be ready to go right to St. John's without having an NHL camp.

"I've got some security," Gregoire added. "Those guys on one-way deals, they must be thinking in the back of their mind, 'Do I wait this out in Winnipeg? What am I going to do?' Me, I'd love the opportunity to try out for Winnipeg again. But, if not, I know I'm going back to St. John's."

Still, the dream isn't supposed to be temporarily sidetracked this way. It's all about getting a foot in the door for prospects and draft picks. It's about opportunity. And any chance they get to be evaluated alongside NHL regulars by the team's brass is a godsend.

So the concern for those not written in pen on the depth chart is this: A drawn-out lockout likely means a shortened season. A shortened season means a compacted training camp. And with teams needing to get ready in a hurry, a shortened camp likely means the invitations to those not already deemed regulars could be scarce.

For example, in the lockout of 1994-95 that reduced the schedule to 48 games, the pre-season was wiped out and the season began immediately after short camps.

And that does no good for the likes of Gregoire or Clark.

"It's a tough spot for us or any younger guy that wants to come to camp, make an impression and see how they stack up against the full-time guys," Clark said this week. "But I also can't say enough about St. John's and to be able to go there and know we're going to have a solid team is exciting.

"There is still some optimism. All we can do is come to the rink every day and prepare like camp is going to start next week. If not, all eyes will be on the AHL and it's our job to work to be the first guys called up."

Questions, questions, questions. It can drive a guy with a short window to turn heads loopy... if he lets it.

"I've asked a couple of guys about that, about what happens to camp, but no one really knows," Gregoire said. "What happens if it's resolved quickly? Will they bring guys like me and Clarkie back from St. John's or will it pretty much be the 25-man roster?

"I guess I can't worry about that. Basically, the situation hasn't changed since last year: I still have to prove myself. I'm ready to prove myself whether it's at a camp here in Winnipeg or in St. John's."

MORE NET DEPTH? James Shewaga of the Brandon Sun reports that former Wheat Kings goaltender Tyler Plante has received a training camp invitation from the IceCaps.

A second-round draft pick of the Florida Panthers in 2005, the 25-year-old Plante played for four different teams in 2011-12: Mora IK in the Swedish First Division and Djurgardens IF Stockholm in the Swedish Elite League, the San Antonio Rampage of the AHL and the Cincinnati Cyclones of the ECHL. Plante has played in 108 AHL games, mostly with the Rochester Americans.

Plante would presumably be battling Eddie Pasquale and former Springfield Falcons netminder Mark Dekanich, along with Chris Carrozzi, for work with the IceCaps. Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 13, 2012 C6

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