One month into the 2021-22 AHL season, the Manitoba Moose are rounding into form and proving to be a tough competitor in the Central Division.
The Winnipeg Jets’ top affiliate has recorded a 7-5-1 record and currently sits third in the Central after going 4-2-1 on a seven game road trip that took them through the Chicagoland area and up to Michigan.
Prior, the Mark Morrison-led club split their first two games of the season with the Toronto Marlies in Ontario and lost in Laval to the Rocket before going 3-1-0 in their only homestand so far.
Moose Forwards Bringing Balanced Attack
The Moose have received offence from throughout their lineup, with a number of players chipping in on the scoresheet regularly. No player has more than 10 points, but 10 players have at least six.
Centre David Gustafsson leads all forwards in points, with three goals and seven assists. The second-round 2018 pick and 2020 Moose Most Valuable Player is receiving top-line minutes, often skating with Cole Perfetti to his left, and appears close to ready for a spot on the Jets’ bottom six.
Jeff Malott is tied for second among forwards in points with seven with Cole Maier (Malott has three goals and four assists while Maier has four goals and three assists.)
Malott, who signed a one-year, two-way contract in May after leading the 2020 Moose with 14 goals in his rookie professional season, started off slowly but now has three tallies in his last four games. Malott is a notably hard worker, with his goals often coming from the dirty areas in front of the net.
One of five players with six points is Mikey Eyssimont, who leads the team in goals with five in 10 games. Eyssimont, a summer free agent signing, got off to a hot start with goals in the team’s first three games. He missed three games with an injury suffered during the home stand, but is healthy again.
Organizational golden boy Perfetti has three goals and three assists, and is still finding the his footing as he joined the team late after making his NHL debut in the Jets’ season-opening game against the Anaheim Ducks last month. There’s not much to worry about with Perfetti, who recorded nine goals and 26 points in 32 games last season. He is playing top minutes and is getting plenty of chances that aren’t going in for him.
Right-winger Austin Poganski, who has jumped up to the top line at times, and bottom-six right-winger Greg Meireles also have six points each.
One player who got off to a slow start like Malott but is now emerging is veteran CJ Suess. The 27-year-old had zero points in his first six games, but has four (one goal, three assists) in his past five.
Goals, Shots, Coming in Bunches
Goals have come in bunches for the Moose, as they’ve scored five-plus four different times already. They scored a season-high six against the Grand Rapids Griffins on Nov. 13 to cap the road trip with a win.
The Moose have put a ton of pucks to the net all season, often drastically outshooting and out-chancing their opponents. They are averaging 35.84 shots on goal per game, have outshot their opponents in 12 of 13, and have never put fewer than 30 on net.
Most notably, in a 4-3 overtime win against the Milwaukee Admirals, they fired 60 shots on Connor Ingram and allowed just 16. The 60-shot game shattered the past Moose record of 52, which was set on Dec. 29, 2000 against the Kansas City Blades in their International Hockey League days.
Back End Chipping In Offence, Limiting Chances
The Moose defenders have been stout this season. Not only are they limiting their opponents to an average of 19.07 shots per game, they are also producing their fair share of points from the back end.
Tied for the team lead in points with 10 (one goal, nine assists) is slick-puck mover Ville Heinola. Logging big minutes in all situations and leading the team with a plus-six rating, the intelligent 2019 20th-overall pick’s future looks bright.
The towering Jonathan Kovacevic, meanwhile, has three goals — including this pretty one from in tight — and five assists. He’s risen the organizational depth chart with his strong play and has become an anchor on the blue line.
Leon Gawanke, in his third professional season, has also brought some offensive flair, with three goals and three assists. He’s playing with some added motivation as he would love nothing more than to represent Germany in February’s Winter Olympics in Beijing.
Veterans Jimmy Oligny and Nelson Nogier, sophomore Declan Chisholm, and rookie Simon Lundmark comprise the rest of the defensive core.
Goaltending Mostly Good
While the Moose goaltenders haven’t been too busy, they’ve been mostly solid.
Starter Mikhail Berdin — who still loves to roam out of his net to play the puck, in case you were wondering — is 4-4 with a 2.64 Goals Against Average and a pair of shutouts, although his .889 Save Percentage could use some improvement.
Berdin’s recall to back up Jets’ netminder Eric Comrie for three games when Connor Hellebuyck was out sick with a non-COVID-19 related illness after the birth of his and his wife’s first child paved the way for both rookie Arvid Holm and third-stringer Philippe Desrosiers to take to the crease.
In four starts, the 6-foot-4, 205-pound Holm — a sixth-round 2017 pick from Sweden — has proven capable, posting a 2-1-1 record, 2.45 GAA, and .888 SV%.
Desrosiers, in his lone start on Nov. 6, stopped 22 of 23 pucks that came his way in a 5-1 against the Chicago Wolves.
Moose Will Look to Enjoy Home Cooking
The Moose begin a five-game home stand at Canada Life Centre beginning Thursday as the Jets depart for Edmonton and play five of their next six on the road after a seven-game home stand of their own.
Through Nov. 28, Moose will face the Admirals in three straight and then the Texas Stars back-to-back as they try to improve their position in the standings.
Declan Schroeder is a 26-year-old communications specialist and freelance journalist in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He holds a diploma in Creative Communications with a major in journalism from Red River College and a bachelors in Rhetoric and Communications from the University of Winnipeg.
Deeply rooted in the city’s hockey culture, the original Jets skipped town when he was two and the 2.0 version came onto the scene when he was 17.