When coach Karl Taylor made his first two training camp cuts on Monday, he said Dan Leslie and Brian Matte "would probably have made the team last year."
"Nothing against that group," Taylor said of last year's squad, "but we've got some pretty high-level players this year."
From the time 38 hopefuls arrived at an amateur tryout in September until today, when the Reign travel to Bakersfield for the regular-season opener against the Condors, there's ample evidence to believe this season will be different.
Take the latest signee, forward Adam Henrich. A year ago, he was in training camp with the eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. But when he was cut Monday from his tryout contract with the American Hockey League's Springfield Falcons, Henrich decided Ontario was the best place to begin his quest for another NHL contract.
"I got in touch with Karl and we spoke for a long time. I was very impressed with what he had to say," Henrich said. "I don't want to be somewhere I'm not going to win."
Henrich, at 6-foot-4½ and 225 pounds, adds size to a Reign team that was bigger to begin with. Forwards Dwight King (6-4) and Michael Pelech (6-3) are the only players who have been assigned to Ontario by the Kings.
They join a group that includes Jon Francisco and Tim Kraus, who shared the team lead in scoring with 47 points each, and Jon Rheault, who had 40 points in 49 games with the Reign while splitting the season between the ECHL and AHL.
Meanwhile, none of the team's seven defensemen - including five returners - stand shorter than 6-1.
"We'll be a little different on the forecheck, a little more aggression," Taylor said. "Not at the expense of playing defense, but we'll be a little more aggressive up front.
"Also in the D-zone we'll be a little more forceful, taking away time and space and using our bodies to finish on guys a little more. Our `D' corps is pretty big. We want to use it to our advantage."
The Reign might need every advantage they can get against a stacked Bakersfield squad, which they'll also play Saturday night. Because the NHL-affiliate Ducks lost their AHL team over the summer, they've been forced to send several higher-caliber players to Bakersfield, including goaltender Justin Pogge, who spent part of last season with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Condors have 10 players on NHL contracts.
"If you're scoring on an NHL-caliber goalie, it's a nice feeling," Kraus said. "It gives us a chance to make ourselves better, guys like me and other guys who are looking to play in the AHL."
Taking the long view, Taylor pointed out Bakersfield's gain is a plus for the ECHL. The league lost two teams at midseason last year, including the Fresno Falcons, who held first place in the Pacific Division at the time they folded.
That was no small reason why the Reign won the division crown in their first year of existence.
While the product on the ice promises to be better around the league, the new-and-hopefully improved Reign have 72 games to see how they stack up.
"They have a good team. We look forward to the challenge," Taylor said of Bakersfield. "We think we have a good team. We're excited to get going."