ECHL: Wheeling Nailers 2023-24 Season Recap

Wheeling Nailers salute their home crowd after being eliminated by the Toledo Walleye in Round 2.
Photo Credit: Stacey Gramlich | Inside The Rink

The Wheeling Nailers 2023-24 season was a complete 180 from last season. The Nailers finished in 12th place in the Western Conference last season but finished in 5th this season with a regular season record of 38-28-4-1, which was good enough for 81 points. The Nailers went 21-13-1 at home while going 17-15-4 on the road.

Numbers Through the Year

Goal scoring was not an issue for the Nailers this season, as they had tons of firing power. Wheeling was ranked 11 in the 27-team league in goals with 232 goals, which equated to 3.27 goals per game. The Nailers were one of the top teams in the league when it came to keeping the puck out of their net. With 204 goals against, the Nailers ranked 6 in the league with 2.87 goals against per game. These numbers did not look as good when it came to the postseason. The Nailers went down to 3.11 goals for per game and averaged 3.00 goals against per game.

The Nailers were 20.5% on the powerplay, which tied Wheeling for 10 out of the 27 ECHL teams. Their penalty kill, however, was at 77.7%, which ranked them 21 out of the 27 teams. The rule of thumb when it comes to wanting to make the playoffs and win is to have an 80% penalty kill and a 20% powerplay with stellar goaltending. On the penalty kill, the Nailers were still aggressive throughout the season scoring nine goals while down a man.

In the Kelly Cup Playoffs, the Nailers saw both their powerplay and penalty kill improve. Through nine games, the Nailers were 21.9% on the powerplay and 81.8% on the penalty kill. They also collected a couple of shorthanded goals for while not giving up a shorthanded goal.

Playoffs

Finding themselves in the 2024 Kelly Cup Playoffs, the Nailers wanted to make a statement and started the first round out well by doing just that. The Nailers took on the Indy Fuel in round one, which saw them take the series 4-1 after dropping game one of the series 5-2. However, things did not go well in round two for the Nailers. Wheeling faced the Toledo Walleye, a team it is very familiar with in the regular season and playoffs. Toldeo swept the Nailers in the second round, ending the Nailers’ season and any hope of reaching the Kelly Cup Final.

Notable Players

On Dec. 13, 2023, the Nailers acquired forward, Jordan Martel, from the Utah Grizzlies in exchange for future considerations. In his second full season of professional hockey, Martel made a statement to prove he can be a top player in the ECHL. Through the first 16 games played with the Grizzlies, Martel posted six goals and five assists for 11 points and would build on that with his new team. With Wheeling, Martel was just over a point-per-game player. In 45 games played in the regular season with Wheeling, Martel had his name on the scoresheet 47 times, which led the team, scoring 29 goals and collecting 18 assists. Martel was a force on the powerplay throughout the year, contributing on 16 powerplay goals, scoring seven goals and assisting on nine. Martel showed no slowing down in the postseason, playing in all nine games for the Nailers, producing 13 points with five goals and eight assists.

Tanner Laderoute played his first full season of professional hockey this season and showed signs of a star in the making. The University of Minnesota Duluth graduate signed with the Nailers in the 2022-23 season after finishing his college career, playing in 11 games, posting one goal and six assists for 7 points with Wheeling. This season, Laderoute saw time in 63 games, scoring 24 goals and posting 26 assists for 50 points. Much like Martel, Laderoute produced on the powerplay for the Nailers. The Edmonton native posted five goals and seven assists for 12 points on the powerplay. Laderoutte was signed to a Player Tryout Contract with the Nailers American Hockey League affiliate, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, after recording 20 goals and 21 assists for 41 points through the first 50 games of the season.

In his first season with the Nailers, forward Dillon Hamaliuk had a solid year being a point-per-game player while being the top plus/minus among forwards, and tied for second among the team with a +20 rating. Through 36 games played with Wheeling, Hamaliuk recorded 15 goals and 24 assists for 39 points, putting up four goals and three assists on the powerplay. The former 2019 second-round San Jose Sharks draft pick was selected to represent the Nailers in the 2024 ECHL All-Star Classic. Through 24 games leading up to the All-Star Classic, Hamaliuk recorded 11 goals and 15 assists, including a six-game point streak and points in 10 of 11 games.

On the defensive end for the Nailers, Davis Bunz, Isaac Belliveau, and Thimo Nickl have all been standouts. Bunz recorded 31 points in 58 games (10 goals and 21 assists) while being a +20. This included a five-game point streak from Jan. 19 to Jan. 27, where they played the Iowa Heartlanders and Reading Royals during that stretch. Bunz was responsible for three game-winning goals for the Nailers in the regular season, one being an overtime winner. In the postseason, Bunz recorded 5 points (2-3) and a +3 rating in nine games played.

Nickl completed his first season in the ECHL and had a relatively good season. Though point production was not entirely there for the Klagenfurt, Austria native putting up two goals and 19 assists for 21 points in 66 games played, his defensive play was incredible. Nickl had the best plus/minus stat on the team with a +25.

Photo Credit: Drake Harlett | Inside The Rink
Photo Credit: Drake Harlett | Inside The Rink

In his first professional season, Belliveau showed what his defensive strengths in his first season with the Wheeling Nailers. Belliveau finished the regular season with a +13 rating in 70 games played. Not known to be a point-producing defenseman, Belliveau scored 14 goals and 24 assists for 38 points in his young career. Belliveau was effective on the powerplay, collecting nine assists on the powerplay.

In net, Taylor Gauthier and Jaxon Castor had solid seasons for the Nailers. Gauthier played 42 games in the regular season between the pipes for the Nailers. In those 42 games, Gauthier went 24-16-1-1 putting up an insane .923 save percentage and a 2.23 goals against average with four shutouts. The 23-year-old netminder allowed three or fewer goals in 36 of the 42 regular season appearances he made. The season also saw Gauthier win nine straight games on the team’s 12-game winning streak. Gauthier was awarded ECHL Goaltender of the Week on four separate occasions, which was a Wheeling Nailers franchise record for a goalie. Gauthier was a huge reason for the Nailers making it to the playoffs but was absent from the team as he was awarded a call-up to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and played in four games. During his time with WBS, Gauthier picked up his first AHL shutout. When he returned to the Nailers, Castor played in what ended up being the final game for Wheeling in a 3-2 overtime loss in game four against the Walleye. In that game, Gauthier posted a 2.75 goals against average and a .917 save percentage.

Photo Credit: Hector Urcia | Inside The Rink
Photo Credit: Hector Urcia | Inside The Rink

Castor was called upon late in the season with the reassignment of Gauthier to the WBS Penguins. Castor played 16 games, holding a record of 10-4-1-0 with a .899 save percentage and a 2.71 goals-against average. During the playoffs, Castor was a big reason for getting into the second round. Castor went 4-3-1 in eight games played posting a 2.73 goals against average and a .913 save percentage.

Season-End Team Awards

The Nailers announced their team awards for the 2023-24 season following their elimination from the 2024 Kelly Cup Playoffs.

Project Best Community Player of the Year Award: Peter Laviolette III

Unsung Hero Award: Matt Koopman

Fan’s Choice Favorite Player: Taylor Gauthier

2024 Player’s Player Award: Justin Lee

WVU Medicine Rookie of the Year: Tanner Laderoute

WesBanco Defensive Player of the Year: Taylor Gauthier

WesBanco Offensive Player of the Year: Jordan Martel

ECHL Award Winner

Nick Vitucci Goalie of the Year: Taylor Gauthier

Zachary Alvarado

Inside The Rink journalist covering the Wheeling Nailers and Norfolk Admirals of the ECHL. I am a Duquesne University Sports Information and Media major graduating in December. I have been passionate about hockey since I was 4 years old.

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