Brennan Othmann and Dylan Garand lead top Wolf Pack storylines
After a successful regular season and deep playoff run for the Hartford Wolf Pack, the attention shifts to the 2023-24 AHL campaign. From a roster standpoint, the mix of returning players plus incoming prospects will be exciting to watch as the club is projected to be better.
After the free agency dust settled, the Pack’s potential roster looks very promising. We have seen numerous players step up their game, especially in the 2022 Calder Cup Playoffs. That was highlighted by young goalie Dylan Garand’s phenomenal performance withLouis Domingue called up to the Rangers. Bobby Trivigno’s development took needed strides towards the end of the season, and Ty Emberson continued to roll defensively. All very positive signs for the new year.
That being said, there’s some interesting storylines emerging for the Pack. Which prospect has the strongest possibility for a call up? Will anyone be on the trade block? How will the incoming youngsters perform in Hartford?
There’s a lot to wonder for the upcoming season. Especially in the American Hockey League, where change is frequent and common. Let’s dive into theses stories.
Brennan Othmann AHL expectations
The most exciting prospect to watch for in Hartford this upcoming season will be forward Brennan Othmann. He had a stellar OHL career and big time success on the international stage winning two WJC Gold Medals with Canada.
Considering that the Rangers signed multiple veterans in free agency, Othmann will have an uphill battle if he wants to start the season in New York. Regardless, the best course of action would be for him to get top line minutes with the Pack and begin to learn the Rangers’ system in the AHL.
In Hartford, Othmann will have opportunities to excel this upcoming season. Offensively, he has the talent to provide additional firepower to the lineup. On the defensive side, he spent this past season becoming a complete player helping the Peterborough Petes to an OHL title.
Adjusting and comfort will be key for his rookie season which should translate into statistical success. Depending how Othmann grows this upcoming season, he could have a chance for a call up to New York if there are injuries. However, it will be competitive as Will Cuylle will be another strong candidate.
Will Cuylle begins second pro season
Will Cuylle had a strong rookie season with Hartford. He provided good offensive numbers (45 points in regular season; 3 points in playoffs) along with grit and physicality. His brief call up to New York was also impressive when inserted into a depth spot on the roster. Out of all the prospects and veterans in Hartford from last season, Cuylle would be the most likely candidate to get a spot in New York. He did everything that you could ask for from a development standpoint and the Rangers have to be pleased with the future power forward.
However, just like Othmann, he will have a tough hill to climb in training camp after the Rangers signed multiple veterans to fill in the voids in the off-season. Unseating established players in the NHL will always be a challenge for young prospects. Although, Cuylle would be the best candidate to compete against the veterans. He style makes him an ideal candidate for the Blueshirts’ bottom six. If there’s an open spot, it would be safe to say Cuylle should be Rangers bound.
If that isn’t the case out of training camp, it leads to the question of how long will Cuylle be in the AHL this upcoming season? We have seen prospects start the year in Hartford and get a quick call up in the past. For instance, Filip Chytil began 2019-20 with the Wolf Pack and played in 9 games before joining the Rangers full time. There could be an opportunity for Cuylle at the beginning of the season only if a veteran struggles early on. Another scenario is Cuylle performs well in his second season, and earns a mid-season or post trade deadline call up.
Is Dylan Garand the new #1 goalie
One training camp battle to keep an eye on is the goaltending duel between Louis Domingue and Dylan Garand. After an average regular season, Garand had an impressive playoffs as a rookie. Despite some struggles, Garand was reliable and showed the ability to bounce back. He finished with a 13-14-3 record, 3 shutouts, a 3.01 goals against average, and a .894 save percentage. Once the postseason started, he flipped a switch going 5-3 with a 1.76 goals against average and a .935 save percentage along with 2 shutouts.
Domingue on the other hand had a very strong season in the crease for Hartford. In 45 games, he posted a 22-12-8 record with 4 shutouts, 2.51 goals against average, and a .911 save percentage. He was instrumental in Hartford’s late surge in the regular season and had a 9 game winning streak that ended a long playoff drought.
Comparing the number of games played in the regular season, Domingue had the slight edge (45 to 32). Keep in mind that Hartford’s coaching staff rotates the goalies often. Depending on the week, the starter will play 2 games while the backup plays 1. A goaltender usually does not start in back to back games, which is noticeable in the last couple of seasons.
In the end, Garand will be a serious challenger for Domingue’s status as the number one goalie. It will be tough for Garand to unseat the veteran, but if his postseason play carries over, it should be a given. However, If Garand starts as the backup, it will not be a cause for alarm. Garand will continue to get a good amount of games and Benoit Allaire and his staff should once again aid in his development.
Looking outside of Hartford, Olof Lindbom will be the likely candidate for the starter in Cincinnati, Hartford’s new ECHL affiliate.
The future of Matthew Robertson
The 22 year-old prospect enters his final contract year with the Rangers. Robertson in 2 seasons, competed in 122 games with Hartford. In his rookie season, he had a good year, posting 11 points and looked solid defensively.
However, his sophomore year had a lot of highs and lows. Robertson was cut from the Rangers training camp early and was immediately assigned to Hartford to start the season. He also missed an opportunity for playoff experience due to an injury that took him out of the lineup on March 17th. limiting him to 57 games. There were some bright spots with numerous multiple point games (6) and showing signs of consistency with his play as he finished with 23 points. On the defensive side, he progressed slowly and has been surpassed by Ty Emberson and possibly Brandon Scanlin on the depth chart.
To say this is a big year for Robertson is an understatement. He will have to ensure he remains in the lineup by taking his game to a whole new level. Considering this is a contract year, he has to push harder than ever before. The roster itself is greatly improved, so playing time will have to be earned.
Early success and a good start will be key for Robertson. If he comes in impressive, he should bounce back and move up the depth chart. However, if he has a slow start, a possible trade deadline deal would not be shocking.
Other Players to watch
Adam Sykora, Adam Edstrom, and Brett Berard will be rookies next season for their first full year in the AHL. Development of these three will be critical for the Rangers future. They are all upcoming and promising prospects. Considering the Rangers’ focus on making the Wolf Pack a priority once again, they will be in good hands.
Bobby Trivigno and Ty Emberson will be two players that are returning from a strong season. Emberson continues to raise his game and become essentially one of the top prospects on the blue line. Trivigno had a consistent rookie year and looked even better in the playoffs.
A look at the Pack veterans that includes new and returning players is also very interesting. Having Jonny Brodzinski, Anton Blidh, Riley Nash or Alex Belzile, Turner Elson, Mac Hollowell, and others around is a plus. These veterans are the right guys for mentoring and ensuring the Wolf Pack can win in tough situations. Developing in a winning environment is as was evident by how the kids grew in last year’s playoff run.
Off-Season Story to watch: Tanner Fritz Returns?
A potentially key addition prior to training camp is the possible return of Tanner Fritz. The 31 year-old veteran spent two seasons with Hartford on AHL deals displaying strong offensive skills and leadership.
Recent reporting indicates that there is mutual interest for the forward to return.
It should also be noted that a rumor of Fritz joining the KHL was shot down immediately.
Considering the circumstances, I am optimistic he returns. Fritz is not only a good player on the ice, he is also great in the community and has done a lot in the Hartford area.