MOLINE, IL – As August 1st inches closer, more player signings are being announced league-wide. With less than a week until qualifying offers must be accepted or become void, questions arise as to who will accept the offers.
Sam Warning, Chris Francis, Josh MacDonald, and Chris Leibinger were the first four players to say “I’ll be there” for the first day of training camp in early October for the Mallards; none had been given a qualifying offer.
Of the eight on the list who did receive an offer, one has already signed elsewhere – Alex Petan. Petan announced on Twitter and Instagram on June 29 that he had signed with the Italy-based EBEL team HC Bozen Bolzano Foxes. In other former Mallards news, Guillaume Gelinas has signed with HC Banska Bystrica in Slovakia, while Brady Brassart was signed by the Idaho Steelheads Wednesday. Alex Gudbranson was signed to a two-way deal with the Toronto Marlies on Friday; he had been recalled by Iowa and then loaned to Toronto mid-way through the season last year.
There’s still a lot of time between now and when the offers have to be accepted, so don’t worry if your favorite player hasn’t been announced as signed yet. This is the time of year where high-scoring forwards tend to wait to see if they receive offers from the American Hockey League before signing in the ECHL.
Of all the players that were on the roster last season, there’s a few fans definitely would return. The core forwards, such as Justin Kovacs,
Michael Parks (signed with Sport in the Eurpoean league Liiga on 7/26), and Nolan LaPorte (traded to Florida for future considerations on 7/26), are clear contenders for who I think Head Coach Phil Axtell should bring back. Together with Warning, they had the best stats on the team. Kovacs racked up 40 assists with 20 goals, while LaPorte had 14 goals and 30 assists.
On the blue line, the Mallards need a couple players with experience who also can contribute. Andrew Panzarella and Donnie Harris are the two defensemen that fans are hoping return this season, as both appeared on the score sheet more than a handful of times. A few assists or a couple of goals by a defenseman is good, but Harris tallied 11 points (six goals and five assists) while Panzarella totaled 23 points with one more goal. Neither seemed afraid to throw down the gloves when needed, but by no means could they be classified as goons – in fact, combined their penalty minutes amount to 113. A fight here or there, when seven out of 13 forwards are under six foot (the shortest being 5’9”), isn’t uncalled for.
C.J. Motte, another one who received a qualifying offer, would be nice return. To be honest, I can’t remember the last time the Mallards had a goalie for more than one season. Motte did great in net, even receiving a few AHL call-ups. Motte worked the bench for the Wolves, Iowa, and even the Charlotte Checkers at some point during the 2016-17 season. He proved he had the caliber to succeed at this level, and the fact that he got called to Iowa over Adam Vay at some point demonstrated that he knew a thing or two about the AHL too.
Let’s venture into what kind of players I think the Mallards need. The short answer is more defensemen who throw their bodies around; the long answer is forwards who are AHL caliber playing down here and defensemen who throw their bodies around. As mentioned before, last season half of the forwards for the Mallards were not tall people. While they had speed, and speed is great, that doesn’t always balance out against big bodies. The Mallards need to play a more physical game than they have in the past, and that’s helped by having bigger bodies. I’m not saying become the River Drive Bullies or anything of that sort, but it appeared that during the first round series against the Fort Wayne Komets the Mallards were out-muscled. A couple defensemen reminiscent of Kerry Toporowski — though perhaps without quite as many fights in this age — would help the Mallards with that weakness.
Of course, this is all just wishful thinking on my part. I’d love to hear from you all.
Which player that I’ve mentioned would you bring back from last season?