After a successful 2008-09 season which saw the Houston Aeros play deep into the playoffs, the club will have many new faces in their roster this season. The most dramatic change is at the forward position where the team’s top five scoring forwards have moved on. As was the case last season, the Aeros are deep on the blue line and much of the back end is unchanged. The team is also deep between the pipes with a dog fight for the two available AHL roster spots.
Houston will have new-look group of forwards this season. Gone are Corey Locke, Jesse Schultz, Krys Kolanos, and Marco Rosa. They are replaced by a new wave of Wild prospects ready to impress as well as several key free-agent signings.
The biggest addition to the Aeros this season will be Colton Gillies. After spending the full 2008-09 season with the Wild and playing in 45 games, Gillies finds his way to Houston despite having a strong training camp. This move marks a change in philosophy by the new Wild regime. Gillies will see tons of ice time and will certainly get a chance to skate on the team’s top line.
Potentially another solid addition to the Aeros is Petr Kalus. Kalus actually quit the Aeros last season after being cut from the Minnesota training camp. If he comes to Houston in the right frame of mind and ready to work then the Aeros will benefit immensely.
To help replace the team’s losses to free agency, the Aeros will welcome several AHL veterans to the club. Former Vancouver Canuck Nathan Smith was brought in after playing last season with Lake Erie. After a strong tryout with the Wild, former Islander Andy Hilbert inked a one-year deal with the club and was assigned to Houston. Hilbert spent the last five seasons in the NHL. His experience can only help some of the younger forwards on the team. He is also a very good two-way forward who should be able to chip in offensively.
The remaining forward spots will more than likely be filled by Matt Kassian, Danny Irmen, Robbie Earl, Craig Weller, Job DiSalvatore, and Morten Madsen. Players such as Duncan Milroy, Simon Ferguson, and Dylan Hunter will also be battling for roster spots as training camp comes to an end.
Despite several departures, most notably Tomas Mojzis, who now plays with Modo of the SEL, Houston will benefit from having largely the same group of players on defense as they did last season.
After failing to crack the Wild roster in training camp, Clayton Stoner and Brandon Rogers will again patrol the blue line for Houston. Justin Falk will be expected to shoulder more responsibility than in the 19 games he played with the club last season. The Aeros can expect sophomore rear-guard Maxim Noreau to increase his offensive output this season. Noreau will be counted on to help run one of Houston’s power-play units.
One of the more interesting additions to the Houston blue line is Jamie Fraser. Fraser, who played in the New York Islanders organization last season, is a well-rounded defenseman who has the ability to put up respectable numbers at the AHL level. He is also a good locker room presence and can be relied upon for leadership.
Houston will have an eye on what is happening in Minnesota early in the season with regards to their blue line. After strong camps, both Jamie Sifers and John Scott are on Wild’s roster to start the season. Depending on how things pan out in Minnesota, one could potentially find his way to Houston.
Also in the mix for Houston are ECHL stand-out Ryan Gunderson, University of Denver alumni J.P. Testwuide and free-agent signing Ryan Lannon.
The Aeros once again have a solid corps of goaltenders. Returning from last season’s deep playoff run are Barry Brust and Anton Khudobin. The team also brought veteran keeper Wade Dubielewicz back to North America from the KHL where he played for Ak Bars Kazan. Dubielewicz replaces Nolan Schaefer who signed with CSKA Moscow of the KHL during the off-season.
GM Chuck Fletcher has stated that Houston will not run with a three-headed monster in net this season. One of these goaltenders will be cut and will have to work his way back from the ECHL.
Prospects Training Camp Summary
Beyond the players sent down to the AHL by Minnesota, the Wild also had a handful of promising junior-aged prospects at this year’s training camp.
The most notable of these prospects was defenseman Tyler Cuma. The 2008 first-round pick spent most of last season rehabbing a serious knee injury that kept him out of action for all but 21 of the Ottawa 67’s games. Despite a strong showing and consistent improvement as the training camp went on, Cuma was returned to the Ottawa 67’s late in camp. In Ottawa, Cuma will join a strong 67’s squad.
Also returned to junior was fellow blueliner Marco Scandella. Scandella showed well at training camp but will continue his development with Val-d’Or of the QMJHL, who having been struggling so far this season. He will once again captain the team and log a ton of ice time.
Other prospects that attended the training camp included goaltenders Darcy Kuemper and Matt Hackett as well as forward Kristopher Foucault. All three were returned to their respective junior teams early in camp.