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Jets' Appleton is revving up on the runway to the NHL

Despite little hype as a late draft pick, Mason Appleton ripped up the AHL as a rookie and seeks his ‘best’ self.

Mason Appleton had a decision to make in the summer of 2017, and it wasn’t an easy one. After a sophomore season in which he led Michigan State in goals and points, the Winnipeg Jets presented Appleton with an opportunity: sign an entry-level contract and forego the final two years of college to take the next step with the AHL’s Manitoba Moose. “It was a decision that took a couple of weeks,” Appleton said. “But I felt that I was at a point in my development where it was time to turn pro and really challenge myself. So, I decided to make the decision, and I’m happy with the results last year.”

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Happy? He should be elated. Appleton not only found his footing in the AHL, he far exceeded any and all expectations. The signs of a quick transition to the pro ranks were evident when Appleton ended his first month with the Moose on a seven-game point streak. And though no pre-season prognosticators pegged Appleton, drafted 168th overall in 2015, as a league-leading rookie, he ended the campaign as exactly that. His team-best 66 points placed him fourth in league scoring and topped the freshman class. Plus he added AHL rookie-of-the-year honors to his trophy case. “As the season went on, I kind of saw myself as really maturing in the league and becoming a top player,” Appleton said. “The year I had is a credit to the players I was playing with and the team I was on. You’re not going to achieve those individual awards if you’re not playing on a winning team and playing with great players.”

But given the Jets’ wealth of young, quality talent, AHL success isn’t going to necessarily come with NHL opportunity. Appleton might get an audition in Winnipeg at some point, but he’s unlikely to be a full-timer on a Jets team primed to contend for the Stanley Cup. Appleton understands that, though, and it’s not about to alter his approach. “You can’t waste your time dwelling on opportunities that you didn’t get to put yourself in,” he said. “Management makes those choices. For me, it’s just about being the best player I can be, whether I’m in the AHL or NHL. I’m going to attack each day and be the best Mason Appleton I can be.”

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This story appears in the Prospects Unlimited 2018 issue of The Hockey News magazine.

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