The Komets received only six players from the NHL's Vegas Golden Knights during the first two seasons of their affiliation – Zach Fucale, Jermaine Loewen, Brayden Pachal, Dylan Ferguson, Matthew Weis and Ben Jones – a sore spot for Fort Wayne fans who hoped they would get more help from one of the NHL's best teams.
The Komets and Golden Knights finalized a new two-year affiliation agreement Wednesday, and Fort Wayne general manager David Franke believes there will more movement of players to and from the Triple-A level American Hockey League in the future.
“The biggest thing here is the fact that (Golden Knights president of hockey operations George McPhee and general manager Kelly McCrimmon), and the whole crew with Vegas, they're on the same page as we are when it comes to the three-tier system of development,” Franke said. “That fact was probably the biggest reason we wanted to stay with them. George McPhee had a lot of luck with that when he was with the Washington Capitals. That's how our philosophy is and their philosophy is the same as ours.”
The biggest reason for optimism now is that the independently owned Chicago Wolves, perceived as being unconcerned with the goings on at the ECHL level, will no longer be the AHL intermediary. The Golden Knights purchased the AHL franchise in San Antonio this year and are moving it to Henderson, Nevada, rebranded as the Silver Knights. They will play this season in Vegas at the Orleans Arena before moving to a new 6,000-seat arena in Henderson.
“We're thrilled to be extending our affiliation with one of the premier clubs in the ECHL, the Fort Wayne Komets,” McPhee said in a news release. “Our partnership with the Komets has proven to be a valuable stepping stone for young players looking to advance through our ranks and reach their full potential.”
The Golden Knights, who began play in 2017, should have more players in their minor-league system than ever before.
Last season, the Komets had an affiliation with the Golden Knights and a less-formal working agreement with the Los Angeles Kings, who actually gave Fort Wayne more impactful players, including Max Gottlieb, Brad Morrison, Cole Kehler and Mason Bergh. But Fort Wayne wants to work with only one NHL team this season, giving it more control over its own roster and only one NHL-contracted goalie.
The Komets have so far signed 17 players, including Shawn Szydlowski, A.J. Jenks, Marco Roy and Stefanos Lekkas, with the ECHL targeting a Dec. 4 start.
Some Fort Wayne players will get spots in Silver Knights training camp and be under the eye of Vegas scouts for call-ups – big selling points as Fort Wayne signs its own players.
It took time for the Komets and Golden Knights to come to an agreement because Fort Wayne wanted to make sure it would be the right fit, especially after having success with the Kings, and since the Golden Knights are still competing in the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs.
“It's a different situation in the world of hockey and in the world now. Every day, something different comes along,” Franke said. “But I think the fact that we have this affiliation with Vegas now and it's official, and a two-year deal, it will hopefully bring some joy and excitement to our fans in Fort Wayne.
“We just think it's a wonderful thing for us, for our fans, for our city, and maybe most of all a shot in the arm that we're looking to the future and looking to get out of this funk we're in because of the pandemic.”