The ECHL looks a lot different than it did last season with affiliation switches. New teams such as Manchester, Norfolk, and Adirondack look to make waves. There is no longer a deep western conference of rosters.
Yet, players remain in the 28 team league, and several teams return with strong collections of talent.
1. Allen Americans
The defending champions and the affiliate of the San Jose Sharks. The Sharks switched AHL affiliations, with Worcester moving to San Jose themselves, but the Americans remain. Chad Costello returns as one of the top players in the ECHL, making the Americans top contenders once again.
2. Toledo Walleye
After finishing with the most points in the league last season, the Walleye remain in top position to be favorites to reach the Kelly Cup. Andrew Prochno out of St Cloud State could be a sleeper addition to the team.
3. Idaho Steelheads
The Steelheads are prime to return to top form again this season after reupping their agreement to remain a Dallas Stars affiliate. Led by Wade McLeod, the Steelheads are favorites, along with Allen, to go to the Kelly Cup out of the western conference.
4. South Carolina Stingrays
Despite making the championship series, the Kelly Cup, the Stingrays drop a few spots. First, they lost the Boston Bruins joint affiliation and will rely just on the Washington Capitals. Second, they lost their star goaltender, Jeff Jakaitis, to Norway.
5. Florida Everblades
Part of Florida’s success next season will depend on if the Hurricanes decide to place goalie Daniel Alltschaler in the AHL with the Charlotte Checkers. The Everblades were better than South Carolina in the regular season last year, and they could leap past them again this season.
6. Fort Wayne Komets
One thing is for sure for the Komets, and that is they will have strong goaltending. The Colorado Avalanche have the deepest goalie depth in the league and that means Pat Nagle could be back between the pipes.
7. Manchester Monarchs
The Monarchs roster will be what the Ontario Reign were last season, The Los Angeles Kings swapped the franchises in the AHL and ECHL. It will be strange, since the AHL Monarchs won the Calder Cup, and now they return as just a slightly above average ECHL playoff contender.
8. Colorado Eagles
As an independent affiliate, the Eagles have seen loads of success. They are put into a very tough division with the new league set up where they will have to compete with the likes of Idaho, Utah, Alaska, and Rapid City, all playoff teams or close to it.
9. Reading Royals
The Royals are in an easier division than they faced last season. They had to compete with Florida, Orlando, and South Carolina. They have an easier path coming up, competing against the new Norfolk, Manchester, and Adirondack franchises.
10. Orlando Solar Bears
Orlando has a shot to become a top contender in the league this season if their off season moves work out. One of the best moves this off season for the Toronto Maple Leafs affiliate is the signing of Lindsay Sparks, who should add some veteran offensive prowess to the team. The future of goalie Antione Bibeau will make a big difference.
11. Utah Grizzlies
The Grizzlies, an affiliate of the Anaheim Ducks, face the same woes as the Eagles in their tough division. The Grizzlies barley qualified for the playoffs last season and they’ll need to improve to become Kelly Cup contenders.
12. Rapid City Rush
The Rush, previously unaffiliated, gain a boost with the Arizona Coyotes. These players come over from the Gwinnet Gladiators, who did struggle last season.
13. Kalamazoo Wings
The Wings, the affiliate of the Columbus Blue Jackets, also gained a new AHL affiliation this year with the addition of Lake Erie Monsters. Kalamazoo was a playoff team, but their 78 points were not anything to get too excited about when Toledo and Fort Wayne blew past them. They had less points than Greenville, who missed the playoffs.
14. Tulsa Oilers
The Oilers, led by Drew Fisher, are affiliated with the Winnipeg Jets, who are loaded with young talent. Tulsa had the misfortune of being placed in the same division as Allen, but they should still compete and be an improved team this season.
15. Wheeling Nailers
Wheeling, along with Kalamazoo, barely made the playoffs. The Pittsburgh Penguins affiliate will be in the same division as Toledo, who they likely will not overtake.
16. Quad City Mallards
Cody Fidgett was a terrific off season addition for the Minnesota Wild affiliate. The Mallards will be competing with the Komets for the top spot in their division.
17. Greenville Road Warriors
Greenville came so close to being a playoff contender in the very tough eastern division last season. They finished just two points behind the fourth place Orlando Solar Bears. This year, the New York Rangers affiliate once again will be in the division where all their competitors made the playoffs, except for Gwinnett.
18. Alaska Aces
The Aces, one of just a few unaffiliated teams remaining, are not used to making the playoffs. They’ve had a busy off season bettering their roster, with Steven Summerhays joining the team in net after missing last season with a shoulder injury.
19. Wichita Thunder
The unaffiliated Thunder are an interesting case. Danik Gauthier, their top scorer, returns for a Thunder team that was close to playoff contention last season. Other than Allen, every team in their division this season is a toss up, so a good season could see them in the Kelly Cup.
20. Indy Fuel
A Chicago Blackhawks affiliate, the Fuel faced the pressures of being an expansion team in the ECHL last season. Despite this, they finished with 73 points, not an awful season, just three points out of being a playoff team. It will be hard for them to compete in a division with the Mallards and Comets.
21. Cincinnati Cyclones
The Nashville Predators affiliate tied with the Fuel for 73 points last season in their division. This year the Cyclones move to the west where they are projected to finish around the same as the Fuel.
22. Elmira Jackals
Elmira struggled at times last season. The Buffalo Sabres affiliate has some talent, but it will be difficult for them to compete for the playoffs. They have a weaker division, which might help them.
23. Gwinnett Gladiators
The Gladiators should get a boost with their new Boston affiliation. Unfortunately, they were placed in the toughest division in the league going into this season.
24. Missouri Mavericks
The Mavericks, an Islanders affiliate, had a bad year. The Islanders have loaded up on young talent and might be able to give the Mavericks some depth this season.
25. Norfolk Admirals
Norfolk, formerly the Bakersfield Condors, switch off with the Edmonton Oilers affiliations. They might have a shot to compete somewhat, with a deep organization, in a weaker division.
26. Brampton Beast
The Beast gained an affiliation, and a strong one at that, with the Montreal Canadiens. Montreal switched up both their ECHL and AHL affiliations this off season.
27. Adirondack Flames
Adirondock, formerly the Stockton Thunder, becomes the new ECHL affiliate for the Calgary Flames. The Thunder had a dreadful 2014-2015 season.
28. Evansville Icemen
The Ottawa Senators affiliate saw just an absolutely awful year. The future does not look bright for the franchise on the ice going into this year.