Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Some Moose Notes

With yesterday's posting of the development camp roster for the Winnipeg Jets, there's a good chance that we'll see a pile of of those players suiting up as part of the AHL's Manitoba Moose at some point in the near future. The Moose, like its NHL affiliate, is preparing for some off-season changes as free agency opens on Saturday. In saying that, changes are being made to the local AHL affiliate's makeup both on and off the ice, so let's take a quick peek at what happened today with the Winnipeg AHL club.

The Moose saw a coach leave their ranks today as assistant coach Mark Morrison joins former Manitoba Moose head coach Randy Carlyle in Anaheim with the Ducks. The 54 year-old native of Prince George, BC worked as part of the Jets' affiliate since their time in St. John's with the IceCaps in 2011. He helped coach the team to the Eastern Conference Final in 2012 and the Calder Cup Final in 2014, and has also spent time as an ECHL head coach with the Victoria Salmon Kings.

While no details were given about Morrison's new role with the Ducks, that will leave Eric Dubois and Rick St. Croix as Pascal Vincent's current assistant coaches. Morrison will join newly-named Steve Konowalchuk behind the bench alongside Carlyle with current assistant coaches Trent Yawney and Rich Preston and goaltending coach Sudarshan Maharaj remaining with the Ducks.

Does this make the Moose better? I have to say no, but we'll see who Pascal Vincent names as Morrison's replacement. Morrison's work with the Jets' AHL affiliate saw them go 208-195-28-25 in his time, so the Jets and Moose will hopefully look for a replacement with some tenure and experience to help the young Moose head coach.

Notably absent from yesterday's development camp roster were Scott Kosmachuk, Quinton Howden, and Ryan Olsen. Those three players were not qualified through the restricted free agent process, thereby making them free agents to negotiate with teams. It doesn't mean they're done with the Moose; rather, it could mean that the Jets want them strictly on AHL contracts or don't want to handcuffed with a 15% salary increase as the qualifying offers provide.

Kosmachuk was an interesting pick in the third round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. Many scouts were impressed by his 49-goal, 101-point campaign in 2013-14, but it was his thirty-goal season in 2011-12 that attracted the Jets. He recorded 35 goals before his final season with the Guelph Storm where he scored 49, and there was some serious thought he could translate his junior success into an effective AHL power forward in the coming years.

Kosmachuk's development seemed to be on pace as he worked his way through three AHL seasons. He scored 14, 19, and 11 goals in three seasons where each of his campaigns were shorter than the previous due to injuries. His defensive game was nearly non-existent in his first season with the IceCaps, but steadily got better as well as he started to learn the 200-foot game. The only major concern, from what I could see, was foot speed in that Kosmachuk never really had that blinding speed or second gear he could kick it into when he needed to create some separation. I don't necessarily think the Jets need to walk away from Kosmachuk, but they apparently felt different about his development.

Ryan Olsen was a sixth-round pick in 2012 that simply peaked in junior hockey. When drafted, Olsen was a hard-working centerman for the Saskatoon Blades whose efforts were noticed on the ice. A trade to the Kelowna Rockets saw his junior numbers balloon from 32 points to 56 and 64 points while he scored 30+ goals twice with the Rockets, doubling his previous best of 15 with the Blades. The Jets may have been excited to get Olsen into their lineup, but things never quite panned out for Olsen.

He was used mostly in a checking role where his efforts were often mentioned, but his statistical output took a major nosedive. Defensively, his game needed some help as he often looked a step slower than the players he was trying to check. I don't know if giving Olsen a more offensive role would have been a better role for him, but it seems the Jets are prepared to let him find his game in a different uniform going forward.

To not see Quinton Howden tendered a qualifying offer was a little surprising. The former first-round pick of the Florida Panthers in 2010 had his best season statistically since 2012-13 and tied his season-best goal mark of 13. Howden had shown flashes of brilliance at times in both the AHL and at the NHL level with the Florida Panthers, but I really believe his talents were misused by the Moose this season. Howden scored 28+ goals in each of his final three seasons with Moose Jaw, and I'm certain he could have been used more effectively. Unless Winnipeg brings him back on a new contract, we won't see the Manitoba-born player on home ice in the home team colours.

With those three players potentially on their ways out of town, rumours have also surfaced that longtime Moose defenceman Brenden Kichton won't have his contract renewed as well. Drafted first by the Islanders in 2011 and, after failing to sign, again by the Jets in 2013, Kichton had a respectable career going with the Moose in which he scored 30 goals and 141 points in 272 AHL games. While he was slowed by an injury last season, it seemed Kichton's trajectory was on the right path, but the Jets loaded up on defence on Friday so they need to open spots. Kichton might be the odd-man out with Julien Melchiori and Nelson Nogier seeing time with the Jets last season.

It's that time of the season where changes are afoot, and even those who seem to b establishing themselves in the AHL aren't safe from this season. Here's hoping the Moose and Jets find some replacements if these players are indeed on the move, and let's just hope these players don't come back to haunt the Moose next season.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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