The Manitoba Moose have closed the Mike Keane chapter and are poised to begin a new era. With the retirement of Keane, a Winnipeg local hero who was the Moose captain for the past five years, leadership passes to a new generation of Vancouver prospects. Cody Hodgson and Jordan Schroeder report for their first full pro seasons and while the attention will be on those two forwards, defenseman Kevin Connauton and Chris Tanev, as well as goaltender Eddie Lack are also rookie pros with the talent to make the Moose a contender for the upcoming season.
Marco Rosa centered the top line for the Moose last season and was their leading scorer with 55 points in 80 games, a career year for him. Rosa carried the Moose offense along with winger Sergei Shirokov, who made the Canucks out of camp a year ago then scored 22 goals in 76 games when sent down. Shirokov will have a better supporting cast to work with as top prospects Cody Hodgson and Jordan Schroeder report for duty in the AHL.
Hodgson showed his injury woes are behind him with a strong training camp while Schroeder has already shown flashes of his superior talent in an AHL cameo last season, scoring 9 points in 11 regular season games and 6 points in 6 playoff games.
Summer signings Joel Perrault and Billy Sweatt add further experience and talent to the forward roster. Perrault has played 89 games in the NHL as a checking line winger but is a point per game player at the AHL level. Sweatt signed with the Canucks after failing to come to terms with Toronto GM Brian Burke, who acquired him in a trade with Chicago. A 38th overall pick by the Blackhawks, Sweatt has speed to burn and was a key offensive player for Colorado College for the past four years. Fan favorite Guillaume Desbiens is a wrecking ball of a winger who hammered in 19 goals in 67 games last year while dropping the gloves with anyone who asked, while B.C. boy Aaron Volpatti and Winnipeg’s own Kevin Clark showed a similar rough and ready style in their brief stints with the Moose last year after leaving their college clubs. Winger Victor Oreskovich, acquired in the Keith Ballard trade with Florida, brings further size and aggression to the Moose. Checking line center Mario Bliznak is on the final year of his entry level contract and needs to step up his game to win a place in the NHL as a defensive forward. Tommy Maxwell retains his place as the resident pugilist while Prab Rai may find himself closer to his Surrey home when he starts his pro career in the ECHL with the Victoria Salmon Kings.
Free agent Evan Oberg was a pleasant surprise for the Moose last year, the rookie showing great poise with the puck and generating offense from the point. This year Oberg will combine on the power play with Kevin Connauton, who takes his first strides as a professional after setting new scoring records with the Vancouver Giants of the WHL. Connauton’s booming shot from the point will be a welcome asset and his quick first pass will aid the transition game.
Lee Sweatt and Chris Tanev, two offensively gifted defensemen signed over the summer as free agents, were given long looks in the pre-season. Lee Sweatt was signed before his younger brother Billy became available on the market, but the two are both Colorado College standouts who have also both represented the USA internationally at in-line hockey. Sweatt is undersized for an NHL defenseman at 5’9 190 pounds but his awareness enables him to play an up-tempo style that earned him all-star ratings with Turku of Finland during his two year stint there. Tanev was signed after his freshmen year at the Rochester Institute of Technology and was a key part of the Tigers first frozen four appearance.
There is also no shortage of experienced veteran defenders in the organization. Nolan Baumgartner served as captain of the Moose in 2004, his second of three playing stints in Winnipeg. Baumgartner has played 143 games in the NHL, including a 12 game call up to the Canucks last season, but has had his best years in Manitoba. Baumgartner and fellow veterans Travis Ramsey and Nathan Paetsch, acquired in a trade from Florida, have the size and experience to mentor the younger Canucks prospects like Connauton, Oberg and smooth skating Yann Sauve, who hasn’t participated in training camp after a car accident in the summer. Sauve and Taylor Ellington, who projects as more of a stay-at-home type, will likely see time in the ECHL this season.
Tyler Weiman and Eddie Lack will share the goaltending duties for the Moose for the upcoming season. Weiman left the Colorado Avalanche organization in the summer to join the Canucks as a free agent, having appeared in the NHL for exactly 16 minutes for the Avalanche.
Unbeaten as an NHL goalie, it was Weiman’s solid work with the Lake Erie Monsters that was of greater interest to Canuck’s brass when they signed him. Eddie “The Stork” Lack is a lanky Swedish goalie recently signed to a contract after 14 games as Jacob Markstrom’s backup with Brynas IF in the Eliteserien. David Shantz put up respectable numbers with Victoria but a poor pre-season outing against the Flames earned him an unfortunate nickname and cemented his third-choice status on the Canucks depth chart.
Claude Noel takes over the coaching reins for the Moose after failing to secure the head coach job in Columbus. Noel served as the interim head coach for the Blue Jackets after Ken Hitchcock was relieved of duties last year and had the team on a 10-8-6 stint to finish the season. Noel coached the Milwaukee Admirals to the Calder Cup in 2003 and was AHL coach of the year that season.
Center Alex Bolduc signed a one year extension to his contract, having been with the Canucks for 22 games over the past two years, and played a strong two-way game in the pre-season. Bolduc was rewarded with a 4th line spot ahead of Brendan Morrison, a former Canuck invited to camp on a try-out.
Cody Hodgson improved in every pre-season game he played and made a convincing bid for an NHL spot with his smart and defensively responsible game, a welcome relief after the injury trouble the 2008 draft pick had.