Chris Francis' first year with the Quad-City Mallards left an impression.
"It’s kind of like a hidden gem of the ECHL," the Mallards captain said. "It was one of the best experiences I’ve had so far in my career."
Francis re-signed with the team Tuesday, the first player to rejoin the team after a career year, helping lead the Mallards to 40 wins for the first time since 2006.
"It’s a huge piece moving forward to build on last year and improve," head coach Phil Axtell said. "Re-signing Chris, who led a Mallards team last season that was statistically one of the best in a decade, is a step in the right direction toward raising the bar and improving on what we accomplished last season."
In his seventh professional season, Francis, 28, scored a career high 27 goals and added 33 assists to finish tied for the team lead with 60 points in 63 games. He reached career milestones by scoring his 100th ECHL goal and tallying his 300th career point.
Francis was one of five players on last year's team to score at least 20 goals and tally 50 points.
"It was a good year for me but credit to all the guys on the team, they helped me be successful," he said. "There are expectations being an older guy and trying to be a leader day in and day out. I’m getting older so I’m just going to do what I can do and control what I can control. I’m going to play the game the right way and do the right things to be successful."
Francis signing means he does not need to have a qualifying offer extended when qualifying offer lists are released Saturday. The Mallards can extend qualifying offers to eight players off their 20-player protected lists by Saturday. The offers must remain open for acceptance until Aug. 1 at which time the offer becomes null and void and the team may sign the qualified player to any salary.
Teams that extend a valid qualifying offer to a non-veteran player retain the ECHL rights to that player for one season.
Francis is currently back in his hometown of Las Vegas, as is Axtell, currently attending the Vegas Golden Knights prospect development camp. The Mallards are entering their first season as the Golden Knights' ECHL affiliate.
"It was definitely exciting seeing everything that’s been going on with this new franchise and hockey in Vegas alone, the atmosphere for hockey has grown," Francis said. "That’s exciting to see because you don’t think of Vegas as someplace to see hockey."
Francis said he'd be willing to help Axtell in the recruiting process for the rest of the offseason, but Axtell acknowledged the return of his captain speaks for itself.
"Having him back is a great sign that people want to be back here," Axtell said. "I expect him to come in and do everything he did last year but improve on it. We all want to get better, we all want to improve and raise the bar every chance we can. Having him back puts the bar right where it was to end the season and now we can build on it."