The Manitoba Moose finished the 2021-22 regular season with a record of 41-24-5, which was good for second place in the Central Division. Their season ended in heartbreaking fashion on home ice against the Milwaukee Admirals, losing the fifth game of the best-of-five series 2-1.
When an American Hockey League (AHL) team does that well, they will usually see a few of their young impact players graduate to the NHL level. When you combine that with the lack of moves that the Winnipeg Jets have made this offseason in comparison to their division rivals, they will need young players to step up if they want to compete at a higher level than last season. Here are four players who played for the Moose last season that could play a role for the Jets in 2022-23.
David Gustafsson was recently re-signed to a two-year extension with the organization, carrying an average annual value (AAV) of $755,000. He played two games with the NHL club last season, but soon suffered an injury that held him out of the lineup.
Gustafsson was a force for the Moose, scoring 30 points in 47 games and being their top-line centre for every situation imaginable. Do you need a two-way top line centre? One that plays both the first-line power play and penalty kill? The “Gus-bus” as fans like to call him, was the perfect leader on the ice, and one of the biggest reasons for the success of the team last season.
Gustafsson’s role on the Jets is projected to begin on the fourth line, alongside depth forwards Dominic Toninato and Jansen Harkins. The hope is that he will finally be able to stay healthy and showcase his talents with the team, and maybe even crack the middle-six portion of the lineup if all goes well. His ability to play with any style of player and so many roles between even-strength and special teams almost guarantees his spot on the team come opening night.
Does Morgan Barron qualify as a “Moose player”? Well, he played 10 total games while playing 14 for the Jets. In terms of production, he scored twice as many points in the AHL compared to the NHL and has made his biggest mark on the franchise so far in the minors.
Having said that, Barron has the chance to be a valuable player within the Jets’ bottom six next season. After being traded for Andrew Copp, the organization hopes he could one day develop into an effective middle-six player. That time is nearing, as he’s 23 years old and knocking on the door of a full-time NHL job. If he can put the pieces together this season, he could provide a scoring and defensive touch to a bottom-six that desperately needs it.
Barron played most of his 2021-22 NHL minutes alongside Adam Lowry and the newly re-signed Mason Appleton on the third line. If he ends up resuming that role, the team will rely on him to make a big leap and contribute in a way that Harkins and Toninato have yet to do.
Ville Heinola was one of the best defencemen in the entire AHL last season and was a big part of a blue line that won plenty of games for the Moose. He finished the season with 26 points in 41 games, with his main partner being captain Jimmy Oligny. Heinola was a first-round pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft and has only suited up for the Jets 17 times since then, 12 of them being in the 2021-22 season.
While there is currently a logjam on defence, the team should be looking to make Heinola an NHL regular sooner rather than later. He possesses the instincts and hockey sense of a veteran, and with more playing time, can elevate his game and his ceiling as a hockey player. A top-four defenceman is what he has been projected to become since he was drafted, and it’s time to see whether or not he has the ability to do so in the big leagues.
Manitoba Moose 2022-23 Outlook
It will be very difficult for the Moose to replicate their 2021-22 season with all of the players that are expected to be called up. Luckily for them, they had one of the deepest defence groups in the AHL last season, and they have the depth to soften the potential losses of Heinola and Dylan Samberg.
Declan Chisholm also has a great chance to make the NHL next season as does Leon Gawanke, who was recently re-signed by the team. Both are defencemen that played extremely valuable roles for head coach Mark Morrison and dominated in the AHL but are facing a plethora of competition for those elusive NHL jobs. When a team is projected to lose their number one centre, winger, and possibly more than one defenceman, they will have to rely on their depth to enjoy success for yet another campaign.
Despite all of the losses that may occur, the Moose should still be a playoff contender at a minimum. Their main issues will be goal scoring and goaltending, much like the previous season. If they can get a scoring boost outside of the top line and slightly above-average goaltending, their defence core and special teams should be able to carry them to another playoff appearance in 2022-23.