John Albert may have been an unrestricted free agent this summer, but still felt bound by a personal commitment to the Winnipeg Jets and the St. John’s IceCaps.
“Actually, I didn’t even talk to any other teams,” said the 23-year-old forward from his home near Cleveland, Ohio, on Thursday, just after it was announced he had signed a contract to return to the IceCaps for a second season.
“I was pretty much focused on coming back with the Jets’ organization. I wasn’t really looking at anyone or anywhere else.”
Albert’s deal is an American Hockey League contract, similar to the one he operated under in 2011-12 season, his first as a pro, but he gave some indication there is an understanding it could be enhanced in the future.
“We felt the AHL deal is a good one for me right now. Obviously (an NHL-level contract) would have been great, but the AHL deal worked for me last year and I think it will be again. After that, we’ll see where it goes.
“I’ve given them (the Jets) the benefit of the doubt because of how well I’ve been treated by them.”
Albert emerged as a fan favourite in his rookie season with St. John’s, playing mainly a role as a fourth-line energy forward. In 64 games, the centre/left-winger has 27 points (nine goals and 18 assists) and 28 penalty minutes. In 15 playoff games, he had two goals, three assists and eight PIMs.
“I haven’t really talked to anyone in the organization about any plans they have for me. But I’m pretty sure what everyone saw from me last year is what they expect to see from me in this one, and mainly that’s about working hard each and every shift. And that’s what I will give them,” said the five-foot-11, 190-pounder.
Albert says he’s excited about returning to St. John’s — “It’s a great hockey town and I had a blast there last season,” — so much so that he played the part of unofficial recruiter of forward Ryan Schnell, who along with Albert, was one of four players to officially sign AHL deals with the IceCaps on Thursday.
Schnell, a native of suburban Chicago, and Albert played minor and junior hockey against each other and were teammates for two years on the United States under-18 development team based out of Ann Arbor, Mich.
“He called me and asked me what I thought about St. John’s and the Jets organization and the IceCaps,” said Albert.
“Of course I gave them rave reviews and he’s signed, too.”
Albert spoke Thursday after having played two full rounds of golf despite temperatures of 35 C and higher in northern Ohio. But next week, it’s back to the ice as he participates in the Jets’ prospects camp in Winnipeg.
Marto back, too;
Schnell, Tremblay brought in
Albert is one of four players who agreed to terms on AHL contracts with the St. John’s IceCaps on Thursday.
The others are defenceman Jake Marto, who played in 12 games with the IceCaps last season, winger Ryan Schnell and winger Hunter Tremblay.
Marto, who joined the Jets’ organization after a collegiate career at the University of North Dakota, spent the majority of the 2011-12 season in the ECHL with the Colorado Eagles, where he earned 16 points (2G, 14A) and 12 penalty minutes.
Schnell, 23, is a big (six-foot-three, 225-pounder) forward who plays it tough, as evidenced by the 46 penalty minutes he picked up in just 12 games with the AHL’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins last season. He also appeared in 18 games with the ECHL’s Wheeling Nailers, recording and 108 penalty minutes.
Schnell had one assist with the Penguins and four with the Nailers.
Tremblay, 26, played in 68 games with the AHL’s Oklahoma City Barons last season, putting up 31 points (16G, 15A) and 47 PIMs.
Tremblay played five seasons in the OHL with the Barrie Colts, averaging over 30 goals and 80 points in his last two season of junior play. He then went on to star with the University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds for three years.