Big changes are happening again for the Mallards this season. Would we really have it any other way? Change is the only constant with this franchise. Last year it was joining the ECHL. In the few years before that it was a new front office, new coach, and new ownership group. I’d argue that most of the changes this year are for the better, but may take some getting used to.
Bobby Metcalf at the QC Times did a really in-depth article about the roster changes to the Mallards. I highly recommend reading it if you haven’t. To summarize: there are 10 players returning from last season, and possibly a couple more that could still re-sign with the Mallards. There are already five new players signed. The roster is going to look much different from last year.
They have signed veterans Darren McMillan and Vladimir Nikiforov. This leaves two open veteran slots. It will be interesting to see how Ruskowski fills those last two veteran spots. These are pretty critical vacancies because they provide stability to the team. There is going to be a lot more roster turnover this year.
New Affiliation Agreement
The Mallards are now the only ECHL affiliate of the Wild. Last year, the Alaska Aces were the Wild’s primary affiliate, and the Mallards were a secondary affiliate. There were 10 different players assigned from higher levels to the Aces at one time or another. Only two them were players originally signed by the Aces being sent back down to them after a callup. Five of the players were assigned to them from the Minnesota Wild at various points in the season. The other three were sent there by the Iowa Wild in November or earlier. These players tend to go back and forth between the ECHL and AHL as needed. They played anywhere from six to 59 games with the Aces. This may not tell the whole story about roster turnover, either. The Wild drew players from the Mallards as well as the Aces last year on top of the ones mentioned above (Joe Perry, Benjamin Dieude-Fauvel, Nicholas Rioux, and others). Now with only one affiliate, the Wild will only have one team to draw players from in a time of need. These call-ups could really start to add up.
When players are assigned to the Mallards, the Wild will expect them to get playing time to continue their development. The part of the roster dedicated to these players is out of Coach Ruskowski’s control. The number and kind of players that get assigned to the Mallards will have a big impact on the season for sure.
The Mallards are moving from the Central Division to the Midwest Division with the Cyclones, Fuel, Icemen and Komets. 35 of their games will be against these four teams. Last season they only played these teams a handful of times. If there was any kind of lingering difference between last year’s Central Division and the other ECHL divisions, it will be long gone. There is also a lot more variety of teams on the schedule as a whole. When you combine such a wide variety of opponents with more roster turnover, the ability to make in-game adjustments and play team systems will probably be more important than ever.
- The iWireless Center is undergoing renovations. I outlined some of those changes here. These will be nice improvements for fans.
- The Mallards hired Bob Hoffman to be Executive Vice President. This is another move that should only make the franchise stronger.
- Between the improved schedule and growing fan base, attendance could see a nice jump again this year.