The opening month of this new era of Hartford Wolf Pack hockey was a rather odd one. It began with a ton of hype with Filip Chytil, Vitali Kravtsov, and Igor Shesterkin all on the opening night roster. With all the eyes on those three, there some pleasant surprises that began to pop up along with some issues that were kept at bay by the play of some of the Pack.
The Record: 8-1-0-1
The Good: Filip Chytil, Joey Keane, Igor Shesterkin, and Adam Huska.
It shouldn’t have been a surprise that Chytil was going to be good right in the AHL right off the bat, but his response to starting the season in Connecticut’s capital was super impressive. Putting up 3-6-9 in 9 games played, Chytil was clearly on another level compared to his competition night in and night out. His 34 shots on net are a testament to how the puck was always heading in the right direction when he was on the ice. Whether he should have been there or not is immaterial, his first month in Hartford was a sight to behold.
While Chytil’s start wasn’t a surprise, Joey Keane’s start certainly was. The young defenseman’s presence on Hartford’s blue line was a nice little C or D subplot coming into the season and he’s done the work to make an immediate impact. Keane picked up Hartford’s first goal of the season and didn’t stop from there as the defender continued to use his superb skating to create havoc for opposing teams. His three October goals were a fine prize, along with more and more icetime, for his solid play to open the AHL season.
If Chytil’s October was dominating and Keane’s a pleasant surprise, then the play of Igor Shesterkin and Adam Huska to open the season was a revelation. Igor Shesterkin’s long awaited North American arrival hit a bit of a scuffle after giving up five goals in the opening game of the Traverse City tournament but his first real taste of North American hockey should erase all kinds of doubt. Sheterkin cooly put up a .942 save percentage in 6 October starts, including a 36 save shutout and looked better and better with each start. Shesterkin earned himself the honor of being the AHL’s Goalie of the Month for the month of October. As good as the Czar has been, his backup Adam Huska as been more than capable to start the season. The two young goalies have alternated starts this season and Huska put up a robust .915 save percentage in his first 4 starts of the season. As the team’s defense and structure faltered, Hartford’s netminders were more than ready to answer the call.
The Bad: Sean Day, Mason Geertsen, Ryan Gropp
On a team that was getting an injection of youth to the team, Hartford was going to look to it’s more experienced players to add a bit of stability to the defense corps and help the others get adjusted to pro hockey. While, for the most part this plan has seemed to work, there have been a few notable exceptions. One of these is the super talented but severely flawed Sean Day. Day came into this season with his prospect status teetering on a knife’s edge and he did get off to a hot start, as he picked up a nifty OT winner in the 2nd game of the season. However, for all of his skill Sean Day still hasn’t put everything together thus far as there have been numerous times so far where Day has looked scattered in the defensive zone, constantly chasing the play and rather ineffective in the offensive zone. There are flashes where Day’s skating and strength get him out of trouble but that’s also trouble that his senses get him into.
Over the offseason, Hartford brought a number of older AHL players to support the roster. Guys like Vincent LoVerde, Darren Raddysh, Phil DiGiussepe, and others have all made positive impacts to begin the season as they all play big parts in Hartford’s aggressive style of play. Mason Geertsen, on the other hand, has done none of these things. Geertsen was brought in to be the “protector” on the ice making sure no one took advantage of the younger players but in this first part of the season; Geertsen has been plodding, missing assignments, and generally not really adding much of a positive impact to the Wolf Pack roster.
Finally, Ryan Gropp. Much like Day, Gropp saw his prospect status take several hits over the years as the Rangers have added more and more forward prospects to their system and Gropp was establishing himself as a pretty good AHL player. This season, Gropp was set to be a middle six winger that could help bolster the Wolf Pack attack further down the roster and maybe spell some of the younger players from time to time. After playing one lack luster game for the Wolf Pack, Gropp was assigned to the Maine Mariners of the ECHL and Gropp refused to report so he was suspended. Eventually Gropp did choose to report to the ECHL and Hartford lifted the suspension. There’s still time for both sides to try and repair this relationship but it’s not looking good for the former 2nd round pick.
Filip Chytil is running the Rangers’ 2nd line, as he should be. Ryan Lindgren is rotating into the defense corps on broadway and both will probably not see AHL action again for a long while. It’s fair to say that Hartford leaned on Chytil to provide offense and since he’s left they’re trying to find a way to collectively replace his impact, while on the blueline Lindgren seemed to provide the stablizing presence that players like Day were supposed to provide. Going forward, Hartford is going to have to be creative to help mitigate the losses to the big club but as long as Shesterkin and Huska continue to play well, the team’s winning ways should continue.