The Chicago Wolves’ 25th anniversary season was one for the history books. Not only did they win their third straight AHL Central Division crown, but they also became Western Conference Champions before losing the Calder Cup Finals to the Charlotte Checkers in five games. The Wolves will have a ton of new faces as they begin their quest for a fourth straight Central title.
Offseason Roster Moves
- LW-Daniel Carr
- C-T.J. Tynan
- RW-Brooks Macek
- RW-Tomas Hyka
- D-Zac Leslie
- C-Stefan Matteau
- RW-Tyler Wong
- C-Matthew Weis
- F-Ryan Wagner
- LW-Alex Gallant
- G-Max Lagace
- C-Cody Glass
- D-Griffin Reinhart
- G-Garrett Sparks
- LW-Tyrell Goulbourne
- C-Patrick Brown
- C-Nicolas Roy
- D-Brett Lernout
- D-Brycen Martin
- D-Jaycob Megna
- D-Brayden Pachal
- D-Cliff Watson
- C-Paul Cotter
- LW/RW-Lucas Elevnes
- C-Ben Jones
- C- Jake Leschyshyn
- LW/RW-Jermaine Loewen
- LW-Brett McKenzie
- LW/RW-Jonas Rondbjerg
Wolves Look to Fill Huge Void in Offense
Turnover is part of life in the AHL. Your team not only goes through big changes from season-to-season, but things can change game-to-game as well. All 31 teams had significant losses over the summer, but the Wolves may have been hit the hardest as they lost their three top scorers from last year’s squad.
AHL MVP Carr, Tynan and Macek have all moved on. These three combined for 68 goals and 202 points last season, which is a ton of production to try and replace on the fly. To make matters worse, Carr landed with the Wolves’ division rivals, the Milwaukee Admirals.
In addition to losing their top scorers, the Wolves had to say goodbye to plenty of depth like Hyka, Matteau, Wagner, Weis and Wong. Part of what made the Wolves such a hard team to beat last season what their depth. They were the “next man up” mantra personified.
When Brandon Pirri, who was playing at an MVP level, was called up to Vegas, Carr stepped up. When Carr missed the final month of the regular season due to injury, the team never missed a beat. When they were down 2-1 games to the Grand Rapids Griffins, in the first round of the Calder Cup playoffs, they found a way to overcome a plethora of injuries and advance in five games.
It will be hard-pressed for the Wolves to be able to recapture that magic, but veterans Curtis McKenzie and Tye McGinn will do what they can to help. Both players will provide leadership and toughness on the ice while showing a young locker room the ropes of being a professional.
Gage Quinney, who scored 19 goals and 43 points last season, will be back to try to build off of his best professional output. Keegan Kolesar, who is coming off of a 20-goal season, is also back to bring a rough style of hockey along with his offense. This could be a big season for Reid Duke, who has had issues staying healthy since turning pro. If he were ever to take the big jump in his career, this would be the time to do it.
There will be plenty of new faces to help fill the void this season, two of which carried the Calder Cup around the last time they were in the Allstate Arena. Brown and Roy were both parts of the Charlotte Checkers championship run and combined for 38 goals and 71 points. They will add some size, skill and experience to the Wolves lineup.
Goulbourne is another veteran who will add some grit and leadership to the ice. He scored a career-high nine goals last season, but he will be looked upon to play the role of the enforcer as he also racked up 135 penalty minutes for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.
A couple of recent Golden Knights draft picks will become AHL rookies this season and the team has high hopes for them. Leschyshyn was drafted in the second round of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft and is looking to build off a huge final season in the WHL. Last season, he had 40 goals and 81 points in 68 games split between the Regina Pats and Lethbridge Hurricanes. He appeared in three games at the end of the regular season for the Wolves.
Rondbjerg, who was drafted three picks after Leschyshyn, will make his North American debut this season. He will add to the team’s depth as he can play both the left and right wings. Goal scoring has never been his thing, but Rondbjerg is a smart player who is very responsible in his own end.
Chicago’s Defense Still Loaded
Last season, the Wolves boasted one of the AHL’s top defensive corps which included five legit NHL prospects. Erik Brannstrom was traded to the Ottawa Senators in February, but the Wolves still have Nic Hague, Dylan Coghlan and Jake Bischoff returning.
Hague brings the size and the booming slap shot. Coghlan is a very good puck mover whose defense improved vastly over the course of the 2018-19 season. Bischoff is your prototypical “stay-at-home” defenseman, but he is also not afraid to shoot the puck.
Zach Whitecloud will start the season on the injured list with an upper-body injury. When he returns, he will give head coach Rocky Thompson another stable and smart defender with a big upside. All four of these guys could find themselves in the NHL at any point this season.
Related – Golden Knights Prospect Report
The Wolves lost a pair of veteran defenders in Leslie and Reinhart, but have replaced them with some size and experience to blend in with their young core. Lernout and his 6-foot-4 frame brings 300 professional games of experience to the Wolves, including 21 in the NHL.
Megna, 6-foot-6, who played for both the Chicago Mission and Team Illinois AAA programs on his way to becoming a pro, signed with the Golden Knights this season. He will start in the AHL, where he has played in 250 games. He also brings 43 games on NHL experience to the Wolves’ locker room.
Goaltending in Good Shape
The Wolves used the goaltending duo of Legace and Oscar Dansk to get to the Calder Cup Finals last season. Dansk remains, but Legace has moved on to the Boston Bruins organization. His place will be filled by Sparks, who was acquired in an offseason trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Sparks, born in nearby Elmhurst, IL, will likely split time with Dansk during the season. He will see his first AHL action since the 2017-18 season when he helped the Toronto Marlies win the Calder Cup with a 1.79 goals-against average (GAA) and .936 save percentage (save %). He spent last season as Frederik Andersen’s backup with the Maple Leafs and appeared in 20 games.
Dansk played in 40 games for the Wolves last season, helping them to be one of just five teams in the AHL to allow less than 200 goals. He finished the regular season with a 2.46 GAA and .913 save % to go along with a pair of shutouts. He ended up being the team’s number one goaltender for the postseason, where he started 19 of their 22 Calder Cup playoff games. His playoff numbers were very similar with a 2.48 GAA and .911 save %.
Wolves are in Very Good Hands
The Wolves will have a hard time trying to make up for all the talent and depth they lost during the offseason, but they have the right man behind the bench to accomplish that. Thompson is entering his third season with the Wolves and is becoming one of the hottest coaching prospects in the hockey world.
John Shannon, formerly of Sportsnet, reported that Mike Babcock wanted to add Thompson to his staff in Toronto.
Thompson will be an NHL coach one day and he will be a good one. He lives in the moment and never seems to get either too high or too low during the course of a game or the season. He constantly puts his players in position to succeed and trusts his guys to do their jobs. Every player I talked to last season raved about playing for Thompson. General manager Wendell Young knows he has one of the best young coaches leading his team.
“He figures ways,” Young said. “It’s a big puzzle and he puts the pieces together to put a winning team on the ice. That’s tough for some coaches, but we seem to be able to do it game-in, game-out even when we feel we might be overmatched offensively or overmatched defensively or whatever. We seem to be able to counter it, and that’s a good trait of a coach.”
From “Rocky Thompson keeping focus on Wolves, not NHL” by Brian Sandalow, Chicago Sun-Times, 9/28/19)
The Wolves will have a tough time winning their fourth straight Central Division title, but they still have plenty of talent and a great coach to give it one heck of a shot. They will open their season on home ice, against the Griffins, on Saturday, Oct. 5. These two teams played a spirited five-game series in the first round of last spring’s Calder Cup playoffs.