Utica Comets’ rookie defenceman Brogan Rafferty continues to lead the AHL in defencemen scoring and closes in on the overall rookie lead after receiving his first All-Star nod.
Welcome back to the AHL Report! For our January edition, we are going to take a special focus on “standout” players. A little past the halfway mark in the AHL season, what we commonly see arise during this time of year is a changing of the guard atop the AHL leader boards. As teams’ NHL counterparts find themselves slipping out of contention, or oppositely, entering heated races where they are looking to gain an edge, we often see more players called up in January and February. Teams are willing to give new players a fresh look in the show where their current lineups are not meeting expectations or are hoping some competition for roster spots might add a needed push. How this changes the AHL landscape is that many top scorers and premier players are at the very least, seeing spot duty in the NHL and thus reducing their AHL action. After catching up on our December notables, the January edition will focus on one player from each club from two divisions (the other two coming next month!). This edition we will focus on players within the Atlantic and North divisions who have either taken a big step developmentally or a player who has only continued to shoulder the load of responsibility for his team. As always, there is a certain level of subjectivity that comes into play, however, my focus will be on the players I’ve managed to see in-game action and who stand out as a difference-maker both in-game and statistically.
December AHL Report – Updates and Follow-Ups
Regarding our notables from the December report, worthy of continued mention first and foremost is Belleville’s Drake Batherson who simply finds a way to hit the score sheet almost nightly while being the primary offensive driver for the Senators. Sharks’ forward Joachim Blichfeld saw his first two games of NHL action shortly after the publishing of our December report (Blichfeld ultimately was held pointless and returned to the AHL). Lastly, Nashville’s Yakov Trenin who had been called up just before the December report has run with his opportunity to contribute with the Predators. In 10 games, Trenin has put up a respectable five points while averaging over 10 minutes of ice time per game. Notably, Trenin also had quite the tussle with Boston Bruins’ Zdeno Chara – Trenin landed a few heavy hits and given the opponent, should be given the “W” in his first NHL experience of fisticuffs.
Mid-Season Standouts – January 2020
Bridgeport Sound Tigers:
D, Sebastian Aho
The ‘other’ Sebastian Aho continues to post strong assist and point totals as a puck-moving defenceman, however, his efforts can’t mask the Tigers woes and lack of development from multiple high Islanders draft picks.
RW, Julien Gauthier
The 6’4, 227lbs winger is hard to miss when you watch him play. While he still has a lot of details to work on with his two-way game and playing with a higher pace, Gauthier continues to build off his prior two AHL seasons in terms of being the Checkers go-to sniper. Gauthier’s 18 goals in 30 games give him the fourth-best goals-per-game ratio behind only Gerald Mayhew, Reid Boucher, and Charles Hudon.
Hartford Wolf Pack:
G, Igor Shesterkin
Prior to his recent call-up to the Rangers, Shesterkin had been downright on fire, posting a .932 save percentage with a 15-4-3 record. The jury is out if we’ll see him back in Hartford and even if so, for how long…
D, Martin Fehervary
Not the Bears top player, or even best contributor, I still love Fehervary’s mature puck-moving game and how he provides so much support to a quick transition offense. The Bears have a lot of potential NHL players developing their craft at the moment, however, Fehervary’s closer than most to becoming a Capitals regular by next-season.
Leigh Valley Phantoms:
G, Alex Lyon
To be honest, Lyon is getting the nod here in part because of his decent numbers, in addition to the fact he has to play with the rest of the Phantoms. This one ideally would have been a slam-dunk for Morgan Frost or Joel Farabee, but alas they already find themselves in the NHL.
C, Jack Studnicka
Studnicka has hit what seems like a never-ending cold streak for the Bruins thus far in 2020 and likely might be a surprise pick. I still am a fan of his game and two-way impact. Despite being pointless in seven, he’s always noticeable on the ice and his motor helps him contribute even when he’s not scoring. With 3+ shots in each of his last 4 games, expect him to heat up soon.
RW, Owen Tippett
Tippett is a player who doesn’t always seem to be 100% “there”, however when he is, he’s a force. While his offensive tools would be ready for the NHL, I’ve been impressed in the development of his overall game. He’s making smarter, more responsible choices with and without the puck compared to his junior years and with 15 goals, he’s still finding the net, albeit inconsistently.
RW, Anthony Angello
Losing Stefan Noesen to Pittsburgh (and then San Jose) definitely hurt W-B/Scranton. The team has a clear lack of play drivers and “stars”, however, still manages to stay afloat with a winning record in the Atlantic Division. While not quite as consistent as team offensive leader Andrew Agozzino; Angello has been scoring a solid rate with 15 goals. Not the most fluid of skaters, he finds a way to get into scoring opportunities and for a 6’5 winger, that’s always an appetizing thought. One-off his total of 16 goals from last year’s rookie campaign, the former Cornell University standout and 5th round selection of the Penguins seems to be on his way to at the very least, carving out a pro career.
C, Drake Batherson
While I wanted to mention a Senator other than Batherson for once, when discussing standout stars, few have shined as bright as Ottawa’s 2017 fourth-rounder. Sitting second in league scoring behind Utica’s Reid Boucher, Batherson just always seems to put points on the board. Even when he fails to score, he’s always a factor in creating opportunities and causing turmoil for opposing defenders’ breakouts.
Honorable mention here to Josh Norris who rides an 11 game point streak (15 points, 9 goals in the streak) and has been given greater responsibility for the Baby Sens as the season moves along.
C, Ben Street & Joey Anderson (I guess?)
Admittedly there is not much to write home about when it comes to the Binghamton Devils… the team lacks scoring throughout its lineup along with reliable goaltending. Last in their division, at least Street continues to be a solid AHL pro who produces close to a point per game, while the 21-year-old Anderson has shown an ability to generate a moderate amount of offense and energy in his first full professional hockey season.
D, Adam Clendening
While Clendening might never become the NHL power play quarterback he was thought to have the potential to become – once upon a time – he’s the clear leader for a lackluster Monsters squad and 2nd in AHL defensemen points. Slim pickings in Cleveland.
C, Charles Hudon
As of the writing of this article, Hudon comes in riding a streak of 13 goals in 13 games. Having solidified himself as Laval’s offensive cornerstone, the Rocket have themselves a legitimate AHL star if he fails to re-join the Canadiens.
D, Lawrence Pilut
A darling in the advanced stats community, Pilut is a good example of an NHL caliber defenceman who wasn’t given much of a chance to make the Sabres roster. At the AHL level, Rochester has consistently been a highly competitive team all season and Pilut’s smart decisions with the puck and his ability to slow things down in transition have significantly helped the Americans’ who on paper, lack any star power.
C, Alex Barre-Boulet
A relative unknown in most circles, I’ve been really impressed with Barre-Boulet’s play this season. After a solid rookie campaign last year where he posted 68 points in 74 games, his current totals of 15 goals and 31 points leads his team. Last year’s Most Outstanding Rookie seems to have upped his pace both with and without the puck and while producing similarly, has been more noticeable in terms of being a two-way presence who is learning to execute the little details.
RW, Pontus Aberg
While not necessarily the Marlies MVP, the offensive-minded Aberg has been a consistent threat for the Marlies and seems content with his role in the AHL. With NHL skill and some silky hands, one might ponder whether Aberg might get another crack in the big league before the end of the year. If not, he supplies the Maple Leafs with a great re-call option if they need a body on one of their skilled lines.
D, Brogan Rafferty
Rafferty’s breakout season doesn’t look like it will slow down anytime soon. The league’s offensive leader for point scoring defencemen, Rafferty’s 33 points is hot on the trail of Josh Norris’ 36 for the rookie leader.
Thank you for taking the time out of your day to read this month’s edition of the AHL Report! Have any questions or requests? Shoot me a DM on Twitter at @Kyle_AHLReport!
Kyle Stewart is the author of Dobber Prospects ‘AHL Report’. Born and raised in Vancouver, B.C., in addition to prospect scouting, Kyle has a Masters’ in sport psychology and works with athletes of all levels as a Mental Performance Consultant in Ottawa, Ontario.