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Gulls Season Preview
By Thomas Harrington
The Gulls had a slow start to last season, but had climbed to fourth in the Pacific Division when the 2019-2020 season was put on pause and ultimately cancelled. This year, the Gulls will be looking for a better start to their season and a return to the playoffs.
San Diego had made the playoffs in three of the four years that they had been Anaheim’s affiliate, and had an excellent chance to make it four out of five before last season was cancelled. Just like in the NHL, this will be one of the, if not the, most unique AHL seasons ever. The Gulls will play a total of 44 games and will call Irvine their home when the season starts on February 5th.
There are two unique things that will potentially impact San Diego in a significant way this season. First, the NHL taxi squad, where players that would normally be expected on San Diego’s roster will be on the squad instead. Second, the addition of Canadian junior eligible players to San Diego’s roster. In a normal year, players in Canadian juniors are not allowed to play in the AHL. However, the OHL and WHL have yet to start their seasons this year, and both leagues have seen their start date pushed back multiple times because of the ongoing pandemic.
As a result, players in the OHL and WHL are being allowed to participate in the AHL to start the year, giving the Gulls access to recent first round picks Jamie Drysdale, Jacob Perreault, and Brayden Tracey. Assuming the WHL and OHL are able to get their seasons going this season, I do not expect all three to be in the AHL for the entire season, but it will hopefully help their development along in a season where prospect development has been severely impacted. The WHL is currently scheduled to start in late February, so it remains to be seen how much time Tracey gets with the Gulls.
Because of the taxi squad, Anaheim has to carry three goaltenders, two on their roster and one on the squad. As a result, last year’s starter Anthony Stolarz may spend most of the season on the taxi squad and not be available to the Gulls. I expect Stolarz to get some action with the Gulls, but I do think that Lukas Dostal will end up being the team’s starter. He’s become Anaheim’s top goaltending prospect over the last couple of years, and actually played 11 games in Liiga earlier this season, where he had a 10-1 record with a 1.64 goals against average and a .941 save percentage.
The Gulls also recently signed veteran Jeff Glass, and if Dostal falters, Glass will be there to step in. I think the two of them will probably get a majority of the starts. Other goaltenders who could also see time in net include Olle Eriksson Ek and Roman Durny, both played in the ECHL last year and have been playing for Tulsa in the ECHL, whose season recently began.
While Drysdale will be the exciting player to watch on San Diego’s blueline, since I expect him to head back to the OHL, I don’t think he’ll be the focus of the Gulls’ defense. The Gulls will have at least two regulars from last season return: Hunter Drew and Simon Benoit. I think both Josh Mahura and Brendan Guhle will see time in the NHL, but I also expect both to play a decent amount of games with the Gulls too.
Jani Hakanpaa has fit in nicely with the Ducks to start the season, but he’s another veteran who could see time with San Diego. Kodie Curran was brought over from the SHL during the long offseason, and is another player who could split time between Anaheim and San Diego. Andy Welinski was brought back over the summer and so far he’s been used sparingly with the Ducks and could see time in the AHL too.
There’s also the recently acquired Trevor Carrick who figures to see regular time on San Diego’s blueline. If six of Drew, Benoit, Mahura, Guhle, Hakanpaa, Carrick, Welinski, and Curran are in the lineup, the Gulls will have a very strong defense. Other defensemen who could see time on the ice include Keegan Lowe, Madison Bowey, Jeremy Roy, Nikolas Brouillard, and Keegan Kanzig. Kanzig played in six games with the Gulls last season.
Similar to Drysdale, I’m excited to see what forwards Tracey and Perreault do in San Diego, but I’m not expecting them to put up huge numbers before returning to junior hockey. The Gulls’ offense will be driven by Anaheim’s top prospect Trevor Zegras. At some point, I do believe he’ll make his NHL debut this season, but it looks like he’ll start the season in San Diego.
Veterans Chase De Leo, Sam Carrick, and Andrew Poturalski will join Zegras and are expected to be among the team’s offensive leaders. Alex Dostie has struggled with consistency but had a career year last season and hopes to build off of it. Antoine Morand will return for his second pro season and look to get more involved in the offensive zone. Benoit-Olivier Groulx, Bryce Kindopp, Maxim Golod, and Jack Badini will join Zegras as players in their first pro season.
Isac Lundestrom has been playing pro in North America for a couple of years now and he’ll hopefully have a big season with the Gulls, when he’s not with Anaheim that is. Veterans Andrew Agozzino, David Backes, and Vinni Lettieri will probably split time between Anaheim and San Diego. Hopefully, none of Sam Steel, Max Comtois, Mas Jones, or Troy Terry play any games in San Diego and spend the entire year in Anaheim. However, if any of them do, expect them to put up some big numbers with the Gulls.
The Gulls had a terrible start to last season, losing every game in October and not picking up their first win until their seventh game. By the time the season was cancelled, they had done a good job of turning their season around and were in playoff contention. With a shortened season, the Gulls cannot afford another slow start. They need to come out of the gate playing great hockey if they want to return to the Calder Cup Playoffs. The Gulls season starts on Friday and hopefully it’ll be a great one!
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February 1st, 2021