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AHL Schedule Breakdown: Chicago Wolves

The Wolves (Vegas Golden Knights/St. Louis) won the Central last year but come into 2017-18 with a new roster following their affiliation shake up. Chicago dominated Iowa last season, but Iowa looks to improve on that 2-6-2 record.

2014 NHL Draft - Round 1 Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The Charlotte Checkers (Carolina Hurricanes) might have been the most significant change to the Central Division this season as they left for the East, but the Chicago Wolves made their own news by dumping the St. Louis Blues and signing on to the be the first AHL affiliate for the Vegas Golden Knights.

While the Wolves have their contract with the Golden Knights, the Blues have been allowed to store players in the AHL with their former affiliate. Things become a bit more complicated in this situation, as Vegas will be in control over the team and will probably lean heavily on developing their own talent. On the “plus” side for St. Louis, Vegas will have a score of their prospects returning to juniors.

The Blues will also be sticking players in San Antonio, who are likely to be their AHL affiliate when the league expands to 31 teams in 2018-19.

Like Grand Rapids, the Wolves are one of four teams to survive the IHL-AHL merger that found a home in the Central. They also have two Calder Cups, the most recent one coming in 2007-08 with current Wild assistant, John Anderson.

Iowa and Chicago won’t play in Des Moines until 2018, but if you look at their projected roster for the season, a couple of names stick out: former Minnesota draft picks Alex Tuch and Reid Duke.

Chicago Wolves/AHL

Key Dates

Sunday, November 26th at Chicago (Allstate Arena, 15:00 CST)

Saturday, December 16th at Chicago (Allstate Arena, 19:00 CST)

Monday, January 1st at Iowa (Wells Fargo Arena, 12:00 CST)

Wednesday, January 17th at Iowa (Wells Fargo Arena, 19:00 CST)

Friday, February 9th at Iowa (Wells Fargo Arena, 19:00 CST)

Sunday, March 18th at Chicago (Allstate Arena, 15:00 CST)

Wednesday, March 28th at Chicago (Allstate Arena, 19:00 CST)

Friday, April 6th at Iowa (Wells Fargo Arena, 19:00 CST)

It’s the same uniform (arguably the best in the A), but the roster is going to look a lot different (with familiar faces) when the Wild and the Wolves square up in 2017-18. The guys with AHL contracts are going to be back and there looks to be an interesting confluence of two prospect currents.

There are going to be two less games between the franchises in 2017-18 and it’s going to be a 2018-heavy slate of games. They’ll play two games in Chicago in 2017, but will open up the New Year in Des Moines on January 1st with some postgame fireworks.

With the fortune of having an expansion draft to snag 30 players for 23 roster spots, the Wolves will have some NHL talent for a minor league team. If you look at Roster Resource’s projected roster, Jon Merrill, Griffin Reinhart, and Clayton Stoner may be the blueliners for the Wolves. We knew that Vegas doubled-down on defensemen, so the most notable forwards with NHL experience that might show up in the A are William Carrier and Paul Thompson. Good news for the Blues, since their guys can compete for line positioning.

Rocky Thompson is getting his first chance at head coach at the professional level after two seasons at the helm for the Windsor Spitfires in the OHL. His teams won 40 games in each of those seasons and won a Memorial Cup as the host this summer. Berube is out, but he found a job working the Blues’ bench as an assistant.

The Wolves are looking to be a prospect heavy with a lot of opportunity to build chemistry with this Frankenstein’s monster of a team.

Last Season

November 18th: Chicago 2 - 3 Iowa

November 19th: Iowa 0 - 5 Chicago

December 3rd: Iowa 2 - 4 Chicago

December 31st: Chicago 5 - 2 Iowa

February 25th: Iowa 1 - Chicago 4

February 26th: Iowa 3 - 4 Chicago (OT)

March 31st: Chicago 4 - 0 Iowa

April 8th: Iowa 3 - 4 Chicago (OT)

April 13th: Chicago 2 - 1 Iowa

April 14th: Chicago 2 - 3 Iowa

Though they started and ended on a high note, it was a rough year for the Baby Wild against the Wolves as Chicago dominated the 10-game season series 8-2 with a goal differential of +18 (36-18). The Wolves scored 4 goals or more in 7 of 10 games.

With the Wolves being split up like Solomon’s baby, it’s hard to gather who from 2016-17 will be difference makers again for Chicago. Especially with a Vegas staff calling the shots behind the bench.

Of the 2016-17 Wolves returning for this season, Bryce Gervais had four points (3G/1A) in nine games against Iowa last season. Brad Hunt earned a contract with Vegas at age 29 and also had three goals and one assist against Iowa, but his production came in just three games.

The roster may be a hodgepodge, but some bad blood may persist. Scooter Vaughan returns to Wolves and I’m sure there’s no love lost between him and the Wild. Following the February 25th blowout, a fight left off the ice and continued on the way to the dressing room (fast forward to 4:12 to see Gabriel act a fool):

Prospects

A familiar face tops the Golden Knights’ prospect list on NHL.com as Alex Tuch (6 NHL GP) is expected to compete for an NHL roster spot at training camp. There is also the possibility to two different teams making call-ups simultaneously, so it will be interesting to see how the season and roster unfolds.

This prospect pool is only going to grow as Vegas has what feels like 100 picks in the next three drafts. Ok, not 100, but 27 picks is a lot and they’re only missing out on the third and seventh round in 2018. George McPhee should feel like a kid in a candy shop, but he needs to hope that his scouts can come through if they’re going to build a winner in the desert.

Alex Tuch (1st round, #18 - 2014, Minnesota) was a special player for Lalonde in Iowa last season. Numbers aside, the eye-test was impressive; the game looked to slow down around him when he had the puck. It’s definitely more a matter of “when” than “if” regarding his status as an NHL regular.

And that “when” will most likely come before Chicago comes to Iowa in January 2018. Roster Resource ranks the Syracuse-native as the fifth option behind former Iowa teammate, Teemu Pulkkinen, on the right side. RotoWorld also has Tuch as the fifth option at right-wing, but against former Maple Leafs prospect, Brendan Leipsic.

There’s not much that you already haven’t heard about Tuch. He was an All-Star for Iowa as a rookie. He’s a dynamic, big bodied (6’4”/220) winger that can play in front of the net on top of his skill with the puck. He led Iowa in point shares and was their second leading scorer at the end of last season with 37 points in 57 games (18G/19A).

Keegan Kolesar (3rd round, #69 - 2015, Columbus) was also acquired via trade during the Expansion Draft frenzy. Like Tuch, he’s another large winger (6’2”/223) and has been described by Curtis Joe of EliteProspects.com as:

“A gritty, two-way winger with the hard-nosed [style] and work ethic to frustrate opponents every time he is on the ice. Possesses good awareness in all three zones and knows how to back-check hard; however, this doesn't take away from his offensive ability, as he has shown flashes of great offensive playmaking and finishing ability.”

Unlike Tuch, this will be his first year of professional hockey after playing four years with the Seattle Thunderbirds in the ‘Dub. He also has shown a penchant for dropping mitts as shown with his 101 penalty minutes last season, but he was also the T’birds’ fourth leading scorer. During Seattle’s Championship run, Kolesar scored 31 points (12G/19A) in 19 postseason games.

Size. Grit. Aggression. All things you like in a hungry, junior-level player. The postseason numbers show that he can make plays and is more than just a sheriff on the ice, which will make him a great addition to Vegas and a worthy opponent of Tuch for that right-wing spot.

Just like every other team, NHL.com left a few snubs to be brought up. Though Reid Duke used to play for the Wild, I wouldn’t consider him a top prospect in the Vegas pool. He is, however, a great piece of trivia as the first player to sign with the Golden Knights.

A name that does comes to mind in Brendan Leipsic. He was unable to crack a Maple Leafs roster that was (and still is) stacked with youth. In six NHL games for Babock, he had a goal and two assists for three points. While buried with the Marlies, he totaled 51 points in 49 games (18G/33A). He’s only 23 and has outgrown the AHL game, so you’d hope that he has a place with Vegas.

RotoWorld ranks him as the fourth-line winger on the right side (ahead of Tuch) and Roster Resource places him as the fourth-line center. EliteProspects.com, however, expects him to start the season with Chicago. With his size compared with the other centermen on Vegas, it’s more likely that he’ll play on the wing. He’s a smaller guy (5’9”/170) and can play the “pest” role as well as anyone. He mixed it up more than a few times new teammate, Keegan Kolesar, during his days with the Portland Winterhawks:

Another name to keep an eye on is Czech Extraliga product, Tomáš Hyka, who will be playing his first professional season in North America. He’s not young by any means at 24-years-old. He was drafted back in 2012 by the LA Kings out of the Q, but for the last three seasons he’s been with BK Mlada Boleslav. Last season, he was their leading scorer with 38 points (17G/21A). It may not seem like a lot, but he was tied for 10th in the league in goals (nobody scored more than 30) and tied for 10th in points (nobody scored more than 55).

For the Blues, Jake Walman was one of the last players cut from the roster at the end of training camp and was placed in Chicago over San Antonio. The left-handed d-man will take part in his first pro season after three years at Providence College. In his last season for the Friars, he generated 25 points (7G/18A) from the blueline. In just seven regular season games with the Wolves, he scored two goals and added an assist and had the exact same numbers in his eight playoff appearances for Chicago.

With that, we wrap up Iowa’s schedule breakdown with a nice Chicago bow. The Wild open up their fifth season on October 7th against the Milwaukee Admirals (Nashville Predators) at Wells Fargo Arena.