Ideally, Morgan Barron would be enjoying his first taste of the NHL playoffs this week. The 23-year-old forward certainly made a favourable first impression with the Winnipeg Jets, including scoring in last Sunday’s regular-season finale.
Instead, he’s back on the farm, the result of the big club failing to qualify for the post-season. Rather than be sour over not getting to compete for the Stanley Cup this spring, he’s planning to savour every moment of an extended season.
"I’m just trying to make lemonade out of the lemons," Barron said with a laugh following Wednesday’s practice with the Manitoba Moose. "I’m excited to be down here and to go on a run with these guys."
The American Hockey League club is certainly thrilled with Barron’s return, along with defenceman Dylan Samberg who also finished the year with the Jets. They make an already dangerous Manitoba club even more potent as it prepares to open its best-of-five first-round series in Milwaukee on Friday night.
"A really good group. I got to know them that first week after the trade. They were really welcoming to me and I really enjoyed playing with them," said Barron, who came over from the New York Rangers organization in March as part of the Andrew Copp trade. "I kind of had an inkling that I would be down here for the playoff run, so I’ve been gearing up for it and getting ready. Playoff hockey is different, whether it’s the AHL or the NHL, so I’m excited about that."
Moose expect tough series from rough and tumble Admirals
Posted: 4:52 PM May. 4, 2022
It appears the Manitoba Moose are going to have one less thing to worry about as they prepare to face Milwaukee in the opening round of the AHL playoffs.
Connor Ingram, the starting goaltender for the Admirals, is currently up with the parent Nashville Predators as they face the Colorado Avalanche. In fact, he was pressed into duty during Game 1 on Tuesday, with starter Juuse Saros out with injury and backup David Rittich lit up for five first-period goals.
The Moose (41-24-7) finished second in the Central Division and eighth overall in the AHL. The Admirals (39-28-9) came third in the division. As the higher seed, Manitoba opted to play the first two games on the road, then have the final three on home ice. Game 2 goes Saturday in Wisconsin, with Game 3 slated for Wednesday, May 11 at Canada Life Centre. Games 4 and 5, if necessary, will be held on May 13 and May 15, respectively.
Manitoba projects to have as many as a dozen players in its lineup who spent time in the NHL this year, including Barron, Kristian Vesalainen, David Gustafsson, Kristian Reichel, C.J. Suess, Austin Poganski, Jeff Malott and Mikey Eyssimont up front and Samberg, Ville Heinola, Declan Chisholm and Johnathan Kovacevic on the blue line.
"Well we’re going to need everyone," said Eyssimont, who led the Moose in scoring this year with 42 points (18 goals, 24 assists) in 58 games. "We need all hands on deck. Next man up mentality. And just make sure that whatever position you’re playing, whatever line you’re on, you’re making the most of your opportunity to, yeah, hopefully move up in the lineup but also just to, at the end of the day, win one game at a time."
Eyssimont, 25, appeared in one game with the Jets this year and finished the AHL regular season on a high note, registering a hat-trick in Manitoba’s final game last weekend. The 6-foot, 180-pounder plays a lot bigger than his size, and he’s not afraid to mix it up — as proven by his 90 penalty minutes this year.
"Every game I try to be as intense as I can and treat it like a playoff game. But this is the real thing. So, I’m excited to step up and do my best," he said.
There’s no question Manitoba’s strength rests on its defensive group. Samberg, Heinola, Chisholm and Kovacevic are as good as any top four at the AHL and all look to be big parts of Winnipeg’s future. Along with German product Leon Gawanke, who posted a team-high 36 points from the point, and captain Jimmy Oligny, the group in front of No. 1 netminder Mikhail Berdin is loaded for battle.
Consider this: At one point this year, head coach Mark Morrison rolled out a power play that included three defencemen. That’s almost unheard of, but speaks to the talent the Moose have on the back end.
"Hoping to do something with a special group here and make some noise," said Kovacevic. "We just have a lot of stick-togetherness, or whatever you want to call it. If you look up and down our lineup, we don’t really have anyone who’s leading the league in scoring or who’s even close, really. We just do it by committee.
"On any given night, any line could step up. I think that’s kind of the beauty of our team — our depth and that we don’t rely on one guy to score. We just rely on the whole team. I think we just play for each other. We play together."
It may not be champagne out of the Stanley Cup, but Barron and his teammates would certainly enjoy sipping a cold beverage out of another big trophy a couple months from now. Perhaps lemonade?
"I want to win a Calder Cup. That’s the goal for everybody in that room," he said. "It would be a pretty cool experience. Everyone that I’ve talked to who has gone on deep runs and have either won or come up a little short, everyone says it’s an absolute blast to do it. It’s a great group in there, so I’d love to do it with those guys."
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.