The Hartford Wolf Pack are still waiting on their next head coach, but that hasn’t stopped general manager Chris Drury from making some big changes to the team’s roster.
Team President John Davidson discussed the importance of an AHL overhaul with the New York Post in early June. Davidson cited the impact that veteran forward Mark Letestu had on the Columbus Blue Jackets’ farm system and wanted to bring a similar element to Hartford. At least one of — and possibly both — Matt Beleskey and Brendan Smith will spend the majority of the season in the AHL, but they won’t be the only veterans there.
Thus far, general manager Jeff Gorton has signed two veterans who could spend significant time in the AHL this season and Drury has signed three more to minor league contracts.
About one month ago, Blueshirt Banter’s own Phil Kocher discussed some veterans who might be a good fit in Hartford. Danny O’Regan was one of the forwards that Phil identified as a target for Jeff Gorton and Drury to pursue.
The Rangers signed O’Regan, 25, to a one-year, $700k contract; he’ll be an RFA at the end of the deal. O’Regan played under Rangers head coach David Quinn at Boston University where he was a Hockey East Champion in 2015. Two seasons ago, the 138th overall pick of the 2012 Draft was part of the trade that sent Evander Kane from the Buffalo Sabres to the San Jose Sharks.
There’s a chance that O’Regan could get a look in the Rangers’ bottom-six forward group at some point during the season because of his skill set and his familiarity with Quinn. But all signs point to him being a key player for the Wolf Pack next season.
O’Regan’s game is built around his speed. Last season, he finished third on the Rochester Americans in primary points, notching 41 in 70 games. Through 182 career games in the AHL, O’Regan has averaged 0.80 P/GP and 0.67 PrP/GP (primary points per game). So, he’s definitely going to be a presence in Hartford’s top-six forward group, which could use an established scorer after both Cole Schneider and Peter Holland were dealt last season.
McKegg may spend the majority of the 2019-20 season in New York because he signed a one-year, one-way contract worth $750k, but he’s been yo-yoing between the NHL and the AHL for half a dozen years now. So, there’s a solid chance he will dress for the Wolf Pack at some point next season.
The 62nd overall pick of the 2010 Draft has something of a cult following because of his outstanding name. The size of that cult grew considerably after he scored two goals in the 2019 Playoffs for the Carolina Hurricanes. His first postseason goal was the series-clincher in the ‘Canes sweep of the New York Islanders.
Greg McKegg got the job done! pic.twitter.com/YlyOvuYwzv— Carolina Hurricanes (@NHLCanes) May 10, 2019
Hurricanes’ head coach Rod Brind’Amour gave McKegg a glowing review for his play in the postseason, “I love the guy because he’s been a journeyman ... he’s quiet and he goes about his business.” Overall, that’s a fair summary of the kind of player that the Rangers are getting in McKegg; he’s a fringe NHLer who works his tail off.
In 322 career AHL games McKegg has picked up 193 points; he’s notched 24 points in the 132 games he’s played in The Show. If (and/or when) he is assigned to Hartford, he will bring his infectious work ethic and some scoring to the mix.
Zolnierczyk, who most Rangers fans likely remember from his time in the NHL with the Philadelphia Flyers, set a new career-best with the 51 points he scored in 72 games last season with the Springfield Thunderbirds.
The 37 primary points that the former Flyer put up in the AHL was also a career-best, but a lot of that likely had to do with his ice time. Last season, Zolnierczyk’s 0.31 PrP/GP at even strength ranked sixth on the Falcons among skaters who played at least 20 games with the Falcons. It’s also important to note that six of his 15 goals were scored on the power play. So, he shouldn’t be expected to put up Peter Holland-esque numbers.
Zolnierczyk’s real value lies in his experience, his two-way game, and what he brings to the table off the ice and in the locker room. He’s played 426 games of AHL hockey to date. This is the second consecutive season in which Zolnierczyk has settled for a minor league deal.
LoVerde should bring a stabilizing presence to Hartford’s blue line. In addition to winning Calder Cups with the Ontario Reign and the Toronto Marlies, LoVerde has twice been an AHL All-Star. He was the captain of the Kings’ AHL affiliate for three years before joining the Toronto Marlies for the last two seasons where he was an alternate captain.
OFFICIAL: Hartford has signed a trio of quality vets to #AHL Deals— Ricky Milliner (@Milliner06) July 1, 2019
•Vincent LoVerde (D) - he was on my list of players to get. Impressive resume.
•Harry Zolnierczyk (F) - Consistent point producer
•Tom McCollum (G) - Veteran G. That means Huska should be in Maine#NYR #HWP pic.twitter.com/ML28zuqwun
It’s safe to assume that Wolf Pack general manager Chris Drury fell in love with LoVerde’s leadership qualities. In addition to being a mentor for Hartford’s young defenders, LoVerde can also eat up minutes in the top-four playing on the right side. With that being said, he’s a dramatically different player than John Gilmour; LoVerde had just 11 points in 68 games last season and didn’t see any real time on the Marlies’ power play.
LoVerde is here to show the kids the ropes, kill penalties, and shape the character and culture of the Wolf Pack’s locker room.
McCollum, 29, was the 30th overall pick of the 2008 Draft. McCollum never developed into the franchise goaltender that the Detroit Red Wings were hoping for when they drafted him, but he’s had a solid career in the AHL. He’s also a class act.
The Amherst, New York native won the Calder Cup with the Grand Rapids Griffins in 2013. Like LoVerde, he will provide a guiding hand to the Wolf Pack’s youngsters. A player like McCollum could be a boon to Igor Shesterkin if he spends a lot of time in the minors this year.
Last season, the veteran netminder was the backup for the Milwaukee Admirals behind Troy Grosenick. In that role McCollum finished 36th in save percentage (.899) among all goaltenders who appeared in at least 20 games in 2018-19. It’s worth mentioning that Dustin Tokarksi’s .901 Sv% finished 35th among that same group. Essentially, McCollum is replacing Tokarski, who the Rangers signed to a one-year deal last year.