HERSHEY, Pa. – The Hershey Bears had as busy of a summer day as possible on Tuesday, signing forwards Will Graber and Mason Morelli to AHL contracts for the upcoming season. Both players made their Hershey debuts during the 2021 season and made positive impacts throughout the shortened season and made excellent additions to the team. Both players skated in 11 games with Hershey’s ECHL affiliate, the South Carolina Stingrays, and became regulars in the Bears’ lineup and will bolster the team’s forward depth.
Graber made his AHL debut this past season after playing for Dartmouth during his college years, tallying a goal and three assists over 20 games with the Bears. Graber played a mixture of forward and defense much like his college days, suiting up as a forward towards the end of the season with Hershey’s injuries up front. Graber, a big-bodied forward at 6-foot-5 and 190 pounds, will be transitioning to forward full-time in the coming season, but that added flexibility is certainly an invaluable addition to the team’s depth. Graber scored his first AHL goal on February 24 in Wilkes-Barre.
Will Graber with the great move scores his first AHL goal to make it 1-0 Hershey! pic.twitter.com/ikoNeGEhUo
— Bears Hockey Nation (@HBHNationBlog) February 24, 2021
Graber finished plus-five on the season and continues the trend of both youth and size in Hershey’s lineup. The transition to forward full-time is an important one to note, and it will be interesting to see how the new head coach and existing coaching staff elects to use him. As a big body, Graber would be an excellent candidate to stick in front of the net on a power play, and similarly, his work as a defenseman would make him another great fit for the penalty kill. Hershey has a lot of returning special teams players, and there will be plenty of options to try and assess when the team hits the ice in the fall.
Morelli returns after skating in 15 games for the Bears this past season, tallying five assists, a plus-eight, and a number of close opportunities to light the lamp. He worked particularly well paired on a line with Riley Sutter and Kale Kessy, earning a consistent spot in the lineup and really factoring in as a secret weapon on the fourth line. The trio generated a lot of energy and chipped in on the scoresheet at key moments for the Bears. Morelli’s signing brings the trio back under contract after Kessy was signed to a two-year extension by the Bears last week, and Sutter remains under contract.
Morelli previously skated in parts of the previous two seasons with the Stockton Heat before signing with the Bears this past off-season. It will be interesting to see how both players perform in a full season. Both players saw a relatively small sample size of games but became key players down the stretch, particularly as injuries took over, and Morelli is a player who can absolutely factor in on scoring and play minutes on the penalty kill. It’s one of the many luxuries of quality depth the Bears have built with hungry players looking to prove their mettle at the AHL level.
Kale Kessy scores a gorgeous breakaway goal to tie the game at three! pic.twitter.com/S16YtXIqwm
— Bears Hockey Nation (@HBHNationBlog) May 1, 2021
The Bears have added a good amount of depth with AHL signings to provide some roster competition at this relatively early stage in the summer, and it would be reasonable to expect more moves with the NHL’s expansion draft, entry draft, and free-agent signing period still on the horizon. Hershey is clearly focused on bringing back a lot of the talent which contributed to a successful season, and it looks like the band will be back together largely in 2021-22.
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