ROSEMONT, Ill. – The Chicago Wolves come into the 2021-2022 campaign looking to build off their shortened but successful season in 2021 that saw them capture the Central Division crown.
The Wolves will do so without a number of key contributors, with several members of their high-powered offense returning to the Milwaukee Admirals as their club looks to resume play this October after opting out in January. Over the offseason, Chicago also lost some key veteran players, especially defenseman David Warsofsky, who impacted both on and off the ice. Despite these losses, the 2021/22 Wolves look retooled after a busy offseason and poised for another run, not just at a division title but at a Calder Cup.
Last Season in Review
Season record: 21-9-3 – 1st in Central Division
Summary: Chicago imposed their will on the Central out of the gate with an 8-game win streak to open the season and never looked back. The Wolves were led by a high-flying offense that relied on speed in transition to create odd-man rushes, where their high-end skill would lead to high-quality scoring chances. Chicago would beat on teams both with goal-scoring and fists, ranking in the top five of the league in both goals for and penalty minutes.
Leading scorers: Phil Tomasino (13G, 19A) and Tommy Novak (8G, 24A) tied for the team lead with 32 points.
Goals For: 132 goals in 33 games – 1st in the AHL based on per game average
Goals Against: 94 goals – 10th in AHL
Powerplay: 24.8% – 4th in AHL
Penalty Kill: 83.2% – 9th in AHL
Andrew Poturalski – 2021’s leading AHL scorer is reunited with coach Ryan Warsofsky, where together both helped Charlotte win the 2019 Calder Cup, with Poturalski picking up MVP honors as a result of his clutch offensive play. With the loss of their top scorers in Tomasino and Novak, Poturalski will be relied on heavily to drive the offensive play as he has done well with this coaching staff, putting up 70 points in his last full season with coach Warsofsky’s staff. Poturalski should be expected to be at or near the top of Wolves scoring by the end of it with his ability to find some of their lethal snipers in Jamieson Rees and Dominik Bokk, and though the Wolves will miss a dynamic talent like Tomasino with the man advantage and in transition, the addition of Poturalski means that Chicago looks to continue to fill opposing nets with as many pucks as they can.
Eric Gelinas – Coming over after four seasons in Europe, the addition of Gelinas helps to fill out one of several holes left in the blueline after this offseason. Most notably, Gelinas provides a steady, veteran presence from the back end that was left vacant with David Warsofsky signing in Germany over the summer. Gelinas, who served as an assistant captain in Rogle, brings ten seasons of professional hockey experience between North America and Europe. As coach Warsofsky continues to emphasize developing his younger players into professional hockey players by homing in on the traits they carry daily, Gelinas will be the example both on and off the ice. With the departure of reliable blueliners Frederic Allard and Josh Healey, the Wolves will look to rely heavily on this veteran presence on the ice to lead them out of their zone and away from danger for the duration of the upcoming season.
Jack Drury – Perhaps the most intriguing Hurricanes prospect to join the team, Drury comes to Chicago after lighting up the SHL with the Vaxjo Lakers. He put up 30 points in 41 regular-season games and followed the nomination of being named SHL rookie of the year with 11 postseason points. Drury was a significant factor in Vaxjo finishing with a first-place record and the Le Mat Trophy as playoff champion. The Wolves will hope that his pedigree will help carry their offensive numbers with so many key losses on forward. Normally, a rookie wouldn’t be expected to come in and make an immediate impact, but last year’s Wolves team featured such rookies as Seth Jarvis, Rees, Bokk, and Tomasino that blitzed their way through the season. Drury already has a year of professional hockey under his belt and has developed into a capable two-way player that ought to earn the trust of coach Warsofsky early and show early returns for the Hurricanes in their selection of him.
Tomasino, Novak, Anthony Richard, Allard, Healey – Grouping together the Milwaukee players together for this section, but their absence cannot be understated when it comes to a potential Central repeat. While many teams struggled last year with shortened lineups, Chicago thrived with essentially a second pool of players to build their preferred roster with. Big-time scorers, key penalty killers, and big punishing defenders. Not only do the Wolves lose these players, but they’ll instead be standing in their way as division rivals fighting their own way up to the Central crown. Will familiarity with their playing style aid the Wolves in countering the Admirals this season? We don’t know yet, and that’s why they play the games.
Antoine Bibeau – Going into 2021, Bibeau sat at the top of the Wolves’ depth chart in net with two rookies behind him. Bibeau himself was a bit of a question mark, missing most of the 2019/20 campaign with lingering hip injuries that saw him only suit up for four total games all season. Luckily, Bibeau proved detractors wrong and saw himself to a successful 2021 season that saw him earn a contract with the expansion Seattle Kraken. While Beck Warm played himself firmly into the starter’s role, Bibeau provided a veteran presence from the goal that instilled confidence in his defenders and was able to mentor and ultimately open the door for Warm to earn the opportunity he has going into this season. Just like last year, it’s somewhat uncertain what the situation looks like for the backup goaltender position.
David Warsofsky – As stated before, Warsofsky’s departure for Europe leaves a hole in the blue line not just with his stellar play quarterbacking the Wolves’ powerplay but with his vocal leadership in the locker room that couldn’t be emphasized enough by his older brother and head coach Ryan. Warsofsky finished third on the team in assists, highlighting his vision from the blue line and his ability to snap the puck out of the zone and to his wingers in transition – a vital component of the high-powered Wolves offense last season. Yes, Carolina signed Gelinas, and he looks to fit into the same role as Warsofsky, but they are still some big shoes to fill and an important role as any on this Chicago team if they are truly looking for a deep Calder run.
2021-22 Schedule Breakdown
Early this season, Wolves fans will have ample opportunity to see their team in Allstate Arena, with six of the first seven Saturdays featuring a home game. With Chicago playing all of their games in 2021 at their practice facility with no fans able to attend, this early stretch of home weekend series will likely be a welcome sight for both players and fans to finally reconnect with the atmosphere expected at Allstate Arena. Also early in the schedule are a familiar face from last season: the Rockford IceHogs, whom the Wolves played eleven times (out of 33 games) in 2021. In the first two months of the season, Chicago will faceoff against their intrastate rival five times.
Despite an early, heavy dosing of Hog early in the season, 2021/22’s scheduling is much more varied than last season’s, where the Wolves mainly went through a rotation of Rockford, Grand Rapids, and Iowa with a tiny helping of Cleveland thrown in the mix. This year features a returning Milwaukee team (whom Chicago will play 14 times), the Manitoba Moose (8 games), Toronto Marlies (4 games), and Texas Stars (12 games). The usual suspects of IceHogs, Griffins, Wild, and Monsters will also be prevalent on Chicago’s schedule as expected of divisional rivals.
On the schedule are several big weekend series for Wolves fans to circle: obviously beginning with their home opener hosting Rockford on October 16. November 13-14 will be the only games that the Wolves will play host to Toronto, offering Wolves fans an opportunity to see a unique opponent. Following that series, from November 17 to January 7, the Wolves exclusively play Grand Rapids and Rockford for nine games. A must-see for Wolves fans occurs February 19-20, where Chicago and the Iowa Wild face off for a weekend series. These two clubs were fourth and first respectively in PIMs in the AHL last year, and the fireworks were bright and often whenever they matched up. Big goals, big hits, and bare-knuckle brawls make this the hottest matchup on the schedule. Despite their heavy connection with Rockford, Chicago doesn’t see the Hogs in the last two months of the season. Instead, the Wolves see Texas eight times, Milwaukee five times, and Grand Rapids for four games, making the Central race down the stretch for intense and must-see hockey that the Wolves are sure to have to battle through.
Top Storylines for 2021-22
Retooled and reloaded: Essentially, half of the Wolves roster was gutted with the Milwaukee split. Both Carolina GM Don Waddell and Wolves GM Wendell Young went out and took measures not only to patch up the holes left behind by the departure of Nashville’s products but went out and got the top-shelf products to go with it. From a high-scoring forward in Poturalski to a defensive anchor in Gelinas, from tight-checking forward Maxim Leutnov to ECHL playoff MVP Stephen Harper, the holes from top-line scoring to depth pieces were not only addressed but filled in with reinforced concrete. The Wolves shouldn’t miss a beat despite an entirely new look to the roster.
To the Max: One concern going into this offseason was how to replace #1 defenseman Max Lajoie, who had an excellent season with Chicago in 2021 and, after a two-game stint in the playoffs with the Hurricanes, looked poised to take that next step into an NHL career full-time. After a number of veteran signings on defense by the Hurricanes, it appears as though Lajoie has been pushed down the depth chart and will at least begin this season with the Wolves. Lajoie not only finished fourth in team scoring as a defenseman, but he also played the role of shutdown defenseman perfectly in his own zone. He was an anchor on both special teams, dialing in the offense on the powerplay while coming up with huge shot blocks and timely zone exits on the penalty kill. His ability to jump up on the rush makes him a threat with the puck, and his active stick and near-perfect positioning make him a threat without it. Safe to say, Chicago will welcome Lajoie back with open arms.
The Kids Are Alright: Last year, the story of the year was the impact of the rookies on the Wolves’ lineup, aided by the circumstances of COVID-19 protocols across all levels of hockey. With Jarvis ineligible for the Wolves this season and Tomasino returning to Nashville’s affiliation, the eyes turn to Jamieson Rees and Dominik Bokk. They will be joined by Jack Drury, Blake Murray, and Jesper Sellgren. Beck Warm will look to build on a promising rookie campaign to carry him into this season as well, and despite the key veterans brought in to help the kids along, look to the young Hurricanes prospects to spearhead the Wolves team up the standings as coach Warsofsky has made it clear he’s unafraid to put these kids into positions to succeed.
Prediction Sure to Go Right
Put it all on black now: the Chicago Wolves will be atop the Central Division once again by April. The team that has won four of the last five regular-season Central titles is positioned to take another one with a roster reloaded with talent up and down the lineup. They have the talent and speed on the wings to spread the game out. They have the defense to keep danger away, and they have the goaltender to rely on to make big saves in crucial moments. They have a coach who knows how to get the most out of his players, and when they’re dialed in, they’ve shown before how they can take over a game and give their opponents little time to respond.
Prediction Sure to Go Wrong
Despite no longer having rookie phenom Trevor Zegras as a linemate for extended stretches of the season, Andrew Poturalski is the house favorite to regain his scoring title in the AHL this season with swathes of talent surrounding him and a lethal powerplay of which he’ll be leaned on to command. Don’t bet the house on this prediction, as it’s expected that many of Poturalski’s linemates, and maybe even Poturalski himself, will see time with the Hurricanes this year and, as such, might cut into his potent offensive numbers.
With the right circumstances, however, and reunification with the coaching staff that combined for the last awarded Calder Cup, it might be just what propels the Wolves into a stratosphere of individual scoring not seen since the days of Jason Krog’segendary 2007-08 Calder Cup-winning Wolves team.
Don’t be shocked if you get burned from this hot take.
How will the Wolves fare this season? Will they find themselves on the outside looking in at the playoff bracket, become a victim of the league’s new playoff format, go deep in the playoffs, or win the Calder Cup? Let us know your thoughts.
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