Winnipeg Jets head coach Claude Noel speaks to his team as they practice at the team’s training camp in Winnipeg Saturday.
Training camp is all of two days old, so there wasn’t a lot for the Winnipeg Jets assistant general manager, Craig Heisinger, to report Sunday evening regarding the players who will make up the St. John’s IceCaps’ roster this winter.
And besides, said Heisinger, who also holds the dual role of St. John’s general manager, none of the 65 players at camp aren’t American league players just yet. All hands are on deck in Winnipeg vying for a spot on the big club.
Okay, but given there are at least seven defencemen — Dustin Byfuglien, Tobias Enstrom, Zack Bogosian, Ron Hainsey, Johnny Oduya, Mark Stuart and newcomer Randy Jones — virtually guaranteed jobs on the Jets, it’s a safe bet the core of the IceCaps’ blueline has already been tabbed for St. John’s.
And not a bad blueline it is.
Barring any surprises, anchoring the American league defence will be Derek Meech, Mark Flood and Paul Postma.
Flood’s a five-year AHL veteran, who is coming off a 40-point season with Manitoba Moose. The P.E.I. native is considered captain material for St. John’s.
In Meech, St. John’s potentially has a player with 126 career NHL games, all with Detroit, who appeared in 74 AHL games with the Grand Rapids Griffins last season. He spent the previous two seasons with the Red Wings.
With the relocation of the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg, the Jets landed Postma, a 6-3 rearguard who led all Chicago Wolves — the Thrashers’ AHL affiliate last season — defencemen with 45 points in 69 games last season.
“I would tell you,” said Heisinger, “regardless of where the chips are going to fall, you can never have too many defenceman. And that’s whether it’s those guys, or guys we signed for depth there or the younger guys we have in the system, we think our D will be good in St. John’s.”
And what about the goaltending?
From the outset, the starting job might seem to be in the hands of 27-year-old Peter Mannino, who was 16-17-4 for the Wolves last season. Edward Pasquale, 20, split last season between the Wolves and ECHL’s Gwinnett Gladiators. Chris Carrozzi, 21, spent the entire 2010-11 season in the ECHL with Gwinnett, save for a single game with the Wolves.
A wild card, however, could be 33-year-old David Aebischer, a veteran of 214 NHL games with Phoenix, Montreal, and Colorado, winning the Stanley Cup with the Avalanche in 2001.
Aebischer played last season with HC Lugano of the Swiss league. In camp on a professional tryout offer, Aebischer will be competing against incumbents Ondrej Pavelec and Chris Mason for a job in Winnipeg. If not, he could be bound for St. John’s, which had a number of NHL veterans tend the Maple Leafs’ nets for years, namely Don Beaupre, Jimmy Waite and Jeff Reese.
“We have a chance to have a more than capable team there,” Heisinger said of St. John’s.
Up front, there are a few openings on the Jets, but St. John’s should still have several veterans in the lineup, namely Corner Brook native Jason King, Marco Rosa, Jason Jaffray and possibly former Florida Panthers’ first round pick Kenndal McArdle, a 14-goal scorer in 54 AHL games last season.
Patrice Cormier, the former national junior team captain, and highly-touted Carl Klingberg, a second-round NHL draft pick who appeared in one NHL game last season, the Thrashers’ finale, are vying for spots on the Jets’ roster.
“With the youngsters like those guys, it’s entirely up to them,” Heisinger said. “They have the future in their hands.
“We don’t really have any expectations for any players, because it’s not not like we know the players or the team real good. We inherited this team from another city. To say we have expectations or that we know these guys would be incorrect.”
The Jets open their pre-season Tuesday with games against the Columbus Blue Jackets (one split squad will play in Ohio, while another will remain at home to play a Columbus split squad). Saturday, the Jets are in Nashville before travelling to Carolina Monday.
Next Monday, the Jets and Ottawa Senators clash in an NHL exhibition at Mile One Centre, a 5:30 p.m. encounter that’s part of the Kraft Hockeyville C.B.S. celebrations, to be broadcast live on Hockey Night in Canada.
When the Jets head for home Tuesday, a number of players will remain in St. John’s for the start of the IceCaps’ training camp.
On Wednesday, Sept. 28, the IceCaps are off to Gander for camp and a pair of exhibition games against the Norfolk Admirals Thursday, Sept. 29 in Grand Falls-Windsor and Friday, Sept. 30 in Gander. The teams meet again Sunday, Sept. Oct. 2 at Mile One.
The IceCaps open their season Oct. 7 in Providence, R.I. Their home opener is seven days later against the Hamilton Bulldogs.