Since the Winnipeg Jets had the convenience of moving their American Hockey League affiliate from St. John’s to Manitoba, reviving the Moose franchise, it has come with a lot of disappointment.
Now in their third season, the team is finally taking steps forward integrating high-end draft picks with experienced AHL veterans. After a 16 game point streak, the Moose find themselves atop the AHL standings with a .766 winning percentage.
The Moose seem poised to bring playoff hockey to the MTS Centre for the first time since the relocation and there are a number of factors that have contributed to this success.
Stabilizing the defence was a priority after an atrocious few years on the blue line. Cameron Schilling and his AHL-leading plus-28 rating have provided that steady presence along with the emergence of rookie defender Sami Niku.
Two of the #NHLJets most promising prospects, Mason Appleton and Sami NIku, went in the 6th and 7th rounds–Crazy.
— Jacob Stoller (@NHLStoller) December 30, 2017
Moose captain, Patrice Cormier is only four goals off his career high and continues his leadership excelling in his eighth season in the Jets organization. He and Peter Stoykewych have provided a much-needed punch on AHL contracts.
Underrated prospects like Chase De Leo, Jansen Harkins and Michael Spacek have kicked in their fair share of points providing depth scoring throughout the lineup.
With close to 600 games of AHL experience, Buddy Robinson and Michael Sgarbossa have been absolute money for the Moose. The pair have combined for almost 60 points already this season, placing both in the team’s top-five in scoring.
Brendan Lemieux and Nic Petan are certainly not forgotten prospects in the Jets organization. Both youngsters are point-per-game players and frankly, probably both beyond the AHL level.
Every piece is crucial to the fabulous puzzle that has been the Moose season thus far, however, three players are most responsible for their success as 2018 gets going.
After only one year at Miami University, Roslovic jumped to the professional level and was not out of place. Last season, he led the Moose in scoring with 48 points.
This season, he is proving that was no fluke with 35 points in 31 games earning himself a call to the big club following injuries to Jets’ first line center Mark Scheifele and energetic winger Brandon Tanev.
With 15 goals and 20 assists totalling those 35 points, he leads the Moose in all three major statistical categories. He ranks fourth in the entire league for points with fewer games played than all three players above him and seven or more years younger.
The Columbus product is one of the most exciting, dynamic players to watch in the AHL and the Moose will miss him dearly in his absence.
Due to the Jets’ imposing prospect pool up front, there is no rush with Roslovic which may lead to a short trial run but if he has proven anything throughout his career so far, it’s to not bet against this guy.
The Jets have a problem that many clubs would love and that is the glut of goaltenders that have created the logjam in the organization’s crease.
Connor Hellebuyck and Steve Mason are the clear-cut NHL netminders which leaves Eric Comrie, Jamie Phillips and Hutchinson to battle for the AHL crease.
Hutchinson was an everyday NHL goalie the past three seasons as he battled and often outplayed Ondrej Pavelec for consistent starts. Signing Mason was a clear indication that Hutchinson was the odd man out.
It appeared that Hutchinson would be dealt before the season but the Jets opted to send the 27-year-old to the Moose where he could not only groom Comrie but also provide an additional reliable option in the blue paint.
While some goalies have a hard time fitting their head through the door to the AHL, Hutchinson was quite the opposite. He has been a rock for this young Moose team, ranking second in goals against average (1.77) and first in save percentage (.948) league-wide.
With several goaltenders injured so far this season, it will surely scare general managers across the league into acquiring some depth at that position and Hutchinson could still be the guy. Do not be surprised to hear his name in trade circles as the February 26th deadline approaches.
This may be a bit of a surprising name on the list but Appleton has been a revelation in his first professional season. His 31 points not only rank him first among rookies but top-ten overall in the league.
After failing to register a point in his first four games, Appleton racked up ten points in his next seven contests. Now as we hover around the halfway point of the season, he has six multi-assist games and five game-winning goals to name a few accomplishments.
For a sixth-round draft pick, his production for a freshman at the pro level is rather impressive. His 19 assists or apples, showcase his vision that made him most outstanding offensive player and most valuable player for Michigan State University in 2016-17.
His 12 goals though not jaw-dropping, are a sampling into the Green Bay native’s shoot first instinct. Appleton has been held shotless only once this season and has 13 games with three or more.
He is not all offence though. His favourite player is Anze Kopitar and playing all three positions throughout his collegiate career represents his versatility and will to do whatever required to win.
“We’re giving people opportunities to play their game and guys like Mason is taking advantage of the whole thing. First things first, he’s doing what’s right to earn his ice time and he’s earning everything that he’s got,” said head coach Pascal Vincent.
Unlike many first-year players, Appleton is far from a home-show either. On home ice, it is easier for young players to get their coach’s desired matchups but the 6-foot-2 forward has a respectable 13 points on the road compared to 18 at home.
The success achieved by the Moose is the result of overall stronger unity as a group. This is shown through the long-awaited acceptance of systems and management finally putting a premium on AHL talent.
The Moose will begin 2018 with 11 of their first 17 games on the road which will undoubtedly be one of their toughest challenges yet.