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ECHL champs open training camp with some touted youngsters, 10 returnees, and a wealth of AHL -and NHL-contracted players
At the ECHL’s summer board of governors meetings, there was expressed disgruntlement over what a few teams saw as the stacked roster of the new league champion Newfoundland Growlers, who had claimed the Kelly Cup in their inaugural season with a lineup that included a dozen AHL-contracted players.
If some teams were grumpy then, they might be positively dyspeptic today.
On Monday, the Growlers released the roster for their 2019 training camp, which effectively begins in Etobicoke, Ont., today. Of the 31 players listed, no less than 15 are signed to NHL or AHL contracts. And that doesn’t include rookie goaltender Ian Scott and defenceman Alex Gudbranson, who are expected to be Newfoundland-bound after recovering from injuries suffered during training camp with the Toronto Marlies, the Growlers’ AHL affiliate.
Of course, the true assessment of the sophomore edition of the Growlers can’t be made until the team plays meaningful games, but on paper — just going by the contracts, at least — there is a case for suggesting this will be an AHL-calibre team playing in ECHL.
Kyle Dubas, general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Newfoundland’s NHL parent, has long suggested the Growlers would be an integral part of the Leafs’ development system, not just a
third-level club used to house a few contracted players who hadn’t met expectations and/or a goalie who needs playing time.
Construction of the system Dubas envisioned began last season as Newfoundland parlayed a team full of professional newcomers bolstered by key veterans into a championship group.
Now, it appears Dubas and the Leafs are not just continuing that plan, but expanding on it. That’s evident, for example, in the presence of NHL-contracted rookie defencemen Joseph Duzsak and Mac Hollowell, who along with Scott (also signed to an entry-level NHL deal), are seen as bona fide big-league prospects. Players like that usually don’t start their pro careers in the ECHL.
And there is also hulking forward Justin Brazeau, who had 61 goals and 52 assists as captain of the Ontario Hockey League's North Bay Battalion last season. Brazeau was never drafted, his 113-point campaign came as an overager and he's signed to an AHL deal, not an entry-level contract, but as a 6-5. 225-pounder with skill around the net, he has neverthless generated some buzz.
They and the other newcomers will be supported by an impressive case of returning Growlers. Not counting Gudbranson, the Newfoundland camp will open with 10 players who were with the team as it made its run to the Kelly Cup last spring, including St. John’s natives Marcus Power and Zach O'Brien.
What’s more, the Growlers are opening their camp with six of their seven leading scorers from last season — O’Brien, Brady Ferguson, Power, Giorgio Estephan, Scott Pooley and Matt Bradley. That’s a retention rate that’s unheard of in the ECHL, especially for a defending champion.
Mind you, there are questions.
For example, after going through much of last season with an experienced netminding tandem of Michael Garteig and Eamon McAdam, it looks like Newfoundland will be counting on rookie goalies this time around. And while Hollowell, Duzsak and Sergei Sapegio arrive with much promise to help fill out a blueline contingent led by team captain and Goulds native James Melindy, it remains to be seen how the youngsters can help make up for the minutes played last season by Adam Pardy (retired), Sam Jardine (signed with a team in Britain) and Kristians Rubins (still in the Marlies’ camp).
But as the Growlers hit the ice in Etobicoke today, it would be fair to say there are many more exclamation marks than question marks.
Here are the 31 players on the Newfoundland Growlers' training-camp roster, with contract type in brackets. Players whose names are preceded by asterisks (*) were with the Growlers at the end of last season:
- Ian Milosz (Tryout)
- Nathan Perry (Tryout)
- Maxim Zhukov (AHL)
- Alex Carlson (Tryout)
- Mike Crocock (Tryout)
- Joseph Duzsak (NHL)
- Mac Hollowell (NHL)
- * Garrett Johnston (ECHL)
- Sean Kacerosky (Tryout)
- * James Melindy (ECHL)
- * Evan Neugold (ECHL)
- Tommy Panico (ECHL)
- Sergei Sapego (AHL)
- Lucas Bombadier (Tryout)
- * Matt Bradley (AHL)
- Trey Bradley (AHL)
- Justin Brazeau (AHL)
- Colt Conrad (AHL)
- * Giorgio Estephan (AHL)
- * Brady Ferguson (AHL)
- Kevin Irwin (Tryout)
- Reid Jackman (ECHL)
- Josh Lafrance (Tryout)
- Aaron Luchuk (NHL)
- Taylor McCloy (Tryout)
- * Zach O’Brien (AHL)
- * Marcus Power (AHL)
- * Scott Pooley (AHL)
- * Todd Skirving (ECHL)
- Jimmy Soper (Tryout)
- Riley Woods (AHL)