Manitoba Moose 2009-10 preview

By Shane Goudie

It will be hard for the 2009-10 Manitoba Moose to improve on last season’s performance. Stellar goaltending, solid defense and timely goals all helped the Moose make it as far as Game 6 of the Calder Cup final. Coach Scott Arniel’s troop is once again considered a championship contender despite the loss of key players.

Forwards

This season’s group of forwards will have several new faces among them. Gone are four of the team’s top scorers in Jason Krog, Jason Jaffray, Michel Ouellet and Mark Cullen. To fill the void, the Moose will be looking at several players to rise to the occasion.

Center Marco Rosa joined the Canucks organization this off-season to very little fanfare. Originally an eighth-round selection by the Dallas Stars in 2001, Rosa bounced around the ECHL and AHL for several years before landing in Houston for the 2007-08 season. During his two years in Houston, Rosa gained a reputation for being a hard-working player who left it all on the ice every night. While Rosa won’t be leading the AHL in scoring, he will be a dependable heart and soul player for the Moose.

With the loss of Jaffray and Krog, center Alexandre Bolduc will be looked upon to take on a more offensive role with the team this season. Now in his fifth campaign with the Moose, Bolduc’s hard-nosed style of play has made him a fan favorite. He is a surprisingly fast skater who has underutilized offensive skills. With an increase in ice time, Bolduc is poised to have a solid season.

Eric Walsky, a sought-after free agent out of the NCAA, has a lot to offer as well. Last season with Colorado College, Walksy put up 36 points in 38 games. His biggest asset is his creativity and puck-handling skills. His ability to make effortless tape-to-tape passes is also one of his strong suits. He is seen by many as a bit of a project, but Walsky should get enough ice time with the Moose to contribute and improve his game.

2006 first-round pick Michael Grabner is due for a breakout season. With two full seasons of AHL hockey under his belt, the speedster has yet to crack the 50-point mark. To start this season, Grabner will be on the top line with veteran Marty Murray and should get plenty of chances to score.

Very few AHL teams can boast having a Stanley Cup winner on their roster. The Moose have been fortunate enough to have three-time winner Mike Keane in their line-up for the past four seasons. The hometown boy will again be the undisputed leader of the club as it looks to repeat last season’s long playoff run.

Manitoba will also go into this season with Mario Bliznak, Pierre-Cedric Labrie, Sergei Shirokov, Matt McCue, Olivier Latendresse, Guillaume Desbiens, Dusty Collins, Matt Pope, and Tommy Maxwell at forward.

Defense

The Moose defense will once again be anchored by former Washington first-round pick Nolan Baumgartner. The veteran is entering his 14th season as a professional and his third consecutive with the Moose.

After signing a two-way contact with the Canucks, former 2003 draft pick Nathan McIver will also return to the Moose this season. McIver is a reliable stay-at-home defenseman who can be counted on to make the safe and easy play. Although little offense can be expected of him, he should prove to be a key member of the Manitoba blue line this season. 

After not receiving a qualifying offer from the Buffalo Sabres, Abbotsford, BC native Mike Funk signed with Vancouver during the off-season. With Manitoba, Funk will attempt to get his career back on track after missing most of last season with post-concussion syndrome. If he can stay healthy, this signing could pay off well for the organization.

Signed as a free agent from the University of Minnesota-Duluth, young Evan Oberg is a player to keep an eye on. He is an incredibly smart player, known for making good first passes and also for having keen offensive instincts. As with Funk, this signing could pan out to be a very wise move for Vancouver.

Rounding out the defense are returnees Lawrence Nycholat and Travis Ramsey. They will also be joined by experienced newcomers Brian Salcido and Geoff Waugh.

Goaltenders

Once the Canucks signed goaltender Andrew Raycroft to back up starter Roberto Luongo, it became much more likely that Cory Schneider would be returned to the Moose again this season. Last season, Schneider was the AHL’s best goaltender posting a 2.04 GAA and winning 28 games for the Moose. He also played a key role in the team’s long playoff run and Calder Cup final appearance. There is no reason to expect that Schneider won’t again dominate between the pipes this season.

Backing up this season will be Daren Machesney, who spent the previous three seasons with the Hershey Bears. Machesney should prove to be a reliable second to Schneider.

Prospects at Training Camp

Going into training camp, many felt Vancouver’s top prospect Cody Hodgson had a strong chance at cracking the Canucks line-up. After a disappointing camp however, Hodgson was sent back to the OHL’s Brampton Battalion. The young forward battled a bad back during camp and was very limited in what he could do. Whether or not a healthy Hodgson would have made the Canucks is debatable. What is certain is that he should benefit from the amount of ice time he will receive in Brampton as well as from another go-around with Canada’s WJC squad in December.

Vancouver’s top blue line prospect was also at training camp. Yann Sauve attended training camp with hopes of hanging on as Vancouver’s sixth or seventh defenseman. With the depth of the Vancouver defense corps, Sauve had an uphill battle. He will play in his fourth season of junior hockey with St. John of the QMJHL. With a change in head coach as well as strategy, Sauve will be asked to play a more offensive role with the club. This should be good for his development and confidence as he is sure to increase his point totals. Fellow Vancouver prospect Steven Anthony was also returned to St. John from camp.

Also sent back to the CHL from Canucks training camp were Kevin Connauton, Morgan Clark, Prab Rai and Kellan Tochkin. All were early cuts.