2021 AHL Season Preview
Wolves, Monsters, Stars...the Admirals are everywhere.
The 2021 AHL season is set to begin on Friday, February 5, after much delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There have been a significant number of changes to the season structure, collective bargaining agreement (CBA), and more; For details on those changes, you can review my notes on the season ahead and Tony Androckitis’ reporting on the CBA.
As you likely know by now, the Milwaukee Admirals have opted out of the upcoming season, but Rachel and I will still be providing our weekly column. In this year’s maiden post, we’ll go over the various teams that Admirals’ players have dispersed to and focus specifically on previewing the Chicago Wolves’ roster.
A fierce rival of the Milwaukee Admirals in most years, Chicago—affiliates of the Carolina Hurricanes—will welcome a majority of the Ads’ roster to skate alongside them in a bizarre 2021 season.
|Dominik Bokk||Alexandre Carrier||Antonie Bibeau|
|David Cotton||Jeremy Davies||Jeremy Helvig|
|Jason Cotton||Cavan Fitzgerald*||Beck Warm*|
|Lukas Craggs||Brandon Hickey*|
|Dave Gust||Joey Keane|
|Patrick Harper||Max Lajoie|
|Seth Jarvis||Tyler Lewington|
(Players in bold are on loan from Nashville; players on AHL contracts are denoted with an asterisk).
For now, the Wolves will carry a crowded roster into a 30-game season playing solely against the Grand Rapids Griffins, Iowa Wild, Cleveland Monsters, and Rockford IceHogs. The Hurricanes-Predators agreement calls for an even split of playing time, meaning six forwards, three defenders, and one goalie from Nashville that Chicago has to dress. But the Nashville Predators do still have access to their ECHL squad, the Florida Everblades, and we could see some assignments there for players like Cole Smith or Josh Wilkins as the season goes on.
The Wolves could ice an electric forward group this season regardless of which 12 forwards draw into the lineup each night. When it comes to Carolina, all eyes will be on Ryan Suzuki—the Hurricanes’ first-round pick in 2019. A linemate of Philip Tomasino’s at the 2021 World Junior Championship (WJC), Suzuki will stay in Chicago until an OHL season, possibly. In the Wolves’ lone preseason game, he centered a top line with Tanner Jeannot and Patrick Harper.
A few other forwards of note are Jamieson Rees, Seth Jarvis, David Cotton, and Dominik Bokk. Rees was a second-round pick in 2019 who will play a feisty middle-six scoring role for the Wolves until he returns to the OHL. Jarvis—the Hurricanes top pick in last year’s draft—could leave the AHL if a since-promised WHL season gets up and running. Cotton was a top scorer at the collegiate level for Boston College and could play center or wing in the middle-six for the Wolves this season. Bokk is one of the Hurricanes’ most exciting prospects and should fill out a top-six scoring role this season.
As you know, we're partnering with @Canes AND @PredsNHL this season. Head coach Ryan Warsofsky seems to be mixing lines.— Chicago Wolves (@Chicago_Wolves) January 27, 2021
J. Cotton and Smallman also dressed.#WeAreTheWolves
Forwards like Jason Cotton, Stelio Mattheos, Sheldon Rempal, and Spencer Smallman round out the group as depth options. The Wolves’ coaching staff also has the tall task of weaving in the following forwards from Nashville:
- Rachel [RK]: Craggs will be interesting to watch, but I’m unconvinced he makes a big impact for the Wolves.
- Eric [ED]: I agree in that I’m not high on Craggs’s potential, but he’s proven he’s too good for the ECHL. What may hold him back most this season is the limited number of ice time with so many bodies. Otherwise, he’ll play his usual bottom-six winger role./
- RK: Harper was impressive in a few games with the Florida Everblades. He can take the heat at the pro level, even at his smaller size.
- ED: I agree...I’m excited to watch Harper in Chicago this season. He overcame so much in his collegiate career, and I think he’s primed to adjust well to the AHL. Don’t be surprised if he carves out a permanent top-six role this season./
- RK: Jeannot needs to bring his top game for the Wolves this season or risk getting lost in the shuffle.
- ED: Unlike Craggs, Jeannot is established as a legit AHL player, but similar to him, the numbers game may come to bite him—as Rachel mentioned. He can be effective, but I think he’ll need to show his penalty kill prowess consistently to stay in the lineup./
- RK: Malone is another player I’m unconvinced will be impactful.
- ED: Malone’s signing seems like eons ago. He’s never been an elite scorer at the AHL level, but I was quietly impressed with his transition game and speed. I think he’ll have some utility this season, but he won’t be dominating the scoresheet./
- RK: I was quite impressed with Novak’s season with the Admirals last season. He put up 11 goals and 31 assists as a top-six center for the Ads, and that’s where we should see him this season for Chicago.
- ED: It’s a shame Novak won’t have Daniel Carr and Cole Schneider to play on his wings this season; that line was Milwaukee’s best last season. I’m curious to see how long he’ll take to adjust to skating with two less-experienced linemates./
- RK: I am most curious about Rem Pitlick. How will he fare with a different squad in Chicago? He should be a top call-up option for Nashville, but will he be able to make himself stand out?
- ED: After becoming the first Admirals rookie since Viktor Arvidsson to score 20 goals, Pitlick will be tasked with replicating that output in his sophomore season if he wants to earn a call up soon. It looks like Chicago may start him at center, where I think he’s at his best./
- RK: Part of me wonders if we’ll ever see Richard with the Predators. He’s made few appearances with Nashville, and he struggled last season once he returned to Milwaukee. Richard has the ability to break open a game, but he also can simply...disappear.
- ED: I refuse to believe just yet that Richard’s 2019-20 season was an early sign of diminishing returns; he’s just too electrifying of a skater with the puck off the rush. Regardless, a split roster is the least ideal situation for him to bounce back in 2021./
- RK: Smith was signed because he’s a big net-front presence and will be a player to keep tabs on.
- ED: What a curious start to the year for Smith, skating in his first NHL game. He’s worked hard to get where he is, but I don’t see a long NHL career in his future. If the roster squeeze doesn’t get better, he could be dispatched to the ECHL for more ice time./
- RK: All eyes on Phil Tomasino. He proved that he could skate anywhere in the lineup for Canada in the World Juniors, and the thing was, he was consistent no matter where he was placed. Any pro experience will be good seasoning for the youngster. In my opinion, it’s going to take more than a bit to get Tomasino on Nashville’s roster. The “youth” movement was short-lived this summer.
- ED: Rachel hit the nail on the head. I’m curious if the Wolves deploy Tomasino and Suzuki together much this season./
- RK: Wilkins is a jack-of-all-trades. I am not certain he’s going to stick out in most games, but you’d notice his absence in the lineup.
- ED: I’ll push back on Rachel here. Wilkins was—at times—dreadful last year for Milwaukee. When he’s playing his best, he’s an excellent, modern-day bottom-six center, but he needs to show better decision-making skills this season to stay in the lineup./
Unlike the forward group, Nashville’s three defenders will get ample time on this blue line. Throughout the season, we will likely see Alexandre Carrier and Ben Harpur switch places, and maybe a Jérémy Davies appearance here or there in Nashville.
Each team has dressed 21 players today for developmental purposes.— Chicago Wolves (@Chicago_Wolves) January 27, 2021
We're going with 5D:
Bibeau's in net now with Helvig in reserve.#WeAreTheWolves
From the Hurricanes' perspective, Max Lajoie and Joey Keane lead the way for this defense group. I’m particularly excited to watch Keane build on his rookie campaign of 37 points in 58 games and an AHL All-Star Game appearance. He’ll be a primary call-up option for Carolina.
- RK: Consistent is the definition of Carrier’s game. Nothing about his play is going to make you say “wow,” but he’s a first-pair defender for Chicago this season. Carrier should probably be on the taxi squad over someone like Jarred Tinordi, but...yeah.
- ED: He’ll get more time in the NHL this season, so I’m not too concerned, but Rachel is right: Carrier will continue top-pair assignments for Chicago this season./
- RK: Davies is excellent in transition, and 28 points (4 goals, 24) assists are not bad for a first pro season. Expect him on either the first or second pair for Chicago and to be a regular power-play contributor.
- ED: Davies was the Admirals’ best defender last year, and I wish he was a regular on the taxi squad in Nashville. But the Wolves will undoubtedly benefit from his 69.49% controlled exit success rate in 2019-20./
- RK: *shrugs*
- ED: There really isn’t much to say here. Lewington was signed for taxi squad depth, likely before Nashville realized they’d be sharing an AHL affiliate. He’s a fine AHL defender./
While Connor Ingram participates in the NHL/NHLPA’s Player Assistance Program, the net in Chicago will be filled entirely by Hurricanes prospects. I’d expect Antoine Bibeau to shoulder the bulk of starts with Jeremy Helving serving as his backup.
We can’t really piece together what a regular Wolves lineup will be because there likely won’t be a “regular” one. With 21 forwards on the roster as of now, the top 12 will be a blender all season long. The one certainty is that Nashville’s top guns—Pitlick, Tomasino, Novak, Richard—will be given every opportunity at consistent top-six ice time.
Around the AHL
Around the league, Nashville has assigned defender Brandon Fortunato to the Cleveland Monsters. Cole Schneider and Hugo Roy—who were signed to AHL contracts this season—have signed with the Texas Stars and Hartford Wolf Pack, respectively. They’ll be free agents after this year.
Defender Matt Donovan has signed a one-year deal with HV71 of the Swedish league and subsequently signed a deal for 2021-22 with the Admirals.
Defenders Josh Healey and Spenser Young and forward Michael Carcone remain without assignments for the 2021 season.
Our weekly Admirals column will continue to run on Wednesdays this season and include brief game recaps, data viz charts, notes from the week, roster moves, and post-game quotes.