INDIANAPOLIS – We’re two months away from the beginning of the ECHL season and teams are continuing to put together their rosters, while the affiliates are deciding where in the pipeline the prospects will land, and ultimately how they want to develop their talent. The past few seasons Indy has helped develop American & National Hockey League prospects and this season will be no different. They’ve continued to build a solid core of players as well as left spots open to developing talented players that, someday, could ply their trade in the NHL.
The Fuel currently have nine players under contract for 2018-19, five of whom return from last year’s team. Friday afternoon, the Fuel announced that franchise-leading goal scorer Josh Shalla has re-signed and will be returning to the team for the third season. The signing of Shalla indicates the core group of players Head Coach Bernie John believes could make another run to the Kelly Cup Playoffs. Logan Nelson, Johnny McInnis, and Zach Miskovic, all recent signees, were key contributors in last season’s playoff run.
Also this offseason, the Fuel also gained Kevin Dufour, who was acquired through a future considerations trade with the Wichita Thunder.
In a team Q&A with Bernie John, he discussed how excited he is to have Dufour:
“I like what we’ve done so far. We got Kevin Dufour who scored 20 goals in the league as a rookie last year – we’ve done a lot of homework on him and apparently, he can fly and do some things.”
In his first full professional season, Dufour put up 40 points (19g, 21a) in 69 games split between the Brampton Beast and the Thunder.
While adding a young, all-around forward in Dufour, Indy added veteran forward Olivier Labelle. A native of St-Eustache, Quebec, Labelle comes to Indy having played more than 400 ECHL games and over 130 in the AHL. He spent last season in France playing for the Boxers de Bordeaux. In 44 games with Bordeaux, Labelle tallied 44 points (22g, 22a). The 6-foot forward brings a veteran presence to the Fuel locker room as well as scoring an average of 20 to 30 goals per season in the ECHL.
While Indy has added a couple of solid core players, they’ve also lost several key players from last season. Offensive leader Darian Dziurzynski is headed to Kansas City and the Rupert twins, Matt and Ryan, have signed with the EIHL’s Sheffield Steelers. Dziurzynski put up 24 goals and 22 assists for the Fuel last season, while the Ruperts combined for 89 points. Losing those core players will not be easy. All three players were relied on to generate scoring opportunities and made themselves very well known during the playoff push at the end of last season.
Per usual, the Fuel will likely see several Rockford IceHogs players on this season’s roster as well as the potential to see a few players on Chicago Blackhawks contracts. I recently spoke with The Athletic’s Scott Powers on who he thought would join the Fuel this season,
“(The Blackhawks) have so many guys under contract,” Powers said. “I could see Norell going down, possibly Snuggerud. I think most of the AHL contracts will end up in Indy; Pelletier and Samuelsson probably stay in Rockford. It’ll be interesting to see how they deal with Iacopelli again. Noel probably could go either way too.”
Luc Snuggerud was drafted in 2014 and Robin Norell in 2013, both players spent last season playing in Rockford -Norell playing 63 games and Snuggerud playing 43.
In his 43 games with the IceHogs last season, Snuggerud put up 17 points (5g, 12a). For his first full professional season, he had a solid year. At exactly six feet tall, his DobberProspects profile lists him as “not overly large but he plays a sound two-way game that features promising offensive and defensive elements.”
With 11 defensemen outside of the NHL roster, the Fuel are likely to see a few players make their way to Indy simply because of the traffic jam in the Blackhawks system above them. As Powers said, he sees most of the AHL contracts ending up in Indy. Last season Indy saw several Rockford players on their roster including Radovan Bondra, Nathan Noel and Matheson Iacopelli. None of those three players played more than 25 games for the Fuel, Bondra’s season ended early due to an injury suffered while playing with Indy. With that being said, with a large number of contracts in Chicago, I suspect we will see at the very least Bondra and Noel back in Indy this season.
In terms of goaltending, that’s where it gets tricky. Matt Tomkins signed an extension with the IceHogs for the 2018-19 season and sits as their only goaltender on the roster right now. Signed on Blackhawks contracts are Corey Crawford, Cam Ward, Anton Forsberg, Collin Delia and newly signed Kevin Lankinen. So if Chicago keeps three goaltenders on their roster, it will be Crawford, Ward and Forsberg. That leaves Delia and Lankinen splitting time in Rockford. So where does that put Tomkins? Quite possibly back in Indy. I believe Rockford will sign at least one more goaltender and they’ll likely end up in Indy with Tomkins.
This will be an interesting fifth season for the Fuel. If everything shakes out and they end up with several Rockford contracted players, as well as a few NHL contracted players, they could have a winning formula, assuming the players who come down decide to play at their real potential. Below I’ve listed what the Indy roster COULD look like assuming everything goes their way, which it never does. This roster will change and will be different come the beginning of the season.
Developing 2018-19 Roster:
CHI => Chicago Blackhawks contracted player
RFD => Rockford IceHogs contracted player
INDY => Indy Fuel contracted player
|Noel (CHI)||Labelle (Indy)|
|Bondra (RFD)||Nelson (IND)||Iacopelli (CHI)|
|Dufour (IND)||Thompson (IND)||McInnis (IND)|
|Miskovic (IND)||Snuggerud (CHI)|
Stay caught up on all the signings and transactions from across the ECHL with our 2018 Transactions page. You can check that out, here: https://thesinbin.net/2018-echl-transactions/