With this NHL season looking more and more likely a lost cause, the upside around these parts is the St. John’s IceCaps will have Zach Redmond in the lineup for a full season.
Yes, Alex Burmistrov, Paul Postma and Aaron Gagnon are on one-way contracts, and Spencer Machacek probably has something in place in his new deal bringing him to Winnipeg should the Jets get back on ice this season.
But if there is one IceCap who would deserve an NHL promotion based on performance, it’s Redmond, the second-year defenceman who just might be tabbed a steal of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft when all is said and done.
From a pure numbers standpoint, Redmond is on the same pace he was last season, his rookie campaign following four years of NCAA hockey at Ferris State University in his native Michigan.
Redmond had a goal and seven assists 22 games in last year.
This season, at the 22-game mark and not including last night’s tilt with the Springfield Falcons at Mile One, Redmond was fourth in IceCaps’ scoring with six goals and three assists, and second in minutes played — both even strength and special teams — to veteran Derek Meech among defencemen.
But you have to look past the numbers to truly gauge Redmond’s second pro season.
He’s being used in all situations by coach Keith McCambridge, and the confidence being shown in Redmond is reflected in his play on the ice.
He is, simply put, proving to be NHL-ready.
“He’s forcing Winnipeg’s hand,” McCambridge said. “They’re watching him develop rapidly.”
See LEARNED, page B2
Redmond, 24, wasn’t selected until the seventh round of the 2008 draft, 184th overall, or 27 picks before the last name (Jesper Samuelsson, by the way) was called by Detroit.
He was drafted following his freshman season at Ferris State, but Redmond would finish out his college career before turning pro. If there was a knock on the Traverse City, Mich., native — and there wasn’t much to criticize given a 31-point year, plus-nine rating and a spot in the league’s all-star game — it was that Redmond looked to hit the wall in the second half. Not entirely unexpected for college kids coming to the pros following an abbreviated university schedule, but that was of little consolation to Redmond, who sat three of seven games in January as a healthy scratch.
“I guess you learn a lot in your rookie season,” he said. “You take your lumps and you learn. Getting scratched a couple of times wasn’t easy, but you learn from those experiences.”
“He has learned how to be a professional,” McCambridge said. “He comes to the rink every day, not only for games but for practices, realizing the amount of work that needs to be invested to get better and to help his team win games.
“He’s realizes what it takes to be a professional hockey player.
“Consistency falls under being a pro. Details fall under being a pro. Work ethic in games and practice fall under being a pro. He is getting his game to a level where it needs to be to be an upper-echelon player.”
Redmond punched in an onerous off-season, following a workout program designed by Lee Stubbs, the Jets’ strength and conditioning coach. It was different from previous summers as a college student.
“It’s a little different training for pro and training for college,” he said. “I followed his workouts pretty much to a tee. I felt real good coming in to camp.”
Of course, unless your name happens to be Orr, few defencemen ever make the NHL solely on their offensive skills, or their ability to move the puck. Rather, it’s the defensive game that ultimately teams scrutinize, and so far Redmond — with a minus-one rating entering Friday’s game — has a passing grade.
“He’s hard to play against,” McCambridge said. “In the corners and in front of the net, he’s strong on pucks whenever he gets possession. He makes intelligent reads on when to join the rush, when there’s an opportunity to jump in on the offence, and when he should lay back and count numbers in front of him.
“He thinks the game at a better level than when I saw him last year, and he’s been like that for us pretty much since training camp.
“The staying in shape over the summer, getting stronger and quicker ... everything has all rolled into a really strong start for him.”
While Redmond is exuding confidence on the ice, he’s not so convinced about a resolution to the NHL labour war. And that was even before Thursday night’s crash-and-burn.
“It’s hard to take super serious anymore because you’ve been let down a couple of times,” he said of the breakdown in talks between players and owners. “I’m trying to do everything I can to set myself up to be in a position to make the Jets. But there’s a pecking order, and what the guys in Winnipeg are thinking and what’s going on with the salary cap … well, there’s so much that goes into it, who knows.
“So right now I’m just trying to work hard and set myself up for if and when an opportunity (to play in Winnipeg) does happen.”
Considering the calibre of players in the Newfoundland Senior Hockey League now — former NHLers, minor pro players, players with major junior and university experience — it’s safe to say the level of play within the provincial senior hockey circuit has never been better. Too bad St. John’s cannot ice a team, but with 15-plus seasons of the American Hockey League in the capital city, fans are not likely to support what is, rightly or wrongly, regarded a sub-standard product ... Hearing the Avalon-Celtics Minor Hockey Association will be starting its own Hall of Fame. The organization is a merge of the old Avalon system and Celtics/Christian Brothers organization meaning players from those systems would be eligible. No question, the first three inductees should be John Slaney, Dwayne Norris and Derek Clancey, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ director of pro scouting ... Danny Breen tells me a new minor baseball field, with lights, will be built on the current minor soccer field at St. Pat’s. That diamond will replace the Wedgewood Park ball field which will be taken out of service to make way for a new recreation centre. As well, the ball park at Airport Heights will be fitted out with lights. Now, when will see a new hockey rink or two built? ... Jerry (Stats) Elliott is coming out with another volume of his “Trip Down Memory Lane” books, detailing stories and listing stats from the old Newfoundland Senior Hockey League ... There’s distrust amongst the NHL and its Players Association, and certainly bitterness, but there’s one thing the two sides have in common, though both will deny: neither could care less what hockey fans think of the lockout. Oh, they will tout, “we have the world’s best fans,” blah, blah blah, but at the end of the day, money is what matters and everything and everyone else be damned. Oh Lord, what I wouldn’t give to have the NHL return to half-empty rinks. Won’t happen in Canada, for certain. There’s a chance in the States, however, where the NFL, NBA, MLB, college football and basketball, NASCAR and, in some cases, high school sports draws more attention ...
Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor. He can be reached by email firstname.lastname@example.org