ECHL's Mountain Division Likely Allen Americans' To Lose
ECHL's Mountain Division Likely Allen Americans' To Lose
The new affiliate of the NHL’s Seattle Kraken have been a powerhouse ever since joining the ECHL prior to the start of the 2014-15 campaign.
For all intents and purposes, the Mountain Division served as the ECHL’s Western Conference last season, save for the eventual Kelly Cup-winning Fort Wayne Komets slotting into the place of the Idaho Steelheads, who were the lone division club to opt out of the 2020-21 season.
In the regular season, it was the Allen Americans who were the class of the group, having won the division and conference with a 45-23-3-1 record, but fell short of being declared the regular season champion despite having the ECHL’s most points (94); the Florida Everblades played three fewer games, but had a slightly higher points percentage than the Americans did.
KEY ADDITIONS: Michael Bitzer
KEY DEPARTURES: Anthony Beauregard, Stefan Fournier, Evan Weninger
KEY RETURNEES: Jay Dickman, Dean Stewart, Peter Crinella, Brayden Watts, Cam Clarke, Evan Buitenhuis, Matteo Gennaro
OUTLOOK: The Wichita Thunder very quietly put together a stellar 2020-21 campaign, with a 41-22-6-2 record, good for 90 points. They finished second in the conference to the Allen Americans. Like Allen, they were booted out of the postseason by the eventual champion Komets, and will ice a somewhat familiar team to the one that suffered that disappointing ending, albeit with some big missing names
Only two of the team’s top-five scorers from last year are set to return; last year’s league MVP, Anthony Beauregard, headed off to Switzerland while Stefan Fournier left to play in Slovakia.
Matteo Gennaro, who led the Thunder with 26 goals last season, was just sent back to Wichita from AHL Bakersfield.
Dean Stewart, the team’s leading scorer among defensemen, is back, as is third-year pro forward Jay Dickman, who broke out with a 47-point campaign last season.
Evan Buitenhuis returns between the pipes for Wichita and is joined by Michael Bitzer, an ECHL veteran who returns to North America after two seasons in Germany.
KEY ADDITIONS: Colby McAuley, Evan Wardley
KEY DEPARTURES: Tomas Sholl, Marco Roy, Brett Supinski, Anthony Nellis
KEY RETURNEES: A.J. White, Will Merchant, Zach Andrusiak
OUTLOOK: Incredibly, the Steelheads have never missed the postseason as an ECHL franchise, and are one of four active organizations with multiple Kelly Cup wins (2004, 2007). Had the 2019-20 season not come to an abrupt halt due to COVID-19, Idaho would have likely advanced to the playoffs again, having finished in a tie for second place in the Mountain Division with a 36-18-3-4 record.
Only two of that team’s top five scorers will return, with 2019-20’s 50-point scorer Marco Roy having since moved on to Fort Wayne last year and then Austria for this season. But, A.J. White and Will Merchant, who were two of only four players on that year’s club to score 15 or more goals, will both be back this season. As will Zach Andrusiak, a 23-year-old winger who found a home in Orlando last season.
Past that, the team has added a variety of rookies and veterans; the latter features such notables as Colby McAuley, who potted 16 points in 20 games with Allen last year, and veteran defenseman Evan Wardley, who returns to Idaho after spending last year in Wheeling.
In net, Jake Kupsky returns, who appeared in two games for Idaho in 2019-20. Matt Jurusik, who got into eight games with South Carolina – where Kupsky meant most of his 2020-21 campaign—last season, and Kris Oldham, who made six appearances with the Orlando Solar Bears, are also options between the pipes.
KEY ADDITIONS: Miles Gendron, Luke Martin, Andrew Nielsen
KEY DEPARTURES: Cedric Pare, A.J. White, Ryan Lowney, Pat Cannone
KEY RETURNEES: Matthew Boucher, Trey Bradley, Peyton Jones
OUTLOOK: The Grizzlies affiliation with the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche and AHL’s Colorado Eagles could pay big dividends for Utah, as a multitude of players on deals at the top two levels have been assigned to the ECHL to begin the season.
Both of the club’s likely goaltenders, returnee Peyton Jones and second-year pro Trent Miner, are on assignment from the Eagles and Avalanche, respectively. In addition, five defensemen and two forwards from the Colorado affiliations have been sent to Utah, notably Avalanche 2016 sixth-rounder Nate Clurman and the returning Matthew Boucher, who led the club with 52 points in the 2020-21 season.
Trey Bradley, the team’s second leading scorer last year, will also return, rejoining a group that will be bolstered by three players who were selected in the first three rounds by other organizations in recent NHL Drafts: Miles Gendron (70th overall by Ottawa in 2014), Luke Martin (52, Carolina, 2017) and Andrew Nielsen (65, Toronto, 2015).
KEY ADDITIONS: Chad Costello, Jackson Leef
KEY DEPARTURES: Les Lancaster, Corey Mackin, Matthew Register
KEY RETURNEES: Spencer Asuchak, Francis Marotte
OUTLOOK: The new affiliate of the NHL’s newest team, the Seattle Kraken, have been a powerhouse ever since joining the ECHL prior to the start of the 2014-15 campaign. Their first two seasons ended with a Kelly Cup, and their most recent saw them advance to the Western Conference Final, where they were bounced by eventual champion Fort Wayne.
Les Lancaster, the leading scorer on that team and the league’s top defenseman, has left to play in Sweden, as has Corey Mackin, which means the Americans will be without either player who tallied 60-plus points for them last season. Matthew Register, who joined them as the only player to rack up 50-plus points, is also gone, having departed to play in Cardiff.
While Spencer Asuchak, the team’s fourth-leading scorer from last year, is back, there may have been no bigger offseason move by any team than the Americans bringing back Chad Costello, a three-time ECHL MVP who produced three consecutive 100-point seasons for Allen between 2014-15 and 2016-17 before departing for Europe.
Francis Marotte, one of six goaltenders to play for Allen last season, was the only netminder listed on their website roster.
KANSAS CITY MAVERICKS
KEY ADDITIONS: Jesse Mychan
KEY DEPARTURES: Brodie Reid, Rob Bordson
KEY RETURNEES: Darik Angeli, Lane Scheidl, Angus Redmond
OUTLOOK: The Mavericks' most recent campaign was a struggle, with a sixth-place finish in a seven-team conference, a rough end to their 2020-21 season.
Brodie Reid returned from a five-year stint in Europe to post 60 points in 60 games to lead Kansas City in scoring last year, but has since gone back overseas to play in Cardiff. Darik Angeli and Lane Scheidl, the team’s second and third-leading scorers, are back, and are joined by a huge addition up front in Jesse Mychan.
Mychan has long filled every column on the scoresheet in his ECHL stints, which he’s mixed between multiple stints overseas in Europe. While he has three triple-digit penalty-minute seasons in the ECHL, including a whopping 262 PIM’s in 2013-14, he’s always been able to light the lamp. That was no exception last year with the Allen Americans, for whom he was a point-per-game player with a 15-9—24 line in 24 contests.
In net, Angus Redmond is expected back after playing just two games with the Mavericks last year, and will be joined by Evan Moyse, who split his brief first pro campaign last season between the SPHL and the ECHL’s Jacksonville Icemen.
RAPID CITY RUSH
KEY ADDITIONS: Lukas Parik, Alec Butcher, Hudson Elynuik, Logan Nelson
KEY DEPARTURES: Adam Carlson, Peter Quenneville, Tyler Coulter, Avery Peterson
KEY RETURNEES: David Tendeck
OUTLOOK: After an awful start to the 2020-21 season, the Rush were, at times, one of the league’s hottest teams. They finished the year with seven straight losses to end up in the Western Conference basement. The Rush have made the playoffs just once in their ECHL tenure, making it to the second round in their first year in the league back in 2014-15. They have made some changes this off-season trying to rectify that, namely bringing in Scott Burt as their new head coach.
None of the team’s top-five leading scorers seem to be returning; Peter Quenneville has left for Denmark, Tyler Coulter is in Norway, and Avery Peterson is up in the AHL with the Milwaukee Admirals.
Rapid City has brought in some veteran experience in the hopes of replacing some of that core group, namely Alec Butcher, Hudson Elynuik, and Logan Nelson, who are all proven performers for other teams in the past several years.
The goaltending situation this season seems set, with a returning David Tendeck having been assigned to the Rush by AHL Tucson, while first-year pro Lukas Parik, a third-round pick of the Los Angeles Kings, was sent to Rapid City from AHL Ontario. Cole Kehler and Hayden Lavigne were also in camp with the club.
KEY ADDITIONS: Dylan Sadowy, Trey Phillips, Mason McDonald
KEY DEPARTURES: Matthew Lane, Garret Cockerill, Danny Moynihan, Charlie Sampair, Roman Durny, Devin Williams
KEY RETURNEES: Adam Pleskach, Mike McKee, Max Golod
OUTLOOK: Ever since falling one game shy of a trip to the Kelly Cup Finals in 2019, it’s been tough sledding for the Oilers, who were robbed of a potential return trip to the playoffs the following year by the COVID stoppage. The Oilers were the first team outside of a playoff spot in the Western Conference last season.
Adam Pleskach, Tulsa’s leading scorer last season, is back for a ninth year with the club, but the majority of the core group will not return.
Max Golod, who split his first pro year between Tulsa and AHL San Diego, was recently reassigned by the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks back to the Oilers to start this season. He is joined by two players on AHL contracts, forward Greg Printz and defenseman Nathan Larose.
Mason McDonald, the 34th overall pick by the Calgary Flames in 2014 and a representative of Team Canada at the 2016 World Junior Championships, joined Tulsa on an ECHL contract after not playing last season, and is expected to be the starting goaltender.
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