Today’s edition of the RFA Spotlight focuses on Mason Appleton. In case you missed it, this is the second post discussing the prominent RFA’s for Winnipeg as we provide an outlook into their future with the club. The first post discussed Jack Roslovic’s future contract and how the 2020-21 season will be a defining moment in his career.

2020 RFA Spotlight: Jack Roslovic

Now, let’s talk about Appleton.

It took consistent progression from Mason Appleton to rise through the ranks and finally make his mark in the NHL. A former 6th round pick in 2015, it hasn’t been an easy road to the big league. After finishing his collegiate career in 2017, he joined the Manitoba Moose for the full 2017-18 season.

It was this season in 2017-18 that took Appleton to the next level. To be completely honest, his meteoric rise was a shock to almost everyone as the former late-round pick lit up the AHL with 66 points in 76 games. His scoring burst led to multiple awards including the AHL’s rookie of the year award in addition to being named a First Team All-Star.

Just like that, Appleton was thrust onto the map for the Jets. He got his shot one year later in 2018-19 after starting the season with the Moose once again. The 2018-19 year was split in half between the NHL and AHL with 36 games played for the Jets and 40 for the Moose. He was mildly productive in his first taste of action with three goals and ten points in those 36 games.

That now brings us to last season. After being a 50-50 player the year before, Appleton finally made the jump to full-time NHL action. He only played four games with the Moose, but those games were part of a conditioning stint after returning from a foot injury. After one week in the AHL, he was back in the NHL, this time for good as he played out the rest of the season with Winnipeg. Despite being a consistent player in the lineup, Appleton had his share of struggles during the year.

However, those types of struggles are expected based on a young player finding his way through the NHL for the first time of his career. It’s nothing to be concerned about since he definitely had his fair share positive moments too.

Appleton definitely started to show more consistency as the year progressed. He went from a player who rarely made an impact and turned into a player that could chip in an extra goal here and there. It can be tough as a young player in the bottom six because the quality of teammates is much poorer than the top six. It’s expected that Appleton won’t do too much scoring when he’s playing with Gabriel Bourque and Nick Shore.

That leads to the next question, what is Appleton’s ceiling as a player? He has a scoring pedigree with nearly a point per game in the AHL as a rookie but that doesn’t necessarily translate into NHL success. In addition, he’s playing behind a plethora of other wingers right now and there’s absolutely no room in the top six. It seems that the current ceiling for Appleton would be a third-line winger who can boost the secondary scoring. If Appleton played for a different team, there’s a possibility of a future top-six role, but at this point, it seems unlikely that it will happen with Winnipeg.

The best-case scenario for Winnipeg is to have Appleton blossom into a consistent 15 goal and 30+ point player who they can roll out on the third line every night. In the meantime, it seems that Appleton’s roster spot is safe and he’s likely seen the last of the AHL. Look for him to play most of the season on the third or fourth line and add some much needed offense to the bottom six.

As for his new contract, we will likely see a fairly cheap deal with a short term as well. Appleton will probably want to bet on himself to have a strong couple of years in the hopes of cashing in on a bigger contract down the road. The only potential issue is that Appleton is eligible for arbitration, although he likely won’t gain anything from the process should a deal not be reached. The chance of arbitration is quite low given the circumstances of Appleton’s brief NHL career.

The cap hit will likely be minimal as Appleton still has to prove himself at the NHL level. Strong AHL numbers are great, but it takes strong NHL numbers to bring in the big money for a new contract. Appleton has yet to do that and that gives Winnipeg the edge in the contract negotiations.

A decent comparable would be former Jet Brendan Lemieux who scored 18 points in 2018-19 between Winnipeg and New York before signing a one year contract worth 925k. Appleton will likely be in the same range with a one or two year deal that is slightly above the league minimum.