Jacob Cepis was the Idaho Steelheads leading scorer last season.
The second-year forward knows he has his work cut out for him if hes going to repeat that feat this season.
No offense to our team last year, but our talent this year is double what it was last year, Cepis said. Its not even close.
The NHL lockout has had a lot to do with the elevation in talent.
Thats just the way it is this year, Cepis said. Its just been a big-time trickle down. With this deal with the NHL, there are guys here who played in the AHL all of last year. Everyone is getting bumped down.
Thats true across the ECHL, and its certainly true with the Steelheads.
A look at the number of affiliated players quickly confirms that. Idaho is affiliated with Texas of the AHL and Dallas of the NHL.
Last year, there were many games in which Michael Neal was the only player from the Stars organization playing in Idaho. Friday night, there were eight affiliated players on the Steelheads roster as Idaho defeated Ontario 6-2 at CenturyLink Arena. It was the fifth win in row for Idaho (5-2-0).
One of those affiliated players is Austin Smith, who led the NCAA in goals (36) last season as a senior at Colgate. Smith broke in as a pro with Texas at the end of last season, but he said he is impressed by the amount of talent in Idaho.
During the game the other day, you could see everyone could make plays, said Smith, who had two goals Friday night. Theres a lot of skill. And when youre rolling three lines like that and everybody is scoring, youre not just counting on one line.
The numbers back him up. Six players scored in Idahos 6-2 win at Colorado last Saturday. The next game saw seven Steelheads score in a 7-2 win against Ontario on Wednesday. Five Steelheads scored Friday.
We have a loaded team, said defenseman Jeremie Blain, who was selected by the Edmonton Oilers in the fourth round in 2010 and was assigned to Idaho by Chicago of the AHL. I think were lucky to have the guys we have. A lot of guys would be in the AHL, but due to the lockout, theyre here and they want to play.
The Steelheads arent the only loaded team in the league. Ontario had defenseman Paul Mara in its lineup Friday. Mara was the seventh overall pick in the NHL Draft in 2007. He signed a $1.95 million contract with the New York Rangers in 2008.
We wouldnt normally see him, obviously, Idaho coach Brad Ralph said.
But this isnt a normal season in the ECHL.
It will be pretty fun to see where this league goes depending on where the lockout goes, Smith said.
GAME NOTES: Goalie Tyler Beskorowany (2-2) turned away 40 shots Friday. Idaho had 26 shots on goal. Ontario coach Jason Christie gambled by pulling his goalie with about 4 minutes remaining. Two minutes later, Justin Dowling scored an empty-net goal to give Idaho a 5-2 lead.
Chris Langrill: 377-6424