THROUGHOUT a hectic summer of recruitment, Leeds Chiefs boss Sam Zajac has strived to find the right blend of youth and experience - but he has also had one eye firmly fixed on the team’s future.
By signing young prospects Harrison Walker and Tyler Nixon to two-way deals, Zajac is clearly planning for two-three years down the line, knowing the Elland Road club has to develop its own talent in order to prosper.
And with 17-year-old goaltender Walker and defenceman Nixon, 18, the Chiefs’ player-coach believes he has found two of the most exciting prospects around in the British game.
Walker, like a number of other Chiefs’ recruits is a product of the Bradford Bulldogs’ junior system, graduating to play for Blackburn Hawks in NIHL One last season, where he will remain during 2019-20.
Nixon is a product of the Sheffield junior system, spending most of last season with Sheffield Senators in NIHL 2, but also getting some experience of the next level in NIHL One with Sutton Sting, with who he has signed for the forthcoming season.
Both players will play the majority of their hockey and continue training with their parent clubs,, but they will also train with the Chiefs and, when possible, be available for selection in NIHL National.
“With the league we are in, it is really important to develop your own players,” said Zajac.
These are two really talented kids, with great attituddes and worth investing the time in. We’re getting young, hungry talented players.Leeds Chiefs’ player-coach, Sam Zajac.
“With these two guys being fairly local and really talented kids they are two obvious lads for us to look at and they are worth investing the time in.
“They’ve both got really good attitudes and are really eager to get on with the opportunity.
“It works in a number of ways - we’re getting young, hungry talented players who are going to be able to train with us and, when the opportunity arises, we are going to be able to use them in games and expose them to more serious competition.”
News of the two-way deals for Walker and Nixon comes just 48 hours after Leeds announced the signing of another hot prospect in the shape of 20-year-old forward Adam Barnes, who is also on a two-way with Elite League outfit Manchester Storm.
With 19-year-old forward Ethan Hehir and defenceman Lewis Baldwin, 20, it shows a willingness by Zajac to give youth its head, knowing he has the experience to guide the youngsters in the shape of himself, along with the likes of Luke Boothroyd, James Archer, Chris Sykes and others.
“I’ve been on the ice with Harrison a few times this summer and he definitely has all the makings of being a really good, young goaltender - definitely one for the future.
“With Tyler, I only played against him once or twice last season and didn’t see that much of him because he mostly played juniors. But speaking to people around the leagues and around the junior system, he’s got a lot of talent.
“He’s a good skater and has a good head on his shoulders and there is definitely a lot of potential there to work with.”
Tomorrow night the Chiefs will hold their official shirt launch at The Liquorist, Greek Street, Leeds (7pm) where fans will be able to meet some of the players. Two more new signings will be announced on the night.