The Manitoba Moose finished in fifth place in the American Hockey League’s (AHL) Western Conference last season. Their record to end the season was 41-24-5, which was good for 89 points and a 0.618 winning percentage.
While they have made moves to largely keep the same roster in place, they are projected to lose a haul of core players to the NHL. They will have more prospects coming to fill these holes, but the main contributors of both the offence and defensive groups are expected to graduate to the Winnipeg Jets.
The Moose have made several moves to try and replenish their weaknesses from last season. Their strengths look to remain the same this season based on personnel, and their weaknesses may, unfortunately, come back to haunt them for yet another season. Here’s a preview of what the lineup may look like going into the 2022-23 AHL season.
Cheveldayoff Has Made Plenty of AHL Signings
While general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff has been fairly inactive at the NHL level, the Moose have seen plenty of action in the AHL free agent market. So far, he has signed three defencemen and three forwards and re-signed some big contributors from last season.
Kyle Capobianco, Elias Salomonsson, and Ashton Sautner have all been signed to two-way contracts and are expected to start the season in the minors. These moves can be seen as insurance, as defencemen Ville Heinola and Dylan Samberg may be moving up to the NHL this season. If those players do earn roles with the club, then they will have done their part in having a backup plan for their departure.
The forward core should remain largely the same, with David Gustafsson possibly moving up to play fourth-line centre with the Jets. That will be a huge loss for the team that had him playing top power play, penalty kill, and even-strength minutes. As a result, they’ve signed forwards Kevin Stenlund, Saku Maenalanen, and Alex Limoges to two-way contracts to try and replenish their forward core.
Defence Core Should Still Be Moose’s Main Strength
While Heinola and Samberg may be moving on, the defence core of the Moose still projects to be as strong as ever. The right side projects to be Leon Gawanke, who was re-signed to a one-year contract; Jonathan Kovacevic, who signed a three-year deal; and Simon Lundmark, a former second-round pick in 2019 who played 57 games for the team last season.
The left side should still have Declan Chisholm, who was arguably the best defenceman on the team down the stretch and into the playoffs last season. Captain Jimmy Oligny is returning, and the third spot should be up for grabs between the new free agent signings.
Similar to last season, the strength of this team will be on the back end. They were exceptional at preventing chances in 2021-22 and finished with the fourth-best penalty kill in the Western Conference at 82.3 percent, largely thanks to their defensive core. Chisholm and Gawanke made up one of the best pairings in the entire AHL, and they will be asked to shoulder big minutes for a defence core that lost most of its depth.
Scoring & Preventing Goals May Be Their Biggest Weakness
Gustafsson, Morgan Barron, and C.J. Suess are all forwards who contributed for the Moose in the playoffs last season, and who will more than likely not be on the team in 2022-23. Suess signed a contract with the San Jose Sharks, and the other two have NHL roles carved out for them. They finished seventh in the Western Conference in goals-for, and are losing a combined 39 goals between those three forwards. Prospects such as Daniel Togersson and Henri Nikkanen will have to contribute to the score sheet to prevent this from being an issue.
Another issue they may run into is still lingering from last season. Goaltenders Mikhail Berdin and Arvid Holm struggled mightily and were well below the averages that the organization expected. Even though the defence core should be stellar, they will be a former version of what they were last year. If they are allowing more chances, the goaltenders will have to step up and carry the team to a couple of wins. An above-average goalie tandem makes the Moose a defensive force, and it looks as though they are going to be bringing back both goaltenders this upcoming season.
|2021-22 AHL Season||Save Percentage||Goals Against Average||Record|
|Mikhail Berdin||.902%||2.40 GAA||19-10-3|
|Arvid Holm||.877%||2.90 GAA||12-10-2|
Despite many players likely moving on, the Moose project as a playoff contender and they should be hoping to win a playoff series this season. Another issue they may run into is the lack of depth at the NHL level. Since the Jets are desperately missing a bottom-six forward, they will be taking turns looking at the top forwards on the AHL squad and seeing who performs the best. In the meantime, they will suffer from chemistry and goal-scoring issues. If the defence can navigate them through these issues, they will have no problem returning to the Calder Cup Playoffs in 2022-23.
Connor Hrabchak is 20 years old, currently covering the Ottawa Senators and Winnipeg Jets for The Hockey Writers, and is working towards completing his communications and media degree. He was born and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He’s been watching hockey ever since they moved back to Winnipeg in 2011, and that has inspired him to write about hockey and attempt to make it into a full-time career.