The hockey season officially got underway Thursday night with Shawinigan stomping Rimouski 7-2 in the QMJHL. My first road trip of the year is this weekend as well, as I head out to the Traverse City prospects tournament in Michigan. Hosted by the Detroit Red Wings, the shindig involves youngsters and hopefuls for eight NHL teams – Detroit, Dallas, St. Louis, Chicago, Carolina, Minnesota, Columbus and the Rangers. You’ll find questions involving a couple of those teams below.
And as always, if you have a question you’d like to see answered, go to my Twitter page (@THNRyanKennedy) and use the hashtag #thnfutures. Let’s get to your queries:
(The AHL has undergone a season of change and one-third of the league has changed locations or logos for the 2015-16 season. Leading up to the new season, The Hockey News will be ranking the logos of the league’s teams and offering a brief look at the history of each franchise. See the rest of the rankings in our AHL feed.)
The Manitoba Moose are back in the AHL after a four-year absence in which they played out of St. John’s, Nfld., as the IceCaps. After a disappointing 2014-15 campaign by the IceCaps, maybe this could be the year the Moose franchise finally gets over the post-season hump and makes good on a trip to the Calder Cup final.
If the Moose do have a successful season, they’ll be doing so as the youngest team in the AHL. Should Manitoba not add any more players — especially no veterans — to its lineup before the season begins, they will have the youngest team in the entire AHL at an average age of 21.7. That’s more than a half-year younger than the next youngest squad, which is coincidentally the St. John’s IceCaps.
Even if it’s not a great year for the Moose, the club should be exciting. Of the Winnipeg Jets’ top 10 prospects, as ranked by THN’s 2015 Future Watch, the reborn Moose could trot out nine, should Nikolaj Ehlers spend some time in the AHL. That includes Josh Morrissey, Joel Armia, Nic Petan, Andrew Copp, Scott Kosmachuk, J.C. Lipon, as well as goaltenders Connor Hellebuyck and Eric Comrie. Few AHL teams ever contain so many notable prospects at one time.
If the Moose have a successful season, it will be because of the kids, especially considering the club lost Eric O’Dell, Will O’Neill, Kyle MacKinnon and Blair Riley this off-season. That’s not to mention 26-year-old John Albert, who scored 16 goals and 42 points this past season, remains a restricted free agent with the season nearing. Read more
2014-15 Record: 43-26-13 (99 pts.)
THN’s Prediction: 3rd, Central Division
What To Expect: After Game 82 last season, Winnipeg looked so convincingly like a contender that many experts picked them to topple the Ducks in round 1. The Jets were eventually swept, reminding us of their new-to-the-party status among the West’s best.
With minimal roster shuffling by GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, this is a “prove it” season for the group that gave Winnipeg its first playoff berth since 1996.Overall goal production should rise from 16th-best, anchored by the dependable top trio of Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler. The second line features rising talent Mark Scheifele and Mathieu Perreault. Read more
In terms of drafted prospects, few teenagers could top the season that Nikolaj Ehlers is coming off. The incredibly talented Halifax Mooseheads left winger put up approximately two points per game in the regular season, then paced The Herd with 31 points in just 14 QMJHL playoff games. He also helped Denmark win its first-ever game at the world juniors and was the most electrifying player in the entire tournament.
So what does he do for an encore?
A number of notable NHL stars, including Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos, Los Angeles’ Anze Kopitar and Carolina’s Eric Staal, are eligible next summer for unrestricted free agency. The longer those players go without re-signing this summer, the more frequently their names could appear in trade speculation.
The contract talks of Stamkos, Kopitar and Staal could generate headlines in the coming season, but it’s the status of Winnipeg Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien that’s become the hot topic through an otherwise quiet summer in the NHL rumor mill. Thanks to the speculation of internet rumor bloggers, the 30-year-old blueliner garnered some media attention in early-August.
Most of the rumors linked Byfuglien to the Boston Bruins, who have a big hole to fill on their blueline after trading Dougie Hamilton to Calgary in June. CSNNE.com’s Joe Haggerty recently downplayed the notion of the Bruins acquiring Byfuglien, citing the potentially high asking price from the Jets.
It’s believed Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff hopes to re-sign Byfuglien and left winger Andrew Ladd, who is also eligible for UFA status next summer. So far, however, there’s no indication Cheveldayoff is close to inking either player to new contracts. Read more
One of the most interesting potential free agents heading to market in 2016 is Andrew Ladd, but the Winnipeg Jets captain made it no secret he wants to stay in Mantioba’s capital.
In an interview with TSN Wednesday, Ladd said he wants to get a contract extension done before the new season begins and said he feels the interest is there from the Jets. But getting it done before the season — we’re now only 40 days away from puck drop — could be difficult. Ladd knows that, however, and said that he’s aware it could take some time.
“I’ve been around long enough that I know sometimes these things take a little time,” he added. “I think both parties are interested.” Read more
With a tight salary cap and uncertainty about where the upper limit will be heading in the future, this off-season hasn’t been an easy one for veteran free agents.
Top UFAs such as Cody Franson and Christian Ehrhoff remain unsigned, useful veterans such as Marek Zidlicky have yet to land deals and those looking to get their careers back on track, such as Martin Havlat and Tyler Kennedy, aren’t even sure if a deal is coming their way. It’s a tough set of circumstances for both Havlat and Kennedy, as they may not even be looking for solid NHL contracts, but rather the opportunity at a training camp tryout.
Already Sergei Gonchar and (reportedly) Devin Setoguchi are among those who have signed pro tryout agreements, but Havlat’s name might be the next added to that list. The Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch reported Wednesday that Havlat’s agent has been contacted about the 34-year-old right winger signing a PTO with the Senators. Read more
The one thing I’ll always remember about Alexander Burmistrov during his Barrie Colts days is how skinny he looked. He was a perfect example of a prospect who had great tools; you just had to forecast what he would look like once a couple years in the weight room kicked in.
But the Atlanta Thrashers needed talent right away and the eighth overall pick in the 2010 draft went straight to the NHL, where he survived and contributed. Then the team moved to Winnipeg, where all the good vibes of NHL-starved Manitoba fans couldn’t push an underdeveloped squad into the post-season under coach Claude Noel. And Burmistrov certainly didn’t thrive under the conditions, either.
So the lanky young Russian returned to his homeland, playing two years in the KHL for Ak Bars Kazan, his local squad.
Now he’s back.