AHL All-Star Game Ramblings

Austin Wallace

2015-01-27

The AHL All-Star Game, Jacob Markstrom’s future and more…

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The NHL all star game was this weekend, and it features some of the best the NHL has to offer, including great performances by recent prospects Filip Forsberg and Aaron Ekblad. Despite the usual protests, I personally thought it did what it set out to do, provide some fun for the fans and the stars both while showcasing the league.

 

 

That game has gotten more than its fair share of coverage though, so I would rather talk about the other all-star game going on this weekend.It really showed a different side of Watt from his usual M.O. , and I thought Graham dunking was a great statement against the league, though Sherman’s on conflict of interest was a bit more meaningful.

 

 

Well ther was also that other other all-star game which went on in Utica, so I guess I could talk about it too. There, the AHL all-stars broke their league’s scoring record in a 26 goal, 99 shot affair. Even more so than the NHL game, you could tell that most of the players were trying less than the average beer-leaguer. That being said, I may have spotted a forecheck or two in the third period as the East did their best to rally from a four goal deficit.

 

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They outshot the West 23 (!) to 12 in the third period, but Richard Bachman had an unreal period despite giving up four goals. He made save after spectacular save on odd man rushes, breakaways and second chances galore. At 27 years of age, this is as good as Bachman is going to get and I’m not convinced he is much worse than Scrivens or Fasth, but he isn’t likely to be much better either. I don’t see him getting a chance in Edmonton (or anywhere), barring a miracle performance on top of long-term injuries to both Fasth and Scrivens.

 

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The other memorable goaltending performance was by Jacob Markstrom, who saved 18 of 20 shots and was named co-MVP. We all know the story, the pedigree, the size (6’6) and the disappointment. What you might not know is that he is only 24 and has made a massive leap in performance this season by any metric. His previous two AHL season has GAA’s of 2.56 and 2.65 with SV%’s of  91.8 and 92.0; this year he has a 1.92 GAA and 93.4 SV%. If you like wins, he has won the same amount of games this year as last year with 11 fewer starts. If you like shutouts, he has beaten his career high in 15 fewer games. If you want to pin it on the strength of the Comets, well Utica’s other goalie, Joacim Eriksson, is letting in a half goal more per game with a decent 0.914 SV%.

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it could be time to get back on the Markstrom train. Goaltenders performances are so variable that we still don’t know Markstrom’s true talent. This could all be noise, but a massive leap from his past performances combines with previous expectations make me optimistic.

 

 

If Vancouver has any confidence in Eriksson, trading Eddie Lack is a distinct possibility. Lack has enough pedigree and potential that he could be attractive to teams in need of goaltending help. He won’t get as much as Schneider did, but the 27-year-old’s value is unlikely to get much higher stuck behind Miller in Vancouver.

If you told a Canucks fan in 2011 (after their cup run, when Markstrom was still the top prospect in the NHL and Miller had been dominant at the Olympics) that the Canucks’ 2015-16 goaltending tandem could be Ryan Miller and Jacob Markstrom, you would have been sent back to where you belong.

 

 

I would make a feeler offer on both goalies before the NHL trade deadline speculation ramps up, as a trade would help both.

 

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The co-MVP with Markstrom, and the MVP without a home-field advantage, was Charles Hudon. Leading all AHL rookies (and his team) in scoring, Hudon even stood out among the AHL all-stars. He scored the two nicest individual efforts, with a Forsberg tuck-in on one goal and Patrick Kane-like moves on another breakaway.  He finished with three goals and an assist, and that was somehow enough to tie for the lead in scoring for the game. He has 36 points in 43 games, and is sixth in league scoring as a 20 year old.

 

That is more than impressive from the former first round pick. As long as he continues to play at a similar rate and builds some strength, he could make the Canadiens as early as next year.

 

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Hudon’s goals were pretty, by my favourite was on a penalty shot by Chris Wagner. He skated in, slowly exaggerated the fake-slapshot windup before letting it rip, completely fooling the goalie.

 

Wagner has 12 goals and nine assists this year, and in 46 fewer games he is seven points away from last year’s point total. Much of that is due to an inflated shooting percentage north of 17, but he did earn an early call-up to the Ducks. He probably doesn’t have much offensive potential at the NHL level, but could make a spot for himself next year in the Ducks bottom-six.

 

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L.A. prospect defenseman Colin Miller won the hardest shot (105mph) and fastest skater. That’s the first time an AHLer has won both in thirteen years. Has that ever happened in the NHL? Not that I can remember.

 

Miller was passed over in 2010 and 2011 before a 27 point jump in being drafted in 2012 in the fifth round. That was thanks to a 27 point jump in production in his overage OHL year. Overage jumps in production at the junior level are notoriously bad at predicting future success. Sure enough, he had all of 17 points in 65 games while struggling in his own end. Now though, he has 29 points in 37 and has upped his shot rate to an excellent 2.4 per game while bulking up to 195 pounds. It seems that the Kings run of young defensemen never ends.

 

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Brendan Shinnimin scored the East’s first two goals, then had a goose egg the rest of the way. It was kind of funny by the end, as he obviously wanted to pot the hattrick, and his team was setting him up for all sorts of chances. He finished with 10 shots, and a few breakaways, including one in the dying seconds of the game. You may remember him for scoring 134 points as an overager in WHL. The AHL hasn’t been quite as kind to the 5’10 center, as even this year he has only scored 25 points in 40 games. The 24 year old went scoreless in two games during his first two NHL games this year, and is inching ever closer to a career as an undersized AHL all-star.

 

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I will leave you off from three vines from three all-stars.

 

Jacob Markstrom with the highlight of his AHL weekend:

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Nikita Gusev, who has 28 points in 45 KHL games this year, was able to pull off a trick better than anything shown at the NHL all-star game. Guess who took a seventh round flyer on the Russian? Yup, the Tampa Bay Lighning.

 

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And finally, Max Domi with the goal of the year:

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You can follow me at @austeane

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