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As free agency looms, Wolves need to pursue veteran players

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Take a look at four players who could provide depth and veteran experience for the Chicago Wolves next season.

AHL: JUN 01 Calder Cup Final - Chicago Wolves at Charlotte Checkers

At the introductory press conference for the new partnership between the Carolina Hurricanes and Chicago Wolves, both organizations spoke about the need to bring in experienced veteran players to provide stability for the team, as well as to serve as role models and mentors for young prospects. With free agency looming, both organizations will be hard at work as they look for players to meet needs for the NHL team and to fill out the roster for the AHL squad.

While the Wolves will also certainly find themselves looking towards undrafted free agents from the NCAA and players who have aged out of the CHL, they should still look towards signing some veteran players for those empty roster spots.

Who could possibly be suiting up for the Wolves next season? We’ve got some possible names to consider.

Curtis McKenzie

McKenzie, a 29-year old forward, is no stranger to the Wolves. While he is now an unrestricted free agent, he spent the past two years with the Wolves under contract with the Vegas Golden Knights. McKenzie last played in the NHL in the 2017-18 season in two brief stints for the Dallas Stars, and since then has carved out a role in the AHL.

He’s a strong two-way player who played in all situations for the Wolves during his time there. Somewhat of a wrecking ball on skates, McKenzie is a player you can count on when you need an ugly goal or two. He’s worn an A for the past two seasons in Chicago and was constantly cited by both former head coach Rocky Thompson and by the younger players on the team as someone to look up to. McKenzie’s 42 points were second on the team last year, and his 17 goals were good for the most on the team.

Tye McGinn

McGinn has also spent parts of the past two seasons with the Wolves after arriving in a trade from the Manitoba Moose. He quickly emerged as a leader on the team, particularly with a strong performance in the 2018-19 playoffs. McGinn collected 17 goals and 30 points in 61 games in the 2019-20 season; he shared the team lead in goals with two other players, including McKenzie.

Also like McKenzie, McGinn saw ice time in all situations, is a reliable scorer, not to mention that his size — listed at 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds — makes him an imposing physical presence on the ice. Having spent the past few seasons on an AHL-only deal, McGinn would be a player whose contract could continue to be picked up by the Wolves, freeing the Hurricanes up from having to invest cash or a contract spot on him (bonus points for being the brother of Hurricanes forward Brock McGinn.

Dave Gust

Gust is one of several players who spent the 2019-20 season with the Checkers on an AHL contract. Would the free agent consider moving along with the rest of the now-former Checkers to the Wolves? He grew up in Orland Park, a little over 30 miles south of Rosemont, and played youth hockey in the area until he went on to the USHL. Gust put up 31 points in 60 games, good for seventh on the Checkers, and could be a good role player for the Wolves, particularly since he would already be more than familiar with his teammates and the coaching staff.

Michael Mersch

Every team loves a good “local guy comes home” story, and you don’t get much more local than Mersch. His hometown of Park Ridge, Illinois is just a few miles away from Rosemont, where the Wolves play. In normal times, Mersch is a fixture on the Chicago summer hockey scene, returning here to train and play in the three-on-three league that has been an off-season home for many local pros and NCAA players.

Mersch has been playing professionally since the 2013-14 season, when he made his debut with the Manchester Monarchs, then the AHL team for the Los Angeles Kings. He played 17 games for the Kings but never caught on at the NHL level, instead spending his time with the Monarchs, Ontario Reign, and most recently the Texas Stars. Mersch’s lack of speed is what hampered him at the NHL level, but he’s been fine in the AHL in a power forward-type role and could be willing to come home on a reasonable deal.