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What the Wichita Thunder Need in ECHL Free Agency?

For the Wichita Thunder, part of the planning for next year means cashing in on the players that were traded away at the ECHL’s trade deadline in late March

What the Wichita Thunder Need in ECHL Free Agency?

WICHITA, Kan. – The Kelly Cup Finals are over. The champagne and confetti have been cleaned up, and the critical work of constructing rosters for the 2022-23 season in the ECHL is getting underway.

For the Wichita Thunder, part of that roster construction means cashing in on the players that moved to playoff teams at the last season’s trade deadline in late March. Since it’s been a while, let’s look back at the four deadline deals made by head coach Bruce Ramsay.

  1. Matteo Gennaro was traded to Florida Everblades for forward Avery Peterson & future considerations.
    1. Peterson was flipped to Rapid City in exchange for forwarding Jake Wahlin & future considerations.
  2. Sean Allen was traded to Cincinnati Cyclones for defenseman Justin Bean & future considerations.
  3. Jacob Graves was traded to Atlanta Gladiators for defenseman Billy Constantinou and two future considerations.
  4. Cam Clarke was traded to Toledo Walleye for forward Ian Parker, defenseman Connor Walters, and future considerations.

When the dust settled on trade deadline week; four players were traded, two more were released, five new players were added to the roster, and Ramsay was sitting on six future considerations – all in the form of players – to add to the roster before the start of free agency.

Here is the return Wichita got from those trades made in March:

  1. Wichita acquired defenseman Chris McKay from Florida to complete the Everblades leg of the three-team deal involving Gennaro. McKay is a two-time league champion (SPHL Pensacola, ECHL Florida), has played in 78 regular-season games, posted 18 points, and is a +14 overall.
    1. The Thunder also acquired defenseman Kyle Rhodes from Rapid City to complete the portion of the trade that brought Jake Wahlin to Wichita. In 139 pro games with six different teams, he has 53 points (22G, 31A) and is a plus-10.
  2. Gianlucca Esteves comes to Wichita to complete the Sean Allen trade. The 25-year-old second-year pro posted 24 points in 57 games last season with the Cincinnati Cyclones. Prior to that, he played four seasons for Michigan State University.
  3. Defenseman Greg Campbell was acquired by the Thunder, however, he was not placed on the team’s season-ending roster, nor was he issued a qualifying offer. He is likely to play elsewhere next season. The second future consideration acquired by Wichita is Peter Bates, a rookie who played 11 games with the Gladiators down the stretch and posted five points (3G, 2A). Prior to signing with the Glads, he had a stellar four-year career with D-III hockey power, St. Norbert, where he posted 157 points (65G, 92A) in 123 games played.
  4. Finally, the Thunder acquired Quinn Preston from the Toledo Walleye, fulfilling the Walleye’s future considerations for acquiring Cam Clarke. Preston performed well in his first few games as a pro, posting seven points (2G, 5A) in eight contests with the Walleye. Prior to joining the fish, he played in 96 games with (the) Ohio State University, where he racked up 72 points (33G, 39A).

It is worth noting that all of the players, with the exception of Campbell, were on the team’s season-ending roster. From this group, only Preston was given a qualifying offer.

With free agency underway, here are three things the Thunder should be focusing on ahead of next season.

1. Look at the Core

There is no doubt Ramsay has players signed for next season, but how much he’ll have to rebuild the core of last year’s team will dictate everything else that happens this offseason. Team captain Alex Peters signed a one-year AHL deal with Bakersfield on June 16 and forward Jay Dickman will be playing in Slovakia next season. Additional players from the team’s season-ending roster are likely to head or stay overseas.

Brayden Watts posted a career-high 46 points (13G, 33A) last season and earned a protracted call-up to his hometown Bakersfield Condors. Should he re-sign, there is no doubt he will be one of the focal points of the offense next season.

Ramsay and Gurskis did a solid job of recruiting solid rookie players last season. Should they all re-sign with the Thunder, they will be called upon to take a bigger step forward this coming season. Carter JohnsonLogan Fredericks, and Michal Stinil posted very solid rookie campaigns; Johnson with 45 points (16G, 29A), Fredericks posting 25 points (13G, 12A), and Stinil chipping in with 30 points (13G, 17A). It will be interesting to see what they can do in year two. Add in Wahlin’s 40 points (yes, most came with Rapid City) and you have the beginning of a solid offensive group.

New additions to the blueline; Billy Constantinou, Connor Walters, Chris McKay, and Kyle Rhodes give Ramsay a good core to build off of should everyone sign.  Constantinou has the capability to be a playmaking, offensive defenseman, while Walters was steady and has a potent slapshot. McKay and Rhodes’ size will take away space for the opposition and their length will create havoc on penalty kills, similar to what Dickman and Beau Starrett did.

2. Get Older

At the end of last season, Wichita had one of the youngest teams in the ECHL, with an average age of 25.24 years and a total of 1,469 professional games played according to Elite Prospects. There were situations, even after Stefan Fournier and Jacob Graves returned, where you could tell how young the team was and how they were missing a steadying influence.

One of the biggest challenges for Ramsay this offseason will be to bring in a veteran group — a mix of vets and those nearing veteran status — that can lead and help develop this team from day one of camp, something last year’s group didn’t have. It might be worth asking Bakersfield for some help in signing those players to two-way AHL/ECHL deals.

3. Recruit as if Nothing’s Coming from AHL

We’ve seen this scenario play out time and again over the last few years: the team gets a handful to half-dozen AHL players to start the season, injury bug/flu/COVID hits, and they’re recalled, leaving the coach to scramble for players.

In addition to recruiting a good crop of ECHL players, it’s time to look at the higher-end SPHL players, too, especially in light of the success Logan Fredericks had last season.  The line between ECHL & SPHL players is fast becoming blurred, and even though the SPHL is technically “single-A” hockey, the product they put on the ice is not representative of their designation.

Having a full camp where you get an examination of players will help Ramsay and Gurskis identify who they can call up from the lower league once the recalls, injuries, and inevitable wave of COVID & flu come.

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 2021 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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