On March 16th, the Manitoba Moose dipped into the college free agency pool and signed Colgate senior defenceman Jake Kulevich to an amateaur tryout agreement. Kulevich, 24, played four seasons with Colgate University and throughout his college career, evolved into one of the best defenceman in all of ECAC hockey.
Two days after signing with the Moose, Kulevich suited up for his pro hockey debut and his impact was instantly felt. Not only did Kulevich register his first professional point, but Kulevich displayed a responsible game in both the offensive and defensive zone. As head coach Pascal Vincent phrased it, his game was “mistake-free.” After the team’s recent 6-2 loss to the Milwaukee Admirals, coach Vincent said he was impressed at how fast Kulevich was adapting to the team’s systems, which he admitted is hard to adjust to from the college ranks.
Due to the Moose losing Julian Melchiori, Brian Strait, Brenden Kichton and Nelson Nogier to recalls with the Jets, Kulevich has been relied on heavily right from the get-go. The Marblehead Massachutses native has had plenty of opportunity to display his value while logging top minutes and getting playing time in all situations. With that, Kulevich has noticed the big difference between college hockey and the AHL game.
“You can’t turn the puck over, first and foremost, you got to take care of the puck,” said Kulevich on March 23rd. “[The AHL is] a lot quicker, they go the other way faster, that’s been the biggest adjustment, the speed of the game,” Kulevich continued.
Kulevich likes to carry the puck and his first pass outside of the d-zone is impressive. Throughout the year, the Moose have lacked a puck-moving defenceman that can run breakouts and move the puck efficiently on the point. “The forwards we have are so skilled, [we need to] give them the puck and let them go, I think I can do that pretty well,” said Kulevich.
Kulevich sheds light to the longstanding issue that has plagued the Moose throughout the year. The team’s forwards are an exciting bunch that possesses great skill, but the team’s weak transition game limits the amount of chances they can create.
The importance of the Kulevich signing
The Kulevich signing adds the kind of two-way puck-moving defender that the Moose have needed all along. While Kulevich may not project to be an NHL regular, having a solidified top-four AHL defenceman is stil valuable. The Jets should not be spoonfeeding AHL ice-time to prospects but rather, they should be surrounding the team with AHL defenceman that can push the prospects and make the Moose a competitive AHL franchise.
Once the Moose make some tweaks to their blue-line, you can expect a huge improvement from not only the Moose, but the play of the team’s prospects.
While the Jake Kulevich signing is a step in the right direction, it’s hardly one that can fix the orginization’s depth issues. It’s time for the Jets and Moose to search for more Kulevich-types and add more valuable depth signings that can take jobs away from players like Brian Strait and Mark Stuart and force prospects to work harder for minutes.