3 Manitoba Moose to Watch

With the quality of roster put together by Winnipeg Jets general manager, Kevin Cheveldayoff, the club was undoubtedly expected to make the playoffs. Those expectations fell short and the team found themselves on the golf course by May.

One can chalk up the disappointing season to poor goaltending, underperforming depth players or untimely injuries but no matter the excuse, it still resulted in a lottery selection. The Jets were seven points back of the final wild-card spot.

Missing the postseason by that margin can really sting. The only thing that can sting more is if they were basement dwellers, a feeling their American Hockey League affiliate, Manitoba Moose, know all too well.

“Obviously anytime your team doesn’t make the playoffs, you kind of feel like it’s a failed season,” said forward Chase De Leo in his season-ending interview. The Moose were the third worst team in the Western Conference and sixth worst in the AHL.

Kyle Connor Jets
Kyle Connor played for the Manitoba Moose last season but is expected to make the jump full-time to the big club. (Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports)

With a new season comes new hope, especially in a league as fluid as the AHL. Young players mature another year, veterans continue to bolster their experience and new recruits come aboard. The newest addition for the Moose may be gone before they know it.

Tucker Poolman – Defenceman

The Moose blueline was a catastrophic nightmare last season. Injuries to the Jets’ starting six didn’t help as they recalled AHL regulars Nelson Nogier and Julian Melchiori. This not only affected their ability to keep pucks out of the net but also harmed the offense and development of their skilled forwards.

Poolman will be a welcome addition to their below-average blue line. His vision is sure to help their forwards continue to produce with a solid first pass out of the zone. Not to mention quarterbacking their power play with his right-shot bomb.

His long and active stick will make him a regular on the penalty kill. In Poolman’s first preseason action, he logged a team-high 6:21 shorthanded, a pretty remarkable feat for a guy coming off bi-lateral shoulder surgeries.

With 72 points in 119 career college games, the 6-foot-3 defenceman can and will continue to produce at the professional level. The transition from college to pro, however, isn’t all about skill and strength. The grueling schedule takes a large physical and mental toll on players.

Tucker Poolman
UND defenseman Tucker Poolman will display his puck-handling skills at the pro-level this season. (Eric Classen, UND Athletics)

The Grand Folks product should highlight an upgraded group of defencemen which aside from having Nogier and Melchiori for the full season, also includes Sami Niku, Jan Kostalek and AHL veteran, Cameron Schilling.

The former North Dakota Fighting Hawk has the tools to compete at the professional level already and it’s only a matter of time until he’s up with the big club. Moose fans and coaches better enjoy him while they can.

Jack Roslovic – Centre

Leading your team in scoring as a rookie is no ordinary achievement. Well, the Moose’s top-three scorers were also freshmen but Roslovic led the bunch. The 20-year-old centerman ranked seventh in the league in points by a rookie.

His 13 goals and 35 assists gave him 48 points on the year, including three game-winning goals. If his 35 assists didn’t demonstrate his ability to create, his three unassisted goals should. The minus-17 rating could use improvement.

Roslovic spent one year at Miami University then went straight to the pros. The organization did, however, decide to release their 2015 first-round pick to play for Team USA at the World Junior Championships and he brought home gold.

Brett Slawson’s 58th ranked prospect will be the Moose’s first line center this season and appears poised to take the next step sooner rather than later due to his skillset and peak physical condition.

I still believe the Jets view Roslovic as Bryan Little’s replacement down the road. Even though that road may be a tad longer than expected after Little’s freshly inked six-year contract. They’re both right-shots and are roughly the same size.

The soft-spoken, AHL all-star capped off his impressive rookie campaign with an extremely special moment, playing his first NHL game in his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

Eric Comrie – Goalie

After spending four seasons with the Tri-City Americans of the Western Hockey League, Comrie made the transition to professional hockey and didn’t miss a beat, though his numbers suggest otherwise.

The Edmonton-born, 22-year-old has played 97 games with the Moose the last two seasons and earned 32 wins. Not great, right? With the team’s horrible defence in recent years, Comrie shouldn’t take the blame. In fact, expect a breakout season from the starter.

“He’s one of the best young goaltenders I’ve seen in the last five years. I want to put him right up there with a guy like Andrei Vasilevskiy,” said Steve Valiquette, MSG analyst and former NHL netminder.

If Valiquette is right, that will be a tremendous addition for the Jets. Already having Connor Hellebuyck in the fold and adding a Vasilevskiy caliber of goaltender.

The Jets have high hopes for their 2013 second-round pick. He was tied for the third most starts among AHL goaltenders and that number should decrease slightly with Jamie Phillips as a backup.

It’s a ludicrous thought after the season of underwhelming goaltending the Jets experienced but the eventual hope for Comrie is to push Hellebuyck for the starting job. The Jets have themselves a pair of young studs between the pipes both under the age of 25.

The Jets have enough skill on their roster that these prospects only need a subtle impact. If Roslovic can even develop into a third line center, it would be huge for the big club. If Poolman or Comrie can simply crack the roster in the next couple seasons, that should be viewed as a win.

The Jets have a distinguished reputation to uphold and with these three solid prospects in the system, they should find themselves back in the postseason in a hurry.