For those who have forgotten, I do actually write things other than hate-trolling the Blackhawks’ future opponents. Tonight kicks off the 26th ECHL season, and the Blackhawks own affiliate, the Toledo Walleye, begin their 2013-14 campaign on the road Saturday vs. the Fort Wayne Komets.
Last Season, the Walleye made the Kelly Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2010 with a 37-26-5-4 (the last number is for shootout losses) record (83 points), good for the 7th seed in the Eastern Conference. Unfortunately their triumphant return to the postseason was short lived, as they were bounced in the first round by division rival Cincinnati Cyclones in 6 games, losing two of those games in overtime. The Reading Royals ended up winning the Kelly Cup, beating the Stockton Thunder in 5 games.
As the season begins, let’s take a quick look at the 2013-14 Walleye roster, keeping in mind an ECHL team’s roster is always in a perpetual state of “hot-mess.” Oh, and don’t forget the Blackhawks share the Walleye affiliation with the Red Wings, meaning there may be some future asshats in the making. But Detroit’s in the East now, we don’t care, right?
At least initially, it looks like 21-year old Blackhawks 7th round 2010 draft pick Mac Carruth will be the Walleye’s starter. Carruth will be making his professional debut, coming off a successful four-year career with the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks, amassing a 117-46-6 career record, culminating in a WHL title last season. Carruth lost out on the Rockford IceHogs backup position to last year’s Toledo goaltender, Kent Simpson, signaling like with Simpson, the Blackhawks want to get him as many professional starts as possible in his first season. IceHogs starter Antti Raanta has already missed a couple of games due to injury (Carruth was actually on the bench for the IceHogs’ second game of the season), so it’s possible Carruth may see a call-up or two throughout the year. Carruth started the second of two Walleye preseason games vs. the Kalamazoo Wings, notching a 3-0 shutout with 32 saves.
On the Red Wings prospect side, 21-year old Jared Coreau also will be making his professional debut this season. Coreau signed as a free agent with Detroit this year, following a 32-31-8 three-year career with Northern Michigan University. Coreau started one game this season for the Grand Rapids Griffins, a 4-3 overtime loss to the Toronto Marlies in which he made 22 of 26 saves. Former Walleye Petr Mrazek has already had one brief callup to Detroit this season due to injury, so Coreau’s likely to see some time in the AHL as well.
Former Chicago Express goalie Brooks Ostergard and Neil Conway were part of the Walleye training camp – either could be signed as a backup if the need arises.
Returning from last year’s squad are Phil Oreskovic (1-13-14), Max Nicastro (2-3-5) and Phil Rauch (1-9-10). Newcomers include CJ Chartrain (rookie from University of Niagara), Russ Sinkewich (5-year ECHL vet, most recently with the Gwinnett Gladiators), Jason Lepine (returning to the ECHL after last playing with Toledo in 2011), and Dan Weiss (another rookie from Niagara). Bobby Shea, who signed an AHL contract after attending both Blackhawks and IceHogs training camps, was also just assigned to Toledo. Last year’s fan favorite Cody Lampl (Fear the Beard), signed a PTO with the St. John’s IceCaps out of their training camp – he did sign a contract with Toledo for this season, so if he’s released, he will return to the Walleye. Nicastro is the only defenseman with an NHL contract (he was drafted by Detroit in 2008), so barring injury and other weirdness, the Walleye defense corps should be fairly stable this season
Of the 13 forwards currently on the Walleye roster, 5 were with the team last year: Captain Kyle Rogers (15-31-46), Travis Novak (11-23-34), Aaron Bogosian (2-3-5), Stephon Thorne (5-6-11) and Trevor Parkes (14-16-30). 2009 7th round Blackhawks draft pick David Gilbert has been assigned to Toledo, after splitting last year with the IceHogs and the CHL’s Bloomington Blaze. Gilbert had 6 goals and 12 assists with the Walleye in 2011-12. Rookie forwards joining the team this year are Tyler Pilmore (Ohio University), Emerson Clark (OHL’s Windsor Spitfires) and Kevin Lynch (U of Michigan). Rounding out the forwards roster are veterans John Vigilante, Scott Arnold, Daniel Koger and Alden Hirschfield.
The Walleye will feel the pinch in their forward corps, with many of the leading scorers from last year off to greener pastures. Terry Broadhurst, Byron Froese (IceHogs), Andrej Nestrasil, Luke Glendening (Griffins) have all secured roster spots in the AHL. Joey Martin requested a trade in the offseason and is now on the Stockton Thunder. And last year’s leading scorer, Willie Coetzee (28-40-68) suffered a knee injury and is on IR with the Red Wings – apparently he will be out until next year. The new faces will have to step up for the Walleye or it’s going to be a long, long season.
I really suck at these, and trying to predict the ECHL season is liking throwing a dart blindfolded. Due to the never ending parade of call-ups during the season, the teams that tend to do well have a solid mix of undrafted kids and ECHL lifers making up their rosters. No team has won back-to-back Kelly Cup titles since the old Toledo Storm back in 93/94. So really, who the hell knows? I’ll take a stab and say the Walleye will finish slightly better than last year with 87 points, good for second in the North Division. Their goaltending and defense should be solid, but the forwards could be a bit fugly. But don’t put any money on that folks.
The Walleye begin the season Saturday in Fort Wayne versus the Komets, who finished 4th in the North Division last year. And….that’s it until next week. Yay ECHL scheduling!
I will be back on Wednesdays with my weekly Walleye recap. Additionally I will be attending a game in Toledo in two weeks (and hopefully another one later in the season). Tim Hortons, I’m coming back for youuuuuu.