The Chicago Wolves received two major additions to their team this week in Noel Gunler and Vasiliy Ponomaryov (Ponomarev). Both players were selected by the Carolina Hurricanes in the second round of the 2020 NHL Draft and both players have bright futures with the organization. Wednesday’s game marked the AHL debuts for both players and an impressive beginning to their professional careers. Chicago is poised to make a deep run in the AHL playoffs after clinching a first round bye with their win on Wednesday. Adding players like Gunler and Ponomaryov will keep Chicago’s lineup ahead of the opposition in terms of depth. While it’s only one game, there are some things I’d like to talk about with regards to both players’ starts with the team. Both players had strong debut performances and I have some notes on what I liked about each player.
Gunler had a bit of a slow start, which is understandable given the fact that this is his North American debut. The AHL is much quicker than the SHL and there is less time to make decisions, so there’s usually a bit of a learning curve for players coming from that level. Gunler had a few scoring chances in the first period, mostly from playing around the net and receiving passes from his teammates. In the second period, Gunler was ready to play and made an immediate impact. His play along the boards and individual skill were able to shine, as Gunler was able to be the catalyst of offense on his line as opposed to relying on his teammates to create offense for him. Gunler had a number of good rushes up the ice in that period and make some great passes to keep the Wolves’ attack going.
Gunler’s biggest assets at the AHL level have to be his individual skill and strength on the puck. Few players at this level have as good of a shot as he does, and fewer players can manipulate defenses like Gunler can. Add his strength on the puck to the mix and you’re looking at a player that has the ability to make defenses look silly. He still needs some time to adjust to the AHL level, but Gunler’s debut was largely a success.
Ponomaryov’s debut started off with a missed coverage that led to Texas scoring 14 seconds into the game, but after that, it was nothing but good things. His next shift, he starts the rush up the ice and makes a nice play in front of the net to earn a primary assist for his first AHL point.
Ponomaryov was put on the perfect line for his style of play. His line with Jamieson Rees and David Gust was incredible in the offensive zone and made things difficult for Texas any time they were on the ice. Ponomaryov and Drury are similar players, in my eyes. Both have the ability to get to the middle and grind along the boards, and both players have enough skill to make a difference offensively. They’re Rod Brind’Amour players and fans should be very excited about Ponomaryov. I liked how his line was able to cycle the puck in the offensive zone and create some extended zone time. Ponomaryov’s time in the QMJHL made his transition to the AHL easier since he already had a feel for the North American game. This was a strong debut and I believe that he’ll be a player to watch in the pipeline moving forward.
Other Player Notes
Jesper Sellgren has been fantastic as of late, both in the offensive zone and in the defensive zone. He’s growing more and more confident with the puck with each passing game, and the offensive results are coming. His assist on Noesen’s eventual game winning goal was a thing of beauty. He walked the line with confidence and fired a shot right into Noesen’s wheelhouse for a deflection.
Griffin Mendel was recently signed to an ATO by the Wolves after finishing his NCAA career with Quinnipiac. He looked great defensively and was willing to jump in on the rush on multiple occasions. For a player that was labeled as more of a defensive defenseman, I thought that Mendel was effective in the offensive zone and a sneaky good add for the Wolves. This was his second AHL game and you wouldn’t have guessed as much if you watched him play.
Spencer Smallman consistently impresses me whenever I watch the Wolves play. I’m not sure if he has NHL upside, but he’s a great AHL presence and a natural leader when he’s on the ice. I feel like he and Panik were able to help Gunler adjust to the AHL in Wednesday’s game. Smallman isn’t elite in any particular aspect of his game, but he’s good all around and doesn’t have any weaknesses in his game. I could see him captaining an AHL team in the very near future.
I’d like to see more from Ryan Suzuki in the offensive zone. Defensively, I’ve liked what I’ve seen from him. Offensively, not so much. He’ll make a few strong passes but will fold under pressure and turn the puck over. Suzuki has been hurt a lot this season, which certainly hasn’t helped his development, but I’m waiting to see the dynamic player I saw in juniors. I still believe, but he’ll need a lot of time to develop.
Lastly, what more can I say about Pyotr Kochetkov? He was great again today and didn’t let the early goal shake his confidence. Kochetkov has allowed a goal on the first shot of the game three times now and has won all three starts, so maybe it works for him. He wasn’t tested often in this game, but he did make an excellent save after exploding across the crease to rob a Texas player on an odd man rush. The future is incredibly bright for the Hurricanes and it only seems to get brighter with each passing day.