WORCESTER, Mass. – After failing to secure a playoff spot last season, the Worcester Railers look to bounce back as the 2019-20 season comes around later this week. The Railers have a good balance of players from rookies who signed late in the season last year, to players on AHL contracts being assigned to Worcester, and a few Railers staples who have signed up for year number three of the franchise’s short history.
Nuts and Bolts:
2018-19 Record: 32-29-7-4 (.521)
Division/Conference Finish: 7th in the North Division, 11th in Eastern Conference
Record vs. Division: 26-24-5-4 (.517)
Record vs. Conference: 30-29-6-4 (.507)
Goals For Per Game: 2.72, 25th in the ECHL
Goals Against Per Game: 3.14, 14th in the ECHL
Power Play: 32 goals in 250 opportunities (12.8%), 26th in the ECHL
Penalty Kill: 203 penalties killed out of 239 times shorthanded (84.9%), 5th in the ECHL
Will Worcester be a more physical team compared to years past? As a whole, the Railers look like a much bigger group in contrast to last season, with the average player coming in at 6-foot-1 and just a few pounds shy of 200. As of this writing, Worcester has not been assigned Yanick Turcotte (injured) or Mike Cornell, who were the team’s tough guys in previous years.
Can the power play unit produce anything this season? Coming in at second to last in power play conversion last year, the Railers need to remedy that aspect of their special teams in order to get out of the basement of the North Division. At least on the other side of the coin, Worcester’s penalty kill was ranked sixth in 2018-19, so a total rebuild on special teams won’t be necessary.
Will goaltending be an issue at all this season? Both of Worcester’s netminders, Evan Buitenhuis and Jakub Skarek, were assigned to the Railers by the Islanders and Sound Tigers. With three goaltenders on the Sound Tigers roster to start the season, Worcester could have two of their goaltending contracts assigned here all year. With Jared Coreau and Chris Gibson splitting time between the NHL and the AHL in the past few seasons, Linus Soderstrom could divide time between Worcester and Bridgeport if playing time becomes an issue or if either goalie in Worcester gets injured.
Barry Almeida: Veteran forward Almeida might be the shortest guy on the roster, but brings a lot of experience to the table with over 400 games at the pro level, and is the Railers all-time leader in games played, goals, assists, and points. He has been an alternate captain the past two seasons and wore the “C” for a handful of games last season. He’ll be one of Worcester’s go-to guys on the scoring front.
Nic Pierog: After an outstanding rookie last season in Manchester, the Railers killer-turned-Railer is set to make his mark in the scoring column. Pierog led Manchester last season with 54 points, of which 17 (12G, 5A) were scored in games against Worcester.
Connor Doherty: Another local guy has earned his place on the Railers roster after a stellar second season with Worcester. Doherty led the Railers with a plus-10 rating, and though this stat isn’t publicly tracked, he would be one of the team’s leaders for ice time. After signing a PTO at the end of last season with Utica (and joining Bridgeport for training camp), we’ll see if he has what it takes to break through to the AHL level.
Gone but Not Forgotten:
Tyler Barnes: A big loss for the Railers, as their leading scorer last season promptly hung up his skates at the end of the year. Barnes was the team’s leading point and goal scorer, and was a huge part of Worcester’s special teams set-up, leading with eight power-play goals and scoring one of the two shorthanded goals for the Railers last season.
Matt Gaudreau: Gaudreau is currently assigned to the Reading Royals, but is signed to an AHL contract with the Stockton Heat.
Mitch Gillam: A fan favorite here in Worcester, Gillam earned an AHL contract with Bridgeport last season while spending most of the year in the ECHL. With an influx of goalies on Long Island and down in Bridgeport, he was not re-signed and ended up signing with the Wichita Thunder for the 2019-20 season.
Sin Bin Swami Sez:
The Worcester Railers are set to improve on last year’s disappointing seventh-place finish in the division. With Manchester out of the picture, they’ll be seeing a lot more from Adirondack and Maine. The quicker they figure these teams out, the better position they’ll find themselves come playoff time. With the North Division being so competitive, it will once again come down to the wire, where I believe Worcester will lock up a playoff spot with at least 80 points.