HERSHEY, Pa. – The Hershey Bears have endured a lot of change this summer. Many players have departed, the coaching staff has almost entirely swapped over, and although a core group remains, there are several key additions to supplement the group that have the team feeling good heading into the fall with training camp around the corner. With most of the core lineup seemingly set, there remains opportunity for a number of players to seize with a number of contracts up at the end of the season. Some will be looking to improve their stock at the AHL level, while others are looking to make an impression on their NHL club in Washington to further their career, and the opportunity to do so will lie in their performance with the Bears this year. It makes for an intriguing battle at training camp to earn ice time, and it seems more than likely that all of these players will wear the Bears logo at some point to make that impression.
It’s a key season for prospects Kody Clark and Riley Sutter, as the duo of Capitals prospects enter their final season of their entry level contract after making their Hershey debuts back in the 2019-20 campaign. The pair have been linked in a number of ways since making their way to Hershey, as both are the sons of former NHL players and happened to both get injured in the same prospect tournament in Nashville prior to their first AHL season. Missing significant time has caused their contracts to slide one extra year, and significant injuries have sidelined the pair more often than not.
Clark had a breakout year when the 2020-21 season got underway, but ultimately, had it shortened by injury. He was able to chip in 19 points (eight goals, 11 assists) in 63 games of a mostly healthy 2021-22 season, which included the overtime winner for the team’s 3,000th win in Bridgeport.
Sutter has had a much harder time staying healthy and finding a consistent spot in the lineup, tallying eight points in 39 games played a season ago. With NHL contracts seemingly becoming less of a guarantee for prospects in Washington as their farm system steadily improves, it’s a big season for the pair to show the NHL brass why they deserve new contracts next summer as restricted free agents.
Kody Clark's OT goal gives us our 3000th win in franchise history pic.twitter.com/0JynDNkgVO
— Hershey Bears (@TheHersheyBears) April 5, 2022
No opportunity is bigger for a slew of prospects who will be rookies this season. The Bears signed two decorated NCAA players in Ethen Frank and Julian Napravnik to AHL contracts for the coming season and were able to get them into action last season for a limited look, as injuries sidelined the two in the late season. Both players were top scorers at the college level and have plenty of potential to translate well to the AHL but were thrust into a tough situation with Hershey’s depleted lineup and adjusting to the higher level of checking ultimately resulted in both getting injured in the late stages of the season. Frank made the biggest contribution on the power play, scoring a big-time goal in Wilkes-Barre as the only point between the two. With a healthier roster and more additions looking to earn ice time, the challenge for the pair will be to take the bull by the horns during the preseason and make their case to be on the opening night roster as potentially Hershey’s most interesting additions.
— Bears Hockey Nation (@HBHNationBlog) April 15, 2022
Hershey has a pair of interesting players who were signed to AHL contracts after being selected by the Washington Capitals in differing NHL draft years but were not signed to NHL contracts. Bear Hughes and Benton Maass were signed early on this summer and will make their professional debuts in this rather unusual form this season as players with potential. Maass made his Hershey debut in last season’s final game and looked good, and both players were around the team that spring on tryout agreements to get some experience with the team. Hughes was beloved with the Spokane Chiefs of the WHL, rising to team captain last season and scoring better than a point-per-game pace with 67 points in 64 games played, a big reason why the Chiefs qualified for the postseason. Maass, meanwhile, helped Minnesota State University to their first appearance in the NCAA’s title game in program history, scoring a clutch goal in the tournament in a crucial game versus Minnesota as a defenseman. He’ll fight to earn a regular spot in Hershey’s lineup, but with plenty of back-to-backs and three games in as many nights, he will have the chance to play.
Assists to Lucas Sowder and Ondřej Pavel pic.twitter.com/9cz0Y3ktdF
— EP Rinkside (@EPRinkside) April 8, 2022
Rounding out the players looking for spots are free agents signed by the Bears this summer. Logan Day joined the team on the blue line as an offensive-minded right-handed shot to try and make an impact on the power play where he’s scored six of his 22 career goals at the AHL level. His signing adds some extra depth on Hershey’s blue line in the event injury or recall, which has been a trend in recent years. Hershey added a pair of forwards in Alexandre Fortin and Ryan Scarfo on AHL contracts with two left-handed shooting skaters who are looking to make the team and bring resumes with plenty of experience and even some NHL experience in Fortin’s case. Scarfo has 128 total games in the AHL and played alongside current Bears forward Mike Vecchione during his time with Union College.
It creates an interesting storyline to watch out for when the team hits the ice in Hershey for training camp and preseason play begins. With plenty of depth at all positions and the potential for a stacked Bears group with the amount of talent with the Capitals, spots at the AHL level will have to be earned by the team’s depth. A subpar start could land talent in South Carolina to begin the season, and with players of many different backgrounds set to compete for spots, it’ll be a point of focus for fans to track.
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