Hugh Jessiman represents a huge addition for the Abbotsford Heat, both literally and figuratively.
The 27-year-old power forward, who signed as a free agent with the Heat on Monday afternoon, checks in at 6’6″, 231 pounds.
He’s also an experienced AHLer with a track record of scoring goals, and that represents a huge boon to a Heat team that’s starving for size and depth up front.
The Abbotsford squad, and the NHL parent Calgary Flames, have been decimated by an organization-wide wave of injuries in recent weeks that’s thinned out the Heat roster in a hurry. That’s particularly true up front – Greg Nemisz (shoulder) and Quintin Laing (concussion) have been sidelined, and erstwhile Heat forwards Krys Kolanos, Lance Bouma, Paul Byron and Roman Horak are up with the Flames as injury replacements.
“We’re elated to get Jessiman,” noted Heat head coach Troy Ward. “With what we’ve gone through here of late, it seems like we lose one or two players a week.”
Jessiman had been with the AHL’s Lake Erie Monsters on a player tryout (PTO) contract, and he led the Monsters with 20 goals in 43 games, to go with five assists. But his time with the Monsters did not end well – he had just one goal in his last 11 contests, and was a healthy scratch for Lake Erie’s game on Sunday vs. the Syracuse Crunch.
Monsters coach David Quinn told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that when Jessiman’s most recent PTO expired after Sunday’s game, the team declined to renew it, paving the way for him to sign with the Heat.
“We just felt like it wasn’t going to work out with Hugh long-term here,” Quinn said. “After we made the decision, he got an offer from Abbotsford. We wish him well.”
Jessiman was in transit to Abbotsford on Tuesday, and could not be reached for comment.
Jessiman was a first-round draft choice by the New York Rangers in the 2003 NHL entry draft (12th overall). He’s only gotten into two NHL games in his career, fewer than any other first-round pick in his draft class, but has proven a useful player at the AHL level. This season marks his third 20-goal campaign in the AHL.
Ward said the transaction signals to him that the Flames organization is being attentive to the needs of the Heat.
“They went out and found a piece that can help us,” he said. “It just shows me that you’re looked after down here, you’re appreciated, and there’s commitment on the part of the organization for the guys who are down here sweating.”
NEMISZ ON ROAD TO RECOVERY
The Heat received more good news on Monday, as Nemisz was a full participant at practice. The sophomore pro had been putting together a solid campaign with the Heat, posting 19 points in 32 games, before suffering a shoulder injury on Jan. 11 vs. the Texas Stars.
There’s a strong possibility the 6’3″ forward will return to the lineup this weekend when the Heat host the Houston Aeros (Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m. both nights at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre). With Nemisz and Jessiman, Abbotsford is suddenly a more physically imposing group.
“It changes the makeup of our team pretty quick,” Ward noted. “It was good to see him (Nemisz) back.”
Defenceman Brian Connelly was knocked out of Saturday’s game against the Oklahoma City Barons with a shoulder injury, and Ward said he’s not certain as to the blueliner’s availability this weekend.
“He’s progressing well,” the Heat bench boss said. “But the nature of Troy Ward is to hold him out. I’m in no hurry – we’re not going to win a title this weekend.”
Laing has been skating on his own, but has not yet been cleared for full practices.