Moose Are Primed for Deep Calder Cup Playoff Run

The Manitoba Moose have an excellent shot of making a deep Calder Cup Playoff run this spring.

Stability, Balanced Scoring Leading to Moose’s March Success

The Moose are riding a nine-game point streak, going 7-0-1-1 in that span. They are second in the American Hockey League’s Central Division with a 33-17-3-2 record.

They have found success despite having zero players in the top 100 of AHL scoring. The current leader in points is Cole Maier, who is 127th league-wide with 29 (15 goals, 14 assists.) The current leader in goals, Jeff Malott, has 18 tallies but that doesn’t even crack the AHL’s top 25.

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The Moose’s hallmark is its balanced attack. All four lines are a threat to light the lamp and the team has scored four-plus goals in five of eight March contests.

You won’t find any gaudy individual stats lines because the Moose score by committee. Nine players on their active roster have 20-plus points, including three defensemen.

Manitoba Moose Top Five Forwards in Points Jeff Malott
Jeff Malott (pictured) leads the Moose in goals with 18. Cole Maier leads the team in points with 29. (The Hockey Writers)

The Moose have gotten a lot deeper since the NHL eased its COVID-19 protocols and no longer subjects asymptomatic players to daily testing. They kept winning even when they had absurdly high roster turnover and now that there’s more continuity thanks to the post-All Star break elimination of taxi squads, their lines are finding good chemistry.

Since the most transient days back in January, the Moose have regained the services of Mikey Eyssimont, David Gustafsson, Austin Poganski, and CJ Suess, among others. The return of these veterans has been impactful.

Eyssimont has 14 points since the beginning of February (six goals, eight assists,) while Gustafsson has seven points (four goals, three assists) in 13 games since returning from injury; he is playing first-line centre.

Mikey Eyssimont Manitoba Moose
Mikey Eyssimont is second in team scoring with 12 goals and 16 assists in 43 games and is one of the relative veterans the Moose have regained. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Poganski has five points (one goal, four assists) in seven games since returning at the beginning of the month after playing 16 games for the Jets, while Suess has four points (three goals, one assist) in seven games since returning from a hand injury he suffered on a call-up to the Jets in January.

Moose Have Received Reinforcements after NHL Trade Deadline

Head coach Mark Morrison has received even more weapons recently.

Late last week, Kristian Vesalainen was sent down. The 2017 first-rounder has not found much NHL scoring success — he recorded just two goals and one assist in 53 games this season — but has proven capable of producing in the AHL with 49 points in 92-career games. His one-timer on the power play is a dangerous asset. The Jets also assigned Ville Heinola and Kristian Reichel (currently injured) before Monday’s deadline to ensure they’re available to the team for the final 21 regular season games and the postseason.

Jets’ general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff’s wheeling and dealing at the NHL Trade Deadline also brought a pair of new players into the fold.

Related: Jets’ Trade Deadline a Success Thanks to Cheveldayoff’s Logical Moves

The trade that sent Andrew Copp to the New York Rangers brought, among draft picks, big centre Morgan Barron in return. Barron, a 23-year-old who stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 220 pounds, has 36 points in 46 career AHL games. He has been described as an “AHL force” and an immovable net-front presence.

In a separate trade, the Jets acquired defenseman Markus Phillips from the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for defenseman Nelson Nogier.

Phillips was drafted in the fourth round in 2017 and has spent the past two seasons with the Kings’ AHL affiliate, the Ontario Reign. The left-shooting 23-year-old has one goal and four assists in 38 games this season.

Phillips may not even be able to crack a stacked blue-line that includes Declan Chisholm, Leon Gawanke, Ville Heinola, Johnathan Kovacevic, Simon Lundmark, Jimmy Oligny, and Dylan Samberg.

Manitoba Moose Top Five Defenseman in Points Leon Gawanke
Leon Gawanke leads all Moose defenders in points with 28. (The Hockey Writers)

Not only do they not give up a ton of chances, they produce their fair share of offence. Chisholm, Gawanke, and Kovacevic all have 25-plus points.

Don’t Doubt Morrison and Moose Could Go Deep

If Morrison can get the team to win with six-plus PTO players in the lineup at a time, getting them to win with most of it’s core in tact should be easy in comparison.

One question mark that remains is between the pipes. Starter Mikhail Berdin is dealing with another injury, although no details have been disclosed. He has not played since March 11 and has not dressed for any of the first four games of their current road trip. Berdin also missed time with injury in February.

The current goaltending tandem is Arvid Holm and Evan Cormier, who aren’t particularly experienced. Holm is getting the bulk of the work and has often been strong, but he is also a little inconsistent. The first-year pro is 12-6-2 with a 2.77 GAA and one shutout, but his SV% is only .833. Cormier’s numbers are better — 5-1-2 with a 2.45 GAA and .920 SV% — but he has only 45-career AHL games under his belt.

As an insurance policy, the Jets recently signed Philippe Desrosier to a one-year, two-way deal; he has played in four games for the Moose this season.

If anything is true about the 2021-22 Moose, it’s that they thrive through adversity. They’ll cope without Berdin for however long he’s on the shelf.

The Moose have not qualified for the Calder Cup Playoffs since 2017-18, which was their first and only postseason appearance since returning from St. John’s prior to the 2015-16 season.

Although they have a way to go yet before seeing an “X” next to their name — and should remain focused first and foremost on that goal — there’s no reason to doubt they’ll make it and little reason they couldn’t make some serious noise in the postseason. Barring any major personnel changes or uncharacteristic collapse, this squad could go the furthest since the Moose 1.0 era.