The 2016-2017 NAHL season kicked into full gear this past weekend with the four-day NAHL Showcase in Blaine, Minnesota, where all 24 of the league’s teams—including the expansion franchises Northeast Generals and Shreveport Mudbugs—played four league games.
It’s the perfect opportunity to get a feeling for where each team is at. And after spending as much time as realistically possible watching these teams at the Showcase, here’s how I think they stack up.
Below is my projected order of finish for each of the league’s four divisions, and a few thoughts on the contenders in each division.
- Minot Minotauros
- Brookings Blizzard
- Bismarck Bobcats
- Austin Bruins
- Minnesota Wilderness
- Aberdeen Wings
Minot was the unofficial winner of this year’s Showcase as the only team to go a perfect 4-0 on the weekend. They’re not the most exciting team in terms of prospects, but they’re loaded with veteran junior players that know to win. They’re going to be a tough team.
Brookings is almost the exact opposite, as one of the youngest teams in the league. What they lack in experience, they make up for with speed and skill. 72% of their scoring came from ‘98s or ‘99s on the weekend. It will be interesting to see if the young kids can hold up over the season in a very tough division.
Defending division champ Bismarck is the other serious contender. Like Minot, they’re a team that tends to be a little older. They have a lot to replace off last year’s team, but they’re a well-coached group that finds a way to win games.
- Aston Rebels
- Johnstown Tomahawks
- Wilkes-Barre Scranton Knights
- New Jersey Titans
- Northeast Generals
Defending division champ Aston is a really tough team to play against. They’re extremely physical and play with a lot of edge that sometimes goes a little bit too far. They make take a few extra penalties, but over the long run, they really wear teams down.
They’re currently tied with Johnstown in the standings and those two should battle for the league lead all year. Johnstown doesn’t quite have the depth that Aston does, but Johnstown has the better top line.
At the bottom of the standings, the Northeast Generals are winless and have the worst goal differential, but a considerable amount already. That’s not unusual. Most expansion teams really struggle in their first year in the NAHL. They’ve got some pieces, and were competitive in their games, but it’s going to take time to build up a full roster of quality NAHL players.
- Fairbanks Ice Dogs
- Minnesota Magicians
- Janesville Jets
- Coulee Region Chill
- Springfield Jr. Blues
- Kenai River Brown Bears
Fairbanks has a lot to replace from last year’s Robertson Cup championship team and at this point, their offense isn’t quite as explosive as it was last season—it’s impossible to have a Todd Burgess-type player every year. But their track record certainly suggests they’ll figure it out. They play a wide open skilled game and are always really strong on the power play.
The Magicians were probably one of the strongest teams at 5-on-5 at the Showcase, dominating possession numbers in their games. But a penchant for undisciplined penalties and some shaky goaltending kept the opposition in games, and they ended up losing a pair of games in overtime. If they can upgrade in goal, they’ll be a really good team.
Janesville is the other contender in this division. The Jets are always extremely strong defensively and solid in goal. They’ve been scoring at a good clip so far this year too. They’re a good, well-rounded team with no huge holes.
- Lone Star Brahmas
- Topeka RoadRunners
- Amarillo Bulls
- Wichita Falls Wildcats
- Corpus Christi Ice Rays
- Odessa Jackalopes
- Shreveport Mudbugs
Lone Star lost an overtime game to Minot, which ultimately gave the Minotauros the Showcase title, but the Brahmas currently have the best goal differential in the league. They’re an extremely balanced team that can threaten every shift.
I really liked Topeka’s top line, which seemed dangerous every shift. Over the course of a long season, I think Lone Star is a notch better, but Topeka should be able to keep up with them.
The Amarillo Bulls aren’t a very deep team, but forward Kosta Likourezos is a difference-maker. He’s had a hand in 12 of his team’s 19 goals this year, and if he keeps that production up, he could carry the Bulls to a respectable season.