PENSACOLA, Fla. – The signs fall is around the corner in Northwest Florida are all there. It is still unnecessarily hot, football is a few weeks away, and the Pensacola Ice Flyers have begun announcing player signings. There may have been a heat advisory on Tuesday, but the Ice Flyers announced their fourth returner and fifth (or sixth if you count the Free Agent Camp invitee) signing for the team’s 2019 training camp.

The Ice Flyers have announced the signings of four forwards and one defenseman. The returning corps of three forwards and the defenseman all played vital roles in the team’s late-season push as the hottest team in the league heading into the playoffs. Continuing the on-ice success trend, the lone announced new player is coming off back-to-back seasons that ended with championships.

The Newbie

So far, the Ice Flyers have announced just one new player, forward Blake Young. Young is entering his first season of North American pro hockey after spending last season playing for Diables Rouges de Briançon in France’s FFHG Division 1, the second tier of professional hockey in France.

Young is new to Pensacola, but he already has multiple ties to the Ice Flyers. He played his collegiate hockey at NCAA Division I University of Minnesota-Duluth. UMD is the alma mater of not only Ice Flyers head coach Rod Aldoff but also former Ice Flyers forward Keegan Flaherty. Before his time with the Bulldogs, Young played for the Battlefords North Stars former Ice Flyers head coach Kevin Hasselberg. Last season with Briançon, Young played with former Ice Flyers Jessyko Bernard and Kyle Campbell.

Last season, Young had ten goals and 11 assists in 26 games along with 58 penalty minutes and a +14 rating. In the playoffs, he posted two goals, three assists, 8 PIM, and a +2 rating as he, Bernard, and Campbell helped the Red Devils win the Division I championship and promotion to Ligue Magnus.

Young looks to be used mostly on the wing, but his past stats remind me of the stats of Adam Pawlick. Both players were consistent scorers at the Jr. A level and then went on to play defensive roles for NCAA Division I schools. In four seasons at UMD, Young had nine goals (seven of those coming in his senior season), seven assists, 53 PIM, and a +4 rating. Admittedly, it is a lofty comparison, and there is a lot more to factor in than just stats. If Young is anything like Pawlick, the Ice Flyers have made an excellent signing with the first nonreturner.

It wouldn’t be surprising to see Young, like Pawlick starting on the second/third lines in his rookie season and play his way into a first-line role in his second season. In 2017-18, Blake played in all 44 of UMD’s games en route the NCAA Division I championship.

Forward Progress

Joining Young up front are returners Garrett Milan, Brett D’Andrea, and Joseph Drapluk.

Milan looks like he could be the Ice Flyers’ top offensive threat in 2019-20 if he sticks around for the full season. He started last season playing for EV Lindau of the German third-tier league, Oberliga. In 22 games with the Islanders, Milan had six goals, seven assists, and 14 PIM.

When he returned to Pensacola, Milan put up more than a point per game and helped awaken an Ice Flyers offense that had been sputtering for the first chunk of the season. Milan was back for five games before he accepted a call up to the ECHL’s Greenville Swamp Rabbits. Milan eventually returned to Pensacola and helped push the Ice Flyers in their late-season surge as the hottest team in the SPHL.

Milan played 15 games for Greenville and had two goals, one assist, 6 PIM, and a -6 rating. In total with the Ice Flyers, Milan had nine goals, 13 assists, eight PIM and a +7 rating.  In 72 total SPHL games, all with Pensacola, Milan has averaged 1.21 points per game.

Milan’s numbers reflect the production and consistency sought after by every team. The Ice Flyers hope that they can hang on to Milan to keep that production in the lineup.

D’Andrea returns to the Ice Flyers for his second professional season. As a rookie, D’Andrea appeared in 31 games and scored nine goals with 16 assists, 8 PIM, and a +12. To start the season, he had four points in seven games before being called up to the ECHL’s Toledo Walleye. In a two-and-a-half month-long call-up, D’Andrea missed a ton of time with injuries. He appeared in one regular-season game and was held off the score sheet entirely.

D’Andrea’s playmaking ability and his defensive responsibility set him up nicely for a big step forward in 2019-20.

Drapluk joined the Ice Flyers after completing his senior season at NCAA Division III University of Wisconsin-River Falls. After a subpar offensive season for the Falcons in which he had just two goals, four assists, and six PIM, Drapluk made what seemed like an unthinkable transition into a point-per-game player at the pro level.

The transition was likely made more manageable by familiarity with the system. Drapluk became just the fifth player to have played for Aldoff as part of one of his Wisconsin/Minnesota Wilderness teams and the Ice Flyers. He is joined in that group by Joe Bueltel, Anthony Calabrese, Gordon Defiel, and John McLean.

In 10 regular-season games, Drapluk put up five goals, five assists, and a +7 rating. He cashed in for three goals in the Ice Flyers’ three first-round games against the eventual league champions, the Huntsville Havoc.

Defense Down South

With Drapluk being a Florida-native, the Ice Flyers are helping to keep Southern flair in the SPHL by also re-signing Jesse Kessler. The native of Franklin, Tenn., spent his rookie campaign with Pensacola last season and appeared in every single game in the regular season and the playoffs.

In the 56 regular-season games, Kessler had only two goals but showcased his playmaking ability with his 20 assists. He also wasn’t afraid to drop the mitts when the time was right. Kessler finished the season with 45 penalty minutes. Mr. Reliable, Kessler was out there in tough situations which led to his less than stellar but understandable -5 rating when you factor in the team’s early-season struggles.

Checking in on Pavlas

After this season’s Free Agent Camp, the Ice Flyers invited Slovakian goalie Christian Pavlas to the team’s training camp. When we profiled Pavlas, he told The Sin Bin (in a quote that didn’t make the article) that he was still talking to other teams both in Europe and on this side of the Atlantic.

Since then (the day after we published the Pavlas piece), Pavlas signed with MHC Nove Zamky of the Tipsport Liga, the top level of professional hockey in his native Slovakia. As of yet, the team hasn’t signed another goalie. It appears that Pavlas has locked up a spot in the goalie tandem and likely won’t make his way to Pensacola in October.

Follow Geoff Nichols on Twitter at @SinBinIceFlyers.

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