While the NHL is getting ready to return to the ice to restart the 2019-20 season, and the AHL is in a holding pattern, it’s offseason business as usual for the ECHL.
The Orlando Solar Bears are one of a handful of ECHL teams who have already begun to lay the groundwork for the 2020-21 season, signing six players and acquiring another by trade since the free agency period began in mid-June.
Of the six free agent signings, four are returning players from last year’s team. Two days into the free agent signing period, the Solar Bears announced that captain Chris LeBlanc, defensemen Alexander Kuqali, and defender Kevin Lohan will be returning for another season.
LeBlanc, who will be entering his fourth season with Orlando, had 14 goals and 21 assists in 52 games, and was named team captain in early January after his predecessor, Mike Monfredo, was dealt to Greenville.
Kuqali will be starting his second full season with the Solar Bears after arriving in a trade with Fort Wayne in January 2019. He had an injury riddled 2019-20 season, with four goals and two assists in 26 games, and was the recipient of the team’s Rob Kenny Memorial Award for community service. Also, he was a part of the most emotional moment of the season, just prior to the shutdown.
ICYMI: We are honored to have had Marcia Karuba, mother of Solar Bears defenseman Alexander Kuqali, participate in our pre-game puck drop on Hockey Fights Cancer Night presented by XYMOPrint, and are thrilled to announce she is now in remission! #OSBFightsCancer pic.twitter.com/f9Vo1ccfAr— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) March 1, 2020
Like Kuqali, Lohan will be starting his second full campaign with Orlando after joining the team in a trade with Toledo in December 2018. The defenseman had one goal and six assists in 49 appearances.
Also returning is last season’s leading scorer, Trevor Olson. In his second professional season, the forward set a career high with 42 points (20 goals, 22 assists) in 59 games, and was voted the team’s Most Valuable Player.
Trevor Olson is back, folks! pic.twitter.com/SA6YBOx6Gw— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) July 2, 2020
The first new player signing is the first rookie to join the team, defenseman Paul Meyer. The Minnesota native comes to central Florida by way of Colgate University, where in his senior season he appeared in 36 games, with a goal and five assists, and lead the team with 62 blocked shots.
Get to know the new guy! We caught up with defenseman Paul Meyer to discuss why he decided to turn pro with Orlando and what the fans can expect out of his style of play. pic.twitter.com/lNBMJiNu0E— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) June 23, 2020
The second new face on the Solar Bears is veteran forward Peter MacArthur. He returns to the ECHL after spending one season in Italy with the Val Pusteria Wolves of the Alps Hockey League, where he had 3 goals and 12 assists in 17 games. He had previously announced his retirement following the 2018-19 season, but ended up making a comeback a few months later overseas.
The native of Clifton Park, NY began his pro career with Bridgeport at the end of the 2007-08 season, then split time the next two seasons between Rockford and ECHL Fresno. After playing in San Antonio in 2010-11, he split the following season between Peoria and Lake Erie in the AHL and ECHL Las Vegas before going overseas to Germany and Austria for the next four seasons. MacArthur then returned home in 2015, joining the Thunder in their first season in Adirondack after moving from Stockton, and served as team captain in 2016-17. After one season with Allen, he returned to the Thunder for the 2018-19 season before temporarily hanging up the skates.
The seventh member of the roster is defenseman Tommy Panico, who was acquired from Newfoundland for future considerations. Panico just completed his second full pro season, where he had 3 goals and 1 assist in 39 games for the Growlers. After completing a four-year collegiate career at UMass-Lowell in 2016-17, the New Jersey native appeared in one game for Iowa and 9 games for Worcester, then joined the Railers for his first full season in 2018-19.
At the end of June, Orlando extended qualifying offers to 8 players: goaltender Clint Windsor; defensemen Brandon Anselmini and Cody Donaghey; and forwards Tyler Bird, Taylor Cammarata, Jake Coughler, Hunter Fejes, and Brent Pedersen. Windsor and Pedersen have already signed AHL contracts (Windsor with Syracuse, Pedersen with Manitoba), but by being qualified, Orlando will keep their ECHL playing rights.