Youth served in 2016-17

As Steelheads Head Coach Neil Graham and Assistant Coach Everett Sheen make their plans to build a roster for next season, they’ll explore both veteran players from around the professional leagues and young first-year pros coming out of the college and junior ranks.  You can bet the coaching staff will be trying to replicate their efforts from last summer, when they brought in several youngsters who paid huge dividends.

The Steelheads dressed seven rookies during the regular season that played in 20 games or more, and five who played in more than 40 games. A couple of those men were leading producers.

One of the most noteworthy was a player the Steelheads did not recruit themselves, but certainly helped to develop. Goaltender Landon Bow began the season on an AHL contract with the Texas Stars and went on to be one of the top goaltenders in the ECHL, going 19-6-2 in his first professional season on the way to All-Rookie Team honors, just the sixth Steelhead to ever be named to the All-Rookie Team. Bow led the league in goals-against average (2.08), finished second in save percentage (.933), and earned three 1-0 shutout wins.

Bow’s goals-against average and save percentage were both the second-best marks by a Steelheads goaltender in an ECHL season.

Up front, Will Merchant’s growth into an offensive force was impressive to watch. Out of the gate, Merchant established his scoring game on the man-advantage, grabbing the league-lead at the time with five power play goals in the first 14 games. Merchant would ultimately finish the season with 12 power play goals, fifth in the ECHL and second among rookies, but his even-strength game took off skating alongside Rob Linsmayer and Jefferson Dahl.

Merchant finished the season with 21 goals and 48 points, tied for the eighth-most goals by a Steelheads rookie and the ninth-most points in a season. Merchant also posted three assists in four games during an injury-shortened playoff run.

Joe Faust earned accolades for one of the best offensive seasons ever by a Steelheads defenseman, but he wasn’t the only blue-liner to exceed his scoring resume. Travis Walsh joined the Steelheads after scoring three goals in four seasons at Michigan State combined. In his first full professional season, Walsh netted seven goals from the back end, long with 27 points to rank second among Idaho defensemen behind Faust. Walsh was Idaho’s lone representative at the ECHL All-Star Classic.

Part of becoming a professional isn’t just learning the game at a new level, but also learning things about yourself. David Glen and Brandon Anselmini might have learned about their own versatility in Year One.

David Glen, the former captain at Penn State University and among the all-time leading scorers for the Nittany Lions’ Division I program, made his presence felt in his rookie season with five goals and 17 points in 51 games. Those points totals would undoubtedly have been higher had he not moved from forward back to defense midway through his season to help an injury-riddled roster. While Glen was initially moved to defense based on necessity, he stayed there for nearly the entirety of his season because of just how effective he was. Glen became a top-four option on the blue line for Graham and led the Steelheads with a plus-14 rating during the regular season.

Anselmini’s switch went the opposite direction, though for a briefer period. Spending nearly the entire season at his natural position on defense, Anselmini posted five goals and 17 points. In the season’s closing weeks and also in two playoff games, Graham decided he needed more from his forecheck and employed the strong-skating Anselmini as a forward. Anselmini earned two assists and a plus-2 rating in a short stint up front.

Of the Steelheads’ 234 goals in the regular season, 46 came from rookies. The Steelheads got reliable minutes out of their new blood, including their youngest rookie in 21-year old Connor Chatham, and they hope that some of those players will return for another go-around at CenturyLink Arena. With hundreds of young players looking to catch their professional break this October, the Steelheads hope to have the same luck recruiting once again.