Nearly 11 months after the American Hockey League cancelled the 2020 season, hockey in the Old Pueblo can finally resume. The Tucson Roadrunners are set to begin their 2021 campaign today, as they faceoff against the San Jose Barracuda.
Playing a shortened season of about 40 games, the Roadrunners are set to play them divided up between six divisional opponents: Texas Stars, San Diego Gulls, Ontario Reign, Henderson Silver Knights, Colorado Eagles, and San Jose Barracuda.
Tucson will not be facing the Stockton Heat (temporarily relocated to Calgary, AB) or Bakersfield Condors this season.
So with this shortened season, what is to be expected from this Tucson squad in the AHL?
Before the NHL season began, the Arizona Coyotes called up Roadrunners coach Jay Varady to assist the team behind the bench in Glendale. So with the head coach promoted, Tucson elected to promote assistant coach Steve Potvin to be the club’s fourth head coach in franchise history.
Potvin, who spent the previous three seasons under Varady and Mike Van Ryn, will still share the same split duties alongside colleague John Slaney. Potvin will continue to focus on developing the forwards and powerplay, while Slaney will be doing the same with defense and the penalty kill.
In addition to the new bench leader, Tucson has announced their leadership group (the captains) for the 2021 season. Jeremy Gregoire, Michael Bunting, Dysin Mayo, Lane Pederson, and Jordan Schmaltz will all be the on-ice leaders for Tucson. The specifics of the leadership breakdown isn’t made clear, but those six players will likely be donning either a “C” or “A” patch during this season.
Players to Watch:
Victor Söderström: After another year with his junior club in the SHL, the 2019 first round draft pick will be spending some time in Tucson this year. Let’s not expect him to stay in Tucson for too long, but if you’re lucky you’ll get a glimpse of him before he becomes a regular NHLer.
“He’s a defender that’s got an amazing knack for finding the next play,” Roadrunners head coach Steve Potvin said during his introductory press conference a couple weeks ago. “He’s so deceptive and is a lot of fun to watch.
“He’s definitely a guy that can create offense and he’s a guy that’s pushing in the right direction to make himself a relevant NHL hockey player.”
Jen Jenik: When asked of Potvin about players we should be watching out for, he did not hesitate to mention Jenik’s name either. Jenik, drafted in the third round in 2018, joins Tucson, having spent his Major Junior career in Hamilton (OHL).
In his last season with the Hamilton Bulldogs, Jenik recored 56 points in 27 games played. So it’s easy to see why he’s been getting a lot of attention.
“He’s a good look in center for us,” Povtin said. “He plays a dirty way, goes to the net hard. He’s not afraid to put in some tough minutes and inside the blue paint.”
Ivan Prosvetov: With Adin Hill set as the third goaltender with the Coyotes, Prosvetov is the man between the pipes for the season. Tucson will field three goaltenders this year (Chris Nell, Connor LaCouvee) but it’s very likely Prosvetov will be getting the nod for the bulk of the 40 game season.
Last year Prosvetov proved himself pretty well, holding a .909 save percentage and 2.88 goals-against-average in his 27 games played in Tucson. Expect to see him build off a solid season this year.
Expectations of the Season:
The Pacific Division this year is set to be more difficult than before. Prospects in other teams’ pools are getting more talented, and that’s probably an understatement.
The San Diego Gulls will be headed by rookie Trevor Zegras, who made a name for himself this year during the IIHF World Junior Championship. Likewise, Quinten Byfield and Alex Turcotte are set to lead another division rival, Ontario Reign, in creating a significant challenge for Tucson this year.
In short, high level prospects are scattered all throughout the Pacific Division this year. I’m personally really curious to see how it all plays out.
With some of the veteran leaders returning (Pederson, Bunting, etc.), I can still see Tucson being a highly competitive team this year, add in Jenik and Söderström, and we can be in for some fun this year. Even with a mostly young team this year, I expect Tucson to compete among the best in the AHL’s pacific division this year.
I probably won’t be able to say much past that, since we will not be able to get proper looks at anyone in the AHL’s other divisions (AHLTV aside).
SEASON PREDICTION: Roadrunners finish 2nd in Pacific Division.
Follow @RobLeano1 all season long for the latest news and updates on the Tucson Roadrunners.