2023-24 ECHL Power Rankings

ECHL Power Rankings: Recent Surge Lands Adirondack On Top

Writer Justin A. Cohn delivers his ECHL Power Rankings every other week throughout the season.

1. Adirondack Thunder/Last Ranking: 2

Record: 28-8-5

Coming into the season, I was cautiously enthusiastic about the Thunder, who squeaked into the playoffs last season, before bowing out in a five-game first-round playoff series with the Newfoundland Growlers. 

However, I lacked some confidence in Adirondack, hence the Thunder’s No. 21 spot in the season-opening rankings Oct. 25.

There’s no doubt now, though. Adirondack is for real. And it’s in the top spot for the first time this season.

Adirondack is on a 12-0-2 run and four wins away from matching its win total from last season. 

It has a balanced lineup with sneaky-good forwards, such as Patrick Grasso, Ryan Smith and Yushiro Hirano; reliable defensemen, such as Matt Stief and Colin Felix; and game-changing goaltenders Jeremy Brodeur, Vinnie Purpura and Tyler Brennan.

Coach Pete MacArthur has done a good job directing this team – the improvement of rookie Tristan Ashbrook (12 goals, 24 points in 38 games) is one such example – and adding tough guys Darian Skeoch and Nico Blachman during the season, moves that could have gone sideways, has given the Thunder lineup a needed edge.

As long as Adirondack continues to stay out of the penalty box – it averages 12.61 penalty minutes (10th-fewest in the league) – and remains strong on special teams (No. 8 power play at 21.9%, No. 2 penalty kill at 84.7%), there’s no reason it cannot remain the ECHL’s team to beat.

2. Kansas City Mavericks/Last Ranking: 1

Record: 29-8-2

The Mavericks, who have the third-ranked offense (4.08 goals per game) and third-ranked defense (2.72 goals against) are on a 12-1-1 roll, and opponents just cannot fall asleep on them for even a handful of minutes. 

That’s what happened Saturday, when the Mavericks scored three unanswered goals in the third period to force overtime – the rally included two Nolan Walker goals – and capture a 5-4 victory over the Allen Americans in a shootout. David Cotton had the only shootout goal.

An encouraging sign for the Mavericks has been that they’ve become less reliant on the likes of Max Andreev, who recently was called up to Coachella Valley of the AHL, or Cade Borchardt. 

Other players have been picking up the scoring slack, such as Jake Jaremko and Kyle Jackson.

And the goaltending of Cale Morris and Dillon Kelley seems sound, even if they’ve received little fanfare. 

Morris, who is contracted to Coachella Valley, has stopped 62 of 66 shots (93.9%) over his last three outings, and Kelley has stopped 107 of 118 (90.7%) over his last five.

Kansas City still needs to solidify its middle-of-the-road special teams, and it’s got a good litmus test coming Feb. 7, when the Fort Wayne Komets come to town, but the Mavericks clearly have established themselves as one of the ECHL’s powers this season – and there are no signs of them slowing down.  

3. Greenville Swamp Rabbits/Last Ranking: 4

Record: 30-11-1

With victories in 10 of their last 12 games, the Swamp Rabbits seem to have taken control of the South Division with an 11-point lead over the South Carolina Stingrays.

Every now and then – such as the 5-2 loss to the Orlando Solar Bears on Jan. 10 or the 5-2 loss to the Jacksonville Icemen on Jan. 20 – the goaltending looks a little suspect, but those nights seem to be becoming more and more rare. Ryan Bednard and Luke Richardson have combined to stop 113 of 116 shots (97.4%) over the last three games, all wins.

Greenville allows a lot of shots, 33.64, seventh in the league, and could do a better job of limiting close-range scoring opportunities, but the defense ranks sixth with 2.88 goals against per game. 

And the depth on offense is impressive; if opponents shut down Carter Souch, they’ve still got to deal with Josh McKechney, or if Brannon McManus is off, Jake Smith can burn you.

The Swamp Rabbits aren’t particularly flashy, but they are particularly effective.

4. South Carolina Stingrays/Last Ranking: 11

Record: 24-14-2

The Stingrays have won five straight games dating back to Jan. 20, and their offense has been a sight with 5.2 goals per game in that span.

Austin Magera, who has 17 goals and 40 points in 41 games, and Jack Adams, who has 11 goals and 37 points in 41 games, have been game-changers as rookie forwards for the Stingrays. Oh, and Magera could be the front-runner for ECHL Rookie of the Year.

Defensemen Connor Moore and Michael Kim, who have combined for nine goals and 47 points, are able to impact games at both ends of the ice. 

And the goaltending tandem of Mitchell Gibson and Garin Bjorklund, both rookies, has much potential.

South Carolina has had its issues against division opponents – it’s 17-13-2 – but a 7-1-0 record against Newfoundland, Trois-Rivières and Wichita looks good on the résumé.

The Stingrays have outscored opponents 101-78 in the first two periods of games, but they’ve been outscored 45-35 in the third. That’s got to change. But if the Stingrays make it to overtime, they’re money with an impressive 8-2 record.

5. Toledo Walleye/Last Ranking: 3

Record: 25-9-6

Just as it seemed the Central Division-leading Walleye were being exposed, they put up a 9-1 victory over the Cincinnati Cyclones on Sunday. Granted, the Cyclones’ lineup was decimated, but it was a not-too-subtle reminder that when it comes to overall offensive capabilities, no one can match Toledo’s talent.

From Brandon Hawkins, Trenton Bliss and Sam Craggs to Orrin Centazzo, Conlan Keenan and Riley Sawchuk, Toledo just has a bevy of overwhelming forwards. 

Other teams – most notably the Kalamazoo Wings – have begun to develop a game plan against the small and speedy Walleye, and that’s been to play physically and pound it in the corners.

Toledo is in a 2-5-1 slump, but I don’t see that continuing. There’s too much talent, too much of a big home-ice advantage. 

The goalies, John Lethemon and Jan Bednar, have to start stealing some games, because division rivals have improved their play lately. Even if they don’t, though, the Toledo offense should be good enough to keep it in a championship hunt all season. Unless everyone is able to adopt the Kalamazoo gameplan.

6. Idaho Steelheads/Last Ranking: 6

Record: 26-13-2

The Steelheads have fallen a bit back down to earth with a 5-8-1 record over their last 14 games, but there are some reasons to believe they’re going to return to form: 

Forward Mark Rassell, who has 22 goals and 35 points in 31 games for Idaho, arrived Monday from Abbotsford of the AHL; rookie Bryan Thomson, who is on an AHL contract with Texas, has shown he can be a legit No. 1 goalie with a 12-7-2 record, 2.86 GAA, .912 SP and a shutout; and players such as Francesco Arcuri and Ben Zloty – both rookies – have been upping their games.

Defensively, the Steelheads have work to do; they rank 17th with 3.39 goals against per game, including back-to-back 5-2 losses to the Tulsa Oilers last weekend. Some of that can be explained away by call-ups. Some of it cannot.

There’s certainly more competition in the Mountain Division this season – Kansas City is a power, Tulsa is formidable and Allen is on the upswing – so it’s not surprising that the Steelheads lack the dominance of last season. It would be surprising if they dropped out of second place, though, with a nine-point lead over Tulsa.

7. Jacksonville Icemen/Last Ranking: 9

Record: 23-15-3

The Icemen have won seven of their last 10 games and are gaining momentum in the South Division, in which they have a 20-12-3 record.

The goaltending duo of Michael Houser, one of the ECHL’s all-time greats, and Matt Vernon, a rookie, is as formidable as you’ll find in the league. And they don’t face a ton of shots – only an average of 18 over the last three games.

Overall, the Jacksonville defense ranks first in the league with 2.66 goals against per game. That has taken a ton of pressure off the offense, which is led by Christopher Brown, Riley Fiddler-Schultz and Matteson Iacopelli, who have combined for 41 goals. 

The Jacksonville offense ranks 14th with 3.22 goals per game, but it has improved lately with an average of 4.4 goals over the last five games.

The Icemen need to play better at home – they’re only 9-8-3 – and special teams certainly have room for improvement, but they have a lineup that’s balanced from top to bottom and seem to have overcome early season struggles that had them treading water in the standings.

8. Fort Wayne Komets/Last Ranking: 14

Record: 22-16-4

The Komets have been perhaps the ECHL’s most mystifying team – looking terrific for stretches, brutal for others – but they seem to be on the right path with a 4-0-1 run.

The team has 10 rookies, who have started to play more maturely lately, understanding situational hockey and limiting turnovers and penalties. 

The special teams have improved, especially the penalty kill that has foiled 16 straight opposing power plays. 

And then there’s the solid goaltending trio of Ryan Fanti, an Edmonton Oilers prospect, who shut out Cincinnati with 23 saves Saturday in his second game back from offseason hip surgery; Tyler Parks, who is contracted to the AHL’s Bakersfield Condors; and Brett Brochu, one of the most exciting rookies in the league. Each of them has a shutout over the last 12 games.

Fort Wayne has pulled within eight points of the Central Division-leading Toledo Walleye, but it has to prove it can beat its archrival; Fort Wayne is 1-6-1 in the season series.

There’s a lot of depth here among the forward lines – from all-star Jack Dugan to rookie Ture Linden to the exciting Alexis D’Aoust – and when they’re playing confidently, as they have been lately, they’re tough to stop.

9. Wheeling Nailers/Last Ranking: 15

Record: 21-16-2

One night, the Nailers will unleash a torrid of offense on opponents. The next, they’ll rely on Taylor Gauthier’s netminding skills. And right now, it’s all working – the Nailers have won five in a row.

They rattled off three straight victories last week on the road against the Reading Royals – outscoring them 21-9 – and the fallout included the Royals firing coach James Henry, while elevating Jason Binkley from assistant to interim head coach.

Lukas Svejkovsky, who spent last season in the AHL, has been tearing it up with 14 goals and 33 points in 26 Wheeling games. 

Dillon Hamaliuk also has been on a roll; he has 13 goals and 31 points, and a plus-15 rating, in 28 games. 

But there’s a bevy of offensive studs beyond them, including Cédric Desruisseaux and Jordan Martel.

The Nailers need to take the pressure off their goalies by limiting offensive chances, and a 2-5-1 record against the Indy Fuel stands out as a problem, but they’re beginning to fire on all cylinders at the right time in a tightly packed Central Division.

10. Kalamazoo Wings/Last Ranking: 8

Record: 20-17-2

Nothing about what the Wings do can be considered flashy. They focus on playing sound, defensive hockey, will get physical and they look for opportunities to score in transition. When all else fails, goaltenders Jonathan Lemieux and Hunter Vorva have been solid.

Kalamazoo’s success against the mighty Toledo Walleye offense has helped change the dynamics of the Central Division – the Wings are 6-1-1 against the Walleye – but an 0-4-0 record against the Fort Wayne Komets has been problematic.

Erik Bradford, 29, is having the best season of his career with 14 goals and 44 points in 39 games, and rookie David Keefer is standing out with 11 goals and 30 points in 36 games, but it’s the Wings depth that most impresses. From playmakers such as Brad Morrison and Josh Passolt, to role players like Chaz Reddekopp and Brandon Saigeon, there’s a lot to like about the Wings.

One has to wonder if they have the offensive guns to keep their success going, but they’re certainly a team no one wants to face right now. Except maybe Fort Wayne.

The Rest Of The ECHL

11. Norfolk Admirals/Last Ranking: 17

Record: 21-17-4

12. Florida Everblades/Last Ranking: 7

Record: 20-12-6

13. Orlando Solar Bears/Last Ranking: 5

Record: 20-12-6

14. Tulsa Oilers/Last Ranking: 21

Record: 20-17-3

15. Indy Fuel/Last Ranking: 12

Record: 20-16-4

16. Trois-Rivières Lions/Last Ranking: 13

Record: 19-20-4

17. Allen Americans/Last Ranking: 19

Record: 18-21-2

18. Newfoundland Growlers/Last Ranking: 10

Record: 18-18-7

19. Cincinnati Cyclones/Last Ranking: 16

Record: 19-18-4

20. Worcester Railers/Last Ranking: 18

Record: 18-18-5

21. Utah Grizzlies/Last Ranking: 25

Record: 18-22-0

22. Maine Mariners/Last Ranking: 22

Record: 17-17-5

23. Rapid City Rush/Last Ranking: 20

Record: 17-22-2

24. Iowa Heartlanders/Last Ranking: 27

Record: 16-19-6

25. Atlanta Gladiators/Last Ranking: 28

Record: 15-23-2

26. Reading Royals/Last Ranking: 23

Record: 16-19-4

27. Savannah Ghost Pirates/Last Ranking: 24

Record: 14-22-5

28. Wichita Thunder/Last Ranking: 26

Record: 12-22-6