Last year, the Hershey Bears were swept by the eventual Calder Cup-winning Charlotte Checkers in the second round of the Calder Cup Playoffs. The Bears had a shaky start to the season, which ended up turning around as the team finished third overall in the Atlantic Division. Despite the loss of some good players, the Bears seem to be getting stronger and look towards a successful 2019-20 AHL season. One thing that makes the Bears stand out is the many offseason moves that were made by the team. With the addition of some strong veterans and aid for the blue line, the holes left by departing players were quickly filled. The Washington Capitals have also managed to re-sign key players for the Bears like goaltender Vitek Vanecek, defenseman Colby Williams, and forward Mike Sgarbossa, all of whom played a key role in the team’s success last year. The impact of the veteran additions will certainly give a great system of support and guidance for the many prospects that should end up on the roster either this year or the next.
The current players will continue to have a strong impact on the ice. One player who will be looking to have a breakout season is forward Shane Gersich, who had a strong showing in this summer’s Capitals’ development camp and has already played a season with the Bears. Gersich recently stated that he is ready to change his game, really break out, and become a strong scorer. Forward Liam O’Brien has become a household name around Hershey. O’Brien is certainly a strong contender for the captaincy and it shows with his consistent play and aggressive style of play. Goaltender Ilya Samsonov is another player who has been in the Capitals’ system for a few years now and, similar to Gersich, is ready to go. Samsonov has been the number one goaltender in Hershey but looks to continue to play, improve, and prepare for an NHL debut. With the key players for the Bears roaring to get going, it seems that the team is going to have a ton of momentum going into opening night.
The current prospect pool of young talent is something that could really take the other two aspects of the team and just push everyone to a new level. With players like forward Garrett Pilon, defenseman Alexander Alexyev, and forward Brett Leason, the young talent could be something that pushes this team. Jonsson-Fjallby is ready to give the North American system another try after only playing 16 games in Hershey last year before going back to Sweden. Alexeyev is healing from a knee injury and seems to be ready to move on the next level. As for the other many prospects, who knows where they may go? But should they get onto the Bears roster and adapt to the level of play? They could play an integral role.
Another aspect that needs to be looked at is the current Capitals’ salary cap issue. With the signings of defenseman Christian Djoos and forward Chandler Stephenson this past week, the Capitals will have some roster moves to make after training camp. This will either result in some players departing from the organization or being sent down to Hershey. This could mean that players like Djoos, Stephenson, defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler, center Travis Boyd, or even some others are at risk of being sent down. If one of them does get sent down, the presence of another experienced NHL player could help the team even further.
With the many off-season moves made by the Bears, it seems they could pose as a real threat to the AHL this year. If the team can find consistency and stay healthy, they should be a top-two team in the Atlantic Division this year. We will learn some more about who ends up where after this year’s training camp in the coming months.
By Zac Herr