Since we last checked in on the AHL back in April, the league has wrapped up nearly half of their playoff tournament. We’ve missed a lot in the last month and it’s time to get caught up!
First and foremost, the defending Calder Cup Champion, Toronto Marlies have been dominant since kicking off the postseason. Led by second-round draft-pick Jeremy Bracco and undrafted free agent netminder, Kasimir Kaskisuo the Marlies have owned both of their opponents en route to the Eastern Conference Finals.
The 22-year-old Bracco is coming off of an outstanding regular season as a sophomore in the AHL in which he nearly doubled his rookie scoring rate. While the Leafs are sure to be much more careful bringing along their next AHL developed goaltender in Kaskisuo, Bracco should have an opportunity to crack the NHL roster by the fall of 2020. Connor Brown is reportedly one of the most likely Leafs to be shipped out in the team’s cap crunch, however, that role might be better suited for another Leafs prospect like 2016 second-round draft pick Yegor Korshkov, or undrafted free agent signing Ilya Mikheyev. Aside from the two most impressive Marlies these playoffs, Trevor Moore, who has also contributed regularly will likely be back in a Leafs sweater come October. Moore used his agility and energy to drive a sometimes dangerous-looking fourth line for the Leafs in their first-round matchup versus Boston.
On the blueline, both Rasmus Sandin and Calle Rosen have been steadfast and dynamic. The young Swedes are casting the mold for the future of the Leafs’ defense, by contributing offensively without conceding much of any defensive edge.
Not to be outdone, the Charlotte Checkers have made their way to the Eastern Conference Final with only a single loss at the hands of Jack Studnicka and the Providence Bruins. The Checkers and the entire AHL playoffs for that matter have been led by a player that I’ve been intrigued by since his senior year at UNH – Andrew Poturalski. The now 25-year-old has had success at every level he’s played, capping it off this year with a monster 72-point campaign. He had a very short stint with the ‘Canes in 2016-17 but has never quite had a real opportunity to show his stuff at the NHL level. While the organization surely has younger prospects, with a stronger pedigree, Poturalski is a player of significance for one important reason. Despite his lack of NHL experience, he will become a group-6 UFA this summer, making him eligible to sign with ANY NHL team. His camp will push for a 1-way deal, but any team that wants to sign him will have to indicate some possibility of an NHL role.
Morgan Geekie has had a legitimate coming out party through the course of the last eight games as well. The AHL rookie who was drafted in the third round of the 2017 Entry Draft has two 30-goal WHL seasons under his belt already and is quickly making a name for himself at the pro level. With five goals and five assists, Geekie is the highest scoring rookie of the AHL playoffs. It’s not unreasonable to expect for him to get cups of coffee with the ‘Canes next year.
Chicago (Vegas) and Iowa (Minnesota) continue to do battle in the trenches, the Western final remains in the air. Both teams have fought for every inch to this point in the series with Iowa in particular at risk of wearing down. Both teams are primarily lead by veteran presences which should present an interesting story-line, should one of them move on from the Western Final.
The winner of the Chicago/Iowa series will face off against the winner of Bakersfield (Edmonton) and San Diego (Anaheim). San Diego has had strong contributions from 24-year-old Kiefer Sherwood and NHL rookie, Sam Steel, the latter of which was returned to the AHL after Anaheim’s regular season concluded.
In Bakersfield’s corner, recent OHL graduate Evan Bouchard has carried over some momentum from his excellent season in London. The 19-year-old right-shot defender has provided offense on the regular, in addition to the physical presence that rivals some 10-year AHL veterans.
The final two rounds of the tournament are sure to provide a ton of both entertainment and insight to the NHL stars of tomorrow. If you have the opportunity to catch a game or two, take my word for it, these will be fun games to watch.