The 2020-21 ECHL season is shaping up to be unlike anyone has ever seen before. One of 13 teams that is beginning their 2020-21 season in December, the Indy Fuel began their seventh annual training camp on Wednesday afternoon. In his second season behind the bench, Head Coach and General Manager Doug Christiansen and his staff have been hard at work throughout the long offseason building a team that will look to be the first Indy Fuel team to win a playoff game.
Dual Threat Offense
Entering the 2020-21 season, the Fuel are returning two of their highest-scoring defensemen. Tied for first on the team in points (31), both Cliff Watson and Keoni Texeira enter this season expecting to continue their scoring ways. Adding Cliff Watson late in the season via a trade with the Kansas City Mavericks, the Fuel cemented their spot as one of the best power plays in the league, scoring on 20.3% of their power-play chances.
Entering his third professional season and second with the Indy Fuel, Texeira will look to continue his streak of leading the league in power-play assists among defensemen. The Rancho Cucamonga, California native quarterbacked the Fuel power play and earned a team-high 18 assists and three goals. Splitting time with Texeira on the power-play unit, Cliff Watson finished the season with a career-high 13 power-play assists. In what will already be a challenging season, the Fuel will need both Texeira and Watson to pick up their scoring touch again this season.
Continuing the trend from last season the Fuel will employ a goaltender tandem heading into the season. With the re-signing of Charles Williams and Dan Bakala, there will be two familiar faces between the pipes for the Indy Fuel this season. After signing with the Fuel on New Year’s Day, Bakala appeared in 17 games, putting together a 7-6-1-2 record and earned a 2.43 goals-against average and a .925 save percentage. The experienced goaltender backstopped four of the final six games of the season, earning two shutouts in the process.
Splitting the majority of the games with Bakala Charles Williams will be entering 2020 with five straight seasons with a save percentage above .900. The 28-year-old goaltender skated in 31 games for the Fuel last season earning a 2.81 goals-against average and a .908 save percentage.
Larger Roles for Ryczek and McDonald
After beginning their professional careers during the 2019-20 season, Ryczek and McDonald will each be looking for a larger role on the Fuel defensive core. Signed in early January, McDonald skated in 11 games throughout the second half of the season tallying one goal and three assists. The graduate of Bowling Green figures to have a larger role on this season’s defensive unit after signing mid-way through the season.
Entering his second professional season, Ryczek will also be looking to have an elevated role on the Fuel defensive lineup. The young defenseman skated in 46 games for the Fuel last season earning four goals, 13 assists and a +6 rating, putting him in third place in points among defensemen. Expect Ryczek to maintain his offensive role on this season’s Fuel defensive lineup.
With five returning players on the Fuel defense, the room for new additions is scarce. However, that didn’t stop Head Coach Doug Christiansen from adding two highly offensive defensemen in Willie Raskob and Médric Mercier. Raskob, 25, spent the 2019-20 season playing for Rungsted Seier Capital where he finished second among defensemen in points with seven goals and 23 assists. In his second professional season, Raskob finished second among ECHL defensemen in points, scoring nine goals and 40 assists.
Entering his first professional season, Mercier played 73 games for the University of Ottawa, tallying 17 goals and 20 assists. Prior to playing for the Unversity of Ottawa, Mercier led the Ontario Hockey League in goals among defensemen during the 2016-17 season, earning 21 goals and 27 assists. Both defensemen stack up to create what could be a defensive unit that is no stranger to producing points.
Defensive Lineup Prediction
Watson - Raskob
Texeira - McDonald
Mercier - Ryczek