We are almost there! The home opener is only 57 hours a way as I write this.
The 2013-14 version of the Hershey Bears is almost set to take the ice in games that actually count. And this team looks fairly different than the 2012-13 version.
Gone are players like Joey Crabb, Boyd Kane, Jon Disalvatore, Barry Almeida, Ryan Potulny, Mike Carman, Dany Sabourin, Patrick McNeill, and others.
Tough to see some of the guys go, but it is the nature of the business. And we don't have to say goodbye to all the guys from last year:
Returning are guys like Jeff Taffe, Casey Wellman, Peter LeBlanc, Nicholas Deschamps, Cameron Schilling, Tomas Kundratek, Philipp Grubauer, Garrett Mitchell, Joel Rechlicz, and others.
Many of those players didn't even start the season in Hershey last year but were brought in via trades throughout the year. Getting a chance at a full season together should pay dividends.
But we already know about them. We know (mostly) what they bring to the ice each night.
What we don't know is the new guys. So let's meet them:
G - David Leggio
David played last year with the Rochester Americans where he went 38-24-1 in his 64 games with a 2.56 goals against average and a .924 save percentage. He is 29 and was undrafted out of college. He has played 3 straight full seasons in the AHL with Portland (2010-11) and Rochester (2011-2013). Over his three years he has improved each year and was even named the AHL's Goalie of the Month in March 2013.
How He Fits - He and Gruby will make one of the most formidable goalie combinations in the AHL this season.
D - Patrick Wey
Patrick is a 6'3" 210 lb defenseman that spent the last 4 seasons playing for Boston College after becoming a 4th round pick of the Washington Capitals. He was named a 2013 Hockey East's 2nd Team All Star AND was named 2013 Best Defensive Defenseman in Hockey East. He scored 1 goal and added 12 assists in 12-13 and was a member of the 2011-12 National Championship team at BC.
How He Fits - He might not. Someone is going to be headed to Reading and I think Wey is possibly a choice. I haven't seen him much, but based on what I have read he is probably a bit like Patrick McNeill.
D - Michal Cajkovsky
Michal is a 6'3" 208 lb defenseman from Slovakia that will be fighting for minutes amongst a deep blueline in Hershey. He is 21 and spent the last 3 years in the OHL after going undrafted in the NHL. He produced 10 goals and 24 assists last season with the Ottawa 67's, but is not considered an offensive defenseman. Seems like the best part of his game is the physical part.
How He Fits - Based on reviews from his junior days I would say he is ticketed for Reading. BUT he was one of the last cuts in Caps camp so they see something. Saw him at the STH pickup night...big kid. Based on reviews I think he could be similar to Patrick Wellar.
D - David Kolomatis
David was a 5th round pick of the Kings in the same 2009 draft as Patrick Wey. He is a smaller defenseman at 5'11" and 190 lbs, but has been a consistent presence for the Manchester Monarchs over the past 4 years. Has had some injury problems the last two years, as he was limited to 58 games in 2011-12 and only 46 last year. But in those 46 games he produced 8 goals and 20 assists and was a key point man on the power play.
How He Fits - As an experienced rear-guard with power play experience he will likely get a good chance to fill that role in Hershey as well.
D - Tyson Strachan (@tstracks)
Tyson was the lone veteran defenseman signed by the Bears/Caps this offseason. He appears to be a prototypical 'stay-at-home' defenseman. He is 6'2" 215 and has never recorded more than 5 goals in any one season. That also could be to bouncing around a lot though. He has played in 120 NHL games over each of the last 5 seasons, so if he is consistently recalled it could be hard.
How He Fits - Definitely in Hershey this year and possibly a captain of this team. Suspect he will spend much of the season on the top pair and a key on the penalty kill.
C - Jamie Johnson
Jamie is an AHL veteran who has played for 5 different AHL franchises plus 2 teams overseas in his 7 pro seasons. Most recently he was a player in the KHL where he totaled 8 goals and 14 assists in 52 games. In his last AHL season he scored 21 goals and added 37 assists in 76 games with the Grand Rapids Griffins in 2011-12. His best AHL season was a 27 goal 44 assist year with Rochester in 2009-10.
How He Fits - I suspect Hershey fans will see his name regularly in the write-ups as he will probably be involved in plenty of scoring. He is currently being paired with Jeff Taffe, his Rochester teammate in 09-10.
LW - Derek Whitmore (@dwhitmore21)
Derek joins the Bears after spending a season playing in the German league (DEL). He scored 9 goals and added 14 assists in 26 games. From 2008-12 he was an AHL mainstay however. He played in at least 75 games each of the 4 years and totaled 84 goals and 63 assists in those years. His has 2 full AHL seasons saw him score 27 and 28 goals, respectively.
How He Fits - Based on his previous numbers I think the Bears MIGHT have their go-to scorer when they need one. Not many guys finish years with more goals than assists unless they like to shoot. It is a welcome addition considering the players around the past couple years.
RW - Matt Watkins
Matt is a non-veteran addition that spent last year with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers where he scored 11 goals and added 19 assists in 68 games. Previously he spent time with San Antonio and Portland and in 4 (mostly) full AHL seasons he has never finished with less than 11 goals.
How He Fits - I envision a 3rd line role and lead penalty killer. Reviews mention a high on-ice awareness and defensively strong player.
F - Nathan Walker (@NathanWalks10)
The young Aussie is looking to become the first Australian to play in the NHL and comes to Hershey after 1 year in the USHL where he produced 7 goals and 20 assists in 29 games. Prior to that he played 2 seasons in the Czech pro league. He has actually lived in the Czech Republic since 2006, but was raised in Australia. Oh and at 19 he has a longer Wikipedia entry than any of the other guys mentioned in this post!
How He Fits - At 19 and undersized (5'9" and 185 lbs) I could see him spending some time in Reading. But he did impress in Washington so we shall see. At best I would imagine 3/4 line minutes.
RW - Brandon Segal (@brandon_segal)
The oldest addition (30) to the Bears this offseason, he brings plenty of experience. Last season Brandon played in Connecticut and scored 24 goals and added 20 assists in 73 games. He has 103 games of NHL experience on his resume and has played 8 different AHL franchises (Hershey makes 9) in his 10 pro seasons. His best season was in 08-09 when he scored 26 goals and 26 assists in 69 games. He was also a member of the 11-12 Norfolk team that dominated and won the Calder Cup.
How He Fits - Hugely. He is a 6'2" 215 lb power forward that the Bears haven't had in a few years (think Graham Mink). He is headed for a role on one of the top 2 lines I suspect.
F - John Mitchell
Mitchell joins the Bears thanks to the trade that sent former Bear Mathieu Perreault to Anaheim. He played last season with in Norfolk where he registered 10 goals and 4 assists in 61 games. In 11-12 he was in Syracuse and produced 8 and 10 in 50 games. He is big, standing about 6'5" so he should bring a physical presence.
How He Fits - Not sure. I think he might spend some time in Reading, but if not than he will likely see mostly 4th line minutes.
OK. I think that is it for the new guys. As I try to expand on my Twitter activity I will also try to update the roster page with Twitter handles and links to those in case you are there.
Check back tomorrow or Saturday for more preview posts!
Forgot a couple guys.
F - Tyler Ruegsegger
Last season was Tyler's first full AHL season and he produced 11 goals and 7 assists in 61 games with the Abbotsford Heat. He played his college hockey at the Univ. of Denver where he was a productive offensive player scoring 56 goals in his 4 years there.
How He Fits - Depth player more than likely. He was solid in the preseason though so we shall see. Could see him in Reading with regular call-ups depending on injuries.
F - Josh Brittain
Josh is another big body (6'5" 230 lbs) and he spent last season split between the ECHL and AHL. He had 27 points in 31 ECHL games and then produced 19 points (11 goals) in 43 AHL games with Norfolk. He is a former 3rd round pick who has some skill and definitely the size to be a good power forward.
How He Fits - He is injured right now which I believe is both keeping him in Hershey and keeping him from staying in Hershey long term. I fully expect him to head to Reading upon his return to health, but that will at least partially depend on the health of the remaining Bears at that point.