The AHL schedule kicked off this past weekend with a handful of teams getting into action around the league. After most prospects spent some time with their respective NHL affiliations, many were reassigned day-by-day to the AHL. There were many early cuts from each team’s respective training camp, but some prospects were able to stick things out and nearly have their name stitched on for good – only to come face-to-face with the dreaded CBA.
First off, NHL teams are forced to utilize eight designated veterans (see below) in their lineup through the pre-season schedule. They also have to worry about preparing their experienced roster players for the regular season. As such, teams tend to be forced into a position where they might not be able to give prospects the exposure that would lend itself to their early success. In those cases, a demotion is almost inevitable, and those prospects are given that opportunity in the AHL.
(c) A Club shall be permitted to dress a minimum of eight (8) veterans for any exhibition Game. For purposes of this Section 15.4(c), a veteran shall constitute either: (1) a forward or defenseman who played in thirty (30) NHL Games during the previous season, (2) a goaltender who either dressed in fifty (50) or more NHL Games or played in thirty (30) or more NHL games in the previous season, (3) a first round draft choice from the most recent year's entry Draft, or (4) any Player who has played one-hundred (100) or more career NHL Games. The matter of player participation in Exhibition Games shall be referred to the NHL/NHLPA competition committee for its consideration and recommendations, if any, in accordance with article 22.
Sometimes teams have the full intention of allowing their prospects to develop slowly, and simmer in the minor leagues. Waiver eligibility, two-way contract status, and simple veteran respect, however, each played a part in the logjams that lead to assigning certain prospects to the AHL. We see situations like this every season, and while the demotion is usually not a terrible path for the player’s development, it has a way of either sparking a flame for some, or smothering it for others. Each will be out, early in the AHL season, to prove that they’re worthy of an emergency recall, and a second chance to overthrow an ailing veteran in the NHL. Most veterans will tell them, however, that it’s patience, and consistency that will keep them on the right path to success.
Some call it asset management, others write it off as a developmental strategy. Regardless of which side of the fence you sit on, there’s little in the way of saying that these players couldn’t have overthrown a veteran on SOME NHL teams if it weren’t for a few contractual details or logjams in their organizations. Instead, they’ll try to prove it in the AHL.
Jared Coreau, Detroit
Who needs to go: Petr Mrazek (1YR) OR Jimmy Howard (2YR)
Waiver Exempt: No |2-Way Contract: Yes | Details: AAV stigma
Coreau started 14 games for the Red Wings last season during Jimmy Howard’s absence. He ceased the opportunity and seemingly stole the starting job from Petr Mrazek during that time. The notion was confirmed this summer, as Ken Holland left the slightly younger, Mrazek unprotected from Vegas in the expansion draft. Jeff Blashill showed significant faith in the Canadian netminder, but the final call on demoting Coreau was due to the pressure of $9 Million plus in salary cap tied up between Mrazek and reborn starter, Jimmy Howard. It was suspected throughout the summer that Holland would have tried to move Mrazek to a rebuilding team in need of a goaltender, however, teams like Calgary, Philadelphia and Winnipeg were able to fill those voids with experienced back-stops who hadn’t been publicly shamed by their General Managers. Coreau returned to the defending Calder Cup Champions in Grand Rapids where he’s been solid so far. He opened with a 27-save win against the Moose, and a solid relief appearance in the second part of the back-to-back. He’ll have to remain consistent and wait for a trade or injury at the NHL level to get his next opportunity.
Kasperi Kapanen, Toronto
Who needs to go: James Van Riemsdyk (1YR)
Waiver Exempt: Yes |2-Way Contract: Yes | Details: Logjam
There’s been no lack of coverage on the newly discovered depth within the Maple Leaf’s system, however, it should go without saying that their prospect pool is often subject to a fairly strong media bias. That being said, the way that the current Maple Leaf’s roster is constructed certainly lends itself toward the blocking of skilled developing prospects. Kapanen finds himself in a position where, if a top-6 roll were available, chances are he’d be there. As it stands, a top-6 spot on the wing isn’t available, and pending a failing contract negotiation with James Van Riemsdyk, the Leaf’s certainly don’t plan on forcing the subject either. Kapanen managed to score at a point-per-game pace in the AHL last season, and will strive for more of the same early this fall. He likely could’ve spent more time with the Leafs last season if the ice time was available, however this is not a new hurdle. With the injury luck that the Leaf’s enjoyed last season, they may be due for a correction, in which case, Kapanen will be nipping at Josh Leivo’s heels for the slightest opportunity.
Mark Jankowski, Calgary
Who needs to go: Matt Stajan
Waiver Exempt: Yes |2-Way Contract: Yes | Details: Logjam
The Providence College grad was a beast for the Flames during preseason – he brings size and skill to an organization that values both. Unfortunately, due to roster restrictions and the Flames being light on right-wingers, the team pursued other options. Since being demoted to Stockton, Jankowski has been on an absolute tear, and is currently leading the AHL in scoring. The Flames lineup already includes a ton of youth, but Jankowski will be tough to ignore for much longer. There are five unrestricted free-agents in the Flames forward ranks that include Jaromir Jagr, and Tanner Glass, both whom stand a slim chance of being re-signed at the end of the season. Despite his early and expected success, it seems the Flames would like to see Jankowski play another season in the AHL, where he seems to be very well prepared to impress.
Shea Theodore, Vegas
Who needs to go: Luca Sbisa, Jon Merrill
Waiver Exempt: Yes |2-Way Contract: Yes | Case of: Poor expansion strategy
If there is any case early this season in which the CBA is having an unfortunate effect on any player’s development, it’s that of Shea Theodore. The young left-handed rearguard was offered to the Knights as expansion draft considerations from the Ducks. Unfortunately, the Knights also selected 618 other defensemen with one-way, non-waiver-exempt contracts. Though Theodore has never had a full-time NHL position in the past, nor was he fully expected to have one this season, after a strong preseason, those expectations certainly changed. George McPhee has been unable to make any kind of a trade with their remaining defenders since sending Marc Methot to the Stars on June 26th, and therefore has been forced to make some difficult roster decisions. Since his demotion, Theodore has come up with two strong and consistent performances totaling five points in his first two games. In all likelihood, the only thing standing between him and a full time spot in the Knights top-4 is a defensive fire-sale from McPhee’s office.
Thomas Chabot, Ottawa
Who needs to go: Mark Boroweicki
Waiver Exempt: Yes |2-Way Contract: Yes | Details: Poor play
Prior to the start of the NHL season, Chabot was widely believed to be a clear cut case to crack the Senators lineup. After a mediocre audition in a few pre-season contests, however, the talented Chabot was deemed unready by the Senators brass. Even with the pre-existing injury to Erik Karlsson, Chabot was passed over for the more experienced Mark Boroweicki. After Johnny Oduya sustained a lower body injury in Thursday night’s game versus the Capitals, Chabot was again passed over for the elder Ben Harpur, before Harpur himself sustained an injury. It seems as though the Senators were eager to give Chabot the opportunity to get comfortable with Belleville before yo-yoing him back and forth between leagues, this could very well be Chabot’s best opportunity to redeem himself after the lackluster preseason, and stick in Ottawa.
There are plenty more AHL prospects that will certainly be out to prove their value early in the season including Nikolay Goldobin, Luke Kunin, Kyle Connor, Daniel O’Regan, and more, but for them, the argument that they’ve already overcome the threshold of NHL readiness is less concrete.