Welcome to West Division Wednesdays, where we each week we will take a look at one of the Checkers' division rivals. The focus this week is on the San Antonio Rampage, affiliate of the Florida Panthers.
Bobby Butler had a breakout year in his first season with the Rampage, logging a career high in points, and combined with rookie Vincent Trocheck to carry the offensive load for San Antonio. Butler has a natural goal-scoring ability
, while Trocheck, a former OHL scoring champ
, is an under-sized point producer that isn’t afraid to play a physical game, and the two will lead a substantial forward corps for the Rampage. The team will feel the loss of Greg Rallo, a veteran presence that contributed offensively, to the division rival Texas Stars
, but possess a pool of young talent
led by the likes of Garrett Wilson and Drew Shore that should be able to aid their goal-scoring efforts. Veterans Jed Ortmeyer and Joey Crabb also add experience and help stabilize a group of forwards that isn’t afraid to put pucks on net, ranking second in the AHL in shots on goal per game, but struggled to capitalize, ranking 20th in goals for.
San Antonio found themselves near the bottom of the league last season when it came to goals against, illustrating the team’s most damaging weakness. NHL veteran Ryan Whitney anchored the defense this past year, but is an unrestricted free agent, so his future with the team is uncertain, which, along with the loss of Matt Gilroy to the KHL
, is a significant blow for them to take. But young defensemen Dylan Olsen, Alex Petrovic, and Colby Robak will look to take another step in their progression this year and produce for a Panthers organization that is stocked with highly touted defensive prospects
With Jacob Markstrom heading to Vancouver as part of the trade that brought Roberto Luongo back to Florida
, it seems as though Michael Houser, OHL Goaltender of the Year in 2011-12, will handle most of the load this season for San Antonio. Houser split his rookie season between the Rampage and their ECHL affiliate Cincinnati Cyclones, and has the ability to be a solid goalie at the AHL level. If his game picks up with him playing a full season and he earns the starting job, he could be the strongest piece on this San Antonio team. Sam Brittain, a 2010 fourth-round pick, is also expected to be in the mix
in net for the Rampage.
The Rampage have a good collection of young, talented players that will continue to grow in their progressions. If their prospects can make adequate leaps in their respective games, San Antonio could see an improvement from last season’s record.