Next Wednesday (Oct. 5) is the deadline for all teams to submit their *23-man rosters to the NHL, and at present, there are 36 players remaining in camp. The list includes 3 goalies, 10 defencemen, and 20 active forwards (three are currently injured). That means there will probably be about two more rounds of cuts, with a few big decisions probably coming down to the last day. Here’s a quick synopsis of where we are.
*Team can carry up to 23 players, but generally have 22-man active rosters (2G, 7D, 13F – not including players on injured reserve)
The area of greatest certainty, decided well before camp opened. Ondrej Pavelec will start, with Chris Mason serving as able back-up. Though he won’t be making the team to start the year, Aebischer would make a nice veteran starter in St. John’s if he’s so inclined.
The top-6 on D are set unless there’s an injury – Tobias Enstrom, Ron Hainsey, Johnny Oduya, Zach Bogosian, Dustin Byfuglien, and Mark Stuart. As for the 7th spot, I wonder if the Jets are regretting signing Randy Jones, who looked poor on day 1 of training camp and hasn’t seen much ice in pre-season. If he wasn’t on a one-way deal – meaning he makes the same money regardless of whether he plays in the AHL or the NHL ($1.15M) – I think he’d miss the cut altogether. As it is, I think the contract will save him, as it’s rare to leave $1.15M in the minors unless there are salary cap concerns. (The Jets have nearly $13M in cap room).
Of the defencemen slated to be cut, Paul Postma is far and away the most talented. But it doesn’t make sense to have a 22-year old sitting in the press box as the #7D when he could be playing a lot in the AHL. Brett Festerling has looked pretty solid in camp, and I wonder if either he or Derek Meech has a shot at the #7 job regardless of Jones’ contract. I think the more likely scenario is all three head to St. John’s, and if injuries occur to a top-6 guy, one of them will be recalled and inserted into the line-up instead of Jones. If a powerplay d-man is hurt (Enstrom, Byfuglien) Postma would get the call, whereas Festerling or Meech might take priority if anyone else gets hurt.
Like the defence, the top-6 forwards have been known for a while. The line of Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little, and Blake Wheeler played well at the end of last season, and looked very good yesterday. Wheeler was particularly impressive, looking very confident while carrying the puck into dangerous scoring areas, and sniping the game winner. The next three offensive forwards are Evander Kane, Alex Burmistrov, and Nik Antropov, but they haven’t played together very much in the pre-season. That might be because coach Claude Noel intends to spread the scoring out onto three lines, or it might just be the nature of training camp, where most coaches feel the need to try out several different combinations. Though it’s unknown whether they’ll be on a line together, Tanner Glass, Jim Slater, and Chris Thorburn all have NHL jobs locked up, and they’re all hard-working, physical guys who play a defensive style. They’re the best option we have for a checking line right now. The only other NHL lock is Kyle Wellwood – who’s misplaced in the bottom-6, but happy to have an NHL job.
That makes 10 forwards. With Eric Fehr is out till November, that means 3 more forwards will be starting the year as Winnipeg Jets. I believe there are 5 main contenders for those 3 spots. Troy Bodie has been good in pre-season, getting in scraps, playing physically, cycling the puck down low, and even scoring a nice goal against Ottawa on Monday. He’s big and skates pretty well, and would fit well on the 4th line or as the 13th forward. Patrice Cormier has been decent. He’s physical, skates well, and definitely has a future as a checking-line forward. My guess is he makes the team, though I wouldn’t be shocked to see him in St. John’s to start the year if a certain rookie cracks the line-up. Tim Stapleton is a classic tweener. Small, fast, and very skilled, he’s put up good numbers in almost every league, but hasn’t been able to score much in the NHL. Like Jones, his saving grace might be his one-way contract, which pays him $525,000 regardless of where he plays this year. Stapleton isn’t a good fit in a bottom-6 role though, where big, physical, grinding forwards take precedence over diminutive fellows like him. Ben Maxwell has three years of pro experience, putting up good numbers in his AHL career. However, he doesn’t appear to be a skill-player at the NHL level. He had a good third period against Ottawa, making a few nice moves and burying on a quick shot, but he might need to do more to separate himself from those around him.
And then there was Mark Scheifele. If “to impress beyond belief” was its own verb, and was used in a sentence, it would go something like “wow that kid sure knows how to Scheifel” or “geez, that sure was a Scheifeling performance”. His playing style reminds me of a cross between Jordan Eberle – who needs no introduction – and Columbus’ Ryan Johansen. Scheifele doesn’t quite have Eberle’s hands (no one does), but like Eberle, he plays a heady game, makes good decisions, and just seems to be in the right spots on the ice. Both of them also possess tremendous maturity for their age, and are very positive, upbeat guys. With regards to Johansen, both have similar size (6’3), shot (right-handed) and patience with the puck. More coincidentally, both were late risers in the NHL draft rankings, with neither showing up on any scout’s radar one year prior to being drafted. That’s because each of them were in their first year of CHL hockey at age 17, whereas most top prospects start playing in the CHL at 16.
So on to the big question: Will Scheifele make the team? I’ve already described what I thought should happen in this article, but my expectation is that he will certainly get a *9 game tryout in the regular season to prove that he belongs. I’m not in favour of this, but I, like you, like all of us, excepting Noel, Chevy, and few others, obviously aren’t a part of that process. As impressive as he’s been thus far, my gut tells me that he won’t stick for the whole season. That’s because teams like Washington, Boston, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, etc will be much stiffer opponents than the borderline AHL team that Columbus rolled out in Scheifele’s 4-point exhibition debut on Sept. 20th. I think he’s a fantastic prospect, but he remains – by NHL standards – a bit slow, and a bit weak, because he’s 18 years old. I’m praying that he has a few so-so performances in the coming weeks and is sent down to the OHL’s Barrie Colts, where he will surely dominate the league. Then at Christmas he’ll lead Team Canada’s World Junior team to a gold medal. Then he’ll lead the Colts (who look like one of the OHL’s better teams) on a long playoff run. After that, he might play a few games in the AHL, assuming the Ice Caps are in the playoffs at the time. In short, I have a few plans for him, and I’ll be following him closely wherever he ends up this season.
*NHL rookies sign 3-year, entry-level contracts, which kick in when a player turns pro at age 20. However, if a player signs a contract prior to age 20, they can play up to 9 games without actually using up a year of that contract. Once a 10th game is played, the first year is activated. Top prospects generally sign well before they are 20, but unless they play the 10th game, the contract does not take effect. (This is termed an “entry-level slide”). When a player turns pro at age 20 and plays in the AHL, the contract starts running, regardless of whether that player plays in the AHL or the NHL.
Back to the those remaining in camp. I thought Kenndal McArdle had a shot as the 13th forward until Troy Bodie was announced as a training camp invite, and on top of that, he got hurt. He’ll be playing in the AHL along with Jason Gregoire, Carl Klingberg, and Spencer Machacek. I don’t expect training camp invites Janne Pesonen or David Koci to make the team, and I’m not sure if either will be playing with the Ice Caps, though I’d guess not.
The Jets play their final exhibition game tomorrow against Nashville. Look for a number of cuts to happen this weekend, followed by final cuts on Tuesday night or even Wednesday morning.