On June 8th, the Wheeling Nailers announced the hiring of two-time Calder Cup Champion Mark French as the newest head coach. We have all began to feel the buzz around social media after the lackluster coaching performances we have seen. Jeff Christian brought in talent, but when it came down to the final stretch of games, the Nailers would lose momentum, and then of course, there were the rumours of his off-ice antics.
Then we had Mike Bavis who was a great coach, but in my opinion, did not understand the ECHL style of play. When the Nailers played physical, they would win and when they didn’t, their shot totals would be abysmal. For example, the Nailers beat the Cincinnati Cyclones 5-3 on February 14th and then a week later, lost 3-0 after being outshot 30-11.
On June 19th, former fan favourite Derek Army was announced as the Nailers new assistant coach. Army comes to Wheeling after being the assistant coach with the Worcester Railers for one and a half seasons. I believe he has the power to recruit more players who may not see Wheeling as a great destination. With these coaching selections, I believe the Nailers have the potential to bring in a lot of ECHL talent, so let us take a look at some players that could come to the Wheel for the 2020-21 season.
The Nailers have lacked a true veteran presence these past two seasons. Danny Fick, Josh Holmstrom and Winston Day Chief were the only Nailers with veteran status. Here are some guys the Nailers could go after who have played under Mark French or Derek Army.
Nathan Perkovich – Perkovich played under French in the KHL during the 2013-14 season. He made the jump to the ECHL in the 2018-19 season when he joined the Florida Everblades where he had 22 goals and 12 assists in 59 games. Last season, he played for the Greenville Swamp Rabbits where he had 19 goals and 27 assists. Those numbers would have put him as the Nailer’s leading scorer.
Stefan Fournier – Fournier is another player who would have finished as the Nailers leading scorer. He played for the Nailers during their affiliation with the Montreal Canadiens and has a very rugged play style, but has hit his groove in Wichita. He could be a very good leader for the young guys in the organization. He finished with 24 goals and 18 assists for 42 points. He Alsop added on four fighting majors.
Steve Oleksy – Olesky is a former Stanley Cup Champion who signed with Toledo last season before going overseas, but has ties to Wheeling as he played under Mark French (Hershey 12-13) and with Derek Army (Wilkes-Barre/ Scranton 15-16). I know a lot of people don’t care for Plus/Minus as a stat, but Olesky has a positive +/- in his career and would be a SOLID pickup for a veteran spot to teach Penguins’ prospects.
Kevin Schulze – If you are a Nailers fan, then you definitely remember Kevin Schulze, the playmaker. With the status of DEL up in the air due to COVID-19, you might see Schulze make a return to the ECHL where he put up 21 goals and 70 points for 91 assists. He managed to do all that through a whopping total of 118 games. This would be a good signing because Schulze would add a more offensive dimension to the Nailers who lacked that offensive defensemen player this season.
Expired AHL Contracts/Missing Qualifying Offers
AHL contracts are pure speculation because similar to the ECHL, not all signings are announced immediately and just because a player did not get a qualifying offer does not mean they did not sign with that team.
Alex Breton – The ECHL Defenseman of the Year can sign with any team he wants if he does not get an AHL contract and would be a huge addition to the Nailers. Similar to Schulze, Breton is a playmaker who could complement Jeremy Beaudry (if he re-signs) and the rest of the defence.
Cedric Lacroix – I think I speak for all Nailer fans when I say we miss Lacroix’s physicality and ability to score. Last season, his ECHL playing rights were traded to Greenville due to Lacroix signing with Charlotte. Unfortunately for Lacroix, he was traded to Bridgeport and then injured, so his AHL contract status is up in the air.
Patrick McGrath – Similar to Lacroix, McGrath would bring physicality which was the Nailer’s key to victory. McGrath is more of a fighter, but cycle him and Brad Drobot in the lineup and the Nailers will have someone opposing teams will fear on the ice almost every night. He was left off Indy’s qualifying offer list and played for the Nailers in 2015-16.
Evan Wardley – Wardley was part of the 2015-16 roster before getting injured with a broken leg and returned to the ECHL this season with Idaho. Based on his statistics, it appears Wardley is more of a defensive defensemen which the Nailers could use with Beaudry and Chad Duchesne if they decide to re-sign with the Nailers.
Qualifying Offers And More
The Wheeling Nailers extended qualifying offers to Cam Brown, Chad Duchesne, Kyle McKenzie, Jeremy Beaudry, Steve Johnson and Josh Holmstrom. This means that every player must play in the ECHL with the Nailers unless they are traded or head overseas with the exception of Josh Holmstrom who became an unrestricted free agent on August 1st. This of course being the case unless he happens to re-sign with the Nailers.
Just because your favorite Nailer may not be on this list does not mean they have not signed with them. I know Brad Drobot has been rumored to make his return and I have also heard Craig Skudalski and Jordan Ruby also signed contracts to return to the Wheel. Derek Army has been helping French with the recruitment process and told DJ some players have reached out with interest to sign with the Nailers. I believe this team has the potential to create the same buzz as the 2015-16 team. Let’s Go Nailers!