Aeros GM Jim Mill has a little more to work with this season as the Aeros may benefit from the rebuilding process going on in St. Paul. The Aeros finished out of the playoffs after a deep run in 2009, and the .500 finish doesn’t sit well with anyone. The organization has been a little more aggressive in signing young players, but it also has a few more of its own prospects to develop in more comfortable roles. With the Wild starting the season with a tour of Finland, things down south can get started with a good idea of the shape of the roster.
Jean-Michel Daoust was the top scorer for last year’s Aeros, scoring 55 points in what was likely his best professional season. Daoust along with AHL veteran Jon DiSalvatore will look to continue their offensive leadership, but a host of other players will need to contribute in order for the team to improve. With DiSalvatore also registering a minus-23 last season, more dedication to defense is probably also high on the new coaching staff’s agenda.
One veteran addition is Warren Peters, who recently wore the C for the Quad City Flames and has also played all over the AHL. Tyler Burton, another player with a very good collegiate pedigree, could provide some more depth down the middle. Robbie Earl, whose blazing speed always makes him a candidate for a regular NHL job, is the top returning winger. The sometimes confusing Petr Kalus looks to bring a little more offense this season.
Center Rylan Kaip, a ninth-round pick of the Thrashers in 2003 and former Fighting Sioux, brings a gritty game.
Jared Spurgeon joins the stable of Wild prospects, having earned a contract on a tryout. A sixth round pick (156th Overall) of the Islanders in 2008, Spurgeon is slightly-built, but has undeniable skill. Furthering bolstering a decent group of defensemen, the Wild have signed Josh Caron of the Kamloops Blazers and Colton Jobke of the Kelowna Rockets. Any one of them, or all of them, could add his skill-set to the Aeros lineup by the end of this season. Tyler Cuma will be one of the most important players to watch progress in his first full pro season, but Nate Prosser also represents improved blue line depth. Drew Bagnall, who captained the Manchester Monarchs last season, brings a strong physical presence as well. The most important returning player is Maxim Noreau, who was third on the team in scoring, but probably could have scored more. He is a consistent threat with an accurate point shot and another big season from him will go a long way toward defining success for the Aeros. Finally, it’s hard to imagine why Cuma and Marco Scandella wouldn’t both be kept in the AHL for as long as possible this season, as it looks as though Justin Falk may get considerable NHL ice-time. Clayton Stoner, who has been with the Aeros for half a decade, also stays with the big club for now.
In what now looks like a wisely prescient move, the Aeros signed Josh Tordjman this summer, an AHL veteran whose numbers have declined since his pro debut. Tordjman got the bulk of the work in San Antonio last season, and had a sub-3 goals against average and a .902 save percentage. With the unfortunate injury to presumptive Wild backup Josh Harding, Anton Khudobin looks poised for a great opportunity to pick up as many as 20 or so starts at the NHL level. This leaves Tordjman and Hackett to divvy up starts in Houston, with Darcy Kuemper sent back to Red Deer of the WHL. Goaltender no longer looks like a strength for the Aeros, but Hackett gets a great opportunity at a young age should the organization stand pat.
Rookie Head Coach Mike Yeo got a first opportunity to coach the young fellows at the prospects tournament in Traverse City, Michigan. After a full decade as an assistant with Wilkes-Barre and Pittsburgh, Yeo brings quite a bit of experience as a coach. Houston fans may also recall him from his playing days with the Aeros of the IHL, where he played throughout the latter half of the 90s, captaining the Aeros to the 1999 Turner Cup Championship. Assistant Coach Brian Wiseman was named league MVP from that same team and joins the coaching staff after some time coaching at Princeton University. Recently retired defensive stalwart and two-time Stanley Cup winner Darryl Sydor also joins the staff. The expectation is that the system in Houston will more closely resemble Todd Richards’s system being implemented in St. Paul. It is a fairly green group as far as each man’s respective role, but the staff should be able to identify pretty well with the players’ needs and potentials.
Joel Broda was a prolific scorer in junior, but couldn’t quite show enough to stick with the Capitals’ deep system. He has both size and skill and could be a player who scores consistently at the AHL level. Colton Gilles and Cody Almond return to Houston for another season of growth. Both are primarily designated as defensive specialists, but share an above-average skill level. Carson McMillan also returns for another year of seasoning. Matt Kassian, who impressed with his skill level throughout the Wild camp, probably comes back down eventually to throw down the gloves as needed.
As mentioned, high draft picks Tyler Cuma and Marco Scandella are really the Aeros’ blue-chippers as far the Wild system goes. They will both be called upon to score as well as achieve a higher comfort level as professionals. Nate Prosser, signed as a free agent out of Colorado College after four good years, probably joins the top pairing alongside Maxim Noreau.
As for the Aeros, they start the season with a slightly imbalanced roster: a productive blue line, solid checkers throughout, but not much in the way of high skill forwards. Should Casey Wellman not stick with the Wild, he helps that problem somewhat. The organization has prospects developing all over the map currently (SM-Liiga, SEL, WHA, NCAA) and hasn’t fully committed to the AHL for its development. With the addition of the Bakersfield Condors as an ECHL affiliate though, these important resources will elevate Minnesota’s pipeline quality in the near future.