Quick question: Of all the forwards who played for the St. John’s IceCaps in 2011-12, who is the only one currently in possession of a one-way NHL contract for next season?
It’s not Spencer Machacek, although as a restricted free agent, he could still conceivably get one from the Winnipeg Jets. It’s not Carl Klingberg, Patrice Cormier, Ben Maxwell or junior grad Ivan Telegin, players routinely talked about as challengers for jobs with the Jets this fall.
You may be surprised to learn it is Aaron Gagnon, who is entering the second year of a two-year deal he reached with Winnipeg in 2011, a deal that was two-way last season, but which kicks up to a one-way contract this year.
That means Gagnon is guaranteed to make $525,000 during the upcoming campaign. It does not guarantee him a spot on the Jets, although NHL teams don’t routinely give out one-way deals to players they expect to send to the minors. So at the very least, Gagnon — who got into seven games with Winnipeg last year before being assigned to St. John’s — should be included in any conversation about IceCaps who could find themselves in the big-time this October.
In, all the Jets have 12 forwards who are signed and have an AHL component in their contract. Gagnon’s status means he’s not included and neither is top prospect Mark Scheifele, who is won’t be 20 until next March and therefore not eligible to play in the AHL before the completion of his junior season.
Also not included are Machacek, the IceCaps’ leading scorer last season, and two key veterans who are free agents, captain Jason Jaffray and fan favourite Garth Murray. Jaffray is working his way back after spinal fusion surgery in the spring and you might recall Murray had considered leaving hockey before a late-summer decision, to, in his words, “take another rip at it,” then earning a contract after a tryout with St. John’s.
There is no word on whether they will return, but you can expect that if either or both want to be back, it will happen.
Like Scheifele, his Barrie Colts teammate, Telegin is a prize prospect for the Jets. However, a knee injury kept him from joining the IceCaps during their Calder Cup playoff run and a hand injury, suffered away from the rink, meant he didn’t participate in Winnipeg’s prospect development camp earlier this month. However, the expectation is he will be ready for training camp in September.
Five of those dozen players under contract have AHL-only deals, including Hunter Tremblay and Ryan Schnell, recently signed as minor-league free agents.
In 137 games over three pro seasons, the six-foot-three, 225-pound Schnell has a total of 552 penalty minutes. Most of that time was spent in the ECHL with the Wheeling Nailers, but Schnell has appeared in a couple of dozen games with the AHL’s Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins.
Tremblay is a different kind of player. Last season, his first full one as a pro, saw the Timmins, Ont., native score 16 goals and 31 points for the AHL’s Oklahoma City Barons. He was a 25-year-old rookie, having already played five full seasons with Barrie in the OHL and three more at the University of New Brunswick. Tremblay was the Canadian Interuniversity Sport player of the year in 2010 and led UNB to a national championship in 2011, averaging more than one goal and two points per game.
Expect other new faces in training camp this fall and maybe some familiar one, too. Danny Dries, who made in impression in nine games with the IceCaps after the completion of his U.S. college career, attended the Jets’ development camp. So did St. John’s native and QMJHL scoring star Zach O’Brien, who was also with the IceCaps in the spring and got into one AHL game.
Contract situations up front
Signed: John Albert (AHL contract), Kevin Clark (AHL), Patrice Cormier, Jason Gregoire, Jason King (AHL), Carl Klingberg, Maxime Macenauer, Ben Maxwell, Eric O’Dell, Hunter Tremblay (AHL)*, Ryan Schnell (AHL)*, Ivan Telegin *
Restricted free agent: Spencer Machacek
Unrestricted free agents: Jason Jaffray, Garth Murray
* — Didn’t play with IceCaps last season