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Part 2: Catching up with … Wolves GM Wendell Young

In Part 1 of a conversation with Wolves general manager Wendell Young, he discussed topics ranging from last season to building a roster for the upcoming campaign to what he looks for in a player. In Part 2, Young talks successes and failures, the biggest surprises of the 2022-23 season and the pool from which he’s drawing players to bring in for ’23-24.

When you’re building a roster and for whatever reason a player doesn’t pan out, what’s your thought process?

“I’m disappointed. I’ve missed on players, for sure. I hope to hit more than I miss, but it happens. I’ve had guys where I’m like, ‘man, I don’t know what’s going on with this guy because when I watched him, he was way better than this.’

There are some guys that just get into a situation and it’s just not good. I’ll take a guy in our league right now, Sheldon Rempal. As a rookie with Ontario (in 2018-19), he was an All-Star and then he kind of faded.

I ended up signing him and he didn’t really show much. And then he went to the Vancouver organization and he tore it up. And now he’s tearing it up now (with Henderson) and it was what I thought was going to happen here. But our situation just wasn’t the right one for him.

It happens. And I’m not saying, ‘geez, I wish he was that way with us.’ I’m just glad his career has turned around.

I think that happens to every person in hockey. You just move on and keep improving your team and try to hit way more than you miss.”

Looking back at last season, who were the biggest surprises?

“(Vasily) Ponomarev as a rookie and doing what he did was a nice surprise. He’s a pro. He is so focused on doing the right things to make the NHL. He does everything he possibly can to play. I didn’t count on a first-year guy to do what he did. He brings it every game and that was probably my biggest surprise of the group.

But with guys like (Max) Lajoie, (William) Lagesson and (Mackenzie) MacEachern, we knew what we were getting from them and they lived up to their billing. And that’s what you’re asking: For guys to live up to their billing and be the best they can as a player and as a person.”

When you see former Wolves players excelling in the NHL, do you have a sense of pride?

“Oh, absolutely. We take a lot of pride in the organization in giving the players every opportunity and a platform to succeed. And when they get up there, it makes the game more fun for me to watch because I know players personally and that’s what’s fun about my job.

With players all around the league or coaches and even trainers that have been through here, it’s exciting to watch them. There’s a huge sense of pride that they’re in the NHL and living their dream. If you really look at it, we’re trying to help guys fulfill their dreams of playing in the NHL.”

From where are you pulling guys to bring to the team in 2023-24?

“Mostly anywhere that available. We look at top players in the American Hockey League or guys in the NHL who are becoming free agents and might not get an NHL deal or a one-way contract. And I’ve gone through the East Coast League list and there might be a couple guys there that have a chance to move up. You just talk to everyone who’s available and keep making your calls.

With free agency, you’re waiting to see if all the restricted free agents get their offers. Even before that’s revealed the agent knows that the guy is not going to get qualified and that’s how I’ve signed some of my top guys over the years.

You’re just waiting on levels of stuff. Sometimes it’s like, ‘we better wait because there might be somebody better available.’ It’s a whole chess match. You can’t get too excited and sign too many guys early because some other guys might fall into your lap.

There are some players who you are surprised didn’t get a one-way deal in the NHL and there are some who come to a point in their career where it’s, ‘yep, I’m not going to really play in NHL and I’ll be happy playing in the American League for a good salary.’ ”

What’s your timeline in wanting to have the ’23-24 roster in place?

“There are no timelines right now. I’ve had years where we’ve pretty well had everything done early and then there have been times where we we’ve gone right to the deadline.

Sometimes things fall through when a player goes to somebody else or takes a deal in Europe or whatever. So there’s no set timeline, but the earlier the better.

Some guys are looking for a big NHL deal and a one-way contract and they want to wait and wait. We’re either going to say, ‘we can’t wait on you any longer or we’ll wait and see what happens.’ That’s kind of where it gets a little nerve-wracking when you’re just waiting on guys and you believe they will be a big part of your team and you’re not sure you’re going to get them.

I’ve had years where we’ve only had to sign a few guys but with the situation coming up here, I’ve got to sign a bunch of guys. There are a lot more lines in the water right now than in other years.”

For Part 1 of the conversation, go here.