Nottingham Panthers Rebuild: Luke Ferrara Signing Puts Elite League on Notice

Luke Ferrara is the first landmark signing of the Nottingham Panthers' rebuild (Image: Scott Wiggins)
Luke Ferrara is the first landmark signing of the Nottingham Panthers' rebuild (Image: Scott Wiggins)

Omar Pacha’s task at the Motorpoint Arena is easy to define but difficult to execute. He was appointed CEO with a single mission in mind: to lead the Nottingham Panthers’ rebuild.

Just two months into his tenure, the Canadian has already shifted the dial in the East Midlands by appointing an impressive head coach and stealing his next-door neighbour’s best homegrown forward.

Related: Omar Pacha Appointed Nottingham Panthers CEO: Quotes, Analysis

Although he will ultimately be judged on his club’s performances on the ice, Pacha is off to a positive start and looks set to make further progress this offseason.

Gary Graham Appointed to Lead Panthers Rebuild:

Behind the scenes, the Panthers are making a significant effort to build a solid relationship between head coach Gary Graham and the club’s supporters. His Coaches Corner appearances have lifted the lid on his approach to life behind the bench, providing the 43-year-old with the opportunity to win over hesitant fans before a puck is even dropped.

Graham’s resume is impressive. His nine-season association with the ECHL’s Fort Wayne Komets speaks volumes about his loyalty and ability to manage in both directions. He kept his bosses and players onside in Indiana, a record that eventually saw him promoted to Director of Player Personnel.

- Panthers Rebuild - Gary Graham, formerly of the Fort Wayne Comets (Image: FW Comets)
Gary Graham, formerly of the Fort Wayne Comets (Image: Fort Wayne Comets)

He split from the Komets in 2019 and was quickly snapped up by ORG Beijing, the VHL affiliate of Kunlun Red Star, to help construct Team China’s roster for the 2022 Winter Olympics.

In other words, Graham has experience covering fifteen seasons and two continents in senior and junior hockey. He’s held a mixture of roles, has an eye for player evaluation and has clear ideas about how he likes his teams to play. As the Panthers have been crying out for an on-ice identify, his appointment was shrewd.

Luke Ferrara Headlines 2022-23 Nottingham Roster:

With several months of the offseason remaining, Nottingham’s roster is still under construction. Even so, the Panthers have assembled an interesting core and are well-positioned to make a splash down the line.

Player Position Contract Status
Archie Hazeldine Right-Handed Defenceman 2-way, 22/23
Luke Ferrara Right Wing 22/23
Jack Hopkins Centre 22/23
Jordan Kelsall Centre 22/23
Matthew Myers Centre 22/23
Jeremy Welsh Centre/Left-Wing 22/23

Luke Ferrara’s arrival is the obvious place to start. He topped the Elite League in scoring two seasons ago, leading the Coventry Blaze to an impressive top-half finish under Danny Stewart. Although the former Peterborough Phantom hasn’t made his mark with limited ice time at the international level, he’s a star homegrown player in league play and a coup for the Panthers.

“It was a big one for us,” Graham said of Ferrara’s signing, “he’s a guy we really wanted. Luke is a solid goal-scorer, unbelievable on the powerplay, and his one-timer is something I can’t wait to work with. He’s a guy that can be a snake in the grass for us, someone who always has a chance of scoring when the puck is on his stick in dangerous areas.

“I want to work with him on his overall top-end speed. He has a goal to keep improving – which is what I like – and he’s going to be a fun player for Nottingham fans to watch.”

Ferrara joins a strong homegrown core in Nottingham. Archie Hazeldine’s arrival on a two-way deal underlines the organisation’s commitment to building for the future, while the retention of Matthew Myers and Jeremy Welsh shows that the Panthers value continuity.

Jack Hopkins, signed to a one-way deal for this season, will be a player to watch in pre-season. The 18-year-old made 14 appearances in the Elite League last term and will be hoping to earn more ice time in 2022/23. Nottingham’s roster is a work-in-progress – but Graham and Pacha have the right building blocks in place.

What’s Next for the Panthers?

Recruitment. Recruitment. Recruitment.

If the Panthers want to enjoy success for years to come, they must find the right players to complement their British core – preferably players interested in sticking around for a while. Building a dynasty in the Elite League, like any competition, requires a stable spine, and it’s up to Pacha and Graham to mould it.

Recruiting a defensively responsible centreman to anchor Ferrara’s line is a top priority for Nottingham, especially considering Graham’s desire for his team to play with a physical edge next term.

Ultimately, the Panthers are making steady progress despite the departures of Ollie Betteridge and Josh Tetlow. The sun is rising in Nottingham but we’ll soon know whether it’s a false dawn.

What do you make of the Panthers’ rebuild? Join the conversation by tweeting @BritIceHockey.

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