AHL Report: December 2018

by Brayden Olafson on December 10, 2018

 

It’s been more than a year now, that I’ve been writing this monthly piece on the trends and events of the American Hockey League. Few months go by where I don’t reference the league as being one of the best, if not THE best professional development league in the world. Now, obviously that is a contentious argument – there are several other leagues that do a fine job of developing NHL-bound prospects who come from different walks of hockey-life. The AHL, however, is essentially the filter at the bottom of the funnel where an organizations top-prospects end up before becoming NHL players, and in that sense, it should be considered the most important.

 

Today though, rather than disputing a topic as trivial as which league is the best in terms of player development, I’d like focus on something a little more important. Whether or not the league truly is the best, one fact that remains is that that on an annual basis the league is entrusted with the likes of some of each team’s top prospects – the question, which teams currently bear the most responsibility?

 

You could probably come up with a more statistical workflow to determine the answer to this question… but I might save that for a DobberProspects group project. My slightly less technical angle on determining this list involved referencing DobberProspects most recent edition of the Organizational Prospect Rankings as well as the prospect scores in the various prospect profiles. The criteria are based not only on each player’s actual value but also their relative value to the organization that they’re a part of. What I mean by that is: even if a player isn’t considered a top-31 prospect on his own, but is currently at the top of his organizations own list, that certainly puts a significant amount of responsibility in the hands of the AHL team to ensure his development is a success.  These are the players which each organization has the most control of developing the way that they see fit. As such, if teams have certain expectations for a given player, you can bet that this is the place that they’ll receive the best opportunity to meet those expectations, in turn offering them the best opportunity at becoming future NHL players.

So let’s dive in, which teams are holding the keys to their organization’s most coveted prospects?

 

  1. Carolina Hurricanes & Charlotte Checkers, HC: Mike Vellucci 

Who are the prospects?

M. Necas, J. Bean, J. Gauthier, J. Kuokkanen, A. Poturalski, A. Saarela, N. Roy, C. Pu, A. Nedeljkovic, R. McKeown, M. Geekie

What you need to know

Player profiles aside, the actual success of this farm system is extremely important given the team’s history in budget constraints. Another extremely important factor here is that Checker’s head coach Mike Vellucci also happens to be the ‘Canes Director of Hockey Operations, indicating that the team management is that much more heavily invested in the success of their minor league player’s development.

The players, on the other hand, are more valuable as a whole, to the ‘Canes than any other group of minor-league prospects out there. The Checkers are currently responsible for at least three players who have the potential to represent top-6 or top-4 forwards and defensemen respectively in the not so distant future. Despite his slower transition to the AHL pace, Martin Necas (20) is the pearl of the organization’s farm system and could eventually center a line with Andrei Svechnikov. Janne Kuokkanen (20) was a second-round pick in 2016 and has had a breakout year with the Checkers, leading the AHL in points among all players under 27 years old.

How are they doing? A+

The Checkers are the top team in the AHL led by a group of legitimate prospects. The team remains focused on development and has given each prospect an opportunity to succeed. They currently appear to be the best minor league team for successful prospect development.

 

 

  1. Buffalo Sabres & Rochester Americans, HC: Chris Taylor

 

Who are the prospects?

A. Nylander, B. Ghule, R. Asplund, L. Pilut**, D. O’Regan, C. Smith, V. Olofsson, R. Asplund, W. Borgen, J. Dougherty

What you need to know

The sudden surge of success in Buffalo has the team looking forward to sustained success in upstate New York. The Sabres have enjoyed a Pominville renaissance over the past two seasons but will be looking to Alex Nylander to provide a replacement in the coming years. The rest of the Amerks’ roster is littered with B+ type prospects who have the potential to make a positive impact on the organization going forward. Brendan Ghule has been considered one of the team’s most intriguing projects on the blueline for over a year, not to mention the recent emergence of Lawrence Pilut which has the future top-4 in Buffalo looking highly formidable.

How are they doing? B.

The Amerks’ lead the North Division of the AHL in points and have been utilizing the organization’s prospects in significant roles. Those who contribute have been rewarded, and those who have struggled remain part of the team’s success.

 

  1. Vancouver Canucks & Utica Comets, HC: Trent Cull

Who are the prospects?

T. Demko, O. Joulevi, J. Dahlen, J. Gadjovich, P. Palmu, K.Lind, L. Jasek, Z. MacEwen, G. Brisebois

What you need to know

 The Canucks appear to be set, with Elias Pettersson, Bo Horvat, and Brock Boeser leading the offensive charge for the new-look Vancouver squad. When the time comes though, that the big-three launch off of their cheap entry-level contracts, the filler-types such as Antoine Roussel and Sam Gagner will need to be replaced by cheaper options – enter some combination of the names above, of which the first four forward options are very realistic options. Thatcher Demko will look to gain some NHL experience over the next calendar year, and he’s already impressed at the AHL level. At this point, there is little doubt of him becoming the Canucks bonafide number one in the near future.

How are they doing? C-.

The current edition of Canucks features a small sample size of Comet alumni to draw a track record from. Nikolay Goldobin is a recent example of a farm success story, although he had also been marinating in the Sharks system prior to being acquired by Vancouver. The continued development of this window of prospects is a critical part of the future success of the organization. Thus far, expectations are not entirely being met, but there is plenty of time for this key group to get on the right track.

 

  1. New York Islanders & Bridgeport Sound Tigers, HC: Brent Thompson

Who are the prospects?

J. Ho-Sang, M. Dal Colle, D. Toews, S. Aho, K. Bellows, C. Gibson, L. Soderstrom, O. Koivula, P. Wotherspoon, M. Vande Sompel

What you need to know

As much of a project as some of the Islanders prospects have proved to be, its tough to entirely write them off quite yet. After years of being a stain on the team’s development record, Michael Dal Colle has finally become something of a success at the AHL level. Whether or not he’ll be capable of transitioning that to the NHL remains to be seen. The Islanders are in the midst of forming a revamped identity without John Tavares, and in terms of their community. The continued infusion of exciting young players is an important part of maintaining their momentum.

#SoundTigers scoring leaders through November:

1. Josh Ho-Sang – 19 points (1-18)
2. Devon Toews – 17 points (5-12)
T3. Steve Bernier – 16 points (10-6)
T3. Michael Dal Colle – 16 points (9-7)
5. Sebastian Aho – 14 points (2-12) pic.twitter.com/P1FNqBV4Aw

— Bridgeport Sound Tigers (@TheSoundTigers) November 30, 2018
https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

How are they doing? C-

Considering the tedious development of Michael Dal Colle, It’s tough to give the Sound Tigers a much better score. Josh Ho-Sang remains a potential 60-point winger, and both Devon Toews and Sebastian Aho could slot into the Isles top-6 as soon as next fall.

 

  1. Philadelphia Flyers & Lehigh Valley Phantoms, HC: Scott Gordon

Who are the prospects?

Carter Hart, German Rubstov, Phillippe Myers, David Kase, M. Vorobyov, N. Aube-Kubel

What you need to know 

Given recent events in Philadelphia, it’s not unreasonable to say that Carter Hart could potentially be the single most important minor-league prospect to a franchise. The organization is sure to put a primary focus on his development to ensure future success. Hart aside, the Phantoms aren’t responsible for much else of the Flyers excellent pipeline. Mikhail Vorobyov and Phillippe Myers are both B+ prospects and should fit into the NHL squad within a year or two.

How are they doing? B+

Some growing pains are expected as Hart transitions to the pro level. He set the bar high with the Flyers during the preseason but will require some refinement before he can be considered a bonafide option to start NHL games. The other players mentioned above are receiving appropriate opportunity to reach their NHL potential.

 

Honourable Mentions:

Edmonton Oilers & Bakersfield Condors, HC: Jay Woodcroft – K. Yamamoto, E. Bear, T. Benson, C. Hebig,

Boston Bruins & Providence Bruins, HC: Jay Leach – Ryan Donato, Zach Senyshyn, Jakub Zboril, Trent Frederic, Dan Vladar

Both Bakersfield and Providence are home to some of the Oilers and Bruins top prospects respectively. In terms of overall value to their franchises though, those prospects don’t hold the same weight as some of the other teams mentioned above. While the successful development of Kailer Yamamoto and Jakub Forsbacka-Karlsson’s is high on the list of priorities for their organizations, the other names in the teams mentioned above are more critical to their owner’s future success.

Players with a double asterisk (**) are those who have been recently recalled to their respective NHL teams, while those with a single asterisk (*) are those who have played in both the AHL and ECHL this season.

 

AHL Monthly Award Winners

The AHL also announced their players of the month for November last week. In 11 games played, Syracuse Crunch veteran, Cory Conacher collected 23 points including 8 goals. Conacher, who is under contract with the Lightning has expired in terms of prospect status, tends to get a few games in per year as an NHL player. His versatility factor is low but can produce when given the opportunity.

Kings prospect, Sheldon Rempal, who was also mentioned in last weeks “The Journey: Fastest Rising Prospect Defensemen” also received the monthly honours. Rempal has exploded as an offensive contributor with the Ontario Reign this year and is making it difficult for the Kings to keep him down much longer. Don’t be surprised to see the former Clarkson blueliner in a Kings uniform at least once between now and the end of the season.

A mere ten starts into his AHL career, 22-year-old Kaapo Kahkonen is one of the fastest rising prospect netminders. Through his final eight starts of November, he led the Iowa Wild to an outstanding record of 5-0-3, highlighted by a 1.21 GAA and 0.960 SV%, which included three consecutive shutouts on a total of 86 shots.  Kahkonen had projected to be playing in the AHL for at least another season or two before getting a legitimate opportunity in Saint Paul, but his early success is promising and could lead to earlier opportunity.

CCM AHL players of the week for the month of November included Erik Condra (DAL), Connor Ingram (TB), Kaapo Kahkonen (MIN), Drake Batherson (OTT), and Zac Dalpe (CBJ).

 

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In World Junior news, several AHL players have been loaned to their respective countries to list on their preliminary rosters. If you’re interested in reading more on that topic, check out this week’s, “The Journey” on the main Dobber Hockey page, where I had a closer look at some of the primary rosters.

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If you have thoughts on any of the topics I covered today, let me know on Twitter @olaf1393.

Thanks for reading!