With their sniper back in uniform and a young stud joining the back end, Moncton Wildcats head coach John Torchetti says the additions have brought his team a newfound confidence.
Right-winger Jeremy McKenna, 20, returned to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League franchise earlier this month while defenceman Axel Andersson, a 19-year-old from Sweden selected in this past summer’s CHL import draft, followed suit shortly after.
Torchetti said he thinks everybody in the organization is happy to have the two players on the team.
“I think that Mac (McKenna) comes in with a different mind set, meaning he knows he wants to try and play playoff hockey every day and keep improving,” Torchetti said Wednesday in a phone interview. “Andersson wants to come and be consistent because he wants to play in the NHL next year and keep on developing his game and they keep on working at it.”
McKenna signed an American Hockey League contract with the Stockton Heat, an affiliate of the Calgary Flames, over the summer. He was assigned to the ECHL’s Kansas City Mavericks on Oct. 3 before eventually being sent back to Moncton two days later.
The 20-year-old right-winger from Summerside, P.E.I., is expected to give the Wildcats plenty of offence once again this season after putting up 45 goals and 97 points in 68 games last year. Those totals were good for fifth in QMJHL scoring and he tied for second in the league for goals scored.
McKenna wasn’t the only Wildcat at Flames camp as captain Jakob Pelletier, drafted 26th overall by Calgary in the 2019 NHL Draft, was also there.
Pelletier is Moncton’s captain this season and said he and McKenna are good friends, which helped during their experiences with the Flames as they spent almost all their time together.
He said having McKenna on the Wildcats this year will help their offence a lot.
“He’s a real slapper,” Pelletier said. “I think he’s going to score maybe 50 goals this year.”
Torchetti, who has held several NHL and AHL jobs as both an assistant and head coach, said it was good for McKenna to go through the whole process of NHL and AHL camps.
“From my end as a coach, it was a good move for him to come here and to find his game and keep working on just little parts: skating, give and go,” Torchetti said.
“Had to build some confidence up because he wanted to be a pro player, but now it gives him the incentive and a great idea of what he has to do to keep improving while he’s here to become a full-time NHL player.”
Andersson, meanwhile, was drafted in the second round of the 2018 NHL Draft by the Boston Bruins and attended their training camp this fall.
Torchetti calls the 19-year-old an elite player whom the team is very high on.
“From a coaching aspect for us as a staff, you want a kid that wants to be here. Because it’s very, very unusual for a Swede to come over and play in the juniors,” Torchetti said.
The Wildcats have started the year on a positive note by posting a 9-3-0 record, good for third place in the Maritimes Division. Nine new players on their roster resulted in some mistakes early on in the season, but is a work in progress.
Moncton is filled with six players who have NHL rights, including forwards McKenna, Andersson, Pelletier, Alexander Khovanov (Wild), defenceman Jordan Spence (Kings) and goaltender Olivier Rodrigue (Oilers).
Pelletier has been solid since returning from Flames camp, scoring eight goals and eight assists in 10 games. He said he’s been impressed this season by rookie Zachary L’Heureux, a 16-year-old who has 15 points in 12 games. Khovanov leads the team with 17 points in nine games.
The Wildcats will face a tough test Thursday night when they host the Sherbrooke Phoenix (12-1-1), who enter the game on an eight-game winning streak and are ranked No. 1 in the CHL.
Torchetti said it’s a great matchup for his team to see where they’re at in the league. Pelletier agrees it will be a good test and his teammates are confident going in.
“I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a fun one tonight,” he said.