Alaska Aces coach Rob Murray's principal quest this week is finding defensemen to patch his battered blue line -- he continues to work that angle -- but he could not resist the lure of a top-line center.
And that's how former Aces pivot Alexandre Imbeault on Wednesday became current Aces pivot Alexandre Imbeault.
The Aces acquired Imbeault from the Orlando Solar Bears for future considerations in a trade that bolsters Alaska's offensive arsenal and also purchases insurance in case the NHL lockout ends. Three of the Aces forwards - Brandon Dubinsky, Nate Thompson and Joey Crabb, all of Anchorage - are playing for the team during the lockout, but will depart if the lockout ends.
And Murray knows what he is getting in Imbeault, who two seasons ago racked 36 goals for ECHL Florida and earned 38-57--95 totals in 108 regular-season games with the Aces from 2008-10. Imbeault played 12 games as a rookie for Murray, and furnished 3-4--7 totals, when Murray was bench boss of the Providence Bruins of the American Hockey League in 2007-08.
"We worked out a deal for futures,'' Murray said of the swap. "I don't like doing it because it's always such a wild card, but with the opportunity to get a good player, and never having out of my mind that the lockout could end, we need to build a nucleus besides those (NHL) guys.
"(Imbeault) is a guy we perceive in this league to be a top-three forward. You get an opportunity like that, you can't pass it up.''
Future considerations -- known in hockey as "futures'' -- at the ECHL level usually involve either the ECHL rights to a player or a nominal amount of cash. For instance, when Alaska late last season acquired center Ryan Cruthers from Reading for center Ethan Cox and futures, the futures ended up being the rights to center Chris Langkow.
When the Aces last left Imbeault slightly more than halfway through the 2009-10 season - actually, Imbeault left them during a California road trip to take a gig in the Czech Republic - the center was their leading scorer, first-line center and power-play quarterback.
Through 44 games that season, he owned 18-30--48 totals.
After putting up 20-27--47 totals in 64 games for the Aces in the 2008-09 regular season, Imbeault elevated his game in the playoffs, helping them get to Game 7 of the Kelly Cup Finals, which they lost to the South Carolina Stingrays. In that playoff run, Imbeault played a more physical, gritty game and was rewarded with 7-12--19 totals in 20 games.
Two seasons ago with ECHL Florida, he bagged 36-27--63 totals in 57 games.
Murray said Imbeault played very well for him when Providence summoned the center from ECHL Johnstown in 2007-08.
"He was good,'' Murray said. "You could tell he had a lot of upside skill. When we got him, he was a fill-in, but he did well.''
Imbeault, 26, is in his sixth season as a pro, but has not yet played enough regular-season pro games to be considered a veteran in the ECHL. That's critical because the Aces currently have six veterans and league rules permit a team to dress a maximum of four in any game. Of course, that's not a problem at the moment because captain Steve Ward suffered a broken leg last week and fellow defenseman Sean Curry has yet to play this season because of a lingering groin injury suffered in training camp.
Imbeault began this season with Olimpija Ljubljana, a Slovenian team that plays in the Austrian league. He played three games before returning to North America. Murray said the Aces were in the mix to sign Imbeault, who agreed to a deal with Orlando. Imbeault had two assists in four games with the expansion Solar Bears.
Murray said Imbeault was flying to Alaska on Wednesday, was scheduled to arrive late that night and should practice with the club Thursday morning.
The coach said he believes Imbeault can be an impact player for the Aces again.
"You surround him with the right players, he'll be good,'' Murray said.
Shuffling the deck
The Aces on Wednesday placed Ward and rookie winger Tim Hall (upper-body injury) on the 21-day injured reserve and added local Micah Perletti as an emergency backup goaltender.
Perletti, who was in training camp with the Aces, was added because second-year goaltender James Reid suffered a minor lower-body injury in practice Tuesday. Perletti is practicing with the Aces since he was added.
From the small world department: Imbeault's teammates with Olimpija Ljubljana included former Aces center Brock McBride, who is tied for second in the Austrian league in points with 6-15--21 totals in 13 games.
Also on that club are former Stockton standout Chris D'Alvise, former Idaho goalie Jerry Kuhn, former Victoria blueliner Patrick Coulombe, former Victoria and Bakersfield forward Scott Freeman and former Utah forward Simon Ferguson.
Also on the Austrian circuit is former Aces winger Josh Soares, who owns 4-8--12 totals in 14 games for the Vienna Capitals.
In other ECHL news, the AHL's Hershey Bears have assigned former Aces blueliner Patrick Wellar to Reading. That move prompted the Royals to put former Aces defenseman Brock Shelgren on reserve.
Wellar helped the Aces to the 2006 Kelly Cup and also played for them in 2006-07. He won another Kelly Cup with South Carolina in 2009, when the Stingrays beat the Aces, and an AHL Calder Cup with Hershey in 2010.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
By DOYLE WOODY