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Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
If Leo Thomas doesn’t produce more than last season (27 points in 50 games) he may not be in Fort Wayne long.


Swikar Patel | The Journal Gazette
Komets goaltender Nick Boucher is coming off a mediocre season in which he was 18-15-6 with a 2.96 goals-against average and a .905 save percentage.

5 key players

Colin Chaulk, C: Chaulk has the knack for motivating his teammates. He is a five-time team MVP (including last season), who had 10 goals and 40 points in 39 games after returning from a stint playing in Italy last season. Almost as important as his scoring is his defensive ability – he is tenacious in shutting down opposing forwards – and his prowess at winning faceoffs.

Nick Boucher, G: He was in net when the Komets won IHL championships in 2008, 2009 and 2010, but he’s coming off a mediocre season in which he was 18-15-6 with a 2.96 goals-against average and a .905 save percentage. With Kevin Reiter gone, look for Boucher to play the bulk of the games and he must anchor the revamped defense.

Jamie Milam, D: A former forward, who played for the Komets in 2006, Milam brings offense to the blue line. He had 17 goals and 48 points in 66 games last season, helping Bossier-Shreveport to the CHL championship. He fills the void left by the retirement of Guy Dupuis. He will be integral on special teams.

Brett Smith, C: As captain with Bossier-Shreveport last season, he had 20 goals and 55 points in 57 games. He’s not big at 5-foot-8, 175 pounds, but doesn’t need to be because of his smarts. And he has a knack for playing his best in big games, as evidenced by two goals and 17 points in 21 playoff games last spring.

Jesse Bennefield, LW: The Komets lacked scoring – they ranked 16th with 2.83 goals per game last season – and Bennefield figures to help solve that. He had 35 goals and 75 points in 66 games with Wichita, which traded him for defenseman Craig Cescon. In Bennefield, the Komets may have found the replacement for 2010 playoff MVP Matt Syrocznski.

4 points of emphasis

Start strong: The Komets lost 16 of their first 21 games last season and were in last place among 18 CHL teams until February. They finished 31-27-8 and reached the conference semifinals. With only 14 teams this season, eight making the playoffs, they cannot be slow out of the gate.

Improve the defense: Normally, the Komets are stingy, but last season they ranked eighth in the CHL with 3.09 goals against per game. They overhauled the blue line to help solve that – Bryant Molle and Tristin Llewellyn were important acquisitions – and they hope to allow fewer than 2.8 goals per game.

Win at home: The Komets averaged a CHL-best 7,460 fans per game last season, but they won only 19 of 37 at Memorial Coliseum. The fans won’t stand for that sort of mediocrity again.

Ace special teams: Fort Wayne’s power play ranked sixth last season (18.4 percent) and it was eighth on the penalty kill (83.1 percent). Mass changes were made to address those facets. Poor special-teams play leads to losses, and the Komets know it.

3 who must improve

Brandon Warner, D: He was so inconsistent and prone to injury he was left off the playoff roster last spring. There is value in his shooting skill.

Kevin Beech, G: He split time last season between Texas, where he was 8-4-2 with a 3.25 GAA and a .891 save percentage, and Wichita, where he was 3-3-0 with a 3.95 GAA and a .859 save percentage. He must take the pressure off Boucher.

Leo Thomas, C: He almost wasn’t brought back after 18 goals and 27 points in 50 games. With his speed and creativity, he should total in the neighborhood of 25 goals and 55 points, or at least be an agitator. If he doesn’t produce, he may not be in Fort Wayne long.

2 potential stars

Chris Auger, F/D: He didn’t put up huge numbers in college – he had 17 goals and 52 points in 118 games at Massachusetts-Lowell – but he could wind up a second-line player. He had 14 goals and 25 points in 42 games as a rookie with Mississippi.

Jean-Michel Rizk, RW: He played for former Komets coach Greg Puhalski at Wilfrid Laurier University, and he has a knack for scoring. He had 64 goals and 131 points in 98 collegiate games.

1 major issue

Play harder: The Komets took the CHL lightly last season, and they paid for it. Yet they still brought back 10 players. The Komets must play hungrier and not be afraid to make changes. And this is an important season for coach Al Sims, who has four championships in eight seasons with Fort Wayne. His team must finish its scoring chances.

– Justin A. Cohn, The Journal Gazette