Wolves: Scouting the Enemy

(Photo Credit: Ross Dettman)

The Amtrak Rivalry this season has been given a slight refresh. Out go the St. Louis Blues. In come the Vegas Golden Knights.. and also, partially, the St. Louis Blues too. Alright, the Chicago Wolves as an AHL affiliate is a little messy this season but the core of their affiliation agreement for 2017-18 and beyond is with the NHL’s latest expansion team, Vegas.

The way St. Louis is working their AHL talent this season is how I’d imagine Jackson Pollock would work a farm system in sports as their talent is kind of everywhere. They have a partial agreement to keep some talent in Chicago but, currently, there are only five players contracted by St. Louis playing in Chicago: Ivan BarbashyovPetteri Lindbohm, MacKenzie MacEachern, Wade Megan, and Jake Walman. The rest are either Vegas property, Chicago property on AHL contracts, or -especially in net- currently on the roster by way of loans or professional try-out (PTO) contracts.

It’s all very well held together by duct tape this AHL business for the 2017-18 season but, thankfully, the Colorado Eagles will be elevated up from the ECHL next season to make it a 31 team league in the AHL to match that of the NHL. The Eagles will be affiliated to the Colorado Avalanche. That means the opening for the San Antonio Rampage is available for the St. Louis Blues who were left without a dance partner this go-around. They’re slightly still attached to Chicago but, as you’ll see, when Vegas starts building and unleashing their own prospect pool it could be really good.

Before we get to the Wolves: their NHL affiliate in Vegas looked to be stacking the deck somewhat in the AHL with some great young talent. That hasn’t hindered them though as they have won eight of nine games to start their inaugural campaign – including a 7-0 shutout at home last night. Not bad for a team that has Brad Hunt and Brendan Leipsic, I’d say.

The Wolves have started this season that little less spectacularly. They enter tonight’s game off of a 5-3 loss on the road against the Grand Rapids Griffins last night and now have a record of 2-4-1-0 (5 points, 0.357 points percentage). The only team worse off than the Wolves in the Central Division right now are the Iowa Wild (0.313 points percentage).

It also doesn’t take much to see what the issue for the Wolves is early on for 2017-18: defending. This is a Wolves team that is allowing 3.86 goals per game. And that isn’t made any easier at the moment due to both Marc-André Fleury and Malcolm Subban out with injury for Vegas. It has meant the recall of both Wolves goaltenders, Oscar Dansk and Maxime Lagacé, and the arrival of Kasimir Kaskisuo on loan from the Toronto Marlies (AHL) and the signing of C.J. Motte to a PTO contract. The Wolves are 7 games into their season and the goaltending cupboard has completely been wiped clean.

For the Admirals to find success tonight is for them to stay out of the box and push the pace in attack. The Wolves may have surrendered a lot of goals but they have also produced 24 goals in 7 games – that includes scoring 9 power-play goals. The Wolves 25.0% mark on the power-play is the second best in the league – only the Utica Comets (31.0%) are better. The counter to this is that the Admirals enter tonight’s game with the best road penalty kill (94.7%) in the entire league. They shouldn’t test that Wolves power-play group out to test their medal though. Avoid their power-play. Break them at even strength. And the Admirals could see their way to continuing an unbeaten road record.

I’ll end by bringing up some individuals that the Wolves have that are worth glancing over: Teemu Pulkkinen, 12 points (5 goals, 7 assists)… Shea Theodore, 10 points (4 goals, 6 assists)… Tomas Hyka, 6 points (3 goals, 3 assists)… and Brandon Pirri, Brett Sterling, and T.J. Tynan just to name a few others. This group has the potential, always, to do some real damage. It’s just a question of if their offensive firepower will need to bail out weak defending – and if that’s a real sustainable way for success within this AHL season.

Are you excited by this new chapter of the Amtrak Rivalry now that the Chicago Wolves are affiliated with the Vegas Golden Knights? There are quite a few prospects that the Milwaukee Admirals are familiar with -but- the big one is that Finn with the rocket shot. How do the Admirals stop Teemu Pulkkinen?

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