Komets coach Ben Boudreau called Blake Siebenaler a “unicorn type” of signing for his team because the defenseman has size, grit, contributes at both ends of the ice and on special teams, and has significant experience at a higher level of hockey.
Oh, and one more thing: “Add to it he’s a Fort Wayne native. That’s going to make it real exciting for fans to watch him,” Boudreau said. “And it’s going to make it exciting for him to play in front of his friends and family every single night. We've got a top-end defenseman to bring home and showcase in front of our fans and we're really excited about that.”
Siebenaler, 24, was a free agent after his contract with the American Hockey League’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins expired, though he spent last season with the ECHL’s Wheeling Nailers.
Also Thursday, the Komets re-signed defenseman Kyle Haas, the ECHL’s leader in penalty minutes last season, and goaltender Stefanos Lekkas, while adding rookie forward Tommy Beaudoin.
The Fort Wayne roster is up to seven, including Shawn Szydlowski, A.J. Jenks and Anthony Petruzzelli, with the season scheduled to begin Oct. 16 at Indianapolis if COVID-19 safety protocols allow it.
Siebenaler, 6-foot-2, 207 pounds, had nine goals and 26 points for Wheeling, though last season ended for him after 50 games because a skate blade cut his leg, similar to what halted his 2018-19 season prematurely.
A former Carroll player, Siebenaler was the first product of the Fort Wayne youth hockey system to get drafted by an NHL team -- selected by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the third round of 2014 -- though he hasn’t advanced beyond the AHL level.
After completing his junior career with the Ontario Hockey League’s Niagara IceDogs in 2016 -- he had seven goals and 29 points in 65 games his final season -- he joined the AHL’s Cleveland Monsters and remained with them until he was traded by the Blue Jackets to the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins in 2019.
Siebenaler skated 83 AHL games with Cleveland and totaled seven goals and 14 points. After joining the Penguins’ organization, he played only one AHL game with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and spent the rest of his time with Wheeling.
The Komets’ defense was inconsistent last season, ranking 20th with 3.55 goals against per game, and Siebenaler could help with that while also manning the penalty-kill and power-play units.
There have been several successful hometown Komets players including Colin Chin, who captained them to the International Hockey League’s 1993 Turner Cup, and Lincoln Kaleigh Schrock, who won a Turner Cup in 2010, a Central Hockey League President’s Cup in 2012 and later captained the team. Brandon Warner won Cups in 2008 and 2010.
“Blake grew up watching the Komets as a fan and young player in the Fort Wayne youth hockey program,” general manager David Franke said. “He is a steady defenseman with some offensive punch. Blake follows in the footprints of other Komet greats from Fort Wayne such as (player and coach) Ron Ullyot, Colin Chin and Kaleigh Schrock. I know he is very excited to play on Coliseum ice in the Komets’ orange and black.”
Haas, 26, had two goals, nine points and 164 penalty minutes in 45 games last season. He was selected the Komets’ Most Improved Player.
“It’s like welcoming the sheriff back into town,” Boudreau said. “I think any team that's coming in knows that you have certain guys you've got to plan and prepare for, and he's always going to be a presence out on the ice. His teammates, I guarantee, played with a lot more confidence when he was in the lineup and he makes space for a lot of other guys.
"Outside of that, he was great defensively. He's an unbelievable athlete. He's great in the room. He contributes in so many ways other than the physical side.”
Lekkas, 24, who was fresh out of the University of Vermont, stopped 32 of 34 shots in his lone Fort Wayne appearance, a 7-2 victory March 11 over Wichita in the final game of last season.
“We hold him in high regard and have high hopes that he can be the guy,” Boudreau said. “No matter what, we're still going to have to go out there and sign some other goalies. But we're real comfortable starting out, signing him. I think we're off to a great start.”
Beaudoin, 21, is a rookie forward who had 34 goals and 59 points last season for Terrebonne of the QJAAAHL, a Junior A league in Quebec.