I talked in the last blog entry about J.J. Piccinich, a 2014 Toronto Maple Leafs draft selection who could potentially spend part of his rookie season playing in Orlando while he is under an AHL contract with the Toronto Marlies.
Since then, the Marlies have gone out and added several players, including four to two-way AHL deals. Those four players are the focus of this blog entry.
First of all, what is a two-way deal? Simply put: it’s a contract that pays a player a certain amount while he’s playing in the AHL, and a lower amount when he is playing at the ECHL level. It’s an option some teams and players agree to when settling on contract terms; NHL teams use two-way deals in their contract negotiations as well.
In the past, the Solar Bears have had players – such as Eric Faille and Rob Madore in 2015-16 – assigned from Toronto while under these two-way AHL contracts.
Ultimately, it comes down to the brain trust of the Marlies – led by GM Kyle Dubas – and collaboration with Drake Berehowsky and his staff down here in Orlando to determine who among the AHL-contracted players will be assigned to the ECHL throughout the season.
Take a moment and familiarize yourselves with them here:
Matias Cleland, F – Signed July 16 – Cleland turned pro this past spring with the Wheeling Nailers after finishing his collegiate career with the University of New Hampshire. His stats suggest that he is a puck-moving defenseman who has demonstrated an increase in offensive output each of the last three seasons.
Josh Winquist, F – signed July 16 – In Winquist’s previous time in the ECHL with the Bakersfield Condors in 2014-15, he was one of the few bright spots on a team that missed the playoffs. Simply put: the kid can dance with the puck.
— AHL (@TheAHL) February 26, 2017
Winquist’s production in the ECHL – albeit from a small sample size of games – would have put him in the league’s Top 5 in scoring from this past campaign over a full season. The question is: how will Winquist fit into the Marlies’ scheme, and can he continue to build off of a career-high 15 goals last season with Bridgeport? That will likely determine where he spends the bulk of his time this season.
Alex Gudbranson, D – signed July 21 – Undrafted out of the OHL, Gudbranson signed a three-year entry-level NHL contract with the Minnesota Wild in September of 2014. After spending the entirety of his rookie pro season in the AHL with Iowa, the Wild had Gudbranson assigned to the ECHL for the majority of the past two campaigns before he was loaned to the Marlies in February, where he only saw four games of action. Marlies GM Kyle Dubas and the rest of Toronto’s hockey operations staff evidently liked what they saw in the still-developing blueliner. If he were to be assigned to Orlando, he’ll have a familiar face in the locker room, as he was teammates of newly-announced defenseman Mike Monfredo during his time with the Quad City Mallards.
Kristian Pospisil, F – signed July 21 – Pospisil put up respectable numbers in the regular season, but really elevated his game in the playoffs with the Sioux City Musketeers of the USHL, leading his team in postseason scoring and coming within one victory of a Clark Cup championship. Unlike the three other players, Pospisil was an invitee at Maple Leafs development camp, where he drew praise. As this following clip from camp shows, Pospisil already possesses a natural nose for the net.
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) July 11, 2017
While the goal of any pro athlete is to play at the highest-possible level, the important thing for these players and fans of both organizations to understand is that an assignment to the Solar Bears should not be considered a demotion by any means – it’s an opportunity for these players to be entrusted with more responsibility and more ice time to hone their skills in meaningful situations, and prepare them to perform at the next level for the Marlies and beyond.
Elsewhere in the hockey world:
– The city of Portland will get an ECHL team in 2018-19, and the team’s management group have launched a website and is running a Name-the-Team contest. A lot of Portland hockey fans are clamoring for the return of either the Maine Mariners or Portland Pirates identities, but I’m of the mind of going with something new: how about the Portland Ice Dogs?
– If you didn’t already know, this season coincides with the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Also of note is that the NHL has ruled out placing a break in its schedule to let its players participate. However, AHL players will be allowed to represent their countries. During the 2014 Sochi Games, 20 ECHL alumni participated in the tournament; it was 24 in the 2010 Vancouver Games. My estimate is that we’ll see a total of 25-30 ECHL alumni playing in the Pyeongchang Games, and who knows? We just may have our first ECHL Solar Bears representative too.
Jesse Liebman is the Director of Communications & Broadcasting for the Solar Bears and enters his third season in Orlando in 2017-18. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions, comments or blog ideas.