Maverick off-season notebook No. 1

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Jordan McAlpine
SPORTS EDITOR

Joey Abate signed a deal with the AHL’s Providence Bruins Friday afternoon. Abate becomes the 12th member of the Omaha roster who will not return next season. Photo courtesy of Omaha Athletics.

It’s been three weeks since the Mavericks saw their season come to an end in Kalamazoo, Michigan. But in some ways, it’s felt like three months. In what has already been and will continue to be a busy off-season, the Omaha coaching staff has shifted their focus toward the 2022-23 season.

Here’s a look at what’s ahead in the first of multiple off-season notebooks.

Roster turnover

There’s no denying next year’s Omaha roster is going to have a much different look. So far 12 players will not be back next season.

Kevin Conley, Nate Knoepke, Brannon McManus and Martin Sundberg were all fifth-year players and can’t return. Knoepke (Rochester, AHL) and McManus (Abbotsford, AHL) have both signed professional deals. Conley is still looking for one as well.

Juniors Joey Abate (Providence, AHL), Isaiah Saville (Vegas) and Brandon Scanlin (New York Rangers), and senior Taylor Ward (Los Angeles) also inked pro contracts. Jake Harrison will not return (more to come), and Chayse Primeau, Austin Roden and Jason Smallidge have entered the transfer portal.

Between adding from the portal and Omaha’s incoming freshmen class, which tentatively includes Michael Abgrall (F), Ray Fust (F), Cam Mitchell (F), Jacob Guevin (D), Simon Latkoczy (G), Joaquim Lemay (D), Griffin Ludtke (D), Tyler Rollwagen (F) and others, it’s inevitable that Mike Gabinet’s squad will have to rely on that fresh blood.

Who’s in net?

It’s one of the biggest questions heading into next season — who will the Mavericks have between the pipes? Saville, who started 30 of Omaha’s 38 games this season, signed a three-year entry-level deal with the Vegas Golden Knights on March 18.

Roden, also a junior, entered the transfer portal on March 16 and announced he will join Providence eight days later. Of the Mavericks’ roster movement so far, Roden’s decision to leave may be the most surprising. However, it makes sense from Roden’s standpoint.

Roden posted a 5-3-0 record this season with a .918 save percentage and 2.53 goals-against average. But if you take out his play against St. Cloud State, Roden was 0-3 with a 3.60 GAA and .876 save percentage in NCHC play. In his career, Roden was 6-7-0 in the NCHC with a .913 save percentage. However, three of those six wins were against the Huskies.

From his standpoint, shifting to Hockey East should bode well for Roden. The British Columbia native ends up in a good situation too and he should see more playing time. Especially considering Providence goaltender Jaxson Stauber signed a deal with the Chicago Blackhawks.

Roden’s departure leaves Jacob Zab as the only goaltender on the Omaha roster, who is yet to play at the college level. The Mavericks will add highly-touted freshman Simon Latkoczy next fall, but who knows how he’ll adjust to the NCHC and the college game.

Latkoczy currently has a .883 save percentage and a 3.46 goals-against in the USHL this season, but those numbers are a little misleading considering the team he’s had in front of him at times.

So who will join them? Kyle McClellan, who has three years of eligibility left, was a very intriguing option and it’s believed there was mutual interest at first. However, McClellan announced Friday afternoon he is going to Wisconsin.

A former Lancer, McClellan was 12-13-2 this season with a 2.56 GAA and a .932 save percentage at Mercyhurst. His save percentage was the seventh-best in the country. With McClellan joining the Badgers, you’d have to assume either Jared Moe or one-time Omaha commit Cameron Rowe will enter the transfer portal. Rowe is the more likely of the two, but that’s yet to be determined.

With McClellan and T.J. Semptimphelter (Arizona State) now off the board, Gustavs Grigals is the top goaltender option currently in the portal, but he’ll likely join UMass Lowell.

Jake Mucitelli (Clarkson) might be the next best option available, but he’s played in just 11 games at the NCAA level. Several Omaha fans have asked about the possibility of getting former Colorado College goaltender Dominic Basse too, which is not happening.

With few goaltending options currently left in the portal, it would not be surprising if the Mavericks opt to wait and see who else enters the portal in the coming weeks.

Omaha is not alone though, as the NCHC goaltending scene will look drastically different next season. Colorado College (Basse), Minnesota Duluth (Ryan Fanti), North Dakota (Zach Driscoll), St. Cloud State (David Hrenak) and Western Michigan (Brandon Bussi) have already lost goalies.

Denver’s Magnus Chrona could sign with San Jose once the Pioneers’ season comes to a close as well, potentially leaving seven of the eight NCHC schools with a new look in the crease. North Dakota has already added Drew DeRidder from Michigan State, but the NCHC goaltending carousel will be an interesting storyline to follow in the coming weeks.

Filling needs in the portal

At this point it’s like throwing darts at a dartboard. This will be addressed more in the coming weeks, but with over 170 players currently in the transfer portal, there are options. But centers and top-six forwards don’t grow on trees, which is what Omaha desperately needs to find.

Last season, the Mavericks’ big addition out of the portal was Brannon McManus from Minnesota. McManus put up 32 points in 34 games for Omaha and his right-shot filled a need in the lineup. McManus never went two games without a point and had a seven-game point streak at the end of the year.

But at the same time — and it sounds crazy considering he had almost a point per game — there were times this season where you expected more out of him. The point being, there are no guarantees what type of production you’re going to get from someone out of the portal.

After losing five of their top seven scorers, their entire top power-play unit and a ton of experience, it’s going to be hard to replace that production no matter who the Omaha staff brings in. Omaha will likely need at least two forwards out of the portal.

Ture Linden (RPI), Cam Burke (Notre Dame) and Chase Gresock (Miami) are a few intriguing options. Burke is especially intriguing as he’d help the Mavericks fill their void at center.

Extra eligibility

One factor for fans to keep in mind… Although players were given an extra year of eligibility because of COVID-19, teams will still be limited to 18 scholarships next season. When it comes time to put a roster together, that only further complicates it.

Coaches also face the dilemma of potentially blocking out someone’s development for one more year of a fifth-year player.

In Omaha’s situation, Primeau, Smallidge, Tychonick, Ward and Weiss were all technically eligible to return next season. Ward signed, Primeau and Smallidge have since entered the portal and Tychonick and Weiss, both NHL draft picks, are still up in the air.

Primeau leaving shouldn’t come as a surprise, as most thought he would sign a pro contract. But when nothing materialized, Primeau decided to enter the transfer portal. He has already received interest from several schools around the country.

Smallidge played in just eight games this season and will undergo another surgery this May for his wrist injury. Even when he was back healthy this season, Smallidge already struggled to get in the lineup, so him moving on also isn’t a surprise.

As for Tychonick and Weiss, those are the two most interesting cases on the current Omaha roster. A 2018 second-round pick of the Ottawa Senators, the Senators have until Aug. 15 to sign Tychonick. But it’s very unlikely the organization will do so.

Especially with the injuries and illness he’s dealt with during his time in Omaha, another year with the Mavericks may benefit Tychonick, and it sounds like he will take advantage of that extra year. Although it’s not 100% certain yet, Tychonick will likely return next season.

As for Weiss, the door is also open for a return. Early last month, multiple sources indicated it was likely the Avalanche were going to sign their 2018 fourth-round pick, but Weiss still remains unsigned. Although a deal still could happen, there are some concerns about his development.

Weiss had a career-high 25 assists and 33 points this season. But if he does end up returning, another year at the college level may benefit him in the long run.

Abate turns pro

And for the newest off-season development, Joey Abate will not return for the Mavericks next season. The junior forward contemplated either entering the transfer portal or turning pro, but Abate signed a deal with the AHL’s Providence Bruins Friday afternoon.

Abate played in 88 games over the last three years and 32 this season. However, he had a limited role for most of the second half and was in and out of the lineup down the stretch. Abate was a healthy scratch for both games in the playoff series at Western Michigan, which likely was the final nail in the coffin.

This move shouldn’t come as a surprise to Maverick fans. From Abate’s standpoint, it allows him a chance to find more playing time and his style of play translates better to the professional game.

Abate would’ve likely been in the same role next season had he returned to Omaha. He has a career stat line of 12-20-32, but his time in Omaha has largely been defined by his penalty minutes. Abate finished his collegiate career with 143 penalty minutes. But at the same time, it’s that aggressive style and physicality that had teams interested in him throughout the second half. 

From the keyboard

I’ll be talking to Coach Gabinet, who is currently in Vancouver recruiting, later this week for another notebook. If you have any questions or topics you’d like covered in next week’s notebook, feel free to tweet them or DM them to me on Twitter @jordan_mcalpine and I’ll try to incorporate them if I’m not already doing so.

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