image courtesy of Quinte News
Welcome back, everyone!
The 2018-19 AHL season is off to an exciting start, with most team’s now more than a dozen games into their schedules. Already we’ve witnessed the likes of several young prospects making an impact as well as several young prospects… not making an impact. In addition, each club and their respective affiliates have continued to work as a unit striving to set their prospects on the proper development path. Because of this, we’ve seen what will likely be the busiest month of the season in terms of roster shuffling between the NHL, affiliate clubs and juniors.
Since the campaign kicked off, here are a few of the most significant transactions, and the impact they could have on the teams involved:
Lias Andersson | 7th overall, 2017 |Hartford Wolfpack (4-8-12 in 14gp) → Rangers (0-0-0 in 3gp)
It was certainly only a matter of time for Andersson to get the call for the Blueshirts. The youth revolution had been spearheaded by Brett Howden (3-6-9 in 14gp) called upon the 6-1, 205lb center to fill in for the aforementioned center in his injury absence. So far, Andersson’s struggled to rekindle the scoring touch he sparked with the Wolfpack, going pointless in his first three games with the club. Luckily for him though, the Rangers have elected to demote Boo Nieves, allowing him a little extra time to prove his status as an NHLer.
Kalle Kossila | undrafted | San Diego Gulls (3-1-4 in 3gp) → Ducks (0-0-0 in 1gp)
The Ducks have begun the 2018 season with a major lack of offense, and after making the call to demote two of their most promising prospects (more on them later), they’ve recalled Kossila who’s proven in the past that he is capable of providing a spark when called upon. With Getzlaf, Perry, and Kase on the shelf, Kossila should see favorable deployment for offensive production.
Sami Niku | 198th overall in 2015 | Manitoba Moose (1-4-5 in 12gp) → Jets (0-0-0 in 0gp)
Dmitry Kulikov is hitting the shelf in Winnipeg with an upper-body injury, allowing The Jets to recall last year’s Eddie Shore Award winner for the best defender in the AHL. While Sami Niku hasn’t exactly been on an offensive tear for the Moose through his first dozen games, the fleet-footed lefty has remained creative and crafty with the puck on his stick. This is a player, who, if given the proper opportunity in Winnipeg, could take the already intimidating offense up a notch. With likely a month’s worth of leash, Niku will have plenty of time to make an impression and his case to stick past Kulikov’s reinstatement.
Kailer Yamamoto | 22nd overall, 2017 | Edmonton Oilers (1-1-2 in 12gp) → Bakersfield Condors (0-0-0 in 0gp)
In my mind, Yamamoto is finally where he belongs at this point in his career. The NHL agreement that binds transactions involving CHL players forced Edmonton’s hand with the former Spokane Chief in his would-have-been rookie campaign, but with Yamamoto turning 20 in September that requirement no longer applies. In Bakersfield he should be afforded every opportunity to succeed, and transform his game to a style that fits the difference in pace from the WHL. The demotion will likely serve him well in the long-term, even if his next recall isn’t until next fall.
Jesse Puljujarvi | 4th overall, 2016 | Edmonton Oilers (1-0-1 in 11gp) → Bakersfield Condors (0-0-0 in 0gp)
The writing on the wall has become visible over the course of October – Puljujarvi’s streak of consecutive healthy scratches for the Oilers seemed like a message from coach to GM that the former 4th overall pick was not getting the job done. Three years removed from his highly anticipated selection, the Finnish winger has failed to contribute anywhere close to the expectations the Oilers once had for him. Perhaps, yet another stint in Bakersfield will serve him well, however, at this point it’s unlikely he shows us much more than he has in the past. If, at some point in the near future, Puljujarvi is able to move on from the organization he may have a better chance of regaining some confidence and reviving his early career.
Sonny Milano | 16th overall, 2016 | Blue Jackets (1-0-1 in 8gp) → Cleveland Monsters (2-1-3 in 4gp)
With Brandon Dubinsky returning from the injured reserve, the Blue Jackets were forced to make room on the roster by demoting Milano to Cleveland. The writing was on the wall for the winger who had been a healthy scratch for a total of four games this early in the season, and remains waiver exempt. The potential for his return will likely hinge on his ability to spark offense deeper in the lineup on an already potent Mosters squad that features current scoring leader Zac Dalpe (12-7-19 in 14gp)
Pavel Zacha | 6th overall, 2015 | Devils (0-0-0 in 10gp) → Binghamton Devils (0-5-5 in 4gp)
The Devils organization feels that Zacha has lost focus on the details of what helped him toward becoming a strong two-way prospect in the OHL, and I’m quite sure none of us would argue with that. Zacha’s lack of production and development in his first two slates with the club has been disheartening, but the team is looking to make a correction. At a time where the club is seeking an infusion of energy, 22-year-old and former 6th round pick, Brett Seney, will get an opportunity while Zacha soaks up the extra minutes in Binghamton.
Ryan Donato | 56th overall, 2014 | Boston Bruins (1-0-1 in 11gp) → Provedince Bruins (1-1-2 in 4gp)
The first of 2 players on this list to have once been in favorable odds to contend for the Calder Trophy (and that’s not including earlier demotion Henrik Borgstrom), Donato has struggled to reach the bar that he set so high at the end of last season. As Joe McDonald from the Athletic reported, the Bruins message to Donato was quite clear – they’d like for him to improve his puck management as well as rekindle his confidence by getting on the score sheet in the AHL. His stay in Providence may be short lived.
Sam Steel | 30th overall, 2016 | Ducks (1-2-3 in 13gp) → San Diego Gulls (0-2-2 in 4gp)
Steel was demoted in conjunction with the aforementioned recall of Kalle Kossila as resultant of his struggling offense. The transition from junior to the NHL has not been kind to the former Regina Pat – it rarely is. With the return of Patrick Eaves and Andrew Cogliano though, the team needed to make room and Steel was the perfect candidate. While he could spend a great deal of the year in San Diego, a quick start production-wise will cement his name at the top of the recall list.
Troy Terry | 148th overall, 2015 | Ducks (0-0-0 in 6gp) → San Diego Gulls (5-6-11 in 8gp)
Earlier in the month the Ducks demoted rookie, Troy Terry to the Gulls in favor of other youngsters Max Comtois and (at the time) Sam Steel. Since his demotion, he has been on an absolute tear rallying the Gulls squad with a more-than-respectable eleven points in eight games. He’ll be back in Anaheim eventually, but a few weeks or months to get a stranglehold on his professional game will prepare him for when the Ducks offense takes another hit.
Nikita Scherbak | 26th overall, 2014 | Canadiens (0-0-0 in 0gp) → Laval Rocket (1-0-1 in gp)
Scherbak’s demotion to the Rocket comes with an asterisk as technically the 22-year-old requires waivers in order to be “demoted”. Rather, the former first round pick opted for a 14-day conditioning assignment in Laval in light of being assigned to the press box in Montreal’s first several games of the year. The Hab’s sit just below the middle of the league for goals per game and have been getting solid production out of their top-9 (all above 1.75 points/60). At this point, the Habs could potentially be shopping Scherbak who remains an offensive asset – in any other case his best chance of getting meaningful TOI is a teammate’s injury.
Jordan Kyrou |35th overall, 2015 | Blues (0-1-1 in 9gp) → San Antonio Rampage (1-0-1 in 4gp)
As with several other teams, the Blues are loaded with one-way contracts of players brought in through the offseason. As anticipated when the team acquired the likes of Bozak, O’Reilly, Maroon and Perron in the offseason the organizations budding young stars have suffered. Kyrou was the most notable of casualties to this system in St. Louis, but his opportunity in San Antonio will provide a positive stepping stone in his development that might have been necessary under normal circumstances.
Sammy Blais | 176th overall, 2014 | Blues (0-0-0 in 8gp) → San Antonio Rampage (1-0-1 in 7gp)
Blais falls under the same blanket as Kyrou in his demotion to San Antonio – the former sixth-round-pick had an impressive showing in pre-season for the Bluenotes. Had his production maintained through the first eight regular season games we, in all likelihood, would not be discussion his demotion. In his sophomore season with the Rampage, Blais nearly reached the point-per-game plateau, providing him a baseline to strive for over the next couple of months.
Roope Hintz | 49th overall, 2015 | Stars (0-0-0 in 5gp) → Texas Stars (1-5-6 in 6gp)
After being held without a point in his first five games with the big Stars, the 21-year-old Hintz was returned to Cedar Park where he’s already well on his way back. Upon being demoted, Stars bench boss, Jim Montgomery made it clear that he believed Hintz could be better. While he was limited as far as opportunity for most of his time in Dallas, Hintz did have the chance to get on the scoresheet while playing alongside Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin in his last game with the squad.
Kristian Vesalainen | 24th overall, 2017 | Jets (0-1-1 in 5gp) → Manitoba Moose (2-4-6 in 6gp)
After a five-game peek-a-boo audition with the Jets, Vesalainen was assigned to the Manitoba Moose, merely as an opportunity management move. While he only managed to tally a single assist through his opening stint with the team, the teenager was limited to a shallow 34 minutes and change, plus a total of 18 seconds on the man-advantage. He remains a blue-chip prospect for the team and will almost certainly get a prime opportunity once the Jets salary cap becomes problematic.
Martin Necas | 12th overall, 2017 | Hurricanes (1-1-2 in 7gp) → Charlotte Checkers (1-2-3 in 3gp)
The second of two rookies on this list who were previously regarded as potential Calder finalists, Martin Necas was demoted to Charlotte on October 18th, a mere seven games into his NHL career. The Czech rookie is now rolling with a powerhouse Checker’s squad where he’s forced to battle for his ice time nearly as much as he would be with the ‘Canes. Other rookies in Raleigh haven’t been producing at spectacular rates since Necas’ demotion, however, neither has he in Charlotte. For the time being, he’ll remain in the AHL, but if current trends continue with Carolina’s offense he could be headed back east before Christmas.
2018 HOT STARTERS
Janne Kuokkanen | Charlotte Checkers (6-9-15 in 13gp)
The 20-year-old Kuokkanen is leading the offensive charge in Charlotte in his second season in North America. He could be first on the list should the Hurricanes decide to shuffle the deck.
Henrik Borgstrom | Springfield Falcons (4-8-12 in 11 gp)
Another had-been Calder favorite heading into October, Borgstrom has had a couple of 4-point nights with Springfield’s offense a month into the campaign. At this pace, it’s almost inconceivable that he remains there until Christmas.
Drake Batherson | Binghamton Senators (7-13-20 in 14gp)
A breakout World Junior tournament led to Batherson becoming a familiar name in casual hockey fan conversation’s, but he’s continued to live up to the hype at the professional level. He broke the 20-point threshold in only 14 games to start his rookie campaign, making a statement that he’ll suitable option to take on roll with Ottawa should they ship pieces out before March.
Michael Dal Colle | Bridgeport Sound Tigers (7-7-14 in 12gp)
The slow-developing former top-10 pick is packing a real punch for the first time in his pro career. While the ceiling that the Isles’ had once expected remains a stretch, Dal Colle is putting together a respectable start to the season that could finally get him into an NHL jersey on a nightly basis.
Jayden Halbgewachs | San Jose Barracuda (5-6-11 in 13gp)
The undrafted rookie is a large part of the offense-by-committee establishment that has the Barracuda sitting atop their division standings. Extremely consistent production thus far should have him registering on your draft radar.
2018 COLD STARTERS
Eeli Tolvanen | Miluwakee Admirals (1-7-8 in 15gp)
The Finnish sniper has had a slow goal-scoring start in North America, but is trending up in terms of his shots per game rate. At 3.3% it’s only a matter of time before he starts to get some past the goalies.
Klim Kostin | San Antonio Rampage (2-3-5 in 14 gp)
The entire Rampage lineup has struggled to produce in the month of October, and Kostin is no different. The disappointing start could be a product of his environment.
Cliff Pu | Charlotte Checkers (0-1-1 in 8gp)
The centerpiece of Jeff Skinner’s return to the Hurricanes is off to a rocky start with their affiliate in Charlotte. A measly one assist in seven contests is unimpressive when put next to Skinner’s production in Buffalo – the rookie has a ways to go to become fair value.
Rasmus Asplund | Rochester Americans (0-1-1 in 14gp)
The current Amerk’ is has struggled to get on the scoresheet with any kind of consistency in his first month of North American hockey. Despise an obvious effort and strong quality play, the results have not materialized whatsoever. He’s better than what these values indicate.
Jonah Gadjovich | Utica Comets (1-0-1 in 9gp)
The former second-round draft-pick who’s stock had been on the rise since his selection by the Canucks seems to be getting underutilized by the organization’s farm system. A pointless seven games certainly isn’t something that would motivate an increased roll with the team either.
The competitive balance of the top developmental league in the world continues to churn as we begin to turn the calendar into more meaningful times in the hockey world. A few months removed from their Calder Cup championship, the Toronto Marlies sit in the bottom third of the league still aching after the departure of their top goalie tandem. A have-not team from last spring, the San Jose Barracuda are currently overwhelming their competition night after night and near the top of the league with 19-points.
As the landscape of the league continues to develop into November, we’ll likely see a few drastic shifts in the narratives discussed above. Check back in the second week of December for more updates on this group of prospects who are closer than most to making an impact in the near future.