Numerous Winnipeg minor-league prospects seeing NHL call-ups

By Kyle West
Photo: Eric O’Dell has been solid in his first season with the St. John’s IceCaps. After undergoing open heart surgery last fall, there were questions over whether or not he would be able to continue his hockey career. With 10 points in 22 games, those concerns seem to be in the distant past. (Photo courtesy Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

As a first year franchise, the St. John’s IceCaps have been an AHL success story, with strong attendance numbers, lucrative sponsorships, and a winning team. Bolstered by a number of minor league veterans, the St. John’s IceCaps have been one of the AHL‘s top teams. Migrating members of the Manitoba Moose have topped the scoring charts and provided leadership to the younger players. Several of the Jets’ prospects have benefitted greatly from the winning environment and, while others have found playing time hard to come by, the culture of success is seen as vital to the development process.


AHL

John Albert, C, 22

The rink rat from Cleveland has adapted well to the life of a rookie pro. The former captain of the Ohio State Buckeyes has been applying his hard-working game to the AHL with great effect. A hustler who makes up for his lack of size with speed and effort, Albert has been a regular fixture on the IceCaps penalty kill and has chipped in some offence to the tune of four goals and eight assists in 32 games. Albert may be on the margins of the Jets’ depth chart but his determination and effort can’t be faulted.

Ben Chiarot, D, 20

The big scrapper from Hamilton, Ontario impressed in the pre-season as a physical defender, however he has been limited to just 11 games as a rookie pro due to injury. Having become a solid blueliner in his overage season with Saginaw in the OHL, Chiarot has become an interesting project with obvious toughness and imposing size. With the IceCaps blue line fully stocked Chiarot will struggle for ice time this season and could see himself in the ECHL.

Patrice Cormier, C, 21

A slow start to the year after a lukewarm training camp left Jets fans wondering if the star prospect return in the Kovalchuk deal was another black mark on the Atlanta Thrashers scouting staff. To his credit, Cormier has played the solid two-way game with jam that will get him to the NHL and was recently rewarded with power play time. Making the most of his increased ice time, Cormier now has nine goals through 29 games and should be expected to see a few more NHL call-ups before the season is over. .

Carl Klingberg, RW, 20

Klingberg played in six games with the Jets this year, showing up on the stats sheet only for the four penalty minutes he incurred but whetting the fans appetite for more with flashes of speed and skill to go with his imposing size. In St. John’s he has been a regular presence in the top-six and on the powerplay, using his size to good effect and showing an appetite for the grinding effort needed to make him more effective when he does return to the NHL.


Jason Gregoire, LW, 22

Recently returning from an injury that derailed him for much of the fall, Gregoire’s momentum after a great training camp has yet to return. A hometown hero after he left college for a chance to sign with the Jets, Gregoire has all the tools to be an NHL player and is a very coachable and hard-working. He will need to be at his best in the second half of the AHL season to win ice time from the veteran wingers on the IceCaps and recover the momentum he started the season with.


Riley Holzapfel, C, 23

On pace for a career-high offensively, Holzapfel scored seven goals in 18 games to start the year before being derailed by injury. The former Moose Jaw scoring star had just 12 goals in 68 games last season and was in the process of reinventing himself as a checking center. Signed to just a one-year deal after his three-year entry-level deal expired, Holzapfel has got to be bitterly disappointed to be injured after such a promising start to the year.


Arturs Kulda, D, 23

Having a strong bounce back year, Kulda has found a niche for himself at the NHL level. Having struggled with the defensively porous Chicago Wolves last season and watching his stock slip down the depth chart, Kulda was recently patrolling the blue line for the Jets. Kulda was recalled after a solid 16 games with the IceCaps where he held the team’s highest plus minus rating and was excelling in the shut down role. There is nothing flashy about the stocky Latvian’s game, however Kulda has strong positional awareness and enough size and determination to make a fight for every puck one he can win.

Kulda was returned to the AHL in late December and has since appeared in seven games.


Spencer Machacek, RW, 22

As consistent as they come, Machacek gives a solid effort every shift and never takes a night off. Playing in the top-six of a contender, Machacek has upped his point totals and sits just below a point per game pace with nine goals and 17 assists in 36 games for the IceCaps. Bumped down the depth chart by Klingberg however, Machacek is no longer first in line for a call-up and the former Vancouver Giants captain is in danger of becoming a career AHLer.


Ben Maxwell, C, 23

A reclamation project for the Jets, Maxwell was reclaimed on waivers after the slick center was lost to Anaheim when the Jets tried to send him down to the farm. After receiving the notice he was needed to rejoin the IceCaps, Maxwell flew nearly six thousand kilometers from California to Newfoundland and still arrived in time to dress for the game. His two helpers in a losing cause demonstrated the smooth skater’s commitment to the game. With unquestioned talent, Maxwell needs to match his skill with greater resolve and grit in order to win a spot on the Jets.

Eric O’Dell, C, 21

Recently returned from injury, the former Sudbury Wolves scoring star has begun to enjoy a regular spot in the lineup and has provided consistent offense. O’Dell has five goals and five assists through 22 games and the gifted playmaker has seen power play time in recent matches. Having missed the first half of last season to recover from surgery to correct a heart defect, O’Dell will be looking for a much more productive second half in his rookie season.

Edward Pasquale, G, 21

The junior partner in the IceCaps goalie trio, Pasquale has been part of a rotation with veterans David Aebischer and Peter Mannino. While he has earned praise for his desire and compete level, Pasquale has been the least consistent of the three and has played in only 10 games thus far. While his record is a solid 7-4 with a 3.03 GAA, the young goalie’s need for refinement and experience may be better served with a regular starter’s job elsewhere.

Paul Postma, D, 22

The latest stage of the Postma project has him on the cusp of an NHL job. The lanky seventh rounder with the big shot has scored at a point-per-game pace this season, his six goals and 21 assists in 30 games ranking him among the elite of AHL defensemen. Called up for three games with the Jets, Postma is being eased into the next stage of his career slowly, as he still can be awkward in his own end with suspect decision-making. Still not the most agile of skaters, Postma has worked very hard to prove his reliability and needs a more regular opportunity to prove his worth at the next level.


Zach Redmond, D, 23

Expected to challenge Postma for ice time, the two have found a compromise by partnering on the first powerplay unit. Redmond has proven to be more than capable at the AHL level and has thrived playing big minutes on the top pairing and scoring regularly with the man advantage. His 15 points in 35 games is complemented by his plus-nine rating, solid numbers for a first year pro. Playing for the relatively low profile Ferris State University, the All-American nominee has all the tools needed for an NHL defenseman and has been one of the better rookie blueliners in the AHL this year.


ECHL

Akim Aliu, RW, 22

A prospect on a downward spiral, Aliu has been loaned to the Abbotsford Heat in the AHL after a short stint with Salzburg in Austria. Aliu is blessed with size and speed, but a surly and indifferent attitude has made him a liability. After coasting through pre-season he was dropped to the Colorado Eagles of the ECHL. His two goals and four assists in 10 games did little to compensate for his personality issues and Aliu is on the verge of obscurity.

Chris Carrozzi, G, 21

A former OHL standout, Carrozzi was reassigned to the ECHL’s Ontario Reign after being shelled for six goals in his only start for the Jets’ ECHL affiliate the Colorado Eagles. Carrozzi has made 12 starts for the Reign, posting a 2.06 goals against average, and is one of four goalies to appear for the club this year. While he has outplayed Kings prospect Jean-Francois Berube, the Wild’s Darcy Kuemper has been spectacular in his time with the Reign. With Kuemper recalled to the AHL, Carrozzi may see more action in the second half of the season.


Michael Forney, LW, 23

The Thrashers’ third rounder from 2006 has settled in as an ECHL sniper after failing to stick in the AHL. His 13 goals and 30 points in 34 games places him among the leaders on the Colorado Eagles.


Sebastian Owuya, D, 20

The big Swede was cut from the Medicine Hat squad at the start of the year due to import restrictions and had to find a spot in the ECHL with the Stockton Thunder in order to find some playing time in North America. After a strong start with five assists in 16 games and plenty of the rough stuff he so enjoys, the 6’4 Owuya succumbed to injury and has been on the shelf ever since. He has recently returned to the lineup, playing in one game while being held off the scoresheet.