On the front ranks, the Newfoundland Growlers look similar to they did as they played their way to an ECHL championship in their inaugural season, with six of the team’s top seven scorers from 2018-19 back with the team.
“Very much the same,” said head coach John Snowden. “We’ve got guys who are skilled and who are quick and can play at a high speed.
“And now all of them have experience as pros.”
But look behind those familiar wingers and centres — Zach O’Brien, Brady Ferguson, Marcus Power, Giorgio Estephan, Scott Pooley and Marcus Power — and there are a lot of new faces.
“The big change is on the back end,” agreed Snowden. “But we’ve added some real skilled guys, puck-movers, offensive defencemen, guys who will be up on the rush, who have played a ton of minutes in their junior or college careers.”
The Growlers played their first exhibition game of the preseason Friday night in Brampton, Ont. where they posted a 5-2 win over their division rivals, the Beast. They did so with a blueline corps that didn’t have four players who were with the team as it claimed the Kelly Cup in June.
Adam Pardy has retired, Sam Jardine is playing in Wales and Kristians Rubins and Alex Gudbranson are still with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies.
Team captain James Melindy, Garrett Johnston and Evan Neugold are back, but the rest of the signed rearguards consist of four rookies and third-year pro Mike Kapla, just reassigned from the Marlies.
The first-year players are Sergei Sapego, Tommy Panico, Mac Hollowell and Josef Duszak.
The latter two, in particular, are going to garner a lot of attention. They are the first true prospects signed to NHL entry-level deals who have been assigned to the Growler.
Yes, Semyon Der-Arguchintsev, who is signed by the Leafs played a few games with Newfoundland at the end of last season, but he’s still junior-aged and back in the OHL. Andwhile goalie Eamon McAdam finished the last year of his ELC with the Growlers, but wasn’t offered a new contract over the summer. He signed an AHL deal within the New Jersey Devils organization
“Hollowell and Duszak, they’re prospects, guys on NHL contracts, who’ve got some flash on the offensive side, but who can play a 200-foot game as well,” said Snowden.
“We will be different back there compared to last year. I’m not taking anything away from the guys we had … Pardy and Rubins and Gudbranson and Jardine made for a big, hard heavy group, but were still guys who could skate and move the puck.
“With this group, we will probably have some growing pains early, but the skill, the hockey sense, the hockey IQ, there is lots of it there and it’s very exciting to see.”
The big change could come on the power play. After Stefan Leblanc was promoted to the Marlies early last season (he was eventually traded out of the Leafs organization), the Growlers never really had a power-play unit that featured two defencemen. More often than not, there was a forward on the point and there was no real on-ice general when playing with the man advantage.
Snowden expects that to change this season.
“We will thing how things go (Friday and in a rematch with the Beast this evening), but yeah, that would be the plan right now,” he answered when asked if Newfoundland’s top power-play unit will feature two defencemen when a new regular season starts next Friday night at Mile One Centre against the Reading Royals.
He specifically mention Duszak and Hollowell in that regard.
“They’ve been top power-play guys on every team they’ve played on.” He said. “That’s a big part of their game.”