Sweetening The Lineup: A First Look At The 2021-22 Hershey Bears Roster

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Picture: Lehigh Valley Phantoms

A little bit over a month has handed because the Hershey Bears concluded their profitable 2020-2021 American Hockey League (AHL) season with a 5-2 conquer the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. It’s nonetheless early within the offseason, however Hershey’s 2021-22 roster has already begun to take form.

The image that’s forming reveals a workforce that’s deep at sure positions, however lacks depth at others. These positions should be addressed when the free agent interval begins in late July. On this publish we’ll check out the potential lineup for the Bears for subsequent season.


Goalies


The goalie place has been robust for the chocolate and white the previous few seasons. The workforce is in line to maintain that energy rolling within the 2021-22 season. Each Pheonix Copley and Zach Fucale are beneath contract for subsequent season.

Copley is within the closing season of his three-year contract that he signed with the Washington Capitals group previous to the 2019-20 season. Fucale inked a two-year extension with the Capitals in March. The duo mixed to earn the Harry “Hap” Holmes Memorial Award for permitting the fewest targets within the common season.

Fucale led the AHL with a 1.80 Objectives-In opposition to Common and in addition completed second within the league with a Save Proportion of .932. After a sluggish begin, Copley rebounded to win eight of his final 10 begins, together with two shutouts. The pair give Hershey a robust one-two punch in web.

With the Seattle enlargement draft looming this July, the chance exists that the Capitals may lose goalie Vitek Vanecek to the Seattle Kraken within the draft. That would go away a gap in Washington. Copley or Fucale could possibly be thrust into the backup function if that occurs or the Capitals may select to signal a backup with slightly extra NHL expertise. If it’s the former, one other goalie will must be added to the group.

After Copley and Fucale, the depth is skinny. Hunter Shepard seemed robust throughout his transient stint with the Bears. He went 3-0 and stopped 93 of the 96 photographs that he confronted. Shepard then went again right down to the ECHL and has helped lead the South Carolina Stingrays to the Kelly Cup Finals. The Minnesota-Duluth product was on an AHL deal this season and can possible be looking for an NHL contract now. His play might have enticed Washington to supply him a two-way deal, however Shepard may additionally look to affix a company that isn’t as deep at goalie. It’s all about alternative.

If the Capitals lock up Shepard, the depth problem is solved. If not, one other goalie will must be signed in free company.


Heart


Heart is a place that has a number of gamers already beneath contract, however can also be a spot that most likely may use one other addition because of the potential of gamers making the Washington roster and the departure of Philippe Maillet to the KHL.

Rookie sensation Connor McMichael may return to the Bears for the beginning of the season, however may be in Washington. He led the AHL in game-winning targets with eight and led Hershey in scoring with 27 factors. The 2019 first-round decide additionally topped the workforce’s objective scoring record with 14. McMichael performed a stable all-around sport and appears poised to make the bounce to the NHL.

The issue is that the Capitals don’t presently have a spot for him. That might change if Washington trades Evgeny Kuznetsov, however the Capitals may obtain a middle as a part of a possible return bundle for Kuznetsov, complicating McMichael’s place on the roster. Washington may additionally signal a middle through free company. One other risk to open a spot for McMichael is Lars Eller being left unprotected within the enlargement draft and Seattle selecting Eller as their choice from the Capitals.

Washington lately re-signed Mike Sgarbossa to a two-year contract. The signing is a vital one with Maillet signing for Metallurg Magnitogorsk within the KHL. The veteran pivot compiled 10 factors in 14 video games final season, however was extremely productive for the Bears in his earlier two seasons with the membership. Sgarbossa topped Hershey’s scoring record through the 2018-19 season, by which he posted 30 targets and 35 assists. Through the 2019-20 season, he posted 40 factors in 39 video games earlier than an harm ended his season. Sgarbossa offers the Bears with a top-line heart and veteran management.

Brian Pinho and Garrett Pilon are each signed for subsequent season. Each gamers ought to be within the combine for a roster spot with the Capitals, as each gamers can even play on the wing. Pinho is within the closing yr of the two-year deal he signed previous to final season. Pilon was lately re-signed to his personal two-year contract.

Pinho amassed 12 factors in 10 video games this previous season earlier than an harm introduced his season to an early finish. He performs on each ends of the ice and has confirmed to be a great penalty killer; he holds the ability set to succeed as a backside six ahead within the NHL. Pilon broke out in the beginning of the season, recording a degree in 11 of the 14 video games he performed; moreover, he totaled 16 factors in these 14 video games and was then recalled to the Washington taxi squad. He made his NHL debut late within the season for the Capitals.

Additionally beneath contract for subsequent season is Riley Sutter. Will probably be Sutter’s third skilled season. He went with out a objective this season, however contributed 9 assists. The son of former NHL heart Ron Sutter has not proven a lot offensively to date in his profession, however his defensive sport improved because the season went alongside and he noticed time on the penalty kill.

Lastly, Aliaksei Protas will return for his first full season within the AHL. The native of Vitebsk, Belarus performed in 16 video games for Hershey this season, netting a pair of targets and dished out 5 assists. Protas confirmed flashes of his potential, however went by means of an adjustment interval, nonetheless, he ought to be extra comfy subsequent season and could have a greater understanding of the system after collaborating in coaching camp. Protas’ continued growth could possibly be a key for the Bears if gamers like McMichael, Pilon, and Pinho see time within the NHL.

Even with all these choices down the center, a free agent addition at heart is smart. Maillet was an offensive pressure for Hershey the previous two seasons and that offense must be changed, particularly if McMichael is within the NHL. Bringing a veteran pivot in would strengthen the Bears’ offensive depth. Pilon and/or Pinho can play on the wing if wanted if they’re despatched again to Hershey.


Wings


At the moment, there are six wingers beneath contract for subsequent season. The highest scorer in that group is Brett Leason. After struggling as a rookie, Leason took an enormous step ahead in his sophomore marketing campaign. In 17 fewer video games, the Calgary, Alberta native tallied six extra targets than he did in 50 video games as a rookie. His 9 targets had been the fourth-most on the workforce. He performed in all 33 video games and earned the belief of the teaching employees, defensively. Leason was a key member of the penalty kill, a task that he wouldn’t have been thought of for as a rookie. He’ll look to proceed his development subsequent season.

Speedy winger Axel Jonsson-Fjallby lately inked a brand new two-year contract. The Swede is a harmful penalty killer and is a menace to attain shorthanded each time he’s on the ice on the penalty kill. Jonsson-Fjallby completed third on the Bears with 10 targets and added 5 assists. The native of Stockholm, Sweden’s sport is completely suited to a backside six function within the NHL. He may compete for that function as early as this coming season.

Kody Clark will return for his third season, having made strides in his sophomore season. Clark equaled his level whole of 9 factors in 12 much less video games and tallied 9 targets, six greater than he netted as a rookie. Clark was on tempo for a double-digit objective season when he suffered an harm on April 3 and missed the remainder of the season.

Lately re-signed winger Shane Gersich is slated for one more season in Chocolate City. Gersich skated in all 33 video games for the Bears this previous season and had a little bit of an up and down marketing campaign offensively. He netted six targets on the season, however 5 of them got here in a nine-game stretch. The North Dakota product additionally dished out 9 helpers. His pace permits Gersich to create offensive possibilities, however his shot stays a piece in progress. Gersich has developed into a robust penalty killer and sees numerous time on that unit.

Additionally lately re-signed is Joe Snively. The Herndon, Virginia native was a constant offensive presence for the primary two months of the season, posting 12 factors. He was slowed after being injured in follow in April. The harm prompted him to overlook three video games and he was not the identical participant down the stretch. Snively ended the season with six targets and 11 assists and tied for second on the workforce with three game-winning targets. Snively offers Hershey a top-six winger and he may see a call-up to the NHL subsequent season if he continues to enhance.

The ultimate winger presently beneath contract for subsequent season is Damien Riat. The Geneva, Switzerland native struggled to seek out consistency offensively throughout his first go-round in North America, scoring three targets and 6 assists in 33 video games for the Bears. Riat has potential, offensively, however must adapt his ability set to the North American sport. He’ll profit from collaborating in a coaching camp and will enhance going ahead.

Six wingers should not sufficient for an AHL roster. The group might want to add to its wing depth. One choice is Beck Malenstyn, who missed the entire 2021 season with an Achilles harm, however can be again for subsequent season. Malenstyn is a restricted free agent and in want a brand new contract. Being that he was in line to compete for an NHL roster spot previous to his harm, Malenstyn is prone to get re-signed by the Capitals and will once more compete for a roster spot in Washington throughout coaching camp. Nonetheless, it’s also a risk that Malenstyn wants time to seek out his sport and will start the yr in Hershey.

Another choice is to deliver again captain Matt Moulson on a second AHL contract. Moulson has served as a high quality mentor to younger gamers like Connor McMichael and continues to be a really productive participant. He was second on the workforce’s scoring record with 24 factors and in addition had the second-most targets on the workforce with 12. Mouslon can be 38 in November, however has talked about desirous to win a championship. He has been disadvantaged of that chance the final two season with the cancellation of the Calder Cup Playoffs. Moulson may need yet one more shot at that elusive title.

Different additions will possible be made to the winger place, even when Malenstyn and Moulson each return to the Bears. These can come by means of signings by the Capitals and by bringing gamers in on AHL-only offers.


Protection


The place that Hershey is presently the thinnest at is on protection. Solely 4 defenseman are signed for subsequent season and one in all them may probably be in line for a task in Washington. 9 defensemen who performed for the Bears final season are unrestricted free brokers and one other is a restricted free agent.

Slovak defender Martin Fehervary headlines the blueliners beneath contract for subsequent season. Fehervary had one other stable yr throughout his sophomore marketing campaign, netting three targets and including 14 assists in 33 video games performed. His 17 factors had been the second-most amongst Hershey defensemen. Fehervary performs in all conditions and is sweet defensively and kills penalties, in addition to seeing time on the facility play. Fehervary thought he had an opportunity to be with the Capitals final season, however the signings of Zdeno Chara, Trevor Van Riemsdyk and Justin Schultz prevented him from having an enormous function within the NHL. Subsequent season, Fehervary could also be given the prospect to show himself on the subsequent degree, with Chara as a free agent at 44-years previous. Washington may lose a defender like Brenden Dillon within the enlargement draft or the group may select to commerce a defenseman to create cap house to enhance in different areas. The Capitals’ offseason strikes will decide the place Fehervary begins subsequent season.

The one different defenseman who noticed motion in Hershey final season that’s signed is Alex Alexeyev. After beginning the season with Salavat Yuleav Ufa, Alexeyev returned to the Bears and performed in 12 video games. He made a right away affect by recording a degree in 5 of the primary six video games he performed. In whole, Alexeyev compiled 9 factors in his 12 video games. He returned from the KHL as a mature participant and exhibited a higher confidence. Alexeyev can be requested to play a much bigger function subsequent season and if he continues to develop, subsequent season could possibly be a really productive one.

Washington lately signed Bobby Nardella to a two-year contract extension. The Notre Dame product spent final season taking part in on mortgage for Djugardens IF in Sweden. The Rosement, Illinois native loved a productive season, main his workforce in scoring with 33 factors. Nardella additionally led Djugardens in assists with 26. Through the 2019-20 AHL season, he grew into a robust offensive defenseman because the season went alongside. Nardella tied for the workforce lead in assists with 27 and completed the season with 31 factors. Subsequent season, he possible can be relied upon to as soon as once more quarterback the facility play.

The final defenseman signed for subsequent season is Tobias Geisser. It has been awhile because the Swiss-born blueliner has skated in a sport for the Chocolate and White. He was loaned to EV Zug in Switzerland on December 5, 2019 after taking part in seven video games with the Bears within the 2019-20 season. Initially, the return house didn’t go effectively for Geisser. He posted two assists in 25 video games and was a minus-6. Nonetheless, his sport noticed marked enchancment through the 2020-21 season with EV Zug. Geisser netted 5 targets and dished out 17 assists. He noticed time on the highest protection pairing and performed in stress defensive conditions. EV Zug would go on to win the Swiss Championship.

After the above 4 defensemen, there may be actually nothing on the depth chart. Lucas Johansen is a restricted free agent, however could possibly be non-tendered by Washington. The Capitals may assist out the Bears by re-signing Cameron Schilling or Paul LaDue. If not, one other veteran defenseman or two will must be signed on the free agent market. Hershey may deliver again Reece Willcox, Rob O’Gara, Will Graber, Macoy Erkamps or Tyler Nanne on AHL offers. The Bears may additionally discover different choices on AHL contracts. Any means one appears at it, the protection must be strengthened.

As of now, there are areas that the Hershey Bears want so as to add to previous to subsequent season. The excellent news is that it’s nonetheless early and free company continues to be a month away. There may be loads of time for the workforce to be strengthened earlier than the curtain drops on the 2021-22 AHL season in October.

By Eric Lord



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