This has been a weird year for the AHL but for fans of prospects and player development, it has been a treat. Typically. a rookie AHL standout is a specific type of player, they need to be good enough to be a point per game in a professional men’s league but also not such a prized and talented prospect that they go straight to the NHL. This of course is due to the CHL/NHL agreement that keeps players who are 18 or 19 in either the NHL or CHL. COVID caused more left turns than right turns, but in this case, it was an awesome opportunity to see how those 18 or 19-year-olds fared against AHL competition. This meant seeing prospects like Nick Robertson, Seth Jarvis, Philip Tomasino, and Connor McMichael in the AHL this year, where they would normally spend their season dominating the OHL if they were not in the NHL. This made for a quicker, fast-paced AHL season with no shortage of youth. This is not to say that the youth completely took over the league, as we sit right now the top 10 in the league scoring included only one rookie and that was 21 years old Riley Damiani, who likely would have been an AHL player this season, anyway.
In terms of prospects who could be making the jump, the AHL was the hot spot. Analyzing the AHL production this year is a great place to be checking out who could be next year’s NHL rookie standout on your fantasy team or a deeper league pick-up in your draft. So, let’s take a look at who held their own and found ways to produce as a rookie in the AHL.
The obvious place to start is with Riley Damiani, the former Kitchener Rangers captain who sits seventh in league scoring and first among rookies. The 2018 fifth-round pick is showing out as a rookie this year with 31 points in 31 games for an even point-per-game. Damiani was above a point-per-game in his final two seasons of his OHL career, so he clearly has the vision and tools to be a point-producing forward so it’s encouraging to see him producing at the pro level. Damiani has the foot speed and offensive tools that he could fit in nicely on the Stars and could find some opportunity should one of Dallas’ forwards be picked up in expansion and only seven forwards on their starting roster being signed beyond this season.
Jack Dugan is another name you might not be as familiar with as he has gone the less media-tracked route of coming up through the US-HS Prep → USHL → NCAA route. There’s an old saying “if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it’s probably a duck” I believe the same to be said with a point per game prospects. Everyone is always looking to believe that someone who is a point-per-game player at every level they have played will suddenly lose their scoring touch at the NHL level. I know there are players that follow this pattern but I believe that has to do with deployment more often than the player themselves. Dugan has fluctuated around a point-per-game at every level he has played in his career and this now includes the AHL (almost). Dugan has 30 points in 32 games for the Henderson Silver Knights this year as a 23-year-old rookie. If you were to look at Cap Friendly it doesn’t appear there will be an abundance of opportunity on the Vegas squad in the near future and you have to imagine Krebs and Glass will be finding those scoring minutes before Dugan but with Vegas reshuffling their deck of cards often (pun intended) he could find opportunity with or with another team.
Benoît Olivier-Groulx is a former 2018 second-round pick, who like the other 2018 pick mentioned above in Damiani, was a point-per-game or above in his final two seasons in the CHL. Groulx spent the bulk of his career in Halifax with the Mooseheads and finished with the Moncton Wildcats. Groulx has scored 26 points in 37 games with the San Diego Gulls this season. He’s only 21 and fits in nicely with the youth movement in Anaheim, so he will likely have the best shot or least competition for a top-six role of anyone mentioned already in this list. He’s won the Guy Carbonneau in the QMJHL for best defensive forward, which won’t mean anything to you fantasy-wise but certainly bodes well for holding a place in an NHL lineup with opportunity for stat padding in Empty net situations.
Akil Thomas is best known for being World Junior Championships Golden Boy, scoring the goal to defeat the Russians in the 2019 World Juniors. I’m not entirely sure Akil Thomas gets the credit he deserves for being a legitimate offensive prospect. I think it’s due to Los Angeles’ loaded farm system, where he falls behind the likes of Quinton Byfield and Alex Turcotte (and that’s just at his position). However, I witnessed his abilities first hand in Peterborough and he’s strong on the puck, strong in general actually, but also is a real solid playmaker. He’s one of those players that you don’t really know how but at the end of every game there he is with another goal and assist and you think to yourself, when did that happen? He has looked plenty comfortable this year with 22 points in 36 games but never more comfortable than scoring a hat-trick in two minutes and the shootout winner. He finished his OHL career with 315 points in 241 games, I checked and yep, that’s good.
The final three players I want to touch about are players I can imagine are already owned in your leagues as they are dynamic offensive scoring threats. However, if they are not, I would waste no time taking them and depending how many players you can keep on your roster, I might try and use one of your last adds to stash them as they will almost certainly be NHL standouts next year or in the very near future.
Cole Perfetti is up to 24 points in 30 games, 13 of these coming in his last 9. He is only 19 and “undersized” but he’s a gifted playmaker and has a dynamic offensive tool kit. He will be in the top nine and top six in Winnipeg before you know it. Nikolaj Ehlers, Mark Scheifele, Kyle Connor, and Blake Wheeler are definitely desirable running mates for his future power playtime.
Arthur Kaliyev is another player I’ve talked about before: “He has an incredibly high star potential by Byron Bader’s metric and he scored at a pace that Speaking of Bader, he wrote a blog about Kaliyev where he pointed out that“. He is one of five CHL forwards since 2000 to register a 50 goal season before turning 18. The others on this list are Sidney Crosby, John Tavares, Jeff Skinner, and Alex DeBrincat” He also has 24 points in 36 games in the AHL this year with 11 of those coming as goals.
I’ve written about Philip Tomasino before saying he was ready for an NHL role. Tomasino is proving that I was right with 11 goals and 14 assists for 25 points in 23 games. Tomasino is one of the most dynamic prospects out of the OHL in recent years and I think he’s going to continue that dynamic ability in the NHL.
Thanks for reading.