New Wolves’ coach sets his plan in place as he prepares to take over a team looking to rebound after missing the AHL playoffs last season. (Ross Dettman/Chicago Wolves)

Wolves packed with potential, depth and talent as season begins

First-year Wolves coach Craig Berube hesitates to speculate on what level of success awaits his team as it begins the American Hockey League season on Friday night.

Berube believes he has the talent both offensively and defensively to produce winning hockey. He knows he has installed a fast-paced and aggressive style of play that could make the Wolves dangerous by the time the playoffs roll around.

But Berube been around the game long enough to know there are too many variables between his team’s season-opener on the road against the Grand Rapids Griffins and the close of the regular season to predict how much the Wolves can turn things around after missing the playoffs last season.

“You just have to see it plays out,” Berube said this week. “There’s always going to be things that come up in your game that you have to improve on and we’re going to have to be right up on it.”

The Wolves, who face the Griffins in their home opener at 7 p.m. on Saturday at Allstate Arena, return second-leading scorer Danny Kristo, who tallied 48 points (25 goals, 23 assists) along with forward Jordan Carone (17-19-36) and defenseman Jordan Schmaltz (6-30-36). Despite losing leading scorer Pat Cannone, who signed a one-year, two-way deal with the Minnesota Wild, Berube sees the potential for a varied scoring attack that also includes the return of the franchise’s second all-time leading scorer, Brett Sterling.

Sterling was a mainstay on the Wolves’ 2008 Calder Cup championship team. After spending the previous three seasons playing in Europe – including back-to-back championship campaigns in Austria – Sterling begins his third stint with the Wolves.

Sterling will be part of a roster that boasts plenty of depth and includes nearly a dozen players who spent time in the NHL last season. Although the potential exists for the Wolves to be among the AHL’s elite, Sterling preaches patience as he and his teammates adjust to Berube’s plan.

“We have all the makings of a really good team,” said Sterling, who has scored 167 career goals for the Wolves. “But one of the big things is, how do you come together as a team? How does it mold together?

“I think every team is a work in progress as the season goes on. The expectations are high for us. We’ve got a lot of talent, we’ve got some great players…but we’re not even into Game 1 yet and so many things can change throughout the year.”

Sterling’s veteran leadership will help some of the Wolves’ younger players play through some of the adversity and unexpected twists and turns he knows will come. But if the Wolves can weather some of those storms, Sterling can see good things happening as the season progresses.

But putting a specific measuring stick on the Wolves’ ceiling isn’t something Berube is willing to do. At least not yet.

“It’s hard to say – it’s too early in the year to make that kind of prediction,” Berube said. “It looks good, but they have to play well, they have to play as a team. That’s the biggest thing.”

Follow me on Twitter @JeffArnold_.

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