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 f