With a number of re-signings over the past week, the 2014-15 St. John’s IceCaps’ lineup is coming into focus.
So maybe it’s time for what is becoming known as a roster re-set, with a review of who is in place and some observations of what might happen.
We’ll go by position, listing players who have signed with the IceCaps or parent Winnipeg Jets and who were with St. John’s last season, plus rookies on entry-level deals who can be expected to turn pro at the AHL level.
All this is done with the realization that so much — signings, trades, injuries, try-outs, waiver losses and pick-ups — can take place between now and the end of training camps.
Signed: John Albert, Austen Brassard, Patrice Cormier, Jason Jaffray, Carl Klingberg, Scott Kosmachuk, JC Lipon, Adam Lowry, Kyle MacKinnon, Eric O’Dell, Ryan Olsen, Blair Riley
Centres: Albert, Cormier, MacKinnon, O’Dell, Olsen
Right shots: Brassard, Klingberg, Kosmachuk, Lipon, O’Dell, Olsen, Riley
As it stands, there are at least two open forward spots with the parent Jets, although the suggestion has been that Winnipeg is likely to fill at least one through a free-agent signing. However, for argument’s sake, let’s say that two of the dozen named above make the big team’s roster, with O’Dell, Cormier, Klingberg, Albert and Lowry being the leading candidates to contend.
That would leave 10 with St. John’s. We’re suggesting 15 — or five lines worth — as a target number of AHL-quality forwards. That was actually the number who appeared in 20 or more games with the IceCaps last season, plus it would make for a competitive training camp.
That would indicate a need for at least five more bodies.
From the looks of it, especially if O’Dell sticks in the NHL, there will be a need for at least one centre who can play on the top two lines. And although it was unlikely — all for different reasons — that Andrew Gordon, Jerome Samson or Kale Mouillierat were going to be back with St. John’s this year, the IceCaps will still have to find a way to make up for the 70 goals those three wingers produced. They all won’t come courtesy of younger players stepping in or stepping up.
There will also be those looking for someone to fill the role of tough-guy winger Ryan Schnell, who has signed with Rockford, although it must be noted that — in large part because of injury — St. John’s did without Schnell for most of the second half of the 2013-14 campaign; he appeared in only 11 games after Dec. 31.
Signed: Jordan Hill, Brenden Kichton, Julian Melchiori, Will O’Neill
Right shots: Kichton
You can safely add Ben Chiarot to the list, but the restricted free agent hasn’t yet officially re-signed with the Jets.
Chiarot, O’Neill and Melchiori make for a solid core of third-year rearguards; O’Neill and Kichton provide an offensive component; and Hill’s re-signing was more important than most who didn’t see him play last season could ever know. However, as IceCaps’ fans have learned, you can never have enough defencemen.
Remember, St. John’s basically carried eight during the 2013-14 regular-season — Zach Redmond, Kris Fredheim and Cody Lampl being the others — so to get to that number, three more blueliners will be required.
The needs? One, probably two, right-handed shots (Chiarot shoots lefthanded), a physical/big body type and although, as stated, O’Neill and Kichton have shown they can put up points, Redmond’s departure still leaves a huge gap in that area.
Signed: Connor Hellebuyck, Michael Hutchinson, Jussi Olkinuora
There are high expectations within the organization for Hellebuyck, the 2013-14 NCAA Division One goalie of the year, but we’ll remind you again: The IceCaps haven’t yet started a season without a goaltender who has three or more years of AHL experience (yes, Eddie Pasquale wasn’t technically an American league rookie until 2011-12, but he played 24 games with the Chicago Wolves the previous season).
That experienced goalie still could be Hutchinson. It’s well-known by now, that come September, the IceCaps’ playoff hero will get the opportunity to earn the Jets’ backup job to Ondrej Pavelec, but the fact that the first-year of his new two-year contract with Winnipeg is a two-way deal is fairly telling.
Almost certainly there will be another seasoned netminder coming to Winnipeg’s camp to compete with Hutchinson. It could be that goalie will be the one who ends with St. John’s or maybe it will be someone else with a pro background. But it would be surprising if the IceCaps start the season with Hellebuyck and Olkinuora as the tandem.
One final note: Of these signed players, only Jaffray qualifies as an official AHL veteran. Teams are permitted to dress five — and in some cases, six — of these veterans (goaltenders not included) for each game, so there is plenty of room for the IceCaps/Jets to add experience, if they want.
However, don’t be surprised if the coming season’s roster will have a younger feel than in years past.