Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 9/10/2015 (2203 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The Manitoba Moose will start the 2015-16 season on the road tonight, beginning with back-to-back games against the Toronto Marlies at Ricoh Centre.
When the puck drops, it will not only kick off a new season but also mark the return of the AHL to a city hungry to find out what they have in their best and brightest prospects. Though it will take more than a couple games before any definitive answers are reached, there will no doubt be a ton of intrigue from Game 1 all the way through Game 76.
Here are five storylines worth following:
The youth movement
When the return of the Moose was first announced in the summer, general manager Craig Heisinger was quick to declare a new identity for his team; shedding older, more veteran players such as Jason Jaffray to make room for prospects such as defencemen Josh Morrissey and Jan Kostalek and forwards Chase De Leo and Jimmy Lodge to make the jump to professional hockey. Of the 26 players currently on the Moose roster, 10 carry rookie status.
And even though a further commitment to a develoment-focused model means these players will be looked on to produce this season, a greater emphasis will be on the young core returning for another campaign in the AHL; players such as forwards JC Lipon, Joel Armia, Scott Kosmachuk, Ryan Olsen and Austen Brassard and defenceman Brenden Kichton. With each season, comes greater expectations. It will be pivotal for this group to build off their experience in the AHL if this team hopes to erase the memories of 32-33-11 finish last season.
With all the new bodies, it certainly presents a challenge for head coach Keith McCambridge to get everyone on the same page in time for the start of the season. The systems -- mimicking those of the Winnipeg Jets -- the team has run over training camp are complex, focusing on strong defence and smart decision-making.
"Last year it was new to me and I had a pretty hard time with it for the first couple weeks of the season," said forward John Albert. "It can get confusing if you haven't run a system like that, but guys have responded well to it."
McCambridge has liked what he's seen throughout camp, and he expects his players to be ready come Friday. But when you have that many newcomers trying to nail down the X's and O's while also trying to build chemistry with linemates, it's becomes not a question of how much rust there will be, but how long it will take to shake off?
More from Morrissey
Of all the rookies, none is more intriguing than Morrissey. The Jets' first-round pick in 2013 was a big part of the IceCaps run to the Calder Cup in 2013-14, proving early on his ability to compete at a high level.
But after three camps with the Jets, he still hasn't shown enough to stick in the NHL. He's more than ready for his first full year of pro and he'll most likely be doing so with a chip on his shoulder. He has a lot to prove this season and a strong showing in the AHL will go a long way in changing the minds of Jets brass.
They sent him down for more seasoning and he will get every opportunity to do just that, playing big minutes for the Moose, which includes time on the team's first power-play unit. It's not make it or break it by any means, but Morrissey's development over the season will be top of mind of many within the organization.
Will they stay or go?
The Moose landed a number of key pieces once the Jets trimmed down their roster for opening night. The likes of forwards Matt Fraser, Matt Halischuk and 29-year-old Austrian Thomas Raffl, as well as veteran defenceman Jay Harrison will all begin their season in a Moose uniform, bringing some much-needed skill and leadership to the group.
But that doesn't mean they'll be there for the long haul, as the Jets will surely run into injury problems down the road, with these few likely first in line for a move to the big club.
But they'll have a serious impact on the team while they're here, and most have already had their presence felt by a number of the younger pupils. Whether they stay or go, as long as they're with the Moose they'll be expected to carry a fair chunk of the load.
The puck stops here
Connor Hellebuyck looks primed for another solid season as the No. 1 guy between the pipes. The 22-year-old is coming off a solid rookie campaign with the IceCaps, where he finished with a 28-22-5 record to go with a 2.58 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage. He also picked up some valuable experience playing for the Americans at the world championship in the spring, highlighted by a 39-save shutout against the Czech Republic in the bronze-medal game.
Hellebuyck will be leaned on, but he will have some help in reliable backup, Eric Comrie, who is another player embarking on his first year as a pro. Both represent the future in net for the Jets.
After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.