ECHL South Division Preview: All Eyes on the Blades

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All eyes will be on the ECHL South Division this year, with defending league champions Florida Everblades set to face increasingly stiff competition.

This will now include the expansion Savannah Ghost Pirates, who will compete for one of four playoff spots in the division in their first year in the league. The Atlanta Gladiators, Jacksonville Icemen and Greenville Swamp Rabbits made up those bottom three spots last year. Those spots will be contested not just by Savannah, but also by the Orlando Solar Bears and South Carolina Stingrays, who will be hoping their clubs have improved significantly after their collective seasons ended prematurely last year.

Lists accurate as of October 13.

GHOST PIRATES OF THE SAVANNAH

KEY ADDITIONS: Brent Pedersen, Spencer Naas, Alexandre Carrier, Vincent Marleau, Spencer Dorowicz, Tristan Thompson, Aaron Thow

KEY DEPARTURES: Expansion Team

KEY RETURNEES: Expansion Team

OUTLOOK: A new team to the ECHL this season, the Ghost Pirates will begin their tenure in the league as an affiliate of the Vegas Golden Knights, who will bolster the club with players from their AHL team in Henderson.

So far, Savannah has added a wide variety of ECHL veterans, including winger Alexandre Carrier, who has been a fixture in the league for nearly a decade now with ten different teams.

Longtime college coach Rick Bennett will serve as the Ghost Pirates’ first bench manager, with former Adirondack Thunder head coach Alex Loh serving as assistant coach.

2022 Savannah Ghost Pirates vs. Greenville Swamp Rabbits

ATLANTA GLADIATORS

KEY ADDITIONS: Kaid Oliver, Brandon Schultz, Alex Sakellaropolous, Bode Wilde

KEY DEPARTURES: Derek Nesbitt

KEY RETURNEES: Cody Sylvester, Derek Topatigh, Tyler Parks, Gabe Guertler, Eric Neiley, Sanghoon Shin, Hugo Roy, Tim Davison

OUTLOOK: On paper, the Gladiators are an improved team, even without Derek Nesbitt, who announced his retirement this offseason after playing more than 1,000 professional games. The solid core group fell just three points from winning the division title last year and are largely back. They’ll be bolstered by big additions like Kaid Oliver, who had a 50-point season with the Iowa Heartlanders in 2021-22, and Brandon Schultz, who scored 25 points in 45 games last year with Toledo.

Bode Wilde is perhaps the most intriguing new player in the league, regardless of his team. The 22-year-old defenseman was a second-round pick of the New York Islanders in 2018 and was essentially kicked out of the club due to his reported vaccination status. He was recently assigned to the Gladiators by the Islanders amid rumors that he would be moved entirely to another NHL organization.

GREENVILLE MARSH RABBITS

KEY ADDITIONS: Michael McNiven, Justin Hamonic, Jake Elmer, Tanner Eberle

KEY DEPARTURES: Liam Pecararo, Max Zimmer, Brett Kemp, Anthony Rinaldi, John Lethemon

KEY RETURNEES: Ayden MacDonald, Nikita Pavlychev, Bryce Reddick, Austin Eastman

OUTLOOK: The Swamp Rabbits snuck into the fourth and final playoff spot in the South last year. They will take to the ice this season without their top four scorers from this group. This leads to a bigger opportunity for Austin Eastman, who has been a revelation for the Swamp Rabbits, scoring 10 points in just 15 games after joining the club out of college.

Tanner Eberle, a first cousin of longtime NHL player Jordan Eberle, and Justin Hamonic, who is unrelated to the NHL player, are both notable additions to the team for this season, but a big one. Part of the focus has been on Jake Elmer and Michael McNiven’s signings.

Elmer, a former Rangers farmhand, has double-digit scoring seasons with Maine and Jacksonville in the ‘E’, while McNiven had a brief stint in the NHL last year with the Montreal Canadiens, where he played a game.

JACKSONVILLE GLACIERS

KEY ADDITIONS: Matt Salhany, Garret Cockerill

KEY DEPARTURES: Craig Martin, Abbot Girduckis, Ben Hawerchuk

KEY RETURNEES: Charles Williams, Ara Nazarian, Luke Lynch, Brandon Fortunato, Jacob Panetta

OUTLOOK: The Icemen have one of the shortest side rosters in the South, but still pack a lot of punch, with two of their best forwards in Ara Nazarian and Luke Lynch returning for another season. Charles Williams will likely share the net with a contract goaltender for another season, and Brandon Fortunato and Jacob Panetta, the team’s two leading scorers at fullback last year, will also be in front of him.

In terms of new players, perhaps none are more intriguing than Matt Salhany, who turned a 26-25-51 year with Adirondack three seasons ago into an overseas deal in Denmark.

2022 Orlando Solar Bears vs. Jacksonville Icemen

FLORIDA EVERBLADES

KEY ADDITIONS: Cameron Darcy, Dominic Franco, Cole Moberg

KEY DEPARTURES: John McCarron

KEY RETURNEES: Joe Pendenza, Levko Koper, Blake Winiecki, Ben Masella, Lukas Kaelble

OUTLOOK: The defending champions will look a little different this season as it looks like longtime captain John McCarron won’t be back after finally leading his team to their long-awaited Kelly Cup. Much of the core group remains however, including Joe Pendenza, who scored a critical goal late in the final to extend the game into overtime – a contest the Everblades eventually won en route to their first title in one. decade.

The goaltending situation is currently in limbo — Cam Johnson is on a two-way deal with the AHL and Parker Gahagen joined the Rangers organization this offseason — but Florida has bolstered its roster in other ways, by adding strong players from other teams in previous years. like Cameron Darcy and Dominic Franco up front, and Cole Moberg at the back.

2022 Florida Everblades vs. Atlanta Gladiators

SOUTH CAROLINA STRINGS

KEY ADDITIONS: Gavin Gould, Jarid Lukosevicius

KEY DEPARTURES: Ryan Bednard, Derek Gentile, Jade Miller, Jordan Subban

KEY RETURNEES: Lawton Courtnall, Justin Florek, Andrew Cherniwchan, Connor Moore, Jonny Evans

OUTLOOK: It’s no surprise that a team that finished in the Southern cellar last season will look different heading into this campaign. While three of the club’s top five scorers in Justin Florek, Andrew Cherniwchan and Lawton Courtnall return, they will be without Ryan Bednard, who led the team last year with 35 appearances in goal but signed with the Wheeling Nailers this offseason.

Jarid Lukosevicius, one of the heroes of the University of Denver’s national championship team in 2017, is an intriguing addition after spending the first three years of his professional career at the American Hockey League level.

ORLANDO SUN BEARS

KEY ADDITIONS: Jack LaFontaine, Andrew Sturtz, Shawn Szydlowski, Karl El-Mir, Brian Bowen, Carson Denomie, Brandon Halverson

KEY DEPARTURES: Aaron Luchuk, Odeen Tufto

KEY RETURNEES: Tristin Langan, Michael Brodzinski, Steven Olesky, Brad Barone

OUTLOOK: The Solar Bears missed the playoffs by just three points last year and ended up changing coaches, as Matt Carkner took over the reins from Drake Berehowsky for the 2022-23 season.

That won’t be the only difference you’ll notice this season. While some key players like Brad Barone – a journeyman goaltender who had a career year with the Solar Bears in 2021-22 – Tristin Langan and Michael Brodzinski will return, the Solar Bears have been active in making big additions to the roster. ‘before. The team added proven point producers like Andrew Sturtz, Shawn Szydlowski, Karl El-Mir, Brian Bowen and Carson Denomie to the forward group.

Additionally, Brandon Halverson, a former New York Rangers goaltender who missed all of last year through injury, provides more depth in goal.

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