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2021 Kelly Cup Playoffs

ECHL Headlines – Week #20

ECHL Headlines – Week #20

WICHITA, Kan. – Raise your hand if you knew the ECHL Trade Deadline is this Thursday at 3 pm ET/2 pm CT? Not many do, but on this edition of ECHL Headlines, we’ll attempt to forecast how busy Thursday’s deadline will be, look at what each team could use, give you a standings check, and hand out some of our much-coveted “hardware”.

Let’s get after it.

ECHL Trade Deadline Preview:

Admittedly, this is one of the most peculiar trade deadlines I’ve covered in the last six years here at The Sin Bin (it fits the mold for the 2020-21 season, right?) At the time of the deadline, all but one team is .500 or better. Normally, teams at this time of the year in a playoff spot would feast on teams who have struggled, but I don’t see that being the case with this deadline. While Wheeling got off to a slow start under new head coach Mark French, they have been playing better of late, 6-3-0-1 in their last 10 games, and can still make some noise in the playoff race even if they don’t make it in.

Overall, I look for this deadline to be slow for four reasons: One, there is the potential for some player movement from AHL clubs soon (AHL season ends on May 16 and there’s no sign of a playoff coming) and coaches have to ponder if what’s coming is better than what is currently available on the market. As my colleague Barry Janssen eloquently points out, AHL/NHL contracted players (with few exceptions) assigned to the ECHL must play five games to be eligible for the playoffs. These five games must be played before the end of the AHL season which is May 16. For AHL players assigned to ECHL teams that have no games played in the ECHL this season the assignment date will have to be around May 7 in order for them to play in five ECHL games. The assignment date will be even earlier if teams want to build in a couple of game cushion in addition to the five games. The point is these decisions are right around the corner.

Second, if you trade to a team in-conference and see them again in the playoffs, does the player you ship out become the “x-factor” in a relatively short series? To date, we’ve seen more intra-conference trades and if the deadline is going to be active, this is the likely avenue for how deals are going to be done.

Next, what’s the cost for a player? To gauge the market’s value, look no further than last week’s Indy/Allen swap that featured defenseman Darian Skeoch going to Allen for Connor BleackleyKayle Doetzel, and future considerations. While Bleackley & Doetzel are unlikely to report (on team suspension list right now and have there for 45 days,) it represents the steep price Allen paid for Skeoch, who had just played 13 games prior to the trade. A price like that will likely turn off a coach looking to improve his team.

Fourth, if you acquire a player who signed with one of the 11 sidelined teams (Brampton shuttered), their rights for next season revert back to the team who originally signed them for the 2020-21 season. So, do you take the chance of acquiring a player and having to give up assets to two different teams? Unless the player comes in and pays dividends immediately, such a scenario doesn’t seem all that fruitful.

All of that said, we would not be doing our due diligence unless we gave you a team-by-team breakdown of their needs as the deadline approaches.

East Breakdown:

1. Florida Everblades (33-16-0-2, 68 pts, .667 points percentage)

It’s hard to find a hole in this Everblades team; they’re loaded offensively, solid on defense, and have great goaltending. They’ve been a little banged up recently, but overall, I think the ‘Blades need one more puck-moving, shutdown defenseman (a Ben Masella-type) to buoy their championship aspirations.

2. Indy Fuel (27-17-4-0, 58 pts, .604 points percentage)

The additions Doug Christiansen made in the last few days will help in the long run, but so will getting players like Brent Gates, Diego Cuglietta, and Billy Christopoulos back from the AHL. The loss of Nic Pierog hurts this roster significantly. If they can get a scorer, in addition to the Dickinson assignment, that will be a significant addition to this forward corps.

3. Orlando Solar Bears (26-18-4-1, 57 pts, .582 points percentage)

The Solar Bears roster features two of the hottest players since February 13; Aaron Luchuk and Tristan Langan, who have combined for 73 points, and Clint Windsor, who is capable of stringing together dominant performances. What is scary about this Solar Bears team is their -3 goal differential. If Drake Berehowsky is somehow able to get a shutdown defenseman, this team becomes a real threat in the East.

4. Greenville Swamp Rabbits (23-15-9-3, 58 pts, .580 points percentage)

Up front, Greenville is a bit banged up, with former ECHL MVP Jesse Schultz and former AHL’er David Broll on the shelf. Once those two come back, combined with the recent acquisition of Frank DiChiara, Greenville becomes a much deeper group. But, the question for me is how long Ryan Bednard can stay sharp. He’s played almost 1900 minutes this season and has been the backbone for this Greenville team. Perhaps shaking the tree to see if a goaltender comes available wouldn’t be the worst thing Andrew Lord could do.

5. South Carolina Stingrays (20-16-8-3, 51 pts, .543 points percentage)

Raise your hand if you had the South Carolina Stingrays on the outside-looking-in at the Kelly Cup Playoff field with seven weeks to go? Not many did, in fact, probably most (myself included) had them challenging Florida for the balance of power in the East. Still, here we are, the Stingrays sitting just outside of the playoffs. Our Travis Rogers reported last week the Stingrays are having a hard time finding an identity, but felt confident they could get back into the playoffs given they play Orlando, Greenville, and Jacksonville quite a bit down the stretch. That stretch got off to a mediocre start, with the ‘Rays getting three of eight points last week. The talent is there, no question, but the ‘Rays need consistency and that comes from within the locker room, not the trade market.

6. Jacksonville Icemen (21-19-3-3, 48 pts, .522 points percentage)

Like the Stingrays, the Icemen are full of talent but haven’t been able to put it together consistently this year. There have been sparks of it, however, like the current 10-game stretch in which they’re 6-4-0-0. The Icemen need offense if they are to make a charge up the standings. Currently, they sit 13th in the league, scoring an average of 2.67 goals per game.

7. Wheeling Nailers (16-24-5-1, 38 pts, .413 points percentage)

The Nailers have gotten off to a rough start under first-year head coach Mark French. But, in his defense, the cupboard (outside of what they got from the AHL) was pretty bare. French is building a good nucleus to build on in the upcoming offseason. He’s a great teacher of the game and should still do very well in Wheeling, but the process will take some time. So, the biggest need for the Nailers & their fans at the deadline is patience.

West Breakdown:

1. Fort Wayne Komets (18-8-3-1, 40 pts, .667 points percentage)

The Komets are a near certainty to be in the Kelly Cup playoffs, it’s just a matter of where they finish. There’s a lot to like about this Komets team; they are deep offensively, very salty on the backend, and have high-end netminding. They’re a little banged up right now, with Shawn Szydlowski coming in and out of the roster, Zach Pochiro out (hand), Randy Gazzola out, and Brandon Hawkins up in the AHL with Rochester. Once those players come back and we get closer to the playoffs, the Komets should be loaded for bear. The question I have about this team is whether they can beat western conference teams. We’ll start to get our answer in May when Wichita travels to town and the K’s travel to Utah. Of note, Fort Wayne is 17-5-3-1 against the Fuel & Nailers this season, 1-3-0-0 against the rest of the ECHL.

2. Wichita Thunder (30-15-4-1, 65 pts, .650 points percentage)

The Thunder are a playoff team, no two ways about it. But, not all playoff teams are created equal. At present, the Thunder are a team of about four forwards; Anthony BeauregardJay DickmanStefan Fournier, and Matteo Gennaro, have a mean defensive group, and have had rock-solid netminding all year. The power-play for Wichita doesn’t evoke fear for the other side, sitting 13th overall in the league heading into action tonight. Upfront, the Thunder lack depth at the center position and need at least one true centermen to help win crucial faceoffs on the power play and in key situations.

3. Allen Americans (29-15-2-1, 61 pts, .649 points percentage)

The Americans seem to have found some magic sauce with the return of Chad Butcher and the addition of Steven Owre to the roster. They are still banged up, but team captain Dyson Stevenson is close to returning to the lineup. On the blueline, they’re still a bit thin and could use one more defenseman to bridge the gap to when the players in Iowa (Tyler Sheehy, Turner Ottenbreit, etc) return.

4. Utah Grizzlies (21-17-5-6, 53 pts, .541 points percentage)

The Grizzlies are doing just enough to stay in the fourth spot. They’ve been getting help from AHL Colorado at various times this season, but the help they get is just for a weekend, and then the players go back up. That method leaves very little room for a group to gel and get on a roll. Still, the group Tim Branham has assembled has struggled at times. Once an offensive powerhouse, the Grizzlies are now led by rookie scorer Matthew Boucher (43 pts in 44 games). The Grizzlies need consistency; from the AHL and from the group on the ice.

5. Rapid City Rush (24-22-3-1, 52 pts, .520 points percentage)

Gutty would be the best way to describe the Rush and their style of play. They have the offensive talent where never be out of a game, a solid defensive group, and an average goaltending duo. Right now, the biggest need for Rapid City may be in net. The Grizzles and Rush play a four-game set in early May that could very well decide who owns the final playoff spot. Circle May 4-8.

6. Tulsa Oilers (23-21-5-2, 53 pts, .520 points percentage)

The Oilers are on a six-game point streak and have played the last two games without their Captain Adam Pleskach (injury) and leading goal-scorer Danny Moynihan, who had to retire due to medical reasons. The Oilers appear to be set in net, with Devin Williams and Roman Durny, when he returns from the IR. On the blueline, the Oilers have newly acquired defenseman Curtis Leonard, along with Mike McKee and Justin Hamonic. Up front, outside of Pleskach and Matt Lane, the Oilers are thin when it comes to offensive production. It would not be surprising to see Rob Murray take a big swing and acquire an offensive talent.

7. Kansas City Mavericks (21-21-6-2, 50 pts, .500 points percentage)

Kansas City is a team that loves to play with the lead and struggle mightily to come from behind. When trailing after one period, the Mavs are 0-9-4-0 and when trailing after two periods, they are 2-17-1-0. Those are two perplexing stats, when you consider the offensive talent that is on the team; Brodie ReidDarik AngeliRob Bordson, and when he comes back, Giorgio Estephan. Additionally, the Mavs have two stout goaltenders; Matt Ginn and Matt Greenfield. Again, this isn’t something that can be acquired on the trade wire, but perhaps in the last few weeks of the season, the Mavs can find a way to come back from deficits.

Standings Check:

It’s still very tight in the East. Florida looks comfortable for home-ice in at least one round, but the dog fight is on for spots two through four.

East Standings 4 20 21 Field Pass Hockey

In the west, the battle still continues for the two home-ice slots, while the battle for fourth is joined by the other remaining teams.

West Standings 4 20 21 Field Pass Hockey

Hardware Time…

The Sin Bin’s Goalie of the Week:

Ryan Bednard (Greenville): For the fourth time this season, the Swamp Rabbits’ rookie netminder has won ECHL honors. He went 2-0-0 with one shutout, a 0.85 goals-against average and a save percentage of .967 in three appearances at Florida last week. The 24-year-old stopped all 10 shots he faced in a relief effort in a 4-1 loss on Wednesday, made 30 saves in a 4-2 win on Friday, and turned aside all 19 shots in a 3-0 victory on Saturday.

The Sin Bin’s Player of the Week:

Aaron Luchuk (Orlando): For the second time this season, the third-year pro has won player of the week honors. He piled up eight points (4G, 4A) in three games this past weekend. Luchuk has been red-hot recently, racking up 15 points in his last 10 games (7G, 8A) and eclipsing the 50-point barrier for the second time in his career. This season, he has 19 goals and 34 assists (53 points) in 49 games.

This Week on The Sin Bin App:

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Download the Field Pass Hockey app from the iTunes or Google Play stores or follow @FieldPassHockey on Twitter for the latest news on the AHL, ECHL, and SPHL throughout the 2023 season!

    Matthew Harding is the Managing Editor for Field Pass Hockey, covers the ECHL and the Wichita Thunder. Follow and interact with him on Twitter @FPHThunder.

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