Las Vegas offers tourists a make-believe look at some of the world’s most exotic places. But unfortunately for the city’s minor league hockey team, nothing compares to the real thing.
For the second straight year, the Wranglers have lost several key players, including their two scoring leaders, to Europe.
Forwards Derek Edwardson (69 points) and Steve Crampton (62) signed contracts to play in Germany next season, and forwards Chris Neiszner (France) and Joe Tallari (Italy) and defenseman Ryan Bonni (Denmark) also have decided to skate overseas. Defenseman Scott Schoneck isn’t expected to return, either, and might not play hockey at all.
“In losing those guys, we really kind of lose part of that core we had two years ago,” said Wranglers coach Glen Gulutzan, who guided his last two teams to a combined 99-25-20 record in the regular season. “We’re trying to replace a lot of key players, so it’s definitely going to be a little bit of a rebuilding year for us.”
Las Vegas lost four of its top six scorers to Europe last year, including scoring leaders Matt Dzieduszycki (78 points, Germany) and Dan Tudin (77, Italy), center Chris Stanley (46, Germany) and defensemen Christian Chartier (41, Norway).
“We’re taking a big (hit),” said Gulutzan, who was at the Calgary Flames Development Camp this week. “Hopefully, we can get a couple guys to fill their shoes.”
Four former Wranglers — forwards Aki Seitsonen, Adam Cracknell and Ryan Donally and defenseman Adam Pardy — are at Calgary’s camp, but Gulutzan expects them to start the year with Quad City of the American Hockey League.
The Wranglers open camp the first week of October and then start the regular season on the road against the Fresno Falcons on Oct. 19. The first regular-season home game at the Orleans Arena is Oct. 21 against the Stockton Thunder.
One player the Wranglers hope will help fill the scoring void is right wing Brandon Kaleniecki, who was acquired this week from the Gwinnett Gladiators for financial considerations.
The 25-year-old scored 11 points in 19 games for Gwinnett after tallying 100 points in four years at the University of Michigan.
Gulutzan said he expects several players to return from last year’s team, which tied a record with 18 straight victories before losing in the second round of the playoffs to eventual league champion Idaho. Among the expected returnees are defensemen Jason Josza, Aaron Power and Jason Krischuk and forwards Shawn Limpright and Arpad Mihaly.
Las Vegas also made qualifying offers to forwards Nick Anderson, Kelly Czuy, Tyler Mosienko, Sean O’Connor and Marco Peluso, goalie Mike McKenna and Schoneck.
The Wranglers also expect to receive at least four Calgary prospects, including a goaltender.
Crampton, who has played in the ECHL for five years and made it to the AHL for only 11 games, said it will be tough leaving Las Vegas but that Germany made him an offer he couldn’t pass up.
“It’s just been frustrating not having broken through that barrier,” he said. “I’m not sure how much longer I’ll be playing, so I thought I’d take a chance and go make some money for a few years before I finish.”
It’s difficult for the Wranglers, or any team in the ECHL, to compete for players with teams in Europe.
ECHL players earn from $450 to $1,000 per week and also receive housing accommodations. But in Europe they can make three times as much money, which is all tax-free, and they also receive a private car in addition to housing.
“We still have room to pay our veteran players quite well, but we certainly can’t compete with the big offers in Europe,” Gulutzan said. “That’s the way it is and the way it always has been. We are what we are, and that’s a developmental league.”
McKenna recently ran his first goaltending camp in his native St. Louis, in part to make extra money. He said he plans to return to the Wranglers, but only if he fails to earn a job in the AHL or NHL.
“I don’t want to give up on North America,” he said. “Especially because there are some goalies who played in the ECHL for three or four years before they got a break in the (AHL).
“Once you get to the (AHL) you never know what can happen. The next step is the NHL, and that’s everybody’s dream.”Las Vegas WranglersMore