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Gulls Season In Review
By Thomas Harrington
After making the playoffs for two straight years, the San Diego Gulls failed to make the playoffs this past season. They came about as close as they could have; just one more point would have secured San Diego their third straight trip to the Calder Cup Playoffs. Unfortunately, the team stumbled down the stretch. Still, there was some good this past season, and a number of players stood out, some of who could be vying for significant time in Anaheim next season.
This was a transition year for the Gulls, as their best defensemen from seasons past made the full-time jump to the NHL. As a result, the team was more reliant on its offense to win games, and its top six had a very good season. Kalle Kossila led the team in goals, assists, and points, and was arguably the team’s best skater all season. Corey Tropp has become the heart and soul of the Gulls over the last couple of seasons and was second on the team in points. He’s a free agent this summer, but if he’s brought back, he’d be an excellent choice for captain of the team. Kevin Roy missed over 20 games this season, primarily because of time spent in Anaheim. If he’d been in San Diego the entire season, there’s little doubt that he would have scored 20 goals. He was San Diego’s most skilled forward this past season. Sam Carrick provided a solid veteran presence and timely scoring, finishing third on the team in points. Overall, San Diego’s rookie class was largely a disappointment this year, but one rookie did stand out: Giovanni Fiore. His 18 goals were second on the team and a new rookie team record, beating a mark shared by Roy and Nick Ritchie.
While the Gulls’ defense wasn’t as strong as seasons past, there was one defenseman who really stood out this season: Andy Welinski. Welinski led the defense in goals, assists, and points, and was a major force on the powerplay with his lethal point shot. His play earned him several games in Anaheim, both during the regular season and playoffs. He was also San Diego’s lone representative at the 2018 AHL All-Star Game.
San Diego’s powerplay was the top unit in the AHL this past season, scoring 62 goals on 283 opportunities. Tropp led the team with 11 powerplay goals, while Welinski and Kossila both had seven, and Eric Fehr had six. 16 different players scored at least one powerplay goal for the Gulls this season.
Finally, the goalies had a strong season as well. Reto Berra went 16-12-2 with three shutouts and Kevin Boyle went 19-13-2 with one shutout. Both had a 2.66 goals against average, while Berra had a .922 save percentage and Boyle had a .921 save percentage. While no goalie is ever perfect, and both had their fair share of poor outings, Berra and Boyle kept the Gulls in almost every game they played in.
Outside of Fiore, the rookie crop of San Diego forwards did not generate a ton of offense this year. Mitch Hults was second, with 10 goals and 24 points. However, Julius Nattinen, Deven Sideroff, and Alex Dostie all struggled in their first professional season, as they combined for just 11 goals and 30 points. For Nattinen and Sideroff especially, those were incredibly disappointing numbers.
Also, while the team had a strong top six, there wasn’t a ton of scoring from the third and fourth lines this season. To make matters worse, their offense from the entire lineup dried up over the final weeks of the season and was one of the primary reasons why the Gulls missed the playoffs.
Injuries played a major factor in San Diego’s struggles this season. Anaheim’s myriad of injury issues this season has been well documented, and players from the Gulls were called upon to fill in. Besides injuries in Anaheim, San Diego had to deal with their own injuries throughout the season. In fact, just as in Anaheim, no player appeared in every game for the Gulls this season. Carrick came the closest, appearing in 67 games.
Finally, the turnovers. For whatever reason, the Gulls had a bad habit of turning the puck over and having it lead to a good chance or goal against. To make it even worse, this happened at crucial times throughout the season. Whether it was late in a period, just after the Gulls scored, or at the start of the game, the Gulls were often their own worst enemy, giving the other team great chances and goals where there should have been none.
Of course, some players don’t fit into the good and bad category. They had up and down seasons and were at times inconsistent. Unfortunately, this fits a decent amount of San Diego’s defense, including Marcus Pettersson and Jacob Larsson. While Pettersson has been great with the Ducks, he had a poor start to the season with the Gulls. He got better as the season went on, but it took awhile for him to be comfortable in San Diego. Once he was, he was called up to the Ducks and the Gulls never really got to see him at his best. Larsson had to deal with injuries both before and during the season. He also had some struggles to adjust to the North American game, but he got better as the season went on.
It was another difficult season for Nicolas Kerdiles. Despite putting up 15 goals and 34 points, he still missed almost 20 games, most of that to injury. When healthy, he’s one of the better San Diego forwards, but he’s missed so much time over the last few seasons. He’s a restricted free agent this summer, and it will be interesting to see what the Ducks decide to do with him.
Fehr was one of the main catalysts for the Gulls’ second-half turnaround. When he was loaned to San Diego, he made a big impact and had 17 goals and 28 points in just 34 points. Unfortunately, he was traded by Toronto to San Jose in late February, meaning the Gulls lost one of their best centers. When he was with the team, he was arguably their MVP, but he just wasn’t with them enough. If the Ducks had made the deal for him instead of the Sharks, the Gulls likely make the playoffs.
Joseph Blandisi was acquired as part of the Sami Vatanen–Adam Henrique deal and played well for the Gulls. But he almost missed time with injury and finished the season with 15 points in 27 games with the Gulls.
The Gulls could look very different next season. Sam Steel, Max Jones, Troy Terry, Josh Mahura, and Jack Kopacka will all be eligible to play in the AHL next season. If the Ducks decide to sign Tyler Soy, he’ll also be in San Diego. While some of those players will see some time with the Ducks, some of them, if not most or all, will spend most of the season with the Gulls. With so many players potentially joining the team, there could be a big shakeup on San Diego’s roster. Pettersson has certainly shown that he deserves a spot in Anaheim, and both Larsson and Welinski will want to be up with him. But it’s the forward core that could see the most change. Given how much this year’s rookie class struggled, Bob Murray could decide to make a few moves. There are also a number of high profile restricted free agents, most notably Kerdiles, Kossila, and Roy, as well as Tropp being an unrestricted free agent. Just as major changes could happen in Anaheim this summer, they are also likely to happen in San Diego as well.
Despite the disappointing end, it was still an exciting season for the Gulls. A number of players made a big step forward in their development and could find their way to the NHL on a consistent basis in the near future. With all of the speed, skill, and youth on their to way to San Diego next season, it should be another fun year for the Gulls.
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April 22nd, 2018