One minor move that slipped through the cracks yesterday was the signing of minor league goaltender Ken Appleby. With the Winnipeg Jets busy making more trades on deadline day than any other team, the club opted not to issue a press release solely of Appleby’s signing, but to merely include it among other announcements until it garnered more attention today with the fireworks of the trade deadline now passed. The two-way contract is for the remainder of the season at the minimum $650K. As the deal was processed yesterday though, Appleby is eligible to compete in the postseason for the Jets if need be.
Appleby, 23, joins Evan Cormier, Jeremy Smith, Adam Wilcox, and Chris Driedger as minor league goaltenders who have earned NHL contracts in the past few days to serve as emergency depth for their parent clubs. Appleby has split his time between the AHL’s Manitoba Moose and the ECHL’s Jacksonville Ice Men and has missed some time with injuries as well. While his AHL numbers this year – an .865 save percentage and 4.59 GAA in eight appearances – are unseemly, Appleby is just one year removed from a strong season with the AHL’s Binghamton Devils and three stellar appearances with the New Jersey Devils. In fact, it was a surprise this past off-season that Appleby first was not issued a qualifying offer from New Jersey and then was unable to find an NHL contract. At the very least, Appleby’s brief NHL experience and strong ECHL stats this year make him a passable depth option for the Jets.
The question that Appleby faces that the aforementioned newly-signed keepers didn’t is whether he is even the fourth-string goaltender for the team. Appleby will glady take the contract either way, but he face extremely long odds at seeing NHL ice this season. With starter Connor Hellebuyck and backup Laurent Brossoit both young and healthy and playing well enough this season, chances are that Winnipeg won’t have to dive into their reserves in net. However, if injury did strike one goalie, well-regarded prospect Eric Comrie would be the clear-cut replacement. Comrie has some NHL experience as well and has been the starter for Manitoba all year. If somehow the Jets were down two goalies, it would stand to reason that first year-pro Mikhail Berdin could be the next man up. The 20-year-old Russian netminder has been phenomenal this season, posting a .931 save percentage and 2.31 GAA in ten AHL games to date. While Appleby has the slightly better ECHL numbers of the two this year, as well as the brief NHL experience, who would get the call is a toss up. The Jets certainly hope it doesn’t come to that, but it never hurts to add some extra insurance in net anyway.