After winning both of their preseason games in convincing fashion, the Chicago Wolves look ready to take the ice in their AHL debut against the Texas Stars, AHL affiliates of the Dallas Stars, on Friday.
Before they do that, though, here’s a look at how they got here, and where they might be going. This will also introduce the Vegas Golden Knights on the Wolves roster. It’s not all of them, unfortunately, as the Wolves are currently split between the Knights and the St. Louis Blues.
In the first preseason game, only two players signed to the Golden Knights debuted. Goaltender Oscar Dansk made seven out of nine possible saves, and got the win against the Rockford IceHogs, affiliated with the Chicago Blackhawks. Chris Casto, a prominent defenseman for the Wolves throughout camp, also played a good amount of minutes.
For the second game, against the Milwaukee Admirals — the AHL team of the Nashville Predators — Maxime Lagace got the start, making 17 saves and getting the win. Jake Bischoff and Keegan Kolesar each tallied an assist.
Dansk and Lagace both represent prospects at the goaltender position for the Knights, having been overlooked by other teams. Asked why he signed with Vegas, Dansk replied that they gave him the best opportunity. That opportunity could include an NHL call-up this season. If Marc-Andre Fleury or Malcolm Subban get hurt, Dansk would be the next man up.
There are some notable names looking to establish a presence within the Wolves organization. Along with Kolesar and Bischoff, guys like Tyler Wong, Teemu Pulkkinen and Tomas Hyka.
Wong would have to sign a contract, Kolesar must prove himself, and Bischoff has to transition to the professional game. Hyka has to transition back to the North American game, and Pulkkinen doesn’t have a lot left to prove. But watching these players, they have the capabilities to do just that.
Other players have the potential to join the Wolves throughout the season. On paper, Vadim Shipachyov, Alex Tuch, and Shea Theodore have joined the club. There is also the potential that these are just paper moves.
Chicago’s season expectations have always been the playoffs. They’ve made the playoffs 10 times since the AHL was founded before the 2001-02 season. When asked about what he looked forward to most this season, head coach Rocky Thompson said the winning culture.
Perhaps the biggest problem facing Knights prospects is that Thompson said he would build a balanced team using the best players he has. That could mean a line of Kolesar and Wong playing top-six minutes. It could also mean a smattering of Knights players throughout the roster while AHL veterans and Blues players like Beau Bennett soak up valuable time.
The Wolves have the AHL roster capable of making a playoff push. An added benefit is the young players of the Golden Knights being around a culture of tradition and winning. The fact that the Wolves are also firmly established will also help with prospects’ development.