As hockey seasons across the globe come to a close, now is a good time to check in with Michigan Tech alumni and take a look at how they played. We will go league by league, starting with former Huskies that played in the NHL this year.
Tanner Kero, Center – Chicago Blackhawks
The Hancock, Mich. native had by far the most successful season of any MTU alum, playing in 47 games with the Blackhawks. For much of the late part of the season, Kero centered the second line with wingers Artemi Panerin and Patrick Kane. This incredible opportunity to play with world-class talent paid off: Kero posted 16 points and was a plus-15 on the season.
He became a much-discussed topic in Chicago as an unknown name centering one of hockey’s biggest-producing lines. While he played over two dozen games in Rockford with their AHL affiliate, look for the cap-strapped Blackhawks to have no choice but to have Kero as their third or fourth line center in 2017-2018. Not that that is a bad thing: his progress has been impressive and has the talent to stick in the NHL.
Jujhar Khaira, Center – Edmonton Oilers
Khaira had his first cup of coffee in the NHL this season, playing ten games for the Oilers. He picked up one goal, his only point in that stint, but it made waves. He is just one of three Indo-Canadian NHLers, and his appearance on the scoresheet was celebrated accordingly.
In the AHL with Bakersfield, he found quite a bit of success, putting up 8 goals and 20 points in 27 games. Expect Khaira to begin next season in the minors again, but with a hot start or a few injuries up the middle for Edmonton, he could be one of the first callups.
Blake Pietila, Left Wing – New Jersey Devils
Pietila spent 10 games with the Devils this season across two separate trips, but struggled in his time in New Jersey with only one assist and no goals. Still, the Devils expect big things out of Pietila and were impressed with his ability to create opportunities even though goals have evaded him at the NHL level. That was not a problem for Pietila, however, in the AHL with Albany. In 49 games, he scored 17 times and had 33 points. Considering he has double-digit goals in both seasons at the pro level, and three of four season at Michigan Tech, there is plenty of reason to believe he can soon do the same in the NHL.
Pheonix Copley, Goaltender – St Louis Blues / Washington Capitals
Copley appeared in just one game for the Blues this season, allowing five goals on 29 shots before being sent back down to the AHL. Copley was quite successful for the Blues’ AHL team in Chicago, posting a .920 SV% in 25 games. Then, on the last day in February, Copley was traded back to the team that drafted him when Washington acquired him along with Kevin Shattenkirk. The Capitals wanted a third goaltender who could fill in for Philipp Grubauer and Braden Holtby in case of emergency. Copley continued to perform well with the Hershey Bears, with an even better .933 SV% in 15 games there. Copley is currently the starting goaltender in Hershey as they begin their second round series in the AHL Calder Cup Playoffs.
This Washington Post article wonders if Philipp Grubauer might be a target of the Vegas Golden Knights in this summer’s expansion draft. If that happens, you could see Copley as the backup in Washington next fall.
AHL and ECHL
Chris Conner, Right Wing – Lehigh Valley Phantoms (AHL)
One of the most successful former Huskies this season, Conner was third on the Phantoms in scoring with 56 points, including 22 goals. The 33-year-old journeyman has posted over 50 points in the AHL for the third year in a row, the last two with the Flyers affiliate. Although he has never been able to establish himself in the NHL, he could always end up the benefactor of a rash of injuries in Philly. Still, Conner is a leader on a much-improved Lehigh Valley team that made it back to the playoffs and finished with the second most points in the league. After a first-round exit in the Calder Cup Playoffs, extended a little longer because of Conner’s efforts in game 3, Conner will be back in action in the Fall.
Chris Conner scores on a breakaway to force Game 4 and to keep the @LVPhantoms' #CalderCup dreams alive. #LVvsHER pic.twitter.com/Qu6GNaPwum
— American Hockey League (@TheAHL) April 27, 2017
CJ Eick, Forward – Utah Grizzlies (ECHL)
In his first full season as a pro, CJ Eick put together a nice season for Utah (affiliate of the Anaheim Ducks). He found the net 10 times and added 11 assists, good for 13th on the team in scoring. His season ended in late April in the playoffs, but a successful rookie campaign means that he could sniff the AHL next year if things break right. Here’s to hoping that the Ducks organization “likes Eick!”
Alex Petan, Right Wing – Quad City Mallards (ECHL)
Alex Petan had a great season as a rookie for the Minnesota Wild’s ECHL team. He was eighth on the team in points, with 14 goals and 19 assists. His performance was noticed by the AHL; Petan was loaned to both the Iowa Wild and the Cleveland Monsters for a total of 19 games this season, and scored three times in those games. Expect to see Petan with the Iowa Wild for at least a portion of next season, and possibly more.
Jamie Phillips, Goaltender – Tulsa Oilers (ECHL) / Manitoba Moose (AHL)
After a great career at Michigan Tech, Phillips joined the Jets’ ECHL team and found immediate success. One of the best goaltenders at the ECHL level early on, he won his first 10 games as a professional and by mid-January had been called up to Manitoba shortly after starting in the ECHL All-Star Game. Although he was the backup goaltender there, he found his way into 11 games with the Moose and found modest success, posting a .906 SV%. His ECHL statline of 31 games, 2.63 GAA, and a .913 SV% show that he is more than capable of taking a more pronounced role in the AHL. While the Jets have a big stable of young goaltenders, including Manitoba starter Eric Comrie and NHLer Connor Hellebuyck, he could pressure them for a starting role or be utilized as trade bait for the Jets to a team with less depth. Next season will be worth following.
.@tulsa_oilers Jamie Phillips is the starting goaltender for the ECHL All-Star roster.
Exhibit A ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/Bgoz8AcZHB
— ECHL (@ECHL) January 6, 2017
Eric Kattelus, Left Wing – Kalamazoo Wings (ECHL)
Eric Kattelus had his second 30+ assist season in the last three years, proving his playmaking ability now five full seasons removed from Michigan Tech. The Tampa Bay Lightning farmhand has not seen the AHL since 2013, but has proven to be more than capable at the lower professional level.
Josh Robinson, Goaltender – Missouri Mavericks (ECHL)
Robinson took a step back this season in the ECHL after a stellar 2015-2016 season where he was named the ECHL goaltender of the year.. Coming off a year where he posted a .931 SV%, Robinson started 38 games and had a poor .897 SV%. The Mavericks were not especially good this year, missing the playoffs and only winning 33 of their 72 games. Robinson surrendered a large portion of his playing time to a pack of younger former NCAA goaltenders, including former Minnesota State netminder Stephon Williams. Considering that Robinson is only a year removed from being the league’s best goalie, expect him to at least be given the chance to win the starting job again next season.
Where this year’s Huskies are going
Angus Redmond – Signed a three-year entry level contract with the Anaheim Ducks, forgoing three years of NCAA eligibility. Anaheim has been known to have goaltending controversies recently, so Redmond could push the NHL ranks sooner than you might think.
Reid Sturos – Signed an amateur tryout agreement with the Texas Stars (AHL affiliate of Dallas) following the end of his career with MTU. Sturos appeared in nine games with Texas, scoring no goals but posting two assists. It remains to be seen if this ATO turns into a contract with the Stars, but expect him to be playing in professional ranks somewhere next year.
Matt Roy – Signed a two-year entry-level deal with the Los Angeles Kings, forgoing his final year of eligibility. He appeared in 8 games with their AHL team, the Ontario Reign, and tallied just one assist. Expect him to be in the AHL to begin the 2017-2018 season.
Chris Leibinger – Signed a minor-league deal with the Quad City Mallards (ECHL) following the end of his career with MTU. He played in five games with Quad City, picking up no points. Leibinger is likely to be with the Mallards again in the fall in his first season as a professional.
Shane Hanna – Signed a contract for the 2017-18 season with the Texas Stars (AHL affiliate of Dallas) following the end of his senior academic year with MTU. His professional career will begin next fall just outside of Austin, Texas.
Feature image of Tanner Kero courtesy of Todd Reicher