Second in a series of stories looking back at the 2014-15 Indy Fuel season. Part 1: The Forwards.
If there’s a place to point for the Indy Fuel’s improvement this season to become one of the ECHL’s top teams in 2015 after a slow start, look no further than the blueline. The Fuel entered the season with a defense corps that coach Scott Hillman noted at midseason was likely one of the youngest in the history of the league – if not the youngest. The Fuel played most of the year with one full season of pro experience on their blueline – with 66 games in the CHL last year, Anders Franzon was the unit’s grizzled veteran. Yet, as the year went on, the Fuel’s defensemen became a strength, as the team’s goals against/game dropped dramatically without many changes in personnel.
The blueline is also where we saw the team’s NHL/AHL prospects – the Fuel had eight players on NHL/AHL contracts this season suit up at some point. Five of them were defensemen, including three who spent the majority of the year in Indy.
Nick Bruneteau (5-10, 182, age 23)
- 2015-16 status: Tweener (70 career pro GP, all in ECHL). Years pro: 1+
- Contract: Fuel (acquired via trade with Reading prior to the season)
- 2014-15 stats: 65GP, 3-35-38, 77PIM, -9
- Bruneteau is a prime example of how defensemen get better with experience. He saw a little bit with Reading in the spring a year ago, playing five games at the end of the season, and early in the year, spent time as a healthy scratch. By the end of the season, he was wearing the alternate captain’s “A” and was the team’s leader in assists. He was also among one of the top assists men in the ECHL from the blueline, and especially shone quarterbacking the power play, where he garnered about half his points. His offensive highlight was a three-assist game against Florida on Dec. 5. Late in the season, Coach Hillman said after a game that Bruneteau was developing into an elite ECHL defender. His +/- is a bit of a misnomer because of the fact that he compiled so many points on the PP – which doesn’t factor into the stat – but Bruneteau’s mobility, ability to retrieve the puck and make the first pass out of the defensive zone, and to make things happen in the offensive end is key. So is his shot-blocking ability. He’s also a familiar name – the fourth Bruneteau to play at what is now the Indiana Farmers Coliseum as a member of an Indianapolis-based hockey team.
Anders Franzon (6-3, 196, age 26)
- 2015-16 status: Tweener (127 career pro GP: 66-CHL, 61-ECHL). Years pro: 2
- Contract: Fuel (acquired as FA preseason. Last team: Missouri Mavericks-CHL)
- 2014-15 stats: 61GP, 3-14-17, 16PIM, +3
- One of the four Vermont Catamounts on the team, Franzon is a right-shot D who often played the left side, teaming with Nick Jones for much of the latter part of the season. He gave the Fuel a steady presence and size at 6-3. He was among the team’s leaders in +/- during the early part of the season, and finished +3 for the year, including a +4 rating in April and a +3 one in November. He found a new role – he had been a scorer in the CHL last year, with 31 points, but provided a lot of versatility and stability for the team this year. He was also the blueline’s veteran.
Kirill Gotovets (5-11, 194, age 23)
- 2015-16 status: Tweener (60 career pro GP: 47-ECHL, 13-AHL). Years pro: 1+
- Contract: AHL-Rockford
- 2014-15 stats: 47GP, 7-6-13, 35PIM, -6 with Fuel; 12GP, 1-1-2, 8PIM, +2 in AHL with Rockford
- Gotovets gave the Fuel plenty of versatility, and was another player who dramatically improved on the defensive end from the beginning to the end of the year. He played a few games at right wing for the Fuel early in the season, and then moved back to the blueline and was called up to Rockford on multiple occasions, including an extended callup in February and March. An excellent puck-mover with good offensive instincts, Gotovets could also finish, and was one of the Fuel’s leading goal scorers from the blueline. From Jan. 11 on, he was +7 in 22 games and had four goals and four assists, playing exclusively on the blueline. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him at a higher level long-term, as he showed the skill level that saw him drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2009 and signed to an AHL deal. He and Justin Holl provided a very strong defensive pair during the latter part of the season for the Fuel.
Justin Holl (6-3, 195, age 23)
- 2015-16 status: Tweener (68 career pro GP: 66-ECHL, 2-AHL). Years pro: 1
- Contract: AHL-Rockford
- 2014-15 stats: 66GP, 7-27-34, 39PIM, -4 with Fuel, 2GP, 0-0-0, 0PIM, -1 in AHL with Rockford
- Holl was another player who, like his regular defense partner Gotovets, played much of the year with the Fuel on an AHL contract and impressed, especially as the year went on. And he’s another player who showed the skill that led him to be drafted in the second round of the 2010 NHL Draft by Chicago. A smart, heady player who came to Indy from the University of Minnesota, Holl tied Gotovets and Nick Jones as the Fuel’s top goal-scoring defenseman, and was second on the team to Bruneteau in defenseman assists and points. A member of all special teams units, Holl gave the Fuel a lot of size with his 6-3 frame, and offensive ability with a good first pass. After Jan. 11, he was +4 with 4 goals and 15 assists. Holl has a successful career ahead of him, and it’s likely going to include a lot of games at the AHL level, if not even higher.
Doug Jessey (6-2, 212, age 24)
- 2015-16 status: Rookie (2 career pro GP). Years pro: 0+
- Contract: Fuel (acquired as FA in March. Last team: Canisius College)
- 2014-15 stats: 2GP, 0-0-0, 2PIM, -2
- Jessey was a late-season signee who saw action in a couple of games this season after finishing his college career. He captained the Canisius College team earlier this year and had 11 points in 36 games. He gives some size on the blueline.
Nick Jones (6-2, 200, age 24)
- 2015-16 status: Tweener (61 career pro GP: 45-ECHL, 16-AHL). Years pro: 1+
- Contract: AHL-Worcester
- 2014-15 stats: 45GP, 7-17-24, 10PIM, +2 with Fuel; 14GP, 0-2-2, 2PIM, +4 with AHL Worcester
- Jones was assigned to the Fuel prior to the season when Worcester/San Jose had no ECHL affiliation (they later finalized one with the Allen Americans), and remained a fixture on the team’s blueline. He tied fellow AHL signees Justin Holl and Kirill Gotovets for the team lead in defenseman goal scoring, and like them, provided a significant amount of puck-moving skill in getting the Fuel’s transition game going from the defensive zone. His offensive highlight was a three-point game in the Fuel’s second game this season, but he had two goals and five assists in the Fuel’s last nine games, a strong finishing stretch. He had a long callup to Worcester from mid-December to mid-January. When he returned, he was +7 with six goals and 13 assists in 30 games. It’s not a stretch to see him with the AHL’s San Jose Barracuda – which Worcester will become in 2015-16 – sweater in the near future.
Saverio Posa (5-10, 176, age 22)
- 2015-16 status: Tweener (66 career pro GP: 24-CHL, 42-ECHL). Years pro: 2
- Contract: Fuel (acquired as FA midseason. Last team: University of Windsor)
- 2014-15 stats: 42GP, 1-6-7, 12PIM, -7
- Posa was a Christmas acquisition that provided immediate dividends, as he and Nick Bruneteau formed a pair that was notable for its willingness to get into lanes and block shots. He provides a heady, stay-at-home game that stabilized the Fuel blueline. Posa played half the season at the University of Windsor in Canada before coming to the Fuel, and he is the second-veteran player on the team’s blueline, having played 24 CHL games with Missouri last season.
Andy Simpson (5-11, 180, age 24)
- 2015-16 status: Rookie (0 career pro GP). Years pro: 0
- Contract: Fuel (acquired as FA in April. Last team: Dartmouth College)
- Simpson was signed near the end of the season, but with the Fuel in a playoff push, he did not appear in a game. He had seven points in 33 games for Dartmouth.
Dillon Fournier (6-2, 187, age 20)
- 2015-16 status: Tweener (55 career pro GP: 34-ECHL, 21-AHL). Years pro: 1
- Contract: NHL-Chicago
- 2014-15 stats: 34GP, 2-5-7, 13PIM, -20 with Fuel; 21GP, 0-3-3, 16PIM, +1 w/AHL Rockford
- Adding Fournier as he remained “in the system” despite playing much of the year in Rockford. He started the year with the Fuel and was an excellent PP quarterback while he learned the ropes of playing in his own end. He had four points in December, and a two-assist game on Jan. 25 against Evansville. After the Jan. 28 game, he was called up to Rockford and spent the remainder of the year with the IceHogs, where he was +1 in 21 games.
Also of note
According to the ECHL website, the Fuel retain the rights to:
- D Dan Ford (acquired in midseason trade from Reading), 38GP, 2-5-7, -3 w/Indy. Captained Harvard last season, and provided a stay-at-home presence on the blueline.
- D Adam McKenzie (FA signed midseason). 7GP, 2-0-2 w/Indy. A Purdue graduate engineering student who is also serving in the Air Force (he played collegiately at the Air Force Academy), he played a handful of weekend games early in the season and provided offensive upside.
- D Quinn Sproule (acquired in trade deadline deal from Alaska), 1GP, 0-0-0 w/Indy