2023-24 ECHL Power Rankings

ECHL Power Rankings: Kansas City Continues To Dominate

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

1. Kansas City Mavericks/Last Ranking: 1

Record: 46-11-6

It would have been easy for the Mavericks to take their foot off the gas once they became the ECHL’s first team to clinch a playoff berth back on March 3, but they’ve kept chugging along with a 5-1-2 record since then. 

They’ve got the best record in the ECHL, a 10-point lead over the Idaho Steelheads in the Mountain Division and the most complete lineup from top to bottom.

I’ve had some modest concerns about their goaltending, and those certainly weren’t alleviated when Jack LaFontaine was called up to Coachella Valley of the AHL on Friday, leaving Cale Morris to allow six goals on 27 shots in that night’s 6-4 loss at the Allen Americans.

Morris atoned, however – as did the whole lineup – on Saturday with a 3-1 victory over the Americans that saw Morris stop 26 shots, while goals came from Patrick Curry, Jacob Hayhurst and Cade Borchardt.

The Mavericks’ power play was 0 for 6 in that game, though, which is the other nitpick about the Mavericks – their special teams. Their power play ranks ninth (20.9%) and their penalty kill ranks 11th (80%).

Curry has four goals and 10 points in the last five games, Borchardt has six goals and nine points, and Cale Coskey has three goals and five points. 

Defenseman Theo Calvas, meanwhile, has four assists and a plus-8 rating over the last five games, while defenseman Jakob Brahaney is plus-5. 

The list of playmakers for the Mavericks just goes on and on.

2. Toledo Walleye/Last Ranking: 7

Record: 40-14-9

The concerns I’d had about Toledo have been addressed in recent weeks, as the team has improved its defensive play and gotten improved goaltending from John Lethemon and Jan Bednar.

The Walleye have won six straight games, allowing only 1.66 goals per game and winning both meetings with the Greenville Swamp Rabbits, including a 3-0 victory March 16 that saw Bednar turn in a 25-save shutout.

Toledo’s third-ranked offense (4.11 goals per game) is paced by Brandon Hawkins, who leads the ECHL in goals (37) and points (84), but it goes three lines deep and then some. 

Riley Sawchuk, who has eight goals and 15 points in the last 10 games, is one of the league’s best players and one no one seems to really talk about. 

Riley McCourt has turned into a real heavyweight of a two-way defenseman with eight assists over the last 10 games, giving him eight goals and 48 points in 61 games this season, and their role players, such as Alexandre Doucet, Michael Prapavessis and Matt Anderson really have come into their own.

I still think the way to solve Toledo is to get physical, but that’s easier said than done because the squad is fast, it’s small and it added some grit by acquiring defenseman Jacob Graves from the Atlanta Gladiators for defenseman Jake Willets and forward Carson Denomie on March 11.

3. Norfolk Admirals/Last Ranking: 3

Record: 37-21-6

The Admirals had a big three-game series last weekend at the North Division-leading Adirondack Thunder and took two of the games. 

Yaniv Perets was in net for those victories, stopping 55 of 58 shots. 

What a statement series it was for Norfolk, which is four points behind the Thunder with eight games left in the regular season.

Norfolk has gone an impressive 18-4-2 since Jan. 26, and the effort has been led by Stepan Timofeyev’s 10 goals and 25 points and Danny Katic’s 14 goals and 21 points. 

Keaton Jameson, who stood out last season in the playoffs with the Utah Grizzlies, has turned into one of the ECHL’s best faceoff men; he’s won 60% of his 467 faceoffs over that 24-game span, while also contributing nine goals and 22 points.

The Norfolk defense is prone to some hiccups – it ranks ninth in the league with 3.00 goals against this season – but the Admirals have some grit and are dangerous in transition, so they are able to make up for those lapses.

For a team that joined the ECHL in 2015 and has never qualified for the postseason – in fact, hasn’t finished above sixth place in a division since 2015-2016 – it has been a tremendous upswing for the Admirals, and they’re showing no signs of slowing down. Much the opposite.

4. Greenville Swamp Rabbits/Last Ranking: 2

Record: 41-18-4

The Swamp Rabbits are 1-2-2 in their last five games, but they remain atop the difficult South Division with a four-point cushion over the Jacksonville Icemen. 

Tanner Eberle and Carter Souch have been playing fine – they’ve got three goals apiece in those five games – but they need more help if they’re going to stay in control in the South.

Brannon McManus and Josh McKechney, who have combined for 32 goals and 77 points this season, only have three assists over this five-game drought.

So much continues to hinge upon the play of goaltenders Ryan Bednard and Jacob Ingham for a team that ranks 12th in offense (3.21 goals per game) and sixth in defense (2.90). To put that last number into context, consider that the Swamp Rabbits allow 32.63 shots per game, which is 11th in the ECHL.

Of course, a lot of those shots are coming from the perimeter, but the same is holding true at the other end.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not down on the Swamp Rabbits. 

They’re a gritty team built for the playoffs, but the other teams have closed the gap in the division, and the Swamp Rabbits need to gain some momentum in the final nine games of the regular season. Otherwise, they could lose home-ice advantage throughout the first two rounds of the playoffs, and that could be the difference against the behemoths they’ll have to face.

5. Idaho Steelheads/Last Ranking: 5

Record: 42-18-4

The Steelheads’ last game, a 10-1 victory Saturday over the visiting Tulsa Oilers, should serve as a reminder of just how dangerous the Steelheads can be when they put their minds to it. 

Forwards Wade Murphy and A.J. White had two goals apiece. Defenseman Patrick Kudla had four assists. Jordan Kawaguchi had three points. Ty Pelton-Byce had two. The power play was 3 for 3. Bryan Thomson, back from the AHL, stopped 34 of 35 shots. Whew.

The Steelheads are stacked with talent and hungry after what happened last season, when they had a record-setting regular season only to get swept in the Kelly Cup Finals by the Florida Everblades.

They may only be 2-2-1 in their last five games, but the Steelheads have gone under the radar a bit because the Mavericks have been so good. 

I have my concerns about the Idaho defense, but there aren’t many teams that can outscore the Steelheads, who rank second in the ECHL with 4.22 goals per game, and their power play is the best in the league at 28.9%. Also, Everett Sheen is a very good coach.

6. Adirondack Thunder/Last Ranking: 8

Record: 38-17-8

Last season, the Thunder barely squeaked into the playoffs at the 11th hour. This season, they have secured a playoff spot with nine games left and lead the North Division.

Losing two of their three games against the Norfolk Admirals last weekend showed there’s still work to be done, but the Thunder also have been showing their roster has a lot of depth. 

Tristan Ashbrook, for example, has been a revelation with seven goals and 14 points in his last 10 games, giving him 25 goals and 45 points in 60 games as a rookie. The play of Ashbrook, and Yushiroh Hirano, has taken the pressure off Shane Harper and Ryan Smith.

And don’t sleep on some of the defensemen, namely Ryan Wheeler and Matt Stief. And kudos to Darian Skeoch; in his last 10 games, he’s led the Thunder in shot blocks (19) and hits (27), shedding the notion he’s an enforcer and nothing more.

The goaltending hasn’t been terrific lately – last weekend, Isaac Poulter stopped 30 of 34 shots in a 5-4 victory, Jeremy Brodeur was 25 of 28 in a 4-1 loss and Vinnie Purpura was 5 of 10 before being pulled in a 6-2 loss – but there’s still a lot of upside, and the Thunder are going to be a very difficult out once the postseason arrives.

7. Jacksonville Icemen/Last Ranking: 6

Record: 38-19-6

With four victories in their last five games, the Icemen have gotten within four points of the South Division-leading Greenville Swamp Rabbits. 

The Jacksonville defense is solid, ranking first in the ECHL with 2.54 goals against per game. Part of that is goaltending – they’ve got Matt Vernon, Joe Murdaca and the hope that Michael Houser returns from the AHL – and there’s a corps of blue-liners that includes Jacob Panetta, Ivan Chukarov, Brandon Fortunato and Noah Laaouan.

But the real treat is the group of defensively responsible forwards, who also have a knack for scoring when it matters. Garrett Van Wyhe is one example. 

Van Wyhe has 16 goals (three game-winners), 28 points and a plus-17 rating in 61 games. 

Chris Grando has been even better with a plus-24 rating to go with his 13 goals and 39 points in 62 games. 

When players like that do what they do, it allows the likes of Christopher Brown (20 goals) and Matheson Iacopelli (24 goals) to take chances in the offensive end.

The Icemen play smart hockey – they average a league-low 8.29 penalty minutes per game – and they’re the most complete team in the South Division, which is why I picked them before the season to win the Cup. They don’t put together highlight-reel games like Kansas City, Toledo or Idaho, but I still feel good about their chances come the postseason.

8. Indy Fuel/Last Ranking: 11

Record: 35-23-6

It’s been a mess trying to figure out the Central Division beyond the Toledo Walleye this season, but I’m ready to state that Indy is the second-best team in the division. 

With six victories in their last nine games, the Fuel now have a three-point lead over the Wheeling Nailers for second place, and Duncan Dalmao has proven in back-to-back seasons that he knows how to get the most out of his crew.

Aside from Cameron Hillis, who has 18 goals and 61 points in 53 games, and Kyle Maksimovich, who has 23 goals and 53 points in 60 games, the Fuel roster doesn’t have overly intimidating players – but there’s a ton of depth. 

One night, Bryan Lemos will burn an opponent. The next, it’ll be Brett Bulmer. On Sunday, it was Anthony Petruzzelli who netted the third-period winner as the Fuel defeated the Kalamazoo Wings 3-2.

The defensive corps has been mostly on its game lately – Matthew Cairns is good for a couple big hits per game, and Christopher Cameron and Ross MacDougall are carving out reputations as shot blockers – and if Josh Maniscalco returns from the AHL, then look out.

In net, Mitchell Weeks is a player who doesn’t get enough respect; he has a 13-8-6 record with a 2.65 GAA, a .903 SP and three shutouts.

9. Florida Everblades/Last Ranking: 4

Record: 34-20-9

The Everblades have won six of their last nine games and are tied for third place in the South Division with the South Carolina Stingrays, but they are coming off a 6-3 loss to the Savannah Ghost Pirates.

Coach Brad Ralph was wheeling and dealing at Thursday’s trade deadline, getting forward Zack Andrusiak from the Cincinnati Cyclones and then flipping him to the Fort Wayne Komets, along with defenseman Stanislav Demin, for forward Matthew Wedman. 

He also got the rights to Zach Berzolla from the Cyclones. If Wedman or Berzolla – or both – return from the AHL, then those will prove to be huge moves for the Everblades.

Even if they don’t come, the two-time defending champions should be fine. They’ve got Cam Johnson in goal, a terrific group of forwards that includes Joe Pendenza, Oliver Chau, Sean Josling, Bobo Carpenter and Logan Lambdin, and a lot of players who just know how to win when it counts.

Josh Ho-Sang, a first-round New York Islanders draft pick in 2014, has a goal and two points in two games since he signed.

The Everblades lulled people into a false sense of security by going into the playoffs last year as a No. 4 seed in the South. Even if that’s where they wind up this season, we all know now the Everblades know how to get it done.

10. Kalamazoo Wings/Last Ranking: 13

Record: 34-26-3

Here’s how I describe the Wings: Nothing they do is particularly pretty, but they’re awfully effective. 

With three victories in their last six games, the Wings are in fourth place in the Central Division – two points behind the Wheeling Nailers, who have two fewer games remaining, and two points ahead of the Fort Wayne Komets, who have one fewer game remaining.

I’ve watched a lot of Erik Bradford through the years, but the 29-year-old’s game is a better place than I’ve seen it, and he’s got 28 goals and 75 points in 63 games this season.

The Wings are the only Central Division team to have solved the Toledo Walleye – the Wings are 9-3-1 against the division leader – and they’ve done it by playing stingy defense with a large measure of physicality. When the Wings are able to replicate that against other teams, they’re also effective.

The goaltending of Hunter Vorva and Jonathan Lemieux is among the best in the league. 

David Keefer, Josh Passolt, Collin Adams and Brad Morrison are opportunistic scorers. And blue-liners, such as Derek Daschke, Michael Joyaux and Chaz Reddekopp are more than reliable.

Kalamazoo has an Achilles heel – it’s 2-5-0 against Fort Wayne – but if it holds onto a playoff spot, it’ll be a factor in the postseason, especially if the Wings face Toledo in the first round.

The Rest Of The ECHL

11. South Carolina Stingrays/Last Ranking: 12

Record: 36-24-5

12. Wheeling Nailers/Last Ranking: 15

Record: 35-27-3

13. Orlando Solar Bears/Last Ranking: 14

Record: 33-22-8

14. Fort Wayne Komets/Last Ranking: 9

Record: 32-27-5

15. Maine Mariners/Last Ranking: 19

Record: 28-27-7

16. Newfoundland Growlers/Last Ranking: 16

Record: 27-26-10

17. Trois-Rivières Lions/Last Ranking: 23

Record: 27-27-8

18. Utah Grizzlies/Last Ranking: 20

Record: 29-32-3

19. Worcester Railers/Last Ranking: 18

Record: 27-28-8

20. Tulsa Oilers/Last Ranking: 21

Record: 28-29-7

21. Wichita Thunder/Last Ranking: 10

Record: 23-32-8

22. Reading Royals/Last Ranking: 17

Record: 26-31-7

23. Iowa Heartlanders/Last Ranking: 27

Record: 26-29-8

24. Savannah Ghost Pirates/Last Ranking: 22

Record: 25-32-6

25. Cincinnati Cyclones/Last Ranking: 24

Record: 28-30-6

26. Rapid City Rush/Last Ranking: 28

Record: 25-35-3

27. Allen Americans/Last Ranking: 25

Record: 27-32-3

28. Atlanta Gladiators/Last Ranking: 26

Record: 20-40-4