NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. – The 2019-20 South Carolina Stingrays roster under first-year Head Coach Steve Bergin is starting to take shape, and the players that will most likely be on the 23-man opening day roster is beginning to get penciled in. The summer has already been busy for the South Carolina Stingrays as well as its affiliates. There are still players to be announced and moves to be completed as the summer progresses, but this is where the Stingrays roster stands as of today.
The Roster So Far
The Stingrays have signed 14 players so far; a mix of returnees and new faces. Of the nine forwards signed, five are returning players. Andrew Cherniwchan, Tim Harrison, Johnathan Charbonneau, Stephane Legault, and Cameron Askew will all be returning. They bring a solid combination of scoring, toughness, and will be filling roles on all three lines. Cherniwchan, Charbonneau, and Askew were first, third, and eighth in scoring respectively last year for the Stingrays. Legault was a late-season addition who was a point-per-game scorer, and Harrison fills a valuable energy role on the third line while providing leadership on and off the ice.
Newcomers include Scott Davidson, Max Novak, Mitch Vandergunst and Mitchell Vanderlaan. Novak returns to North American hockey after spending last year in Sweden. He brings 111 games of AHL experience and spent the majority of the 17-18 season with the Orlando Solar Bears, where he scored 21 goals on his way to a 57-point season. Vandergunst played last year with the Florida Everblades, notching 201 PIMs in 47 games. He has also seen duty with several SPHL teams and the Norfolk Admirals over his three-year career. While Davidson and Vanderlaan are still considered rookie, both gained some valuable AHL experience at the end of last year. Vanderlaan joined the Utica Comets and got into two games at the end of last season. Davidson was signed by the Charlotte Checkers, but didn’t see any game action. The Checkers kept him as a black ace for their entire run to capture the Calder Cup.
The defense will be seeing rookies Matt Nuttle and Cameron Heath return. Both players joined the Stingrays late last season and made immediate impacts on the blue line, started in all five playoff games. Joining them will be sixth-year pro Jaynen Rissling and rookies Meirs Moore and Spencer Trapp. Trapp logged one game with the Worcester Railers at the end of last year after finishing his senior season at Holy Cross. Moore will be looking to break into the pro ranks since completing his college career at Rensselaer Polytech Institute (RPI). Rissling spent four years in the ECHL before playing in England last year, where he played with Tommy Hughes (who is under contract with the Hershey Bears). He was a seventh-round draft pick for the Washington Capitals in 2012.
The competition on defense will be fierce, especially since the Hershey Bears currently have 13 defensemen on their roster and look to be sending a large contingent down to South Carolina.
The Stingrays previously issued qualifying offers to seven players. Of those seven, only Charbonneau has signed with the team. Tim Davison has signed in Europe, and Ryker Killins signed an AHL deal with the Tucson Roadrunners. I expect Killins’ ECHL rights to be traded to the Rapid City Rush, the Roadrunners’ ECHL affiliate.
Forwards Patrick Megannety and Tad Kozun, as well as defensemen Kevin McKernan and Steve Johnson, remain unsigned. Kozun had a breakout year and maybe looking for an AHL deal, while Megannety has been struck by injury the past two years but has served in the leadership group for the team. Both forwards would be welcome additions back to Charleston due to the roles they played. McKernan was the best rookie on a hard-pressed blue line last year, playing on the top pair for most of the season. Johnson was acquired via trade after he had a good showing in the AHL with the Hershey Bears. With the number of players projected to be assigned from the affiliates, it will be hard for both players to find a spot on the blue line unless trades occur to open up spots. Both are capable of playing in the top-four on any team in the ECHL, and maybe potential trade material for the Stingrays.
Players Assigned From Affiliates
Last year was a year of change in Hershey, as Head Coach Spencer Carbery made some changes that resulted in the Stingrays receiving far fewer players than in years past. This year, it appears that the Bears are looking to stash more players to Charleston to avoid the large group of players they had to bring in on professional tryout offers (PTOs) to bolster their depleted roster for their playoff run. Additionally, the Capitals have another large group of rookies that will be making their pro debuts this year, and South Carolina may be a place for them to get ice time versus being healthy scratches in Hershey.
Projections are tough to make this time of year on who might filter down to the Stingrays, but here are my best guesses. Parker Milner and Logan Thompson are slated to be in between the pipes for the Stingrays. Milner will be returning for his fourth season in Charleston, while Thompson will be entering his first full pro year after getting in eight games with the Adirondack Thunder and one game for the AHL’s Binghamton Devils last season.
On defense, the Stingrays might get between four to five players. Previously mentioned veteran Tommy Hughes may be making his return to Charleston after re-signing with the Bears after a year in Europe. Kris Bindulis may also be on his way back after an injury-shortened season. Tariq Hammond and Ed Wittchow are AHL-experienced players that may also be coming down (depending on how the fight for spots shakes out in Hershey). Even if these four players come down, that will leave nine defensemen in Hershey. It is possible that a Capitals prospect or two comes down for ice time for parts of the season.
From the 19 rostered forwards the Bears currently have, I would suspect that three or four come down to Charleston. The most likely candidates to come to Charleston are Cole Ully, Matthew Weis, Kale Kessy, and Chris McCarthy. Kessy is a well-tenured player, entering his seventh pro season with 175 AHL games and 122 ECHL games worth of experience. Last year in 35 games with the Idaho Steelheads, he notched 33 points on 11G/22A and an impressive 289 PIMs. McCarthy is a veteran forward that had an outstanding year for the Reading Royals, finishing third in the ECHL with 74 points off of 20G/54A. He has 87 games of AHL experience and 244 ECHL games on his resume. Weis is a second-year pro that was part of the Chicago Wolves run to the Calder Cup Finals. He had a brief six-game stint with the Fort Wayne Komets, scoring two goals and adding five assists. Ully is a fifth-year pro that has 123 AHL games and 83 ECHL games under his belt. He is a lights-out player in the ECHL, scoring 87 points including 34 goals. Most fans don’t recognize his name as an ECHL scoring power because he hasn’t spent a full season in the ECHL.
Another player that could get forced down would be former Stingray Steven Whitney. Whitney is a versatile forward that played up and down the line for the Bears last year and will be challenging for another full-time role with the Bears. Additionally, the Bears are still looking for another forward or two for their roster, which could further complicate things.
The problem the Stingrays face is the ECHL veteran status of four of the Bears’ depth/bubble players. Hughes, Whitney, Kessy, and McCarthy are all veterans, which means only three can be assigned to South Carolina, as the Stingrays have already signed one veteran player (Cherniwchan). I imagine that the Stingrays will get Hughes and two of three out of Whitney, Kessy, and McCarthy.
The Road Ahead
The roster will be further impacted as the Washington Capitals and Hershey Bears make other decisions. The Capitals are facing salary cap issues and could potentially trade some players. The Bears have signed a glut of players to AHL contracts to provide the organization depth and flexibility for the upcoming season (in case of injury or there is a repeat of players choosing to request release from their contract or invoke European clauses and play overseas for the rest of the season).
The Capitals kick things off with their Rookie Tournament from September 5-10 in Nashville, TN. The main camp for the Caps opens on September 12, and the Bears are expected to begin their training camp around September 23. The Stingrays have not announced their training camp dates as of yet. The ECHL allows clubs to open their camps on September 27 this year, so fans can expect sometime near then to see the 2019-2020 Stingrays take the ice for the first time.
Follow Travis Rogers on Twitter (@SinBinStingrays) for all things South Carolina Stingrays, and stayed tuned to The Sin Bin for all late-breaking minor league hockey news! Don’t forget to visit our ECHL Transactions page for up-to-date offseason signings, as well.