Danny Stewart insists Fife Flyers have not taken a gamble by signing a rookie import ... because the club has done its homework.
Flyers confirmed the signing of Matt Delahey this week - a 25-year-old University of Saskatchewan graduate who has made only 20 senior appearances in North America.
However, the Flyers associate coach is convinced the Kirkcaldy club is getting a talented defenceman following a series of recommendations, including a “glowing reference” from former UK Superleague and Team GB under 20 coach Troy Walkington, who coached Delahey at Saskatchewan.
“At times it can be a risk to sign a first-year pro, but with Matt, we really did our homework,” Stewart said.
“He had a great career in the WHL junior league, and he had a brief stint in the ECHL with Ontario.
“He had a chance to stay pro but wanted to get his education, and you can’t knock a guy for that, so he’s been playing in the CIS, which is a good brand of hockey.
“He’s had five years there and was a leader for his team.
“He’s played enough good competitive hockey to make the step up.
“He will be a very solid player for us.
“Teams can be hesitant to sign someone without pro experience, but some guys arrive with impressive CVs but their heart isn’t in it.
“We really did our due diligence and Matt will bring the type of qualities we want at the club this year.”
The 6ft 1in defenceman is a former fourth round NHL draft pick with New Jersey Devils and was one of 23 players who comprised the Canadian men’s hockey team at the Winter Universiade in Spain in December.
“Matt will help us with our mobility and physicality at the back,” Stewart said.
“We’re looking for guys that will compete night in, night out and who make the team stronger defensively.
“That’s not just our defencemen - our forwards this year should also be better defensively.
“We had a lot of skill last year - maybe the most skill in the league - but we just didn’t have the right balance.
“We didn’t have guys willing to work both ways every night and that’s something we’ve looked to address.”
Stewart added that Flyers are looking to add at least one more import defenceman to the roster.
“We’re keeping our eye out for some additional size at the back end,” he said.
“We have a good combination of size and mobility with the guys we’ve signed so far.
“If we add that extra bit size and physicality, we’ll be well-rounded back there.”
Stewart also stated the he is “absolutely” confident that Flyers have found a replacement netminder for the retiring Kevin Regan.
Flyers are still on the hunt for a full line of import forwards but the likelihood of any more of last season’s roster returning appears slim.
“I would say most likely not at this stage,” Stewart said.
“A couple of guys we’d spoken to are contemplating retirement so it’s a grey area right now.
“Within the next couple of weeks things will be decided either way.”
On the hunt for more forwards, Stewart added: “We’ve got guys like Dingle and Dorr who have a very good track record of goals and we’re looking for more guys to contribute on that side.
“We also wanting to bring a different element up front with some physicality and size.”
Elsewhere in the Elite League, a number of ex-NHL players have been signed up this summer, the most recent being former NHL enforcer Boris Valabik at Coventry Blaze.
Former NHL stars have graced the Flyers jersey in the past - Laurie Boschman, Doug Smail, Mark Morrison and Dan Goneau to name a few - but none thus far in the EIHL era.
“It would be ideal to bring one in, as long as it is the right guy,” Stewart said.
“As long as his heart is in it and he’s not winding down his career, it would definitely be a bonus to get a player with NHL experience.
“Whether we actually need one - I don’t think so. Finding the right balance is far more important.
“More of these high calibre players coming across here shows that the UK reputation has upped over the last few years and that the league is getting stronger.
“The strong pound and weak euro is also a factor.”