WICHITA, KS – We have reached one of the final hurdles of the offseason, and perhaps the most critical one, qualifying offers.

While the official lists are due into the ECHL offices tonight at 11:59 pm Eastern Time, and may not be released until mid next week, it never hurts to look at who the Thunder could extend qualifying offers to.

If you’re not familiar with the qualifying offer process, it’s pretty simple.

With this deadline, teams can qualify up to eight players, and no more than four can be veterans (260 regular season professional hockey games played as of the start of the 2017-18 season). The other piece that is important to realize here is that if a player is already signed, they will likely not be on this list.

The qualifying offer must remain open for acceptance until August 1, at which time the qualifying offer becomes null and void and the team may sign the qualified player to any salary or may elect to take no further action. Teams that extend a valid qualifying offer to a non-veteran player shall retain the rights to that qualified player for one playing season.

A team that extends a valid qualifying offer to a veteran player, or to a goaltender who has played more than 180 regular-season games, will retain the rights to that player until August 1.

After that date, if the veteran player or goaltender is not signed to a contract by the team, the veteran or goaltender shall be deemed a restricted free agent and can talk with other teams and secure offers of employment from other ECHL teams. Restricted free agents can not be traded. Additionally, the team with the player’s rights has seven days after the date it is notified to match the contract offer if they want.

If a restricted free agent is not signed to either an offer sheet or a contract by an ECHL team by August 31, the player will become an unrestricted free agent.

While head coach Malcolm Cameron can use all eight slots and protect up four veterans (there weren’t four vets on last year’s team,) I do not expect him to use all of them.

Here are the six players I think the Thunder will give qualifying offers to for next year, starting with the forwards.

At the top of the list is Alexis Loiseau, who left the team in January to go overseas. Prior to doing so, he led the team in points with 29 (16G, 13A). After attending training camp with the Binghamton Senators, Loiseau was called up to Binghamton in mid-December and barely played. One of Cameron’s key selling points to get Loiseau back to the Air Capital could be the familiarity they have with the Bakersfield Condors. Loiseau played 12 games for the AHL club during the 2015-16 season, earning three points and scoring a game-winning goal.

Next is Zach O’Brien, who worked into the role of offensive catalyst for the Thunder last year. His 27 points in 32 games were tied for seventh on the club. O’Brien proved to be a solid playmaker on the man-advantage, collecting eight points (1G, 7A) and opened the scoring in three games. If he has the right group around him, O’Brien could be an offensive leader for the Thunder next season.

The final forward is Blake Tatchell, who finished his rookie campaign with 29 points (13G, 16A) in 56 games. After seeing very limited ice time in the first month or so of the season, Tatchell adapted into his role as a second or third line forward well. Tatchell could see himself in the same role on this team next season, should he re-sign.

There are just two defensemen worth qualifying on the back end for Wichita.

The first is Jamie Doornbosch, who was a great find for Cameron last season after Chris Rumble earned time with the Binghamton Senators. The 26-year-old “rookie” (only by ECHL standards) had a very solid season on the blueline, collecting 30 points (10G, 20A) in 44 games for the Thunder. 12 of those 30 points (5G, 7A) came on the man-advantage. If fellow offensive defenseman Nolan Zajac signs, those two could provide a potent one-two punch on the back end for the Thunder.

After being acquired from the Allen Americans in March, Randy Cure quietly played a solid game on the blueline for Wichita. In 15 games in a Thunder uniform, Cure was a -4.

The final qualifying offer would go to a guy in between the pipes, Drew Owsley. The rookie netminder appeared in 40 games last year for Wichita, going 9-23-2-1 with a 3.42 goals against average and a .902 save percentage. With Cameron saying that there will be one goalie from Edmonton & Ottawa in camp with Wichita, Owsley will have an opportunity to refine his craft by working with Edmonton’s goalie coach, while potentially playing in fewer games.

There are some notable names omitted from the list, such as Vincent ArseneauIan Lowe, and James Melindy. Arseneau and Melindy are reportedly pursuing AHL deals, while Lowe & could sign with another ECHL team.

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