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Jets not playing, but their future is

A selection of IceCaps to follow closely

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CEDAR PARK, Texas -- The future of the Winnipeg Jets is still on the ice in meaningful games a week into June.

This appearance in the AHL's Calder Cup final is made even more enticing for Jets' fans because their top affiliate, the St. John's IceCaps, is built using a younger model this year, thrusting greener but promising prospects into big roles to let them grow.

Hutch is clutch as IceCaps tie series

CEDAR PARK, Texas — Michael Hutchinson made 49 saves and his St. John’s IceCaps never trailed in scoring a 2-1 victory over the Texas Stars Monday night, squaring the best-of-seven Calder Cup final series at 1-1.

Kael Mouillierat clicked for a first-period goal that was set up by Eric O’Dell’s two-on-one shot and Blair Riley netted the eventual winner in the second as the IceCaps rallied from their sloppy performance in Game 1’s 6-3 loss at Cedar Park Center.

Riley’s one-timer from the slot came just 44 seconds after Texas’s Brendan Ranford tied the game at one early in the second.

Hutchinson, who made 20 saves in the third period alone — if the shot clock was to be believed — didn’t have to stand on his head but he did make three or four five-bell saves, including one theft on Stars’ forward Kevin Henderson in the third.

Texas officially outshot the IceCaps 50-35, including 20-8 in the third.

The IceCaps, though, made the Stars work for every chance, not permitting Texas any of the down-Main-Street chances they had on Sunday.

The championship series now switches to St. John’s for Game 3 on Wednesday night.


— Tim Campbell

The most exciting of the blue-chippers are well-known -- 2013 first-round pick, 13th overall, Josh Morrissey, a slick, agile defenceman, and 2011 third-round pick Adam Lowry, the towering centre who is just beginning to grow into his body and find his feet as a pro.

Morrissey played in the WHL this season, and has barely passed his 19th birthday. Lowry is 21 and a pro rookie.

Jets' fans are also very familiar with some other names.

Goalie Michael Hutchinson is maybe the freshest, after he played Winnipeg's final three games of the NHL season with a 2-1 mark. Centre Eric O'Dell also gave Jets' fans and management a serious sample size, skating 30 NHL games this season in making his case he's a viable third-line option for next season.

And the Jets' brass is very familiar with defenceman Zach Redmond, who has played NHL games and shown remarkable perseverance in recovering from the life-threatening leg cut he received about 17 months ago.

But there are other IceCaps not so front-and-centre in the NHL team's plans. They are important players in the system, fighting for every inch and every opportunity to stay on the big team's radar.


D: Will O'Neill

Age: 26

How he got here: drafted by the Thrashers in the seventh round of 2006.

Possibly the most interesting of all these candidates, O'Neill is something of an uncommon case. He didn't go to school (Maine) until he was 20, a full two years after he was drafted. He finished school near his 24th birthday and the Jets put him on a one-year entry-level deal for last season. For his second pro year, this year, he was on an AHL contract.

O'Neill has been prone to mistakes in his two pro years but has clearly grown and wouldn't be playing big minutes for the IceCaps if he wasn't a gamer. You don't make it to the championship series with passengers.

The positive side to his game includes his nine goals and 36 points during the AHL regular season and an impressive 14 points in 14 AHL playoff games so far.

A UFA at season's end, the decision by O'Neill and teams will be worth watching.


D: Ben Chiarot

Age: 23

How he got here: Drafted by the Thrashers in the fourth round of 2009.

Chiarot is coming to the end of his entry-level contract and if some observers are right, you're about to start hearing a lot more about the rugged defenceman. He had a one-game recall this season to the Jets and, to be kind, he had a deer-in-the-headlights sort of day, but his game has clearly developed this season in the AHL.

While not exactly a clone of Jets defenceman Mark Stuart, there are some similar qualities like grit, physicality and the ability to hand out some punishment. Chiarot's footspeed has also improved, important for a 6-4 player and likely a reason he contributed 20 points for the IceCaps this season and was a plus-29.


D: Brenden Kichton

Age: 21

How he got here: Drafted by the Jets in the seventh round of 2013.

There is a tone that followed Kichton to the Jets organization -- something between disrespect and disbelief. The WHL defenceman of the year in 2012-13 was drafted by the Islanders and not signed, then selected late by the Jets. He comes with the reputation of having expensive hands and bargain-barrel feet but his first year in the AHL has shown he's got the ability to adapt.

Kichton did not record 10 goals and 48 points because he couldn't keep up. The skating issue is going to dog him in the future until he actually becomes an NHL regular, if he does, but Kichton so far has established some evidence of proving doubters are off the mark.


G: Jussi Olkinuora

Age: 23

How he got here: Signed by the Jets as a free agent about a year ago,

The Finnish goalie was a walk-on at University of Denver and in short order rose to the No. 1 spot with play that was nothing short of heroic at times. He left school after two years; the Jets winning the bidding on the undrafted free agent by including a $185,000 signing bonus with their two-year offer.

In his rookie year, things did not come up all roses for Olkinuora but few are surprised, especially for a freshman goalie. He got 29 games in the ECHL with Ontario (14-11-1, .887 save percentage) and 10 games with the IceCaps. He's with the black aces at this stage of the season. Next season will determine much and Olkinuora needs to start trending back towards his second-year numbers in Denver, 13-6-5, .927 save percentage.


C: John Albert

Age: 25

How he got here: was an Atlanta draft pick in the sixth round of 2007; was not signed when he graduated from college, but then signed by the Jets as a free agent.

In a mid-season call-up this year, Albert got his NHL deal and his first NHL goal in his first game in New York. He played nine games in all for the Jets.

The knock on Albert has always been his size but the energetic forward can play a brainy game. While his skating doesn't dazzle anyone, he seems to get where he needs to go. He recorded 45 points in 63 games for the IceCaps, the best of his three pro years. He's a valuable teammate on the IceCaps will be an RFA at the end of the playoffs.



Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 10, 2014 D3

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