Wednesday buzz: Wolf Pack, Marlies add new faces

Photo: Providence College

📝 by Patrick Williams

The New York Rangers have long been aggressive in signing top NCAA free agents.

Last season the Rangers hauled in University of Massachusetts star forward Bobby Trivigno after he completed a dominant season with the Minutemen in which he led Hockey East in scoring (20 goals and 49 points in 37 games), finished third in points nationally, and ended up a Hobey Baker Award finalist before reporting to the Hartford Wolf Pack.

This time, the Rangers completed the much-anticipated signing of one of their own draft picks. Providence College forward Brett Berard signed a three-year entry-level deal on Tuesday, and will begin his pro career on a tryout in Hartford. New York selected the 5-foot-9, 165-pound Berard in the fifth round of the 2020 NHL Draft, and his stock quickly rose in three seasons with the Friars.

The 20-year-old Berard is fresh off a 24-point (10 goals, 14 assists) campaign at Providence, after he posted career-highs in goals (18), assists (20) and points (38) over 36 games in 2021-22. Internationally, the Rhode Island native won a gold medal with the United States at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship, where he picked up a goal and five points in seven games.

Berard is another part of what is shaping up to be a productive 2020 draft class for the Rangers. Along with first overall pick Alexis Lafreniere, fellow first-round pick Braden Schneider is already a fixture on New York’s blue line after starting his career in Hartford. Second-rounder Will Cuylle leads the Wolf Pack in scoring this season as a rookie. Wolf Pack goaltender Dylan Garand (fourth round) and forward Matthew Rempe are part of that year’s group as well.

Berard is the latest new face for a Hartford roster that underwent significant reconstruction at the NHL trade deadline earlier this month, with forwards Anton Blidh, Jake Leschyshyn and Will Lockwood and defensemen Adam Clendening and Wyatt Kalynuk all coming on board as the Rangers fortified the Wolf Pack for the stretch drive. Hartford is attempting to qualify for the Calder Cup Playoffs for the first time since a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2015.

The Wolf Pack have picked up at least a point in three of their past four games (2-1-1-0) to stay in the Atlantic Division playoff fight. They are one point behind the rival Bridgeport Islanders for the sixth and final playoff spot in the division. They have a three-game weekend ahead featuring a pair of games with Springfield as well as a trip to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

The Toronto Marlies have also brought in some new names as they close in on a North Division title.

Following a disappointing weekend in which they lost a pair of home games to Charlotte by a combined score of 9-1, the Marlies added highly regarded forward prospect Dmitry Ovchinnikov following the completion of his Kontinental Hockey League season. Taken in the fifth round of the 2020 NHL Draft by the parent Toronto Maple Leafs, Ovchinnikov had 13 points (five goals, eight assists) in 68 games with Sibir Novosibirsk in his first full season of KHL play.

Ovchinnikov, 20, picked up a pair of goals in seven games last season in his first look at the AHL.

Defenseman Jonny Tychonick also signed a two-year AHL contract with the Marlies on Sunday. The 23-year-old Tychonick, a second-round pick by the Ottawa Senators in 2018, just wrapped up his fifth and final collegiate season. After two years at North Dakota, he transferred to Nebraska-Omaha and broke out this year with 26 points (eight goals, 18 assists) in 35 games for the Mavericks.

AHL All-Star netminder Joseph Woll also returned to the Marlies on Tuesday following a brief recall to the Leafs, as did forward Alex Steeves.

The Marlies face another tough test tonight at home when the Milwaukee Admirals visit (7 p.m. ET, NHL Network). That will be followed by a home-and-home series with Cleveland, beginning Friday night in Ohio.