While it may not be apparent at first glance, the Winnipeg Jets’ AHL affiliate, the Manitoba Moose, have their footprints all over the clubs Stanley Cup run this season.
The Moose, who were formerly the St John’s Icecaps, returned to Manitoba’s capital at the beginning of the 2015-2016 season, and since the Jets organization moved their farm team close-by, they’ve established a reliable outlet to develop their prospects.
And three prospects that’ve seen their development come to fruition, Kyle Connor, Brandon Tanev and Jack Roslovic, are a part of the Jets postseason roster with much thanks to their respective AHL pit-stops.
“You learn a lot about yourself being [in the NHL],” said Moose defenceman Julian Melchiori. “And then coming back down, you kind of just get a chance to work on your game, where you wouldn’t be able to up there as much.”
The NHL isn’t an environment where players have room to struggle and work on their shortcomings.
It’s the fastest league in the world, and everyone’s on the same page–to win day-in and day-out. The AHL, however, can offer a sort of training-ground to prospects who need some fine tuning.
It can be a rejuvenating change-of-scenery, for some.
“It’s almost like a re-boost,” said Moose forward Nic Petan, when asked about what an AHL stint can do for a young player. “Those guys took it in a positive way and they’re doing well now.”
Let’s take a look at the AHL stints of Connor, Tanev and Roslovic.
Before Connor potted 31 goals this season, leading all rookie scorers, the Michigan native was struggling to find his place at the NHL level.
In fact, this past fall, Connor didn’t crack the Jets lineup out of training camp.
Through six pre-season contests, he failed to record a point and his lack of offensive output didn’t help overshadow the glaring weaknesses he had defensively.
He was sent to the Moose for some fine-tuning, just like he had the year before.
“His transition to offence has always been really good, it was the transition to defence [that needed some work],” Moose head coach Pascal Vincent told The Nation Network after Thursday’s morning skate. “And you see that quite often with young players that [have] tremendous offensive skill.“
According to Vincent, Connor knew he had to improve on his defensive game, along with his routes, stick-work and many more little nit-picky things that set apart an NHL player, from an AHL one.
“His biggest skill is his ability to evaluate himself,” said Vincent when asked about the progression of his former star player. “To me, that’s something we don’t talk about enough. He knows who he is, he knows what he needs to work on, he knows what he’s good at and he’s bringing that to the table. That’s why he’s such a good player because once you know who you are and you know what you need to work on, then you’re growth goes that much faster.”
And with the Moose, Connor was able to work on his shortcomings and not be reprimanded, like he would be in the NHL.
While his tenure with the Moose was only for 23 games last season, there’s no doubt that Brandon Tanev benefited from some time in the minors.
The speedy forward was sent down to the Moose in December of last season, and since his stint with the Moose, Tanev’s offensive production has improved
Before assignment to Moose: 0.11 P/pg, 35 GP
Since assignment with Moose: 0.23 P/pg, 77GP
Yes, those numbers don’t jump off the page, and it’s not a crazy jump by any means.
But for a bottom-six forward like Tanev, who was providing little to no offensive output with the team, and then to see him to muster up eight goals this season (not to mention his four playoff goals through nine playoff games), it’s progress.
“We just wanted him to play and get some confidence with the puck,” said Vincent. “His game is about speed. It’s all about being extremely fast on the ice and that’s the reason he’s been able to score some goals.”
Tanev is one of the Jets’ fastest skaters, and partner that with his tenacity, and you’ve got a pitbull on the ice. But there was more to be unlocked in Tanev’s game, and as the game slowed down in the AHL, and he had more time on the puck–he found his stride, recording 9 points in 23 games, and would eventually translate that to his game in the NHL.
Roslovic has had more than just a brief stint with the Moose.
He’s played 97 games over the span of the last two seasons.
And through nearly 100 AHL games, the Moose added a valuable tool to the 2015 first round draft pick’s toolbox;
The ability to play the centre position.
“When Jack got drafted by us, he was drafted as a winger,” said Vincent. “The first year, our plan was to develop him as a centre, so he can play both. We knew he could play [wing], we knew he was really good as a winger. It comes a bit more natural for him but last year with us, we spent the whole year working on his routes and his responsibilities as a centre. Now, if [the Jets] need some help down the middle, he’s there. If they need some help as a winger, he’s there.”