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Wheeling Nailers 2020-21 Season Preview

Wheeling Nailers 2020-21 Season Preview

WHEELING, W.Va.- After a four-year absence from the postseason and the first sub-.500 season in over a decade, the Wheeling Nailers begin the 2020-21 season with a new coaching staff and a lot of new faces on the ice.

Initial Schedule (Home Games in BOLD)

Dec 12 – Indy @ WHEELING – 7:10 pm ET
Dec 18 – Orlando @ WHEELING – 7:10 pm ET
Dec 19 – Orlando @ WHEELING – 7:10 pm ET
Dec 26 – Wheeling @ Indy – 7:05 pm ET
Dec 27 – Indy @ WHEELING -4:10 pm ET
Dec 31 – Indy @ WHEELING – 6:10 pm ET
Jan 2 – Wheeling @ Indy – 7:05 pm ET
Jan 6 – Wheeling @ Greenville – 7:05 pm ET
Jan 8 – Wheeling @ South Carolina – 7:05 pm ET
Jan 9 – Wheeling @ South Carolina – 6:05 pm ET

Head Coach – Mark French first year with Wheeling (70-59-0-16 with Wichita (CHL), 180-100-0-32 with Hershey (AHL); 28-14-0-12 with KHL Zagreb Medvescak; 117-80-0-31 with WHL Calgary)

Last Season – 24-30-5-0,  6th in Central Division/12th in Western Conference

2019-20 Season Summary – Wheeling struggled on the road in 2019-20. The black and Vegas gold finished the season with a 9-17-3 mark on the road, while finishing 15-13-2 on home ice. The Nailers led the league in the fewest penalty minutes, only being whistled for an average of 8.63 PIM/game (509 in 59 games). In spite of that, the penalty kill unit only killed off 81.2% (151/186) of opponent power-play chances. When the dust settled on the season, the Nailers finished 11 points out of a playoff spot and finished with a losing record for the first time in 12 seasons.

Hot or Not?

The Nailers head into the 2020-21 campaign with a roster full of firepower and goaltending upgrades.

Starting between the pipes, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins assigned Shane Starrett to the Nailers. In parts of two seasons in the ECHL, Starrett has a 17-14-3-1 record with a 2.97 GAA in 39 career games. He was an all-star representative with Wichita in 2018.

Offensively, the Nailers have added ECHL All-Star and 2018 Kelly Cup Finals MVP Michael Joly. In two seasons of ECHL play, Joly has scored 64 goals, added 43 assists for 107 points in 81 games. Joly’s last game in the ECHL was in 2018, having spent the last two seasons with the AHL’s Colorado Eagles.

On the blue line, Wheeling has Dylan MacPherson, who was a solid presence on the blue line for Greenville last season, scoring four goals and 13 assists for 17 points and was a plus-4 on the year.

Who’s Back

  • Brad Drobot- fan-favorite and enforcer type player
  • Marc-Olivier Duquette- The 6-foot-4 defenseman looks to be a steadying influence on the blue line.

Who’s New

  • Michael Pelech – He enters the season fourth on the league’s all-time games played list at 705. With 67 games played, he would pass Louis Dumont for third place in league history. Pelech’s 372 assists ranks sixth in ECHL history, and he needs 28 assists to become just the third player in league history to reach the 400-assist mark in his career. Pelech sits 21st all-time with 541 points as he looks to become only the eighth player all-time to reach 600 career points.
  • ­Shane Starrett- 17-14-3-1 career ECHL record with a 2.97 GAA
  • Kevin Dufour- returns to ECHL after a season with the EIHL’s Dundee Stars.

Who’s Through

  • Cam Brown- signed with SonderjyskE in Denmark
  • Nick Saracino– Jacksonville (ECHL) claimed after release from South Carolina
  • Yushiroh Hirano– Signed with Cincinnati (ECHL), currently a free agent due to Cincinnati’s suspension of play for 2020-21

What to Watch For?

Wheeling has tapped a proven winner in Mark French to lead the Nailers as they look to return to the winning ways. Assisting him is former captain and fan-favorite Derek Army.

How will the new faces in Nail City blend to form a unit and can the offense produce the type of fireworks that their collective histories suggest they can?

Last season, the Nailers allowed 3.49 goals per game. Will French and Army implement a tighter defensive scheme to enhance the penalty kill and bring down the high-volume of goals against?

John Hafer covers the Wheeling Nailers for The Sin Bin. Follow and interact with John on Twitter @SinBinWheeling!

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    John Hafer covers the Wheeling Nailers for Field Pass Hockey. Follow and interact with him on Twitter @FPHNailers.

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