Manitoba Moose 2007-08 season preview

By Matt MacInnis

It’s going to be a season of transition for the Canucks’ AHL affiliate, the Manitoba Moose.  The team has lost three of its five top scorers from last season, but have also inherited a number of talented young players.  The Moose were one of the stronger teams in the AHL last season, winning the Western Conference’s North Division with a 45-23-7-5 record.  They were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs.

The Moose kick off the 2007-08 season against the Grand Rapids Griffins with some optimistically high hopes for the season, although they will be relying on significant contributions from several first-year professionals at every position.

Goaltenders

With the departure of venerable veteran Wade Flaherty, the Moose had a significant gap to fill between the pipes.  Fortunately for the team, the Canucks top prospect Cory Schneider was ready to leave the collegiate ranks and begin his professional career.  Unable to capture the backup job from free-agent acquisition Curtis Sanford, Schneider was assigned to Manitoba where he is expected to share the duties with returning goaltender Drew MacIntyre. 

Schneider is the one who is expected to shoulder the load for the Canucks in the future if superstar Roberto Luongo leaves the team.  Schneider’s journey to a starting job will begin this season and there will be immense pressure on him to impress – despite the lack of urgency to get him into the NHL – because of the hype surrounding him. 

While most would assume that a top prospect would be given a free pass to as many playing minutes as they can handle, the Moose have a very capable 1A-1B type guy in MacIntyre returning to the club.  After a stellar season last year, the goalie acquired via trade will get a healthy number of starts on a team that will go with the hottest goalie.

Defensemen

With veteran Yannick Tremblay no longer in the organization and talented Swede Alexander Edler starting the season with the Canucks, there are two big holes to fill on the Moose’s blue line.  Enter Luc Bourdon, the Canucks 10th overall pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft.  Bourdon was cut from the big squad and is expected to log huge minutes for the Moose to finalize his preparations before he is ready to his the National Hockey League. 

Nathan McIver was told that he had made the opening night roster as a result of Sami Salo’s injury, only to be sent down the next day after GM Dave Nonis plucked Mike Weaver off waivers from the Pittsburgh Penguins.  McIver has shown that he is at least a utility player at the NHL level and can be relied upon to play top-four minutes in the AHL.

Last year’s camp standout Patrick Coulombe picked up his play in this year’s camp after a terrible Rookie Camp and will have an opportunity to showcase his offensive talents.  Second-year pro Shaun Heshka looked very good at times carrying the puck during the preseason and will be an offensive catalyst to get the puck to some of the Moose’s talented forwards.

Other defenders expected to get time with the Moose during the season include Dylan Yeo, Zack FitzGerald, Maxime Fortunus, Danny Groulx and Jimmy Sharrow.

Forwards

Returning to the Moose for his sophomore season – and expected to significantly increase his production at this level – is Danish sensation Jannik Hansen.  Having been demoted to the AHL despite a strong showing during the NHL playoffs where he did everything but score, Hansen must prove that he is able to not only create scoring chances but also finish them.  If he is able to put points on the board while continuing to play a press, high-energy style it will only be a matter of time until he is recalled.

Making his professional debut is former first rounder Michael Grabner.  The Austrian sniper put up big numbers last year with Spokane of the WHL and will be counted on to continue to score.  With blazing speed and a great shot, Grabner is expected to be a significant offensive threat this year with the Moose and in the future with the Canucks.  The biggest question mark with Grabner is his willingness to compete in physical games.

Another European about to embark on his rookie season in the AHL is Juraj Simek.  The immensely talented Swiss forward has incredible puck-handling skills and a pretty good shot, but needs to put the entire package together better. 

Fortunately for the Moose, they won’t have to rely entirely on a crop of young players in their first or second seasons for scoring.  Returning to the club are last year’s top two point-getters for the team, Jason Jaffray and Brad Moran. Jaffray was thought to have a shot at earning a spot with the Canucks because of his offensive abilities but was unable to perform during the exhibition games.  Those two players being able to replicate last year’s will be critical to duplicating the success.

Another veteran who will help to create offensive chances is Jozef Balej, back in North America after an average season in the Swiss-A league.  The Moose are also hoping that Colby Genoway will be able to regain some of his scoring touch from two years ago when he was a member of the Hartford Wolfpack. 

The rest of the team will be filled by grinding forward types and fringe prospects such as Mike Brown and Pierre-Cedric Labrie.

Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future.  Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.