Wolves hungry for playoff berth; Canuck farm team tied for ninth with four games left
As a minor-league head coach, Scott Arniel often has to walk a tightrope as he attempts to balance the needs of local ownership with the needs of his NHL affiliate.
Local ownership, in this case the Chicago Wolves, wants a competitive team, playoff dates and the accompanying playoff revenue.
The Vancouver Canucks, meanwhile, want players groomed for the next level, players who can either step in now as injury replacements, or perhaps next season when the depth chart opens up due to departures. Sometimes it means icing a lineup with less experience and less of a chance at victory.
For Arniel, there is no yin or yang at this time of the season. The Wolves have four games remaining and his mandate is clear: make the damn playoffs.
He has plenty of players at his disposal, too, including 20-year-old junior defenceman Frank Corrado, who was assigned Monday to the Wolves after his Kitchener Rangers were eliminated from the Ontario League playoffs.
The Wolves are currently tied with the Milwaukee Admirals for ninth spot in the AHL's Western Conference. Both teams trail the eighth-place Rockford IceHogs by two points. Like Chicago, Milwaukee has four games remaining while Rockford has only two.
Making matters more interesting is the fact Chicago and Milwaukee, affiliate to the Nashville Predators, play each other twice this week, the first of which goes Tuesday in the Wisconsin city. The season ends Sunday.
“Both sides, the ownership here in Chicago and the Canucks, want us to make the playoffs and extend the season,” Arniel said Monday. “Ownership obviously wants the playoff dates and, hopefully, for the team to work its way towards winning a championship. The Vancouver Canucks want their players to be playing and ready to go if needed. They don't want guys sitting around. They want them in pressure situations that are invaluable for players. So everyone is on board.”
The Wolves' roster has been in a constant state of flux with Corrado the latest arrival. Last month, the Canucks sent prospects Nicklas Jensen, Kellen Lain and Ludwig Blomstrand to the Wolves. They also deleted defenceman Kevin Connauton on April 3, dispatching him to the Dallas Stars as part of the Derek Roy trade. There have been numerous other moves at the AHL level as well.
At last count, Arniel had nine defencemen and 17 forwards on his roster. That's a lot of pieces for his chess board.
“You know what?” Arniel said. “Whatever we feel is the best lineup for Milwaukee on Tuesday, that's what we'll do. Frankie Corrado just showed up and he's probably going in because of his skill set and because he was here last year (six games) and especially because he's a right-handed offensive defenceman.”
Arniel says he talks daily to Canuck assistant GM Lorne Henning and Wolves GM Wendell Young about how they plan to deploy their personnel.
“We know we have a big push here with just four games left,” Arniel continued. “It's really tight. We have to take care of our business and look after what we can look after. It starts in Milwaukee on Tuesday. That's the first step.”
Jensen, Lain and Blomstrand have not produced much offence since joining the Wolves. Jensen, the Canucks' first pick in 2011 and a noted offensive player, has just two goals in 16 games after netting six in eight last season as a junior callup. Blomstrand, a fourth-rounder in 2011, has one goal in six games while Lain, a 6-6 checking centre signed last month from NCAA Lake Superior State, has no points in 10 games.
“It's tough for all those guys because they dropped into the league when every game means so much,” Arniel explained. “But those are the situations you want to see them in. I think Jensen, when he came in last year, had good success and the puck went in for him. Now the opposite is happening. I think he's really trying hard to score goals and we're trying to get him to work on everything so, hopefully, those goals will come.
“We've actually got him killing some penalties now and trying to use him in a lot of different situations that you hope will benefit him,” added Arniel. “With Lain, he's gaining experience in pro hockey and Blomstrand, since coming over from Sweden, it's been a little bit of a change for him playing on the smaller ice.”
WOLF BITS: Defenceman Brent Regner, who won a Memorial Cup with the Vancouver Giants in 2007, is another recent addition to the Wolves' roster via AHL trade. He has one assist in three games... In the event teams are tied in points for the last playoff spot, the tie-breaking system is identical to the NHL's with regulation plus overtime wins the determining factor.
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