Another trip around the sun and we find ourselves looking ahead to the fast approaching NHL and AHL all-star games. While the NHL All Star classic has became a slight bit of a nuisance for those nominated, the AHL All-Star Classic remains a sole honor for the young players involved. Often, these are young men who are just beginning their professional careers, and such a nomination comes with the responsibility of representing not only their team and league, but themselves as a testament to their growing potential.
In many cases, these youthful players will go on to have successful NHL careers, and carry along the same token as Jason Zucker, Mats Zuccarello, Jonathan Marchessault and many more. For some, the weekend will represent yet another step in their journey, while for others it will represent revival and the remaining possibility of one day being an NHL player. This is who they are…
The host division roster is headlined by nine first-time AHL All-Stars including two Springfield Thunderbirds, two Charlotte Checkers and two Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
The most interesting of the group is third year AHL veteran, Michael Dal Colle. The former fifth-overall draft-pick has taken his sweet time finding a groove at the professional level but has truly made a name for himself in Bridgeport this season. For him, the nomination represents a revival of sorts, despite his outstanding goose-egg in the NHL goal column through thirteen contests. His lone assist with the Islanders will hang over his head until such time as he is able to translate this success to that level. Regardless of his disappointing production to this point in his professional career, the 22-year-old is making a statement that he isn’t finished yet. If he does happen to be available in your league, he’s certainly going to be a player you’ll want to keep an eye on as he pushes to keep the Sound Tigers in contention for the division title.
Among the shoe-in’s and “must-own’s” for the Atlantic division, Henrik Borgstrom leads the way with his consistent twenty-two points through twenty-four games. Springfield teammate, Sam Montembault who has been one of the league’s best and most consistent back-stops through 2018 will also represent the Atlantic division in his home barn. Checkers forward Janne Kuokkanen will play in his first tournament after getting off to a red-hot start that has launched him into a position to contend for the Hurricanes roster almost immediately.
John Gilmour (Rangers), and Sebastian Aho (Islanders) are two other players named to the roster that you should keep an eye on going forward.
The defending champion, North Division will bring along with them another nine first-time attendees. One glaring omission from the division roster is the division’s leading scorer, Carter Verhaeghe, who at 23-years-old is having, by far his best year in the league. Despite Verhaeghe’s omission, two other Crunch players will represent the team at the tournament – three-time all-star Cory Conacher, and first-time netminder, Connor Ingram.
The team’s high-flying defense will be at the forefront of their attack, which features Marlie, Calle Rosen, as well as rookie Amerk’, Lawrence Pilut. Both are highly likely to slot into their NHL team’s roster next fall.
Two of the youngest players names to the roster happen to be two of the more interesting profiles in terms of projections – Devil’s defense prospect John Quenneville has experienced a coming out of sorts in his third full year with the organization. While playing in only twenty games with Binghamton, Quenneville has racked up nearly a point per contest. His development is on track to have him slot in as a top-four, two-way defenseman in Newark as soon as next fall. Drake Batherson is the team’s youngest profile – the AHL rookie has bounced between the NHL and AHL until this point in the year, maintaining nearly a point per game scoring rate with the baby Sens. His grooming has already begun, and chances are he’ll be slotted into a favorable position with his NHL club within months.
As a fan of the prospect world in general – the Central division has my heart this year. One of the most competitive divisions in the league will send seven first-timer’s to the tournament, including Golden Knights star defensive prospect Erik Brannstrom.
Although goaltending typically plays a very minimal role in these ultra-skilled, but ultra-cautious tournaments, I feel it’s necessary to highlight Kaapo Kahkonen as the team’s pre-emptive MVP. In his first year playing in North America, the Finnish netminder has tallied an outstanding five shutouts through twenty starts for the Iowa Wild to earn himself a 10-6-4 record. While Devan Dubnyk is only 32-years-old, and will remain under contract until 2021, Kahkonen is certainly one goalie you’ll want to keep fixated on.
Denis Gurianov (Dallas), Jordan Kyrou (St. Louis), and Mason Appleton (Winnipeg) are three other players named to the roster with relevant profiles. Gurianov’s rate of production has more than doubled since last year (1.10 points per game), providing a glimmer of hope for the struggling Dallas Stars’ future. In his rookie season with San Antonio, Kyrou has nearly broken through the point per game threshold at the half-way mark. His professional first impression is leaving little doubt that the former Sarnia Sting forward will be a capable NHL producer in the near future. Appleton is playing in his second AHL all-star classic in as many season still seems to have his doubters. The sophomore has remained a consistent force, even as the Moose struggle to keep pace in the division this year – it would be a shame to see him not get more of an opportunity in the NHL soon.
Not to be left out of the youthful rotation, the Pacific division will send a league high, ten first-time AHL All-Stars to Springfield for the tournament. High scoring rookies Sheldon Rempal and Troy Terry will headline the division’s forward corps with a combined 1.08 points per game rate. The West Coast prospects will be joined by fellow high-flying California prospect Francis Perron who joined Erik Karlsson in the move from Ottawa last year. I’ve already discussed Perron’s new found success in past editorials, but for fear of the point not getting across, this is a player you SHOULD NOT be sleeping on.
Kyle Capobianco and Conor Garland will join the team as the representatives from Tucson. Despite some of the more recognizable names to be a part of the Arizona farm system in year’s gone by, both Garland and Capobianco represent a major part of the teams sustained success. The team currently sits in second place in the division, in large part due to this duo’s strong combination. While Garland has played nearly an equal amount of games with the Coyotes this season, he remains eligible to take his rightful place in the AHL All-Star lineup. The 21-year-old Capobianco has already begun to show signs of being a more successful professional level player than he was in junior, a testament to the Coyotes drafting and development team – he should be along in the NHL relatively shortly.
While it’s difficult to chose a favorite for tournament’s such as this this one, my gut is telling me that despite omitting Carter Verhaeghe, The North stands a good shot of repeating as champions.
For a full list of the players named to each roster, go here.
Thanks for checking in on the AHL once again! Find me on Twitter for discussion @olaf1393