Penguins

New faces in Wheeling in 2018-19

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Danny Fick. - ZACK RAWSON / WHEELING NAILERS

The puck drops for the 27th season of professional hockey in Wheeling on Saturday, October 13th.

We're still a little over a month away before the team reports for training camp, but the roster is already taking shape. It'll be a different look for the Nailers in 2018-19 with new head coach Mike Bavis and a roster of almost entirely new players.

Let's take a look at the eight forwards, seven defensemen, and one goaltender signed to ECHL-level contracts so far this offseason. All contracts are for one year, and the financial details are not disclosed. Wheeling will still likely sign more players out of training camp and receive players on AHL deals from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Because most of these players were signed by head coach Mark Dennehy before he left for an AHL head coaching job, scouting report quotes will be from him.

FORWARDS

Tyler Bird
• Position: Right wing
• Size: 
6-1, 192
• Born: 
August 14, 1996 in Boston, Mass.
• Pro seasons played: None
• 2017-18 team: Brown University (NCAA)
• 2017-18 statistics: 
7 goals, 4 assists in 31 games

Bird was a fifth-round pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2014, but did not sign with the team. The Blue Jackets drafted him out of high school because of his offensive production, but his production was almost non-existent in college. He will make his professional debut this season after four years at Brown, where he was an alternate captain as a senior.

Yushiroh Hirano
• Position: Right wing
• Size: 
6-1, 216
• Age: 
23
• Born: 
August 18, 1995 in Tomakomai, Japan
• Pro seasons played: 
Two
• 2017-18 team: Tohoku Free Blades (Asia League), Kalmar HC (Sweden Division 2)
• 2017-18 statistics: 
4 goals, 6 assists in 6 Asia League games; 8 goals, 5 assists in 18 Sweden games

Hirano will forgo the $40,000-$200,000 average salary of the Asia League to try to make it in North America. This is Hirano's second stint in North American hockey, after playing one USHL season with the Youngstown Phantoms in 2015-16. He has a career 48 points in 40 Asia League games, and has also spent some time developing in Sweden. He's also represented Japan in international tournaments throughout his career. Hirano will be the second Japanese player to ever play for Wheeling.

Cédric Lacroix
• Position: Forward
• Size: 
6-1, 183
• Age: 
23
• Born: 
November 2, 1994 in Shefford, Quebec
• Pro seasons played: 
None
• 2017-18 team: University of Maine (NCAA)
• 2017-18 statistics: 
6 goals, 5 assists in 34 games
• Dennehy says: "Cedric is a strong-skating, heavy centerman, who plays a solid 200-foot game. As good as he was at Maine, I think he'll be an even better pro. He plays hard, goes to the hard areas (which should increase his offensive numbers), and works incredibly hard."
• Lacroix says: "I pride myself on my physicality, while being a role player who can contribute offensively and also bring high intensity. I am excited for new challenges, a chance to grow and develop as a player, and the opportunity to win games while building something with my teammates."

Lacroix is the son of Daniel Lacroix, former NHL forward and current assistant coach for the Montreal Canadiens.

Zac Lynch
• Position: Center, right wing
• Size: 
6-0, 190
• Age: 
26
• Born:
March 15, 1992 in Pittsburgh, Pa.
• Pro seasons played: 
Two
• 2017-18 team: Manchester Monarchs (ECHL), Utica Comets (AHL)
• 2017-18 statistics: 
22 goals, 24 assists in 58 ECHL games; 2 goals, 1 assist in 8 AHL games
• Dennehy says: "Zac is an established scorer at this level. We couldn't be happier to bring him home to the Pittsburgh area."
• Lynch says: "I watched the organization a lot growing up, and I am humbled to be part of such a storied team. I pride myself on being a solid two-way player. Special teams are a big part of my game, and my ability to score has driven me every year to produce more. My goal is to better myself, while also pushing my teammates to get better."

Lynch will look to fill the void in the Nailers' offensive production left by the departure of fellow Robert Morris alum Cody Wydo. Lynch, who graduated from Robert Morris in 2016, remains second all-time in points (157) and second all-time in goals (67) in 152 games.

Alex Rauter
• Position: Left wing
• Size: 
6-1, 185
• Age: 
24
• Born:
June 17, 1994 in Chatham, N.J.
• Pro seasons played:
None
• 2017-18 team: Cornell University (NCAA), Atlanta Gladiators (ECHL)
• 2017-18 statistics: 
11 goals, 9 assists in 32 NCAA games; 1 goal, 2 assists in 3 regular season ECHL games; 1 goal in 4 ECHL playoff games
• Dennehy says: "He is really smart, and a gifted offensive player who is incredibly versatile. Anytime you can get a captain from Cornell on your roster, that's a big win."
• Rauter says: "I like to pride myself on being a complete player who brings lots of offense to the table and plays defensively, as well."

Rauter made his professional debut last season upon the conclusion of his senior season with Cornell. He joined the Atlanta Gladiators for the end of the regular season, and appeared in four playoff games. The 2018-19 season will be his first full professional campaign.

Nick Saracino
• Position: Center, left wing
• Size: 
5-11, 185
• Age: 
26
• Born:
February 20, 1992 in St. Louis, Mo.
• Pro seasons played: 
Two
• 2017-18 team: Worcester Railers (ECHL)
• 2017-18 statistics: 
12 goals, 25 assists in 61 regular season games, 3 goals, 2 assists in 6 playoff games

Saracino graduated from Providence College in 2016 and signed a contract with the Iowa Wild of the AHL that spring. He made his professional debut at the end of the Wild's regular season and played 33 AHL games in 2016-17. After spending all of last season in the ECHL, he'll look to prove himself this year and work his way back to the AHL.

Andrew Schmit
• Position: Right wing
• Size: 
6-5, 225
• Age: 
27
• Born:
August 22, 1991 in Grafton, Wis.
• Pro seasons played: 
Two
• 2017-18 team: Indy Fuel (ECHL), Wheeling Nailers (ECHL)
• 2017-18 statistics: 
3 assists, 23 penalty minutes in 18 Indy games; 3 assists, 5 penalty minutes in 10 Wheeling games

The Nailers acquired Schmit from Indy last February, and the massive enforcer returns for a full season in Wheeling. This is Schmit's second ECHL season, after spending 2016-17 in the lower-level SPHL.

Bryan Sienerth
• Position: Center
• Size: 
6-0, 170
• Age: 
22
• Born:
January 31, 1996 in Erie, Pa.
• Pro seasons played: 
None
• 2017-18 team: Mercyhurst University (NCAA)
• 2017-18 statistics: 
10 goals, 16 assists in 33 games

The Erie native won't be far from home when he makes his professional debut this fall.

DEFENSEMEN

Matt Abt
• Size: 
6-4, 181
• Age: 
25
• Born:
July 25, 1993 in Leduc, Alberta
• Pro seasons played: 
None
• 2017-18 team: RIT (NCAA), Wheeling Nailers (ECHL)
• 2017-18 statistics: 
6 goals, 13 assists in 37 NCAA games; 1 goal, 5 assists in 12 ECHL games

The lanky Alberta native returns for his first full professional season after joining Wheeling for a few games following the conclusion of his senior year at RIT last season.

Dalton Carter
• Size: 
6-2, 174
• Age: 
24
• Born:
November 12, 1993 in Toledo, Ohio
• Pro seasons played: 
None
• 2017-18 team: Utica College (NCAA III), Toledo Walleye (ECHL)
• 2017-18 statistics: 
11 goals, 28 assists in 26 NCAA games; 2 ECHL games
• Dennehy says: "Dalton Carter is a rangy right-shot defenseman with good length, offensive instincts, and a bomb."
• Carter says: "I pride myself on being offensive on the blueline and getting the puck on net."

Carter made his professional debut last season for a couple of games, but will play his first full professional season in Wheeling. He had 82 points in 106 college games while playing for a Division III school.

Josh Couturier
• Size: 
6-2, 190
• Age: 
23
• Born:
March 3, 1995 in Newbury, Mass.
• Pro seasons played: 
None
• 2017-18 team: UMass-Amherst (NCAA)
• 2017-18 statistics: 
2 goals, 13 assists in 39 games

Couturier will make his professional debut after three seasons of NCAA play. He started his college career at Boston University before transferring to UMass-Amherst as a sophomore.

Brien Diffley
• Size: 
6-2, 185
• Age: 
23
• Born:
July 8, 1995 in Burlington, Mass.
• Pro seasons played: 
None
• 2017-18 team: Boston University (NCAA)
• 2017-18 statistics: 
2 goals, 2 assists in 17 games

Diffley comes to Wheeling after four seasons at BU. Diffley and the Terriers won the Beanpot once, and the Hockey East tournament twice in that span.

Danny Fick
• Size: 
5-11, 181
• Age: 
27
• Born:
August 21, 1991 in Marine on St. Croix, Minn.
• Pro seasons played: 
Four
• 2017-18 team: Wheeling Nailers (ECHL)
• 2017-18 statistics: 
4 goals, 19 assists in 70 games
• Dennehy says: "Danny Fick is an incredibly mobile defenseman who plays a really strong game. He is a smart player who is looking to take the next step and thinks enough about Wheeling to want to return."
• Fick says: "My goal is to continue to improve my offensive and defensive game, and move up the ranks while helping bring the Nailers back to the Kelly Cup Finals."

Fick will play his fourth season in Wheeling and is the only returning player who spent the full 2017-18 season in Wheeling. With 192 games in a Nailers uniform, he is 40 games from becoming the team's all-time leader in games played. I would expect Fick to be named captain this season after wearing the "A" last season.

Aaron Titcomb
• Size: 
6-4, 216
• Age: 
27
• Born:
May 16, 1993 in Charlestown, Mass.
• Pro seasons played: 
None
• 2017-18 team: Merrimack College (NCAA), Adirondack Thunder (ECHL)
• 2017-18 statistics: 
2 assists in 31 NCAA games; 2 assists in 2 ECHL games
• Dennehy says: "Aaron is a warrior on the ice. He is going to do whatever he has to do to help his team. He is big, strong and mobile, and he competes every shift."
• Titcomb says: "I am a blue collar defenseman who blocks shots and kills penalties. I pride myself on my physicality and I will take care of my teammates. I'm excited to get out there to Wheeling to meet the fans and meet my teammates."

One of the first signings of the season, Titcomb was expecting to play for his former Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy. The shutdown defenseman will instead try to fit in with head coach Bavis' system.

Ayrton Valente
• Size: 
5-10, 181
• Age: 
25
• Born:
July 15, 1993 in Vaughan, Ontario
• Pro seasons played: 
None
• 2017-18 team: SUNY-Plattsburgh (NCAA III), Wheeling Nailers (ECHL)
• 2017-18 statistics: 
3 goals, 15 assists in 26 NCAA games; 1 goal, 3 assists in 11 ECHL games

Like others on this list, Valente joined Wheeling for a short period at the end of last season after his college season ended and will return for a full campaign in 2018-19.

GOALTENDERS

Danny Tirone
• Size: 
5-11, 174
• Age: 
24
• Born:
June 3, 1993 in Trumbull, Conn.
• Pro seasons played: 
None
• 2017-18 team: University of New Hampshire (NCAA), Wheeling Nailers (ECHL)
• 2017-18 statistics: 
2.68 goals against average, .917 save percentage in 33 NCAA games, 5.42 goals against average, .813 save percentage in 2 ECHL games
• Dennehy says: "Danny Tirone is a proven winner. I can attest first-hand that he single-handedly knocked my team out of the playoffs two years ago. He is incredibly athletic, has a real high end to his game, and is looking to take his game to the next level."
• Tirone says: "I had a really good experience in Wheeling at the end of last season, and I am excited to be back and start again."

Tirone did play well in his brief stint on a decimated Nailers team last season, even if the numbers don't reflect that. Tirone was Casey DeSmith's replacement in net at New Hampshire after DeSmith was kicked off the team in 2014-15.

WHERE DID EVERYBODY GO?

With a new head coach (or two) this offseason, heavy roster turnover was expected. Here's where some players (and staff) from last season's team ended up:

Jeff Christian, head coach: Contract not renewed, now a realtor
Jay Spess, assistant coach: Manager of team services in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL)
Dylan Zink
, defenseman: Sparta Sarpsborg (Norway)
Kevin Schulze, defenseman: Västerviks IK (Swedish Allsvenskan)
Cody Wydo, forward: HC Thurgau (Swiss NLB)
Derek Army, forward: Retired; assistant coach for Worcester Railers (ECHL)
Nick Sorkin, forward: Worcester Railers (ECHL)
Zach Tolkinen, defenseman: Maine Mariners (ECHL)
Kenny Ryan, forward: HC Thurgau (Swiss NLB)
Dan Milan, defenseman: Reading Royals (ECHL)
Louick Marcotte, forward: Atlanta Gladiators (ECHL)
Chris Francis, forward: Tulsa Oilers (ECHL)
Adam Morrison, goaltender: Hershey Bears (AHL)
Riley Bourbonnais, forward: Maine Mariners (ECHL)
Cam Brown and Troy Josephs earned AHL deals with Wilkes-Barre. Jeff Taylor and Freddie Tiffels are still on NHL contracts, and will likely play in Wilkes-Barre.

 

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