We know the American Hockey League is a developmental league. An NHL team drafts players and when they make the jump to the pro game they generally join the farm club and marinate for a few years as they learn the game.
It can sometimes make for an interesting balance trying to find enough minutes to go around. Especially in a year like this one where the Manitoba Moose have a number of interesting Jets D prospects on the team.
At one point the farm club had Jets 2019 1st rounder Ville Heinola in addition to third year pro Sami Niku and second year pro Logan Stanley. Heinola would play three games in the AHL before being re-assigned by the Jets to Lukko Rauma of the Finnish liiga.
Both Niku and Stanley would deal with injuries in October and for Stanley into November which presented opportunities for even younger (in terms of pro experience) D prospects including Luke Green (25 games), Leon Gawanke (10 games) and Johnathan Kovacevic (11 games) who are all with the club this season. Injuries to Luke Green the past couple of years is why he is lumped into the same category as first year pros Gawanke and Kovacevic.
Sunday’s afternoon game in Toronto saw Logan Stanley return to the lineup for the first time since October 18th which makes for a full compliment of defenceman on the roster. Captain Peter Stoykewych was also out for some time which meant that the Moose lineup often had two of the three “first year guys” playing. The last four games has seen that number drop to just one of the three cracking the lineup.
In his pre-game comments to play-by-play voice Daniel Fink Moose bench boss Pascal Vincent admitted that it can be a challenge when he plans his lineup for a game. “For now the first year D will go through a rotation.”. He qualified that this rotation wouldn’t “be forever” but that right now the priority was ensuring guys like Sami Niku and Logan Stanley were getting the minutes necessary to be NHL ready when that call comes.
“Leon, Green, Kovacevic, their turn will come and what they have to do right now is stay positive and give their best when they play.” added the Moose coach. He reiterated that “It’s just a rotation and that doesn’t last forever. It’s for now. And you know what? It might be a good experience for them. Learning how to become a pro. Those guys are used to play heavy minutes. Just to learn how to understand what needs to be done on a daily basis so when your name is called upon you’re ready to play. To me that’s going to be a good experience but that rotation is not going to last forever.”
When he says “doesn’t last forever” is that because he anticipates a Sami Niku recall to the Jets? Perhaps we shall see an assignment of one of these three to the ECHL affiliate in Jacksonville where they would be able to play big minutes. Stay tuned to find out.
The Moose are in Milwaukee next as they continue this seven game road trip.
I also appear on the Illegal Curve Hockey Show every Saturday on TSN 1290 Winnipeg starting at 9 am.
And I occasionally jump in the play-by-play booth at Bell MTS Place to provide colour analysis during Manitoba Moose games.
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