Say one thing for Zach Redmond, his timing is impeccable.
Not only has the defenceman stepped up his game in the St. John’s IceCaps’ run through the playoffs and into the Calder Cup final, he’s doing so just as he’s about to become an unrestricted free agent.
After a so-so performance in the early goings of the American Hockey League post-season, Redmond came up with his biggest effort in the biggest game, the sixth one of the Eastern Conference final against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins which St. John’s won 5-0.
Redmond had a goal and an assist and was busy with four shots on goal as the IceCaps punched their ticket to the league championship showdown against the Texas Stars.
His strong play has continued into the final, and Redmond is being rewarded by coach Keith McCambridge with tons of ice time, averaging a team-leading 28-plus minutes through the first three games against Texas, which leads the series 2-1 entering Game 4 Monday night at Mile One.
“I thrive on getting a lot of playing time,” Redmond said. “The more I play, the better I feel. It’s just easier to get into the game.”
The 25-year-old from Traverse City, Mich., had an assist in each of Games 2 and 3, finishing plus-two in the IceCaps’ 2-1 win in the second game in Austin, Tex., Monday night, and plus-one in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Stars at Mile One Centre on Wednesday.
The big minutes, said McCambridge, have helped Redmond in that his third-year rearguard doesn’t have to think about the game, but rather react to it.
In other words, if he’s thinking too much, Redmond gets in trouble; when he’s just playing, letting it rip, going on instinct, he’s just fine.
“When he’s not out there overanalyzing plays,” McCambridge said, “he’s giving us that solid two-way game that we need out of Zach.
“Any time you’re playing as many minutes as he’s playing right now, it’s just instinct out there, every single shift. You’re making plays, and if good things are happening, you continue on. If a bad thing happens — and that’s going to happen in hockey — you’re not sitting there for four minutes over-analyzing about what just took place.”
Redmond wasn’t always playing this much this season. Oh sure, he was among the IceCaps’ top three D-men — has been, really, since he arrived in St. John’s after four years at Michigan’s Ferris State University — but it was a trying time early in the New Year when he was recalled to the parent Winnipeg Jets.
Granted, and let’s not kid ourselves here, the NHL money was good (his pay was pro-rated to a $715,000 NHL salary), but sitting in the press box for 13 straight games, and getting bag-skated in practice the whole time, couldn’t have been nice.
It was his second stint in Winnipeg, having appeared in three games in November after sitting six straight. Redmond closed out the season with the Jets, appearing in seven straight games.
His NHL line read 10 games, a goal and three points. With the IceCaps, Redmond made 40 starts, and picked up 24 points.
So heading into the playoffs, Redmond had played only 50 regular season games, which would make him extra fresh for the playoffs, right?
“No, I don’t think so,” he said. “I actually found it almost harder on the legs going up there and not playing and getting into bag skates (that’s when assistant coaches run players who are not playing through a series of hard skates after practice).
“Bag skates are harder than games. You’re skating a bunch, but it’s not a game. Nothing will be like a game.”
The problem with Redmond has never been his skill, or his conditioning, or his understanding of the game. Rather, it’s been about playing a consistent game, night in and night out.
At times though his three years in St. John’s, Redmond’s looked like a slam-dunk NHLer. Other times, well, we’re not so sure.
In this 2014 Calder Cup final, Redmond looks like an big leaguer-in-waiting.
“I think he’s more consistent now,” McCambridge said. “During the regular season, he was trying to build some consistency in his game, and I believe that was because he hadn’t played a lot of hockey, in and out of the lineup with regards to call-ups and injuries.
“But he’s been able to play every single night now, and as a result you know exactly what you’re getting out of Zach Redmond, and that’s a rock-solid game.
“He’s been a real key piece to our success here. That unit of him and Ben Chiarot is a good solid duo that can either shut down a team’s top line or get you some offence.”
Regardless what happens in the final, the IceCaps figure to have a new look next year.
On the blueline, only Brenden Kichton and Julian Melchiori are signed for next year. Chiarot is a restricted free agent, and will contend for a job in Winnipeg. Jordan Hill, Will O’Neill and Kris Fredheim are all signed to AHL deals, but you’d have to figure given their play in the post-season, Hill and O’Neill, especially, will be considered for NHL contracts.
Josh Morrissey is still junior-aged and will be back with the Prince Albert Raiders if he doesn’t make Winnipeg.
As for Redmond, he’s in the driver’s seat as an unrestricted free agent. He signed a two-year entry level deal out of college and last summer inked a two-way NHL contract for one year. Because he is 25, he is now unrestricted, meaning he can sign wherever he pleases in July, and his new team does not have to compensate the Jets.
And the longer he goes into the final, the better it is for Redmond.
“It helps everybody, really,” he said. “Everybody wants somebody who has been to a championship and had that experience. It helps everybody’s stock.”
Redmond admits to thinking earlier in the season about his pending free-agent status, although these days it’s all about business, as he hopes to celebrate his first championship since 2007 when he won a U.S. junior title with the Sioux Falls Stampede.
“Now is not the time to be thinking about contract,” he said. “Now it’s just about having fun. Fun and winning. I mean, we’re playing for a Calder Cup championship.”
And, we might add, playing a whole lot.
Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor. He can be reached by email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TelyRobinShort