The American Hockey League announced its All-Star rosters a few days ago, and there are a few familiar names and a large number of first-timers on the roster. The NHL’s developmental league will take the 3-on-3 format and turn it into a round-robin tournament as well with 12 players from each division (Atlantic, North, Central, Pacific) From the AHL’s website:
“In the 2017 AHL All-Star Challenge on Jan. 30 (7 p.m. ET), the four teams will participate in a round-robin tournament featuring six games of 10 minutes each, played entirely at 3-on-3. The two teams with the best records at the end of the round-robin will face off for the championship, a six-minute game also played at 3-on-3.”
As usual, from the cream of the AHL crop, some players may be currently in the AHL but are already deserving of an NHL call-up. This is not to say the AHL isn’t a great league to watch great hockey at family friendly prices and a look at tomorrow’s NHL players. The AHL is all those things and then some. But let’s play NHL general manager for a moment and from each division, pluck one AHL All-Star that should not be in the AHL anymore.
Atlantic Division – Jake Guentzel (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins)
The former University of Nebraska-Omaha star is certainly having a breakout year. He signed with Pittsburgh last spring and joined the Baby Penguins for the end of the AHL regular season and their playoff run, putting up 20 points in his first 21 games. This year, his output has been even more impressive with 19 goals and 19 assists in 29 AHL games paired with his memorable five-game stint in Pittsburgh highlighted by his two-goal NHL debut. He’s not big, but the Penguins won last year’s Stanley Cup based on speed and skill. They have that in the Woodbury, Minnesota native.
North Division – Joe Blandisi (Albany Devils)
Blandisi played 41 games for the New Jersey Devils last year and recorded 17 points in the process. On a team that is on the wrong side of the standings, getting some NHL ice time for a spunky, agitating forward that can chip in some points as well seems like a no brainer. But somehow, he is stuck in the AHL. He won’t be a 30 goal scorer, but he has an effective physical game to go with decent puck skills that could see a 25 point season in the NHL. For a team that is only two points ahead of the lowly New York Islanders and with very low odds to make any noise in the Metro Division, the Devils would be better served to give Blandisi time at the NHL level.
Central Division – Juuse Saros (Milwaukee Admirals)
OK, this one is cheating a little, but he’s still the pick out of the Central Division. Saros’ numbers at the AHL level are silly for a 21-year old netminder: 40-10-0 in his career with five shutouts, a 2.12 goals-against-average, and a .925 save percentage. In seven NHL games this year, his stat line is just as ridiculous. The 5’11 Saros has allowed just 1.29 goals-per-game and is stopping over 95% of all the shots he’s faced. Small sample size, but it’s all in line with his season stats dating back to his 2014-15 season when he started 44 games with HPK in SM-Liiga. The future of the Nashville net is right here, right now and he should be too busy playing in the Music City to take part in the AHL All-Star Classic this year.
Pacfic Division – Brendan Perlini (Tuscon RoadRunners)
Perlini returned to the RoadRunners presumably for the duration of the Arizona Coyotes bye week but should get right back up with the parent club. He’s a goal scorer with speed and size despite being only 20 years of age. Between the two clubs, Perlini has 15 goals and six assists in 31 games. He is an impactful forward in all three zones and a big part of the future in the desert. A point-per-game pace at the AHL level is impressive, but for a power forward right out of juniors it’s fantastic. He's shown he belongs at the NHL level and with the Coyotes firmly back in the lottery pick running this year, experience and exposure for the 2014 first round pick from the Niagara IceDogs would be best for both the team and the player.
Atlantic – Nicklas Jensen (Hartford Wolf Pack)
North – Mark Barberio (St. John’s IceCaps)
Central – Teemu Pulkkinen (Iowa Wild)