TOLEDO, OH – After a disappointing ending to the 2017 Kelly Cup playoff run, losing to the eventual champion Colorado Eagles, the Toledo Walleye went into the offseason looking to build on the success they had. Toledo offseason went up and down with some disappointments while also highlights.
Toledo offseason got off to a rocky start after losing twins forwards Tyson and Tylor Spink to Sweden. The dynamic duo offensively combined for 151 points in Toledo last year. Toledo offense continued to take a hit as Toledo lost star forward and icon Evan Rankin to retirement. A forward who had a combined four years in Toledo putting in a combined 214 points during that period.
The Walleye defense was next to lose pieces, the first being Matt Caito, who signed an AHL deal with Iowa Wild. Caito played in 23 games for the Walleye last year, in addition to 13 games with the Grand Rapids Griffins in the American Hockey League. After coming over from the Wichita Thunder at the trade deadline, physical Landon Oslanski left Toledo to play his first year of European hockey in Scotland. The most significant loss, however, would come at the “future considerations” deadline when defenseman Nolan Zajac‘s rights were traded to the Wichita Thunder. Zajac’s ECHL rights would be traded to Reading, and he ultimately signed a two-way (AHL-ECHL) deal with Lehigh Valley Phantoms. Lastly, the Walleye would lose ECHL All-Star Justin Agosta, who went back to the Machester Monarchs.
Toledo went younger on the back end this offseason, highlighted first by the signing of 6-foot-2 Brock Beukeboom (son of NHL Jeff Beukeboom), an OHL journeymen and who played four years at Universty of Prince Edward Island. After being released for roster space last year, Toledo next brought back Parker Reno who came over from R.P.I. College. A defenseman who struggled in those nine games at the end of the year for the Walleye.
New to Toledo’s defense is Davis Vandane, an ECHL journeymen who put an impressive 11 goals and 26 assists on a very lackluster Elmira Jackals team last year and brings a similar game to Oslanski.
Two former Kansas City Mavericks made a move to Northwest Ohio this offseason. The first is Ryan Obuchowski, who scored 16 points (2G, 14A) in his rookie year with the Mavericks. The Walleye were assigned former Kansas City Mavericks defenseman Kevin Tansey, an ECHL All-Star last year. Tansey played in 44 games for the Mavericks last season, racking up 31 points (13G, 18A).
The Walleye used their final signing announcement to team announce the signing of 6-foot-7 defenseman Christian Hilbrich, who played last season with the Wheeling Nailers. Hillbrich was up and down for the Nailers, scoring 16 goals and 29 assists in 65 games. After last year and a team that struggled on defense last year, Toledo has added needed size on the backend.
Coming back on defense, Toledo brought back new fan-favorite Simon Denis who put an impressive 15 goals and 40 assists in his rookie year. Producing a similar game to Caito, Toledo brought back Beau Schmitz, a defenseman always willing to put in the effort and a grinder.
In the most surprising move of the offseason, Walleye goalie Jake Paterson would sign AHL deal with the Milwaukee Admirals and was assigned to the Norfolk Admirals. A goalie who led Toledo to a Brabham Cup title. Paterson had an impressive 34-13-1 record, a .918 save percentage and seven shutouts in the regular season but struggled mightily in playoff series against the Kalamazoo Wings and the Colorado Eagles.
Replacing Paterson in net is veteran goalie Pat Nagle. At 30 years old, he’s older but has been steady for several years in ECHL for the Florida Everblades, Idaho Steelheads, and Fort Wayne Komets. Backing him up is Matej Machovsky who’s spent the last four years in the Czech Republic. A goalie who also had solid years in the OHL beforehand between the Guelph Storm and Brampton Battalion.
In likely the most significant signing of the offseason for the Walleye, the Walleye brought back high-powered offensive forward Tyler Barnes. A forward who was the Rookie of the Year with Toledo in the 2014-15 season, Barnes racked up 34 goals and 40 assists (74 points) in 71 games that year.
Adding more firepower to Toledo offense, the Walleye acquired and signed AHL experienced Austen Brassard from the Utah Grizzlies and Connor Crisp from the Brampton Beast, two forwards who could see a lot of time in AHL this year. Completing a trade that sent Erik Bradford to Utah, Toledo got back Grizzlies forward Colin Martin who had a solid rookie year in Utah who put in 22 goals and 11 assists. After only appearing in eight games in Toledo last year after coming over Bemidji State, forward Charlie O’Connor re-signed with the team. A forward who will fall between the cracks with as much firepower on offense as Toledo has.
Rounding out Toledo offense, Toledo got back the core of forwards of Shane Berschbach, Kyle Bonis, Alden Hirschfeld, and A.J. Jenks, all guys who have been the core of Toledo success and Toledo’s offense the last the three years. In a questionable move, Toledo signed 33-year-old Alex Foster, an AHL veteran forward who will compete for a final veteran spot on the Walleye roster.
As training camp is underway and a first preseason game on Saturday, the Walleye offseason went as well as it could have gone considering the talent they lost. This squad is one that is stacked with offense, has a proven veteran goaltender and size on the back end. It should be happening in Toledo this year, but anything less than a Kelly Cup championship will likely be viewed as a disappointment.