Photo by Hickling Images
Team: Youngstown Phantoms
Head Coach: Brad Patterson, 2nd season
"We are excited about the mix of players we have here in Youngstown. All the players reported in great shape and were prepared to battle. Training camp has been very competitive and we look forward to getting the season started in October."
2016-17 Record: 34-20-5-1 (74 PTS, 4th in Eastern Conference)
Top Returners: Max Ellis, Eric Esposito, Jake Gingell, Chase Gresock, Curtis Hall, Nicolas Werbik
Notable Additions: Michael Joyaux, Trevor Kuntar, Wouter Peeters
The Phantoms took the eventual Clark Cup champion Chicago Steel to a decisive game five in the Eastern Conference Semifinals last season, and they will be looking to build on that and take the next step as a team heading into the 2017-18 season. General Manager Jason Koehler made some exciting moves in the offseason to bolster the team’s roster, and head coach Brad Patterson brings back a lot of talent from last year’s team, a squad that Phantoms fans hope can make a deep run in the Clark Cup Playoffs.
Nicolas Werbik, Youngstown’s leading scorer last season, will be back for his second USHL season. The Czech forward put an impressive 39 points (18G, 21A) in 54 games last year and is poised for an even better offensive campaign in 2017-18. Curtis Hall, the 2016 tender who put up 21 points (7G, 14A) in 59 games as a 16-year-old, is a top prospect for the 2018 NHL Draft and will try to have another solid season in his draft year. Eric Esposito and Max Ellis are also back and fresh off 16-point seasons last year, and they are among the many players on the Phantoms roster with USHL experience, including Dalton Hunter and Jagger Joshua, who are both ready for their first full USHL seasons after being called up for a few games with the Phantoms last year. The Phantoms also signed Trevor Kuntar to a tender, and the former Buffalo Jr. Sabres forward will look to make an immediate impact up front.
The biggest question for Youngstown is who is going to step up and replace Ivan Kulbakov, who signed an AHL contract with the Cleveland Monsters, the Columbus Blue Jackets affiliate, in the offseason. The Phantoms will look to replace Kulbakov with another NHL prospect in Wouter Peeters, a 2016 Chicago Blackhawks draft pick, Britt League, who played six games with Youngstown last season and posted a 2.11 GAA and .919 SV%, and Ivan Prosvetov, who put up a 2.52 GAA and .928 SV% with the Minnesota Magicians (NAHL) last year.
Headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, the USHL celebrates its 16th season as the nation's only Tier I junior hockey league in 2017-18. 30 or more players from the USHL have been selected in five consecutive NHL Drafts, and more than 400 players on team rosters last season committed to NCAA Division I schools, further establishing the USHL as the world’s foremost producer of junior hockey talent.