In what has to be a disappointment for the New York Rangers organization, the Hartford Wolf Pack finished in seventh place in the Atlantic Division and missed out on the playoffs. They finished one point behind the Bridgeport Islanders who were the last team to sneak into the postseason.
The Wolf Pack finished with a record of 32-32-8 for a .500 points percentage. The team suffered a horrible second half after holding a position as one of the top teams in the American Hockey League for weeks. In late February they were sitting pretty with a 25-15-6 record, but won only seven of their last 26 games to finish out of the playoffs.
Scoring was a big problem. They scored only 19 goals in 10 games in April with five of those goals coming in an 8-5 loss to Syracuse. 14 goals in nine games is just not going to do it.
The Wolf Pack have to get some credit as they won their last two games against Bridgeport and Wilkes-Barre, scoring nine goals in the two games, but it was too little too late.
Anthony Greco led the team in scoring with 20 goals and 59 points in 66 games though Jonny Brodzinski led the team in points per game at 1.08 before he was called up to the Rangers.
On defense, the leading scorer was Zac Jones with nine goals and 26 assists in 52 games. Nils Lundkvist finished with three goals and 15 points in 34 games after being sent down.
Other top scorers included Ty Ronning with 18 goals and Austin Rueschhoff with 14 goals. Finnish rookie Lauri Pajuniemi notched 13 goals and 26 points in 51 games after coming over from the Finnish Liiga.
Other prospects worth noting were defenseman Matthew Robertson who finished with one goal and 11 points in 65 games and blueliner Hunter Skinner who scored four goals and 13 points in 49 games.
In goal, work was split between Keith Kinkaid and Adam Huska and they had very similar numbers. Kinkaid finished with a 20-14-2 record and a 2.94 goals against average (GAA) and .904 save percentage (Sv%). Huska was 10-13-5 with a 2.80 GAA and .902 Sv%.
A good finish
The Wolf Pack went into their final three games with a chance to overtake Bridgeport for the last playoff spot, but their hopes were dashed on Friday when the Islanders beat Springfield while the Wolf Pack lost to Charlotte.
Hartford went on to win their last two games, but they were meaningless in the standings. They finished on a high note with a 6-3 win over the Wilkes-Barre Penguins behind two goals by Lauri Pajuniemi and the first professional goal for late season free agent signee Bobby Trivigno.
Look for some major changes in the Wolf Park roster next season. The Rangers have to decide if they want to re-sign pending RFA’s Tim Gettinger, Austin Reuschhoff, Justin Richards, Ty Ronning and goalie Tyler Wall.
Late season acquisitions Nick Merkley and Maxim Letunov are headed to unrestricted free agency as Group 6 UFA’s along with Adam Huska. The three have not played enough NHL games by the age of 25. Unrestricted free agents are Anthony Greco and Keith Kinkaid.
Late this season forward Bobby Trivigno and defenseman Brandon Scanlin were signed to Entry Level Contracts so we will see them next season in Hartford. Additional fowards under contract destined for Hartford include Jonny Brodzinski and Patrick Khodorenko. Defensemen who could make a return as they are under contract include Zac Jones, Nils Lundkvist, Hunter Skinner, Matthew Robertson and Jarred Tinordi.
Junior players under contract include forwards Will Cuylle and Matt Rempe as well as goalie Dyland Garand and they could be Hartford bound.
Lauri Pajuniemi had a solid first season in North America and should return and we may see 2019 second rounder Karl Henriksson who has been playing in the Swedish Hockey League.
Decisions have to be made about three players who must be signed by June 1 or they become free agents. Goalie Olof Lindbom was a second round pick in 2018 and has not graduated to the top league in Sweden. Defenseman Jacob Ragnarsson will probably not be offered a contract. Center Evan Vierling was a fifth round pick in 2020 and had a solid season with Barrie of the OHL so the Rangers may offer him a deal. Of the three, Vierling has the best chance of getting a deal and making his pro debut with Hartford next fall.
Why it matters
The American Hockey League is a development league for the NHL. The goal is to give young players the foundation so that they can make the leap to the NHL. Winning isn’t everything, but getting valuable playoff experience is important and with the Wolf Pack missing out, some young Rangers like Jones, Lundkvist, Robertson and Pajuniemi are losing a chance to get playoff experience.
The Achilles heel of this Wolf Pack team was offense and was a reflection on the lack of NHL/AHL forward depth in the organization. While the well has not run dry, it is certainly not overflowing.
Next season should be better if we see Will Cuylle and Matt Rempe make the leap from juniors and a full season from Trivigno. Unfortunately, Brennan Othmann doesn’t turn 20 until January so he cannot play in the AHL and must return to the OHL where he has nothing left to prove. Then again, he is a longshot to make the NHL roster at age 19.
It’s no coincidence that the decline in play for the Wolf Pack came after Jonny Brodzinski, Morgan Barron, Greg McKegg and Braden Schneider were promoted. There’s no doubt that if they had been able to play the entire season in Hartford, the Wolf Pack would be preparing for the playoffs, just like the parent organization.
For now, the Rangers and the Wolf Pack will have to look at this season as a lost opportunity.