Major Concerns Confronting the Moncton Wildcats

The Moncton Wildcats seem to be poised for a potential run at the 2020 President Cup.

The acquisition of standout goaltender Olivier Rodrigue the day before the 2019 Quebec Major Junior Hockey League Entry Draft signaled the Cats intentions heading into the 2019-2020 season.

Nevertheless, is the organization really ready to make a run? Ready to go all in?

Here are some major concerns surrounding the 2019-2020 Moncton Wildcats. 

A Huge Gain, but a Massive Loss 

Olivier Rodrigue is arguably the best goaltender in the QMJHL. There’s no denying that.

The Edmonton Oilers Prospect has the ability to carry a team and backstop them all the way to the promise land.

Rodrigue is coming off an injury plagued season which reduced his games played totals and kept him out of action for a vast majority of the 2019 QMJHL President Cup Playoffs.

The 19-year-old veteran backstop is healthy and appears to be in amazing shape and on top of his game heading into his first training camp with the Cats

Rodrigue has had a tremendous off-season and would appear to be a shoe in for Canada’s World Junior team.

Obviously, Rodrigue can handle the load and pressure that comes from being “the man” between the pipes, nevertheless, I’m sure the Cats brass didn’t count on the teams perennial leading scorer Jeremy McKenna to sign a pro deal when they went out and traded for the bonafide goaltending star. 

So the first concern confronting the Cats heading into the supposed “go for it” year now that the goals against are taken care of, who’s going to score? 

Lighting the Lamp

The Cats had trouble scoring goals last season. 

The stat driven fanatics will probably say I’m wrong and think I’m an idiot for writing that, but go take a look, look at your numbers, and I’ll keep watching the game.  

The loss of Jeremy McKenna really hurts the entire offensive scheme and makeup for the Cats. 

The team’s offensive output a season ago was hot and cold at best and was woefully inconsistent.

The one constant the Cats could count on last year was the inspired play of Jeremy McKenna and Jakob Pelletier.

Now with McKenna in the pro ranks, Pelletier will have to shoulder the offensive load. Oh yeah, The Summerside Sniper’s durability will also be greatly missed.

McKenna hardly missed a game over the past two seasons and was heavily underrated as a playmaker as well.

The Cats can’t wave a magic offensive wand and replace a guy like that. 

I still can’t for the life of me figure out why the line of McKenna, Pelletier and Cyr we’re separated a season ago. 

Sure I get the concept of spread the offence around, but mainly that move was made to ignite a fire under #31’s arse, which it did, sort of. 

The highly skilled Minnesota Wild Prospect will have to bring his “A” game from the very start of the season if the Cats want to score at the same clip and be successful out of the gates. 

 Alexander Khovanov will have to channel his sometimes selfish, anger driven attitude and undisciplined play to other parts of his game if he’s going to be an effective presence for the Cats this season.

Some would say the Russian import star is misunderstood, but I believe we still haven’t seen the best of #31 in a Wildcat jersey. 

You see when you break up your top trio to spread the offence around it also signifies holes and weaknesses in your forward group. 

The Cats have drafted an outstanding young player in Zachary L’Heureux, but he’s not going to score you 45 and set up 50 as a 16, that’s just not going to happen. 

I’m sure the Cats are going to be “happy” with their 3rd overall pick and what he will bring to the team this season.

Photo Credit Daniel St Louis

However, the Cats are in big trouble offensively and they know it. The organization will have to go out and acquire a bonafide scorer to help complement their bonafide netminder, if they truly want to go where they want to go.

Either way they had a huge gain and a massive loss this offseason.

The “Axe” May Fall

The Wildcats D-corps overachieved a season ago, period, end of story, enough said.

Sure the Cats have plenty of returning defencemen, which is a great problem to have, but do they have the right ones in place? 

Do they have a Championship caliber defensive corps? 

So how does the Wildcats backend really shake down? 

Just put it this way the Axe may fall.

Boston Bruins Prospect Axel Andersson was the Cats import draft selection this season and if that young man reports to the team, which all indications point to yes, it could very well be the pivot point of the Cats entire season.

I know, hard to believe, but it’s true, one defencemen can be that important, one player can make a difference.

If Andersson reports that could make the Cats defensive corps somewhat lethal to say the least. 

Andersson will bring a much-needed complimentary offensive presence to the right side. He will also add another transitional presence, which was lacking a season ago. 

If the 19-year-old Swed does report it might a blessing in disguise for Jordan Spence.

Jordan Spence is coming off a truly amazing rookie season. The LA Kings draft selection will be heavily relied on once again to carry the offensive load from the backend, but that load will drastically be reduced if the Bruins prospect reports.

I’m convinced Spence will have another stellar campaign, but right now if the Cats can take some minutes away from him that will undoubtedly increase his points totals and productivity. 

Wait, reduce his minutes equals more points?

That’s right, Spence played heavy minutes in all situations last season, if Andersson shows up, which he will, Spence doesn’t have to run the entire show, so when he is on the ice he’s going to be a lot fresher.

Fresher equals more engaged. 

More engaged equals more jump. 

More jump equals more points, there’s some analytics for you!

Spence could drastically increase his point totals from a season ago by just simply working on his shot and playing less minutes. 

If you really watched closely last season, he could have had close to twenty goals, if he would have buried half of his opportunities especially early on in the season.

Spence’s play albeit amazing did take a downward turn just after the mid way point of the season. NHL Scouts noticed it, the young man just didn’t have the same escapability and elusiveness that he possessed at the beginning of the season.

The rookie standout hit a wall, it happens, which points directly to my previous suggestion of reducing his minutes. 

The kid was tired he was being keyed in on and hit a lot more after the mid way point of the season. Spence hit the proverbial wall; he was forced to play big minutes, because the offensive depth just wasn’t there.

The Cats depth on the backend was suspect at best a few seasons ago, however Ritchie Thibeau and his scouting staff have done a great job drafting and developing, but it’s still a concern that the team will have to address this season if they want to make a legitimate run at the Cup.

So with Spence and Andersson in the fold, oh yeah did I mention that he’s coming.

Ok, the only way Andersson doesn’t show up is if the Bruins decide to throw him down on the farm, but I can’t see that happening.

So now the Cats have two solid right shooting d-men, plus Tristan De Jong who also impressed a season ago, but wait what about Jonathan Aspirot?

 As I reported earlier this summer, I had a very reliable source tell me that the heart and soul rearguard had a pro contract in place for the upcoming season. 

Since that time, I have still heard a lot of buzz surrounding Aspirot’s jump to the pros as well as a few other sources saying that they couldn’t confirm anything at this time. I guess we will just have to wait and see. 

I’ll bottom line it for you, if Jonathan Aspirot signs a pro deal and jumps ship the Cats are going to be in a world of hurt. 

Sure they have some guys that can step in and play valuable minutes, but they will be without a shut down gritty hard nose d-man that will compete to the bitter end. 

That’s the true value of Jonathan Aspirot, don’t pay attention to the offensive numbers he puts up, he’s more valuable defensively, his offence is just a pleasant bonus. 

Of course the supporting cast will be another year older and more experienced, but they aren’t ready to step in and hold other teams top lines physically accountable every time they step on the ice.

They certainly aren’t willing or ready to drop the gloves to protect a teammate. 

They aren’t ready to log top PK minutes and log up to thirty minutes a game playing every situation imaginable. They just simply can’t do that, Aspirot is just too valuable to the Wildcats. 

So the question remains do the Moncton Wildcats have a Championship caliber defensive corps? 

Answer: They have a solid corps, that can make some noise, put points on the board, but in my opinion they certainly don’t have a Championship caliber blue line right now, which is a massive cause for concern. 

They will have to add another piece or two if they want to go where they want to go. 

The “AxeMan” will definitely help, but the real question is how much will adding one or two pieces cost them and are they willing to pull a big time deal to do it. 

The Thin Line

The Wildcats are skating on a thin line. 

Is this “the year” to go all in?

Do they continue to draft and develop and wait until it’s really go time? 

The 2018-2019 Rouyn-Noranda Huskies are the quintessential Championship team. When it came time to make a run they made two deals. Sure they were massive deals, but they had drafted and developed, showed patience and when the time was right, won it all. 

I’m not convinced the time is right for the Moncton Wildcats to go all in. The window of opportunity is open, but are they willing to take the plunge? 

They are on a thin line.

Cross the line to potentially win a championship and sacrifice future assets or stay status quo, continue to build and be patient?

I’ll leave it up to you to draw conclusions about the patience factor.

The Cats have holes, it’s undeniable, but every organization have holes this time of year. 

Will the Wildcats have to add to their depth up front to have a chance to make a run at a Championship?

In my opinion the Cats 3rd line needs more scoring, the 4th line needs more speed and a touch more skill. 

The Wildcats core group of forwards and returning players need to bring more to their game this season in order for the team to be successful in the regular season and beyond.

So are the Moncton Wildcats deep enough up front to win a Championship? 

Answer: Right now, NO.

Ok, for all the optimists or Wildcat fanatics out there, there’s hope. There’s always hope.

You may not like what it’s going to cost the team, but there’s hope.

The organization is a few vital moves away from being a Championship contending team. 

The Wildcats have drafted and developed well over the past few years and it’s starting to show. Nonetheless, with the departure of McKenna and the potential departure of Aspirot, look for the organization to proceed with caution for the time being.

Look for John Torchetti and his staff to be extremely strategic and systematic, but you better believe if the team is in position to make a run all hell will break loose on the hockey ops side, which undoubtedly will be very exciting to watch, just like the 2019-2020 version of the Moncton Wildcats.

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