A First Look At Projected Line Combinations For The 2023-24 Hershey Bears

Photo: Coachella Valley Firebirds

While the fans are still basking in the glory of the thrilling Calder Cup championship victory, the Hershey Bears organization has been busy reshaping their forward corps, as the new-look Bears begin to take shape for the 2023-24 season.

Playoff heroes Garrett Pilon, Mason Morelli, Henrik Borgstrom, Sam Anas and Shane Gersich have all since departed for other opportunities. On top of those losses, Aliaksei Protas, Beck Malenstyn and Connor McMichael could very well elevate to the Washington Capitals this fall.

Hershey vice president Bryan Helmer and Washington general manager Brian MacLellan have been busy restocking the organizational depth. With many players under contract, there are plenty of potential line combinations on the table for head coach Todd Nelson.


One unit that will probably stay the same from last season is Mike Sgarbossa flanked by Mike Vecchione and Ethen Frank. The trio was dominant at times for the Bears last season.

Sgarbossa topped the team’s scoring list in the regular season with 58 points, but missed the last three rounds of the playoffs with an injury. Vecchione was right behind Sgarbossa on the scoring list with 55 points and scored the Calder Cup winning goal in game seven at Coachella Valley. Frank was Hershey’s top goal scorer with 30, but struggled to find the back of the net in the playoffs. Still, he was a big goal scoring threat in the regular season.

Mike Vecchione – Mike Sgarbossa – Ethen Frank


After the top line, things become a little less clear. Hendrix Lapierre will be afforded the chance to take the second line center role. Whether or not he seizes that opportunity remains to be seen. Lapierre started out strongly last season, but was inconsistent the rest of the way. He will need to be more consistent in his effort to remain as the second pivot.

If Lapierre cannot grab the job, Alex Limoges could slot into the role. Limoges can also play left wing, but could be the second line center if Lapierre falters.

Matthew Phillips, assuming he does not force his way onto the Capitals roster, is basically a lock to be the right wing on the second threesome. Phillips ended last season as the second leading goal scorer in the American Hockey League (AHL) with 36 tallies. The winger also finished fifth in the league in scoring with 76 points. He is a bona fide scorer at the AHL level and has back-to-back 30 goal seasons on his resume.

The left wing will either be Limoges or Joe Snively. Limoges was the leading scorer for the Manitoba Moose last campaign, potting 20 goals and dishing out 34 assists for 54 points. Snively has a chance to open the season with Washington in the NHL after splitting the 2022-23 season between the Capitals and the Bears. The Herndon, Virginia native posted 27 points in 32 games with Hershey, but then led the chocolate and white in playoff scoring with 15 points.

Joe Snively/Alex Limoges – Hendrix Lapierre – Matthew Phillips


As for the third line, rookie Ryan Hofer could slide into the center role. A sixth-round pick in the 2022 NHL entry draft, Hofer amassed 68 points (40 goals, 28 assists) in the Western Hockey League (WHL) in a season split between the Everett Silvertips and Kamloops Blazers. He added 15 points in the postseason as Kamloops won two rounds before losing to eventual champions Seattle in the semifinals. Hofer is known as a shooter and is not afraid to use his body.

Pierrick Dube should fill the right wing spot on the third line. The Lyon, France native enjoyed a solid first season as a professional with the Laval Rocket this past season. Dube tallied 16 goals and added 16 assists in 44 games with the Rocket. Moving over to the left wing, one of Snively and Limoges line up on that spot if both are on the roster. However, Snively could make the Capitals roster, and would make the third line left winger less clear.

Matt Strome is back, but he is a more of a fourth liner. Julian Napravnik plays on the right side normally, but is a lefthanded shot. He could move over to the left wing if needed.

There are a pair of wild cards for the position. One is Alexander Suzdalev. The winger had a big rookie season with the Regina Pats, compiling 86 points to lead the WHL in rookie scoring. Suzdalev was somehow bypassed for the WHL’s rookie of the year award despite outscoring winner Ryder Ritchie by 31 points. He sees the ice well and is a creative player. However, he is of slight build and needs to get stronger. Suzdalev could return to Regina for another season or he could play in Hershey.

Washington has said that where Suzdalev plays next season will be determined in training camp. The other wild card is Ivan Miroshnichenko. The Capitals first round pick in 2022 has had to overcome some serious health issues after battling Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. After being cleared to return to hockey, he split the season between the KHL, VHL and MHL. Miroshnichenko did not put up big offensive numbers, but did play in a total of 55 games including the postseason coming off his battle with cancer. He will transition to North America this season. Miroshnichenko needs to build up his stamina and could begin the season in South Carolina. He needs ice time and a chance to develop and his best chance to do so may be in the ECHL. Still, he will be given an opportunity in training camp and could force his way into the Hershey lineup.

Joe Snively/Alex Limoges – Ryan Hofer – Pierrick Dube/Alexander Suzdalev


One of the reasons the Bears won the Calder Cup this past season was the strength of their fourth line. The unit was a physical force and came up with big goals in the playoffs. However, much of that line will not be back in Chocolate Town.

Shane Gersich signed in Sweden. Beck Malenstyn likely gets a well earned shot in the NHL. Mason Morelli, who played on the line in the playoffs, signed with the Vegas Golden Knights. The fourth line needs to be rebuilt.

Returning to anchor the unit is center Riley Sutter. The native of Calgary, Alberta was a revelation for the Bears last season. He developed into a strong fourth line player after struggling to get into the lineup during the first three seasons of his career. Sutter proved to be Hershey’s best faceoff taker and evolved into the team’s top penalty killer. Who joins Sutter on the unit?

Second year forward Henrik Rybinski is a clear candidate to take the right wing slot. Rybinski skated in 51 games for the Bears as a rookie. He netted five goals and had 13 assists. His biggest contributions came on the penalty kill. Sutter’s left wing is a bit more of a question mark.

Strome saw some time in that spot last season. He is a strong penalty killer and that can work in his favor as Hershey has several penalty killers to replace from last season. Veteran Garrett Roe was signed to an AHL contract and brings a physical element to the lineup. He could split time with Strome on the left wing. Napravnik could figure into the mix on both wings on the fourth line and Jimmy Huntington is another option after coming over from the Milwaukee Admirals.

Matt Strome/Garrett Roe – Riley Sutter – Julian Napravnik/Jim Huntington

As one can see, there are a lot of forward options for the Hershey Bears as the franchise looks to defend their Calder Cup title this coming season. The depth can come into play as injuries will undoubtedly arise for both the Capitals and Bears, but the Bears are poised to have an even more potent offense than the one that recently led the team to a championship.

By Eric Lord

About Eric Lord

Eric has been a Hershey Bears fan since attending his 1st game at age 8. He has been a season-ticket holder since the 2009-10 season and has been writing about Hershey Bears hockey since 2012. His favorite Bears memory is the team's 1996-97 run to the Calder Cup Championship where Hershey was 5-0 when facing elimination. Eric graduated from Fordham University in 2000 with a bachelors in communication and from Iona College in 2005 with a Masters in Journalism. He is also a photographer and serves as an assistant soccer coach for the Pottsville Area High School girls soccer team.
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28 Responses to A First Look At Projected Line Combinations For The 2023-24 Hershey Bears

  1. Anonymous says:

    I could see Miro starting in SC as well. When he settles in Hershey, where does he fit? 3LW?

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      Fans forget he didn’t return to hockey until December, just 8 months ago. Played a few games in KHL (23), but most of season was in juniors (32 games). His scoring quieted a bit at end of season and playoffs in Jrs, possibly indicating he was tiring. He’s over a year early, too.

      He needs a full year of conditioning, starting in SC and ending in Hershey.

  2. hockeydruid says:

    If they stay healthy this will be a strong team and a threat to win the Cup again!! As much as I like Dowd it would be nice to see Riley give him a big push in training camp. Would be nice to see Lapierre grab the 2nd line D and run with it and have an injury free season. Hopefully CMM has had enough of Hershey and can challenge Backy for time as the 3d line center and then through speed and play wrestle the position for himself.

  3. Anonymous says:

    It’s impressive Bears win Calder with very little scoring from top line. Frank and Vecchione seemed to miss Sgarbossa tremendously

  4. Anonymous says:

    Signing Garrett Roe was a complete head-scratcher.

  5. Kamal Jam says:

    Is loaning players to other AHL teams still a thing I remember a couple teams doing that a couple years ago to get their younger players more of chance for stacked teams?

  6. Anonymous says:

    All the Miro fanatics saying he will start for Bears in fall haven’t done the math. He needs games.

  7. Anonymous says:

    All of the changes to 4th concerns me most.

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      Definitely a few questions re: 4th line. I feel Garrett Roe was an attempt to replace Malenstyn at 4LW, should Beck make the next step. Not a big goal scorer but plenty of grit.

  8. Prevent Defense says:

    Great article Eric Lord!
    Plenty of excitement and anticipation for the Bears upcoming season. I’m outvoted 10-1, but I have excitement for the Caps’ season as well. With coaching staff that embraces baby Caps instead of whopping them upside-the-head, both franchises have great potential to surprise critics and be really good

  9. Anonymous says:

    Reminiscent of 2008-09/2009-10 I’m seeing the makings of a team solidly positioned to contend for Back-To-Back Cups (pending continued stellar goaltending, of course).
    Can’t wait !

  10. grahf2015 says:

    There’s 0 chance Miro goes to South Carolina and Suzdalev gets a roster spot. LOL

    • Anonymous says:

      You are obviously lacking knowledge regarding both players.

    • Anonymous says:

      Let me guess, you’ve seen 0 games played for both players?

    • Eric Lord says:

      There is a high chance that Miro goes to South Carolina. He needs a lot of ice time to get used to North America. He isn’t getting that in Hershey. He plays on the top line in South Carolina. That allows him to develop and then can join the Bears later in the season.

    • Eric Lord says:

      Suzdalev could easily be sent back to juniors. He has another year & physically he probably isn’t ready for the AHL yet

  11. Anonymous says:

    Another forward signing today. I think Caps probably saw a few things in development camp that concerned them as far as AHL readiness.

    • Eric Lord says:

      That signing is a player destined for South Carolina. There’s little chance that Empey earns a roster spot in Hershey

  12. Anonymous says:

    Couldn’t Miroshnichenko be sent to the CHL or is their import draft only for 1 year of rights? He was selected in the Q in 2022 iirc

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      Yes, good point. Thought about that as well, and could be the move. He’s in somewhat of a weird spot, development wise. He was working his way through Russian juniors, but hadn’t landed a full-time role in KHL. The situation with his KHL parent team was deteriorating (management quitting, coaches fired, players leaving), so you can’t blame him for wanting to get,out of there a year early.

  13. dwgie26 says:

    Been traveling a bunch for work so haven’t been able to dive in but love this piece. To me the overarching theme here is that the caps are trying to get their high potential picks in North American Professional Hockey. Snively with chance to take 2C. Miro likely in SC until injuries or they just can’t hold him back longer. Suzdalev I can see playing in Hershey on third line. Hoping Protas, Malenstyn, and CMM push to NHL.

    Two other overarching thoughts. First, I feel like i say this every year, but management has created a lot of competition and competition is good. If you can’t beat someone out, then you aren’t good enough. This goes for Hershey and SC as well, but both of those squads will be well loaded.

    Secondly, I think we’ll see a different look and options come October. No doubt GMBM is trying to move some pieces he has on the board. Aside from the obvious ones everyone has mentioned, Snively could be a piece as could NAK. Maybe even Millano. But those aren’t necessarily moves to be better this year, they would be to create NHL spots for CMM, Protas, and Malenstyn.

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