The Manitoba Moose are officially in need of someone to wear the C.
Defenseman Peter Stoykewych officially retired on June 9 at the age of 27, citing double-digit concussions and concerns about his future wellbeing. He was limited to a dozen games in 2019-20, and suffered what ended up being a career-ending head injury on Nov. 24.
Stoykewych, a native Winnipegger who is also the last-ever Atlanta Thrashers’ draft selection (199th overall in 2010) spent the last two seasons as Moose captain — succeeding Patrice Cormier — and played his entire 267-game career with the Jets/Moose franchise, registering 19 goals and 53 assists for 72 points.
Stoykewych’s decision to retire so young and prioritize his long-term health over playing the game he loves is a testament to his intelligence and maturity. He was a dedicated captain who relished his chance to make a positive impact on the community, appearing at many events and always putting his teammates above himself.
“I just feel so fortunate to be able to (play in my hometown,)” Stoykewych said during a recent conference call. “So many professionals play for such a long time and never get to play in front of family and friends. I was always blessed and tried to appreciate it and never take it for granted that my friends could come after they were done work, my parents could come every single day. From being from Winnipeg and appreciating and knowing what the Moose, True North and the Winnipeg Jets mean to the community, I grew up in it and they meant a lot to me growing up as well, so to be a part of that in general was awesome… I’ll always cherish that.”
With Stoykewych hanging them up, here’s a look at three candidates for next Moose captain, from least to most probable. Note all three need to sign a new contact whenever the offseason comes.
3: Nelson Nogier
Nelson Nogier is not a flashy player or huge point producer by any means, but that doesn’t preclude him from being a good candidate for captain.
Nogier, 24, has spent four seasons patrolling the Moose blue line, although his sophomore 2017-18 campaign was nearly completely lost due to a shoulder injury he sustained in his very first preseason shift. In 205 games with the Moose, the defensive defenceman has recorded 8 goals and 32 assists for 40 points in a shutdown role.
Selected 101st overall in the 4th round of the 2014 NHL entry draft, Nogier is a physical, stay-at-home guy who knows the organization well. In addition to being fourth overall in AHL games played since True North brought their top affiliate team back from St. John’s prior to the 2015-16 AHL season, he’s played 11 games for the Jets.
2: Cameron Schilling
If the Moose were to promote the most battle-tested player on their roster, it would be Cameron Schilling. The 31-year-old defenseman has played three seasons for the Moose and is their oldest and most experienced player in regard to total AHL games played, with 544 over 10 seasons.
The undrafted American has been a fixture on the Moose blue line since coming over to the Jets’ organization prior to the 2017-18 season. In 189 Moose games, he’s tallied 17 goals and 68 assists and a plus-34 rating. He was an eye-popping plus-25 in 2017-18.
In 2019-20, prior to the AHL season cancellation due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he recorded five goals and 19 assists for 24 points in 54 games, good for second among Moose blueliners.
Dependable older players such as Schilling — who served as an alternate captain for the past two seasons — often extend their careers by taking on a leadership role and proving they are just as valuable off the ice as on it. With his experience with four different AHL clubs, he’s well-positioned to be a mentor.
1: JC Lipon
The Moose leader in games played and points since the team returned, truculent forward JC Lipon is the most compelling candidate for the Moose’s 10th captain all-time.
Lipon, 26, was selected by the Jets 91st overall in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft and has suited up for 452 games over two seasons with the St. Johns IceCaps and five with the Moose, recording 80 goals, 142 assists, and 839 penalty minutes in those games.
Lipon has already served as an alternate captain for three seasons, and is a hard-checking, fearless character who never shies away from physical confrontation but also has strong offensive abilities. It makes sense to upgrade his A to a C.
Lipon, when compared to most other players at the AHL level, is a grizzled veteran and should be capable of teaching rookies the ropes. He has been a loyal foot soldier and although his window to be a full-time NHLer may be closed, his style of feisty, firebrand leadership could be a big boon to the organization.
Moose Have Plenty of Time to Decide
While the NHL can afford to play in empty arenas — and are trying to do as part of their return-to-play plan that would see squads play a 24-team payoffs in two hub cities sometime this summer — the AHL, a gate-driven league, cannot.
It’s unknown when fans will be allowed to safely attend games again and it’s likely the AHL will not operate until that time comes.
Because of that, the Moose have plenty of time to determine who their new captain will be and who they’ll charge — whether it’s one of these three or someone else — with leading the team to the Calder Cup Playoffs for just the second time in six seasons.