Saturday night the Worcester Railers open up their third ECHL campaign looking to get back to the playoffs after missing them last season. The plan to do that is one of those things that is far easier to write about than it is to do:
Score more goals.
Over the last two seasons, the Railers anemic offense has scored just 390 total goals, which is second lowest in the ECHL over that period. To make matters worse, seven of those goals are the ones a team is awarded in the statistics for winning a shootout, so the offense wasn’t even as good as that bad number shows. Now add the loss of last season’s leading scorer Tyler Barnes, along with top-six point-getters Nick Sorkin, Matty Gaudreau, and Josh Holmstrom and Worcester faces an uphill battle just to get their offense back to the low level it reached last season.
In looking to create more offense Railers General Manager and Head Coach Jamie Russell has decided to change tactics a bit and signed some bigger bodies. Bridgeport Sound Tigers GM Chris Lamoriello has followed suit in his signings for Worcester. Neither sacrificed speed in signing players.
The signings of Jordan Samuels-Thomas and former first-round draft pick Henrik Samuelsson, along with returning forwards Bo Brauer, Ross Olsson, and Matt Schmalz seem to play right into the “power forward” style the Railers look to be wanting to use this season.
All-time franchise points leader and now captain and player/assistant coach Barry Almeida, and returning offensive threat Ryan Hitchcock, will hopefully gel with former Manchester winger Nic Pierog, who had a thirty-two goal rookie campaign last season with the now-defunct Monarchs.
Veteran Kyle Thomas should be a good addition when teamed with rookies like Drew Calin, J.D. Dudek, and Cody Payne.
As it has been the last two seasons, the Railers defense should be as strong as ever with Mike Cornell and Conner Doherty anchoring the blueline. Fan-favorite goaltender Mitch Gillam has found a new home in Wichita, but netminder Evan Buitenhuis will be returning. He’s currently joined by rookie Jakub Skarek between the pipes, although Railers fans will likely see Linus Soderstrom at some point this season too.
The only drawback with the blueliners is, at least to start the season, there isn’t a natural puck-moving defenseman in the group. Ivan Chukarov has some good offensive skills, but he’s not the prototype puck-mover that most teams have. With the glut of defensemen on Bridgeport’s roster it’s a good bet we’ll see at least one of Ryan MacKinnon or Davis Quenneville back on the Railers, which will fix the puck-moving issue.
Worcester plays in the ECHL North Division, and no matter how you measure it that’s the toughest division in the league. But despite not scoring many goals the Railers made the playoffs in their inaugural season and were in the playoff hunt until late in the 2018-19 campaign, and just a few more goals scored last season and Worcester would have likely made the ECHL’s playoffs.
For this season, the quest for more goals and the playoffs begins at 7pm tonight.