St. John's, NL
The St. John's IceCaps 2014 - 2015 regular season is officially half over.
The IceCaps played their 38th game of the season last Saturday night at home versus the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, marking the half way point of the 79th American Hockey League season and 4th season for the St. John's IceCaps franchise.
With only half a schedule to play, numerous questions about the IceCaps playoff hopes and Winnipeg Jets prospects on The Rock have arisen.
Off-season Roster Shake-up
Andrew Gordon, Kael Mouillierat, Jérôme Samson, Adam Lowry, Josh Lunden, Ryan Schnell
Zach Redmond, Cody Lampl, *Josh Morrissey, **Ben Chiarot
Michael Hutchinson, Tyler Beskorowany, Eddie Pasquale
Additions (on current roster):
Chase Balisy, Scott Kosmachuk, Nicolas Blanchard (PTO), Ben Walker, Ryan Olsen
Keaton Ellerby, Julien Brouillette, Ralfs Freibergs (Call-up), Ryan Parent (PTO).
Connor Hellebuyck, Peter Budaj
*All statistics as of January 15th, 2015 after the IceCaps 40th game of the season. All stats from other dates will be noted.
As you can see, the IceCaps lost a lot of scoring touch in the off-season. Andrew Gordon (23-34-57) signed with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms (AHL) in the offseason, Jérôme Samson (27-29-56) departed for the Syracuse Crunch (AHL) and is now playing in Switzerland, and Kael Mouillierat (20-33-53) is currently playing with the Bridgeport Soundtigers (AHL).
These three players combined for 27% of the IceCaps total goals-for last season.
Captain Jason Jaffray (18-41-59) lead the team in scoring last year, but has missed all but 15 games this season. Jaffray was injured in the first period of the first game of the season versus the Providence Bruins on October 10th. He returned to action on December 9th and has registered 10 points in 14 games since his return, but has no points in his last 4 games.
With the absence of these IceCaps top four scorers from last season, who scored 34% of the team's total goals-for, the IceCaps entered this season with a large offensive hole to fill.
With the departure of major scoring components from last year's roster, the IceCaps are in a 'rebuild' season of sorts (as much of a rebuild as an AHL team can get). Several new faces are on the front-end this year however their production is not near the same level as the IceCaps' last year.
Veteran forward Nicolas Blanchard has six points (3-5-8) in 29 GP, rookie Ben Walker has two points (1-1-2) in 18GP, and rookie Ryan Olsen has five points (2-3-5) in 37GP. Olsen has been out of the lineup with injury the past four games.
Rookies Chase Balisy (8-15-23, 35GP) and Scott Kosmachuk (7-5-11, 35GP) have the most points of any new IceCaps summer acquisitions.
Balisy started the year out strong, garnering 18 points in his first 19 games in the AHL, but has only mustered 5 points in his last 18 games. The lack of scoring since late November by Balisy has hurt the IceCaps and also Balisy's rise as a consistent AHL scorer.
"Kossy" had a disappointing start in the 2014 portion of this season, but has collected four goals and one assist in seven January games so far. The 20 year-old has an 11% shooting percentage on the season but 21% in the month of January. Kosmachuk is slowly adapting to the professional pace and should see a bigger role in St. John's next year.
Patrick Holland, who was acquired in the Eric Tangradi trade, has played just seven games this season (no points), and has not played since October 26th. Burlington, ONT native Brandon MacLean has one point (1A) this year (17GP).
Sophomores and Veterans
The lack of scoring consistency amongst the IceCaps players is evident and costly thus far.
21 year-old sophomore JC Lipon is having a very disappointing season - his only goal this season came on October 18th against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. The Saskatchewan-born winger has just the lone goal and ten assists through 39 games this year. He is averaging less than half a point-per-game compared to last season where he finished with 42 points (9-33-42) in 72 games. If the IceCaps are going to make the the playoffs, Lipon will need to step up his game. Drastically.
Comparable to Adam Lowry, Austen Brassard the 6'2, 207lb Ontario native, will need to chip in a bit more offensively and continue his defensive play if he is to play with the Jets. He has already surpassed his five-point season (3-2-5, 29GP) from last season with two goals and five assists this year. Brassard has missed just one game this season with the IceCaps.
Patrice Cormier must have thousands of reward miles by now. Cormier has been called up four times this season (including a start to the season in Winnipeg) but has yet to play an NHL game this year. Cormier finally returned to the IceCaps on January 10th and made his return to the lineup on January 14th versus Portland. If he is to be re-signed at the end of this year he will be taking on the same, fourth-line grinder role with the Jets next year or remain in St. John's until need-be. He is currently in his fifth AHL season.
Veteran IceCaps players John Albert (10-16-25, 40GP), Eric O'Dell (12-10-22, 32GP), and Carl Klingberg (11-10-21, 38GP) continue to provide offensive production and could surpass their season totals from last year. Albert has been the most consistent of all IceCaps scorers, never going more than four games without a point (January 6th - 11th). Klingberg, although 6'3 and 214lbs, still needs to learn how to stay on his skates as he falls easily and frequently.
O'Dell has been a consistent scorer when he is in the lineup, however he is currently injured and is week-to-week. He may not get the chance to play much more hockey in Winnipeg due to the depth of forwards in the Jets organization and the rise of younger prospects such as Nic Petan and Nikolaj Ehlers.
If you put him in the three-week to one-month time frame, that would be a fair assessment.
- IceCaps head coach Keith McCambridge on January 7th
Julien Melchiori has been one the top disappointment's this season. The 23 year-old has just 4 assists in 40 games this season. Robin Short of The St. John's Telegram says it best:
These days, an all points bulletin needed to find Melchiori. He's big and he can skate, and before he got hurt last year (he played in 50 AHL games), Melchiori was lugging the puck and making plays and playing a reasonably sound defensive game. one of which we've seen this year.
Will O'Neill is on pace for his best offensive season yet, registering 18 points (5-13-18) in 36 games so far this season.
The face of the IceCaps blue line has been changing constantly since before the season began but things are finally starting to settle down in January.
With the loss of Winnipeg Jets defencemen Zach Bogosian, Tobias Enstrom, Jacob Trouba, Mark Stuart, and Grant Clitsome, the IceCaps have seen a steady flow and ebb of defensemen from the IceCape roster. Here's a run down:
- Mike Cornell was signed to a PTO on November 23rd after Keaton Ellerby was diagnosed with a blood-clot. Ellerby, 26, had been out with a blood-clot since November 19th, but was recalled to the Jets on January 5th as Grant Clitsome was placed on the IR and was declared finished for the season. Ellerby was re-assigned on January 10th.
- Ben Chiarot was recalled to Winnipeg on December 2nd for Winnipeg after playing 24 games with the IceCaps and registering 9 points (4G, 5A). By far the most solid defencemen in terms consistency, the IceCaps would love to have him back on the point.
- Julien Brouillette was recalled to Winnipeg just two days after Chiarot, and was re-assigned to St. John's on January 8th. He played eleven games with the IceCaps before his call-up, and had not played a game since November 30th. He saw just 9:33 TOI in one game with the Jets during his 2-month call-up as he was the 7th defenceman. He was re-assigned to St. John's on January 8th with word that Zach Bogosian was to return that evening versus Phoenix. Brouillette's play, although limited, has been excellent thus far and is one of just three IceCaps players with a positive +/- rating. Brouillette returned to the IceCaps lineup versus the Lehigh Valley Phantoms on January 10th.
- With the absence of Chiarot and Brouillette on the blue line, the IceCaps signed re-called Ralfs Freibergs from the Ontario Reign of the ECHL twice (Dec 5th & Dec 29th), and signed defencemen Yann Sauvé to a Professional Tryout Contract (PTO) on Dec 29th. Ryan Parent was signed to PTO's twice (Dec 18th & Jan 2nd, after he had played in the Spengler Cup).
With Jacob Trouba the only remaining defenceman on the Jets injured reserve, Ben Chiarot may be re-assigned to St. John's when Trouba returns, although highly unlikely as he would have to clear waivers. Perhaps Newfoundland native Adam Pardy would see a return to the IceCaps. If Chiarot is assigned to St. John's and Brenden Kichton has returned from a broken jaw injury that he suffered on December 18th, watch for a shakeup on the blue line.
Newcomer Ryan Parent, recently signed to a PTO, has made a good early impression on the IceCaps coaching staff and will likely stick around, at least for the time being.
- IceCaps Insider, Chris Ballard, on January 9th
Possible Outlook of IceCaps defence when Kichton & Trouba are healthy :
Will O'Neill - Kris Fredheim
Julien Brouillette - Keaton Ellerby
Ben Chiarot / Adam Pardy - Brenden Kichton
Jordan Hill - Julien Melchiori
- - - - - - - - - - - -
Ryan Parent (would likely be released from PTO) Ralfs Freibergs (would be re-assigned to Ontario) Yann Sauvé (released from PTO January 9th) Mike Cornell (released from PTO January 12th)
In net, things are going good for rookie net-minder Connor Hellebuyck.
The Michigan-born goaltender was named CCM / AHL Player of the Week ending Nov. 23rd as he posted a 4-0-0 record with a 0.74 GAA, .975 sv%, along with 2 shutouts. Hellebuyck went on to win six of seven starts in November including two shutouts, 1.98 GAA, and a .939sv%. On January 6th, he was named to the Eastern Conference All-Star team.
Hellebuyck is certainly the brightest light on the IceCaps roster. The 21 year-old has a promising future ahead of him and could certainly jump into the NHL next season however that is highly unlikely with Pavelec and Hutchinson still under contract. If however, Hutch or Pavelec succumb to injury, Hellebuyck could certainly handle the pressure in the NHL and play for the Jets.
It looks as though Eric Comrie could join Hellebuyck in St. John's next year as both Peter Budaj's and Jussi Olkinuora's contracts expire at the end of this season.
Hellebuyck's 16-10-2-2 record and corresponding stats are among the best in the league;
- Tied-4th in wins (16)
- 10th in sv% (.926%)
- Tied-2nd in shutouts (3)
- 2nd in minutes played (1710:40)
- 2nd in saves (934)
- *19th in GAA (2.42)
*Only one goaltender that has played in as many games has a better GAA.
It's been a very different story for backup goaltender Peter Budaj in his first season with the IceCaps.
With a 0-7-4-1 record, 3.69 GAA, and .884 sv%, Budaj would certainly like to forget his first AHL season in 10 years.However, the IceCaps can also be partially responsible for the poor stats of Budaj. It seems that the games Budaj is in net for the IceCaps, they have no energy.
Flashback: At the mid-season point last season, the IceCaps started to come on strong, winning four of their final six games first-half games. The IceCaps then embarked on an outstanding second half of the season, going 26-8-1-3 down the stretch with nine and six-game winning streaks. St. John's locked up 4th place in the Eastern Conference and 5th overall.
This year: An up-and-down club this season, the IceCaps are 5-5-0-0 in their last 10 games, an overall indication of their season thus far. The IceCaps record of 16-18-5-1 sits them in 13th place of the Eastern Conference, and 3 points out of a playoff spot. St. John's has 5 more games played than the 8th seed Lehigh Valley team, and the most games played in the AHL.
The IceCaps have a serious scoring problem.
- St. John's currently rank 24th in the league in goals-for with 93 goals in 40 GP (2.33 GPG avg).
- On the backend things are no different. The IceCaps have allowed 125 goals in 40 games - last in the entire league.
- They have the most goals-against on the road (74 GA) alongside a 7-12-1-1 away record.
- Although St. John's has an 9-6-4-0 record at home, they have the second fewest goals-for for any home team with 42.
*As of January 14th, 2015
- SF/60 is 28.69 (23rd)
- SA/60 is 33.08 (26th)
Also among the worst in the league? Special teams:
The IceCaps have arguably their most crucial month of hockey ahead of them as they play the teams they are battling with for a playoff spot:
|Fri, Jan 16, 2015||Portland (6th)||-||St. John’s||-||7:30 pm NST|
|Sat, Jan 17, 2015||Portland (6th)||-||St. John’s||-||7:30 pm NST|
|Wed, Jan 21, 2015||St. John’s||-||W-B/Scranton (3rd)||-||7:05 pm EST|
|Fri, Jan 23, 2015||St. John’s||-||Binghamton (14th)||-||7:05 pm EST|
|Sat, Jan 24, 2015||St. John’s||-||Lehigh Valley (8th)||-||7:05 pm EST|
|Fri, Jan 30, 2015||St. John’s||-||Albany (9th)||-||7:00 pm EST|
|Sat, Jan 31, 2015||St. John’s||-||Albany (9th)||-||5:00 pm EST|
|Fri, Feb 6, 2015||Portland (6th)||-||St. John’s||-||7:30 pm NST|
|Sat, Feb 7, 2015||Portland (6th)||-||St. John’s||-||7:30 pm NST|
|Tue, Feb 10, 2015||Hartford (5th)||-||St. John’s||-||7:30 pm NST|
|Wed, Feb 11, 2015||Hartford (5th)||-||St. John’s||-||7:30 pm NST|
|Sat, Feb 14, 2015||Worcester (11th)||-||St. John’s||-||7:30 pm NST|
|Sun, Feb 15, 2015||Worcester (11th)||-||St. John’s||-||4:00 pm NST|
The final portion of the season (after Feb 15th, above) sees the IceCaps play Manchester (x6), Portland (x4), Worcester (x4), Providence (x3), Albany (x2), Hershey, and Springfield (x2).
If the IceCaps can put together .650% hockey they should be returning to the playoffs come the spring. More than likely the IceCaps will not catch the division-leading Manchester Monarchs who are 16 points ahead of the IceCaps with two games in hand, but they may be able to attain 6th, 7th, or 8th place in the conference.
With the majority of the core defence back in the lineup, St. John's will need consistent scoring and the continued strong play of G Connor Hellebuyck to secure a playoff spot. The IceCaps playoff berth may come down to the final set of the season versus the conference-leading Springfield Falcons.
Who knows, maybe we'll see another IceCaps goaltender steal the playoff show...