Last week, center Riley Holzapfel became the first roster player on the IceCaps to be traded in the team's brief history. In exchange for Holzapfel, the Jets acquired center Maxime Macenauer from Anaheim, their 3rd round draft choice in 2007.
Earlier this season, Macenauer held down the fourth-line center position on the Ducks after making the NHL team out of training camp. This was quite a feat, as the Ducks organization has considerable depth at center and he had to jump noteworthy prospects Peter Holland and Brandon McMillan in order to crack the big club's line-up. After 29 games with the Ducks in which he notched a goal and three assists, he was sent down to AHL Syracuse and posted four goals and two assists in 13 games.
Holzapfel, the Thrashers' second-rounder in 2006, played a top-six forward role with St. John's, frequently as the first-line center. He has missed significant time this season recovering from a cracked cheekbone, but still finished his tenure with St. John's with eight goals, seven assists and a plus-seven rating over 29 games.
This is an interesting trade as it has implications for both the IceCaps and the Jets. Overall, appears to be a move aimed at giving Winnipeg some size and strength at center in their bottom six. Both Holzapfel and Macenauer are listen at 6'0, but the latter weighs 17 lbs more and plays a far more physical game. The Jets have used Tim Stapleton as their fourth-line pivot for much of the season, as well as Aaron Gagnon during his call-up. Yet they are both small, skilled players and not the defense-first checkers that prototypically fill that energy-line center role.
That said, NHL teams do occasionally use the fourth line for extra scoring from skilled players with limited minutes, but with the Jets finally getting consistent scoring from their top players and Alex Burmistrov solidifying the second-line center spot, this creates the need for a balance of size and grit in the bottom-six. This is where the rationale comes for moving a noteworthy scorer in Holzapfel (as evidenced by his seven points in five games with the Ducks' affiliate in Syracuse) for a grinder in Macenauer. As of yet, the Jets haven't called up their newly acquired player, but don't be surprised if Macenauer sees some action in Manitoba down the stretch or in the playoffs, if the team manages to hang onto a spot.
In terms of his role on the IceCaps, the team gains an upgrade in size and strength over Holzapfel, and a player whose best work comes in a forechecking role along the boards. The IceCaps have demonstrated they can beat most teams in the league with a committee approach to scoring, but as the games get rougher as the postseason approaches, Macenauer's physical presence will be a welcome addition.
This was actually the second trade the club made in the past few weeks, as Jets prospect Akim Aliu was acquired by the Calgary Flames organization on January 30 for defenseman John Negrin. This trade made sense for both sides involved.
The IceCaps were looking to add some depth to their defense, considering that five of their d-men have already played in the NHL this season. The need for AHL depth becomes even greater as the playoffs near, because NHL parent clubs will often recall multiple players to sit in the press box, as they are limited in the number of moves they can make in the postseason. This could make for a significantly depleted IceCaps squad in the AHL playoffs if the Jets manage to get to - or past - the first round.
Negrin, the Flames third-round pick in 2007, has already played in three games for St. John's and picked up two assists and a plus-two for his efforts.
"I watched him play in Manitoba when he was in Abbottsford," Head Coach Keith McCambridge said of Negrin. "He's a big defenseman who skates well, plays the puck well and has some offensive upside. We look at him to make our back end even deeper and he does that by giving us a guy who can maybe log some minutes."
Aliu, Chicago's 2007 second-rounder who came as part of the Dustin Byfuglien trade, wasn't able to make the IceCaps out of training camp and was assigned to the Colorado Eagles, St. John's ECHL affiliate. Eventually, he was loaned to the Abbotsford Heat, Calgary's AHL team, and has totaled six goals and seven points in 21 games, along with 23 PIMs. Considering that the Heat were already making use of his abilities, it made sense for the Flames to take on his contract and make him an actual prospect, not just a player on their AHL team.
With the trade deadline coming this Monday, stay tuned for analysis on any and all moves made by the Jets and IceCaps as they both look towards the postseason.