Moose’s Meireles running with opportunity

Photo: Jonathan Kozub

📝 by Anthony Fusco | AHL On The Beat

Greg Meireles entered his first full AHL season as a relatively unknown commodity.

The Manitoba Moose, who were signing free agents to bolster their lineup and depth this past summer, inked the forward following Meireles’s first professional season that saw him post 24 points (10 goals, 14 assists) in 31 games with the ECHL’s Greenville Swamp Rabbits.

What followed was the Ottawa, Ont., product not only meeting expectations, but exceeding them, through the opening half his first AHL campaign. Before diving into the forward’s current success, it’s worth a look back to see the path to his arrival as a key part of the Moose lineup.

Meireles grew up in Ottawa and played his minor hockey there until being drafted into the OHL in 2015. He was a first-round pick, 12th overall, by the Kitchener Rangers in the OHL Priority Selection. Meireles enjoyed a successful OHL career: he skated in 244 games, all with the Rangers, and recorded 239 points (99 goals, 140 assists). That included a monstrous 2018-19 campaign when Meireles racked up 97 points (36 goals, 61 assists) in 68 games. He served as an alternate captain for Kitchener during the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons and was named to the OHL Second All-Rookie Team in 2016-17.

“The Kitchener Rangers are a great organization,” stated Meireles.  “I feel like they kind of develop their players for pro hockey. I feel like just playing there and getting the development there in Kitchener really helped me with my pro career starting there.”

Following his massive 97-point 2018-19 season, Meireles had his name called by the Florida Panthers in the sixth round of the 2019 NHL Draft. But despite being selected by the Panthers, Meireles didn’t end up signing with the organization. With his junior career at a close, Meireles was seeking his first opportunity in professional hockey. It came in the form of the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers, who inked him to a one-year contract. Unfortunately, the Checkers later opted out of the 2020-21 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic and didn’t play.

Meireles found himself in Greenville, where his 24 points ranked ninth in team scoring and third among the club’s rookies. Meireles also earned the opportunity to make his AHL debut with the Syracuse Crunch, getting into his first AHL action on Mar. 6, 2021, against the Rochester Americans, recording one shot on goal in a 4-2 loss. Meireles went on to appear in three games for the Crunch.

Fast-forward to the present and Meireles is an everyday player in the AHL with the Moose. He has appeared in 40 of Manitoba’s 42 games, only missing two games due to COVID-19 protocols. With every game, Meireles continues his development as a professional player, bringing his game to a new level in the AHL.

“It’s a lot different hockey,” said Meireles. “It’s a lot tighter here, a lot of better players here. I feel like that does help me a bit, but I also have to adjust my game for this level now.”

Photo: Jonathan Kozub

Due to COVID-19 and the Winnipeg Jets’ roster transactions, the Moose roster has been in a constant state of flux. In some instances, the team has played with as few as four NHL contracts in the lineup. Despite that, the club is off to a 10-5-1-1 start to 2022 and remains second in the Central Division.

With so many forwards out due to injury or on recall with the Jets, Meireles has frequently jumped up the depth chart as the squad’s first-line center and responded in kind. Overall, Meireles has 21 points (three goals, 18 assists) in 40 games, is tied for second on the team in scoring and leads the Moose in assists. Since the calendar flipped to 2022, Meireles has 11 points in 17 games to lead Manitoba in scoring during that span.

“I’ve been given a little bit of an opportunity because so many guys are up with the Jets right now,” explained Meireles. “I’m just trying to take advantage of it every day and do my best.”

Meireles has flourished and now has four AHL multi-point games under his belt. He leads all Moose rookies in scoring this season and sits tied for 24th overall in AHL rookie scoring. The forward has never gone longer than four games this season without recording a point.

“I think the important thing is that we’re having a lot of players playing big minutes who are improving,” stated head coach Mark Morrison. “When players do come back to our lineup, we also have a good understanding of some of the guys who stepped up here and who can play more minutes now. I keep referring to him, a guy like Meireles who was a fourth-line center who is a first-line center now. He does an excellent job and he’s proven that he can play that position. It has just made us stronger.”

Meireles is also quick to point out that, while individual success is nice, the squad accomplishments and inclusivity are the most important factors with this Moose team.

“It’s all about the locker room. We have nice, really good guys in the room,” added Meireles. “I think we established that at the start of the year. Even when new guys come in, they’re going right in the lineup, right in the mix of things. They feel comfortable and I think that’s probably the key to our success.”

Success doesn’t come easy in the AHL. Meireles and his Moose teammates continue to hold each other accountable and push themselves to new heights as a season full of adversity and opportunity rolls on.