Less than five months removed from the strangest season in franchise history, the Chicago Wolves are set to take the ice at Allstate Arena again. The Wolves open their season on October 16 against in-state rival Rockford. In what should be a great game in Rosemont, Illinois, the Wolves continue to look like a team on a mission this season.
The Wolves enter the season looking to win back-to-back Central Division titles. In the strange COVID-19-shortened season, the Wolves dominated the division en route to the title. Now, a new-look Wolves team will look to make the 2021 group proud.
In our first article of this series, we previewed the Wolves' forwards as of that date. There have been some additions since then, but keep an eye on Andrew Poturalski. The forward was a key contributor on the Charlotte Checkers team (current Wolves roster group) that defeated the Wolves in the 2019 Calder Cup Finals.
However, we're not here to focus on the forward group. Rather, its time to look into what the Wolves' defense will look like this season. Majority of the Wolves' defensive group from this prior season have either returned to Milwaukee or ventured overseas (we'll miss you David Warsofsky). Now, a new group of faces, with a few familiar ones, will take the ice regularly at Allstate Arena in 2021-22.
In this article, we'll take a look at some of the names on the blue line, as well as discuss some expectations for the group this season. Without further ado, let's dive in.
The Wolves really only have two players returning to the team that played in Chicago during the pandemic-shortened season. Cavan Fitzgerald and Joey Keane are lined up to be the staple names on the roster come October 16. Both played significant roles during the 2021 season.
Fitzgerald played in 30 of the team's 33 games during the spring. The Boston, MA native was a key part of the defensive corps for the Wolves, providing a stable, veteran presence for an overall young team. Fitzgerald wasn't an offensive powerhouse by any means (three goals, eight assists) but his strong two-way game made life for the young Wolves forwards easier.
In addition to Fitzgerald, the team will see Joey Keane return to the Wolves for his second season. Keane was acquired by the Hurricanes during the 2019-20 season and tallied seven points in his first nine games with Charlotte. Last season, Keane had 13 assists in 24 games, cementing himself as one of the Wolves' top defensemen. This season, Keane should see plenty of top four minutes with Chicago as he grows into a potential role with Carolina.
In addition to Fitzgerald and Keane, Maxime Lajoie returns to the Wolves for the 2021-22 campaign. Lajoie stepped up last season and was a pleasant surprise for the Wolves, tallying 21 points (six goals, 15 assists) in 27 games. In addition to a strong offensive season, Lajoie also provided plenty of physicality for the Wolves on the blue line. Lajoie rarely fears contact and is always involved in the physical aspect of the game. He will play a large role with the Wolves this season.
In addition to the three returners from last season, the Wolves also received defenseman Eric Gelinas from the Hurricanes. Gelinas played two and a half seasons for the New Jersey Devils, as well as a season and a half with the Colorado Avalanche. The former second-round pick has not played in the NHL since 2016-17.
After spending the 2017-18 season with the Laval Rocket in the AHL, Gelinas spent a few seasons over in Europe. He spent three seasons in the KHL with Slovan Bratislava in Slovakia. In June of this year, Gelinas returned to North America by signing with the Hurricanes.
The 30-year-old defenseman will serve as an experienced veteran with the Wolves while also possessing the ability to play big minutes. If Gelinas hopes to return to the NHL, a hot start to the 2021-22 campaign in Chicago will help him achieve that goal.
Artyom Serikov was signed by the Wolves during the offseason. The 20-year-old defenseman tallied five points (three goals, two assists) in 41 games in the KHL last season. Now, he'll look to cement himself as not only a AHL quality player, but potentially an NHL quality player if the season goes well.
In 2021, Beck Warm found his stride with the Wolves and earned himself a NHL contract prior to the end of the pandemic-shortened season. There is no guaranteeing that happens for Serikov, but a brilliant first season in the AHL will certainly help his fortunes.
The Wolves will add others to the group this season, whether via the Hurricanes or AHL contracts, in order to fill out the defensive group. That said, the Wolves have a strong group on the blue line, headlined by Fitzgerald, Keane, Lajoie, and Gelinas. If the blue line can once again be a strength under head coach Ryan Warsofsky again, then the Wolves will not only win a lot of games, but make a deep playoff run as well.