Monday, 17 September 2012

Your Best Hockey Might Be The AHL

There have been waves and waves of players sent down to the AHL as the lockout continues, and, surprisingly, the AHL will probably feature a lot of great hockey this season. Normally, you expect a number of rising stars to play in the AHL, and there may even be a veteran or two who are still holding on and making an impact. This year, though, there will be a vast number of NHL stars playing in the AHL, and this should turn the AHL from a "learning league" into a bonafide collection of fantastic young players. If you're near an AHL arena this season, I suggest grabbing tickets now to see some of these incredible NHL players in living color this year.

The San Antonio Rampage (Florida Panthers) will ice Quinton Howdon and Jakob Markstrom this season. Howdon won't tear up the league, but he'll be a nice addition to the Rampage lineup. Markstrom, however, has a chance to be a game-changer as he has shown in the past to be one of the better goaltenders in the AHL.

Taking the ice for the Springfield Falcons (Columbus Blue Jackets) include Tim Erixon, Cam Atkinson, Cody Goloubef, and Ryan Johansen. Springfield will certainly have some great scoring threats, but Erixon and Goloubef could be the lynchpins in making Springfield a threat in the AHL.

The Bridgeport Sound Tigers (New York Islanders) will be beefing up their blueline with the additions of Travis Hamonic and Calvin de Haan, and will add some punch up front with Nino Niederreiter and Kirill Kabanov. Bridgeport should see a boost in the scoring and keeping the puck out of the net if these players play as well as they have shown.

The Syracuse Crunch (Tampa Bay Lightning) will have some recognizable names in their lineup this season. Cory Conacher, last year's AHL MVP, Mark Barbeiro, last year's AHL Defenceman of the Year, and Dustin Tokarski will be back to try to repeat as champions. Alongside them will be Brett Connolly and JT Brown of the Lightning. The Crunch look like they'll be a strong team this season.

The Texas Stars (Dallas Stars) assigned an army of players to Cedar Park, Texas. Included in that army was veteran Toby Petersen, Jordie Benn, Alex Chiasson, Jamie Oleksiak, Cody Eakin, and Scott Glennie. Texas could be really good if these players come together. The majority of the 26 players assigned to the Stars played last season for the team, so the Stars could be a strong team.

The Peoria Rivermen (St. Louis Blues) received 24 players from the Blues. Among them were Stefan Della Rovere, Evgeny Grachev, Jaden Schwartz, and Vladimir Tarasenko. The Rivermen will be a tough team to play against, and it appears they'll be able to score in bunches if given the opportunity. I see a gritty, tough team that can battle in the corners and in front of the net while still having the hands to bury loose pucks.

The Houston Aeros (Minnesota Wild) will feature Charlie Coyle and Mikael Granlund in their lineup this season. Granlund is probably the most celebrated rookie that the Wild have had since Gaborik or Koivu, so it will be interesting to see how he progresses this season. He could be a surprise scoring leader if he brings his creativity and skill to the rink each night.

The Chicago Wolves (Vancouver Canucks) will have a number of talented players to use this season. Zach Kassian and Chris Tanev will be down from the Canucks, and Eddie Lack and Derek Joslin will join an already-talented lineup. The Wolves won the Midwest Division last season, and appear to be poised to run away with the title again with the great players they're getting.

The Manchester Monarchs (Los Angeles Kings) only received 15 players, but there are some standouts in the group. Andrei Loktionov and Jordan Nolan will be featured down the middle, and Tanner Pearson will make his professional debut. The Monarchs will be good, but they didn't really get any help on the back end other than Slava Voynov. Voynov's good, but he can't play 40+ minutes per night. The forwards have play responsibly to allow their offence to flourish.

The Grand Rapids Griffins (Detroit Red Wings) opened their doors to 22 players, most notably forward Gustav Nyquist and defenceman Brendan Smith. Tomas Tatar and goaltender Thomas McCollum will have to pick up some of the slack as well, but Grand Rapids looks like they'll be solid in 2012-13.

The new-look Hershey Bears (Washington Capitals) will have a couple of well-known names on their roster this season. Capitals' playoff hero Braden Holtby will be in the nets to start the season, and defenceman Dmitry Orlov will take a spot on the blueline. There are a number of youngsters that will be in the Bears' camp as well, so it could be a great year or it could be a year of learning for the Bears.

The Connecticut Whale (New York Rangers) didn't get much help from the veteran-laden Rangers. Of note, defenceman Logan Pyett played with Grand Rapids for the past four seasons, and scrappy winger Kris Newbury will report to Hartford. Basically, the Whale will be forced to win games through hard work and determination.

The Providence Bruins (Boston Bruins) basically received the majority of their roster back from the Bruins. Unfortunately, there are no NHL names that will help the Bruins. Like the Whale above, the Bruins will have to win through hard work because the Boston Bruins didn't give them a sniper or goaltender who can win a game all by himself.

The Norfolk Admirals (Anaheim Ducks) will open their championship season with a few names added. Etem Emerson, Kyle Palmieri, and Devante Pelly-Smith will start the season in Virginia, and they should be able to keep the Admirals competitive. Unfortunately, there isn't much pure scoring ability after those three players, so the Admirals will have buy stock in elbow grease and grindstones to win games this season.

The Rochester Americans (Buffalo Sabres) received some solid talent from the Sabres. Luke Adam, Marcus Foligno, and Cody Hodgson will all suit up for the Americans, and they should give the Americans an offensive boost each time on the ice. Like the Monarchs, they'll have to be defensively sound to reach new heights, but the Americans should be able to hang with the better teams.

The Abbotsford Heat (Calgary Flames) will have the services of winger Sven Baertschi and defenceman TJ Brodie, but the Flames may find themselves looking up at other teams again this season. There just isn't enough scoring, and the Flames haven't upgraded their blueline or goaltending enough this off-season. While Baertschi may be a bright spot, the Flames may flicker this season.

The Albany Devils (New Jersey Devils) received one of the biggest names from an NHL team as Adam Henrique was assigned to the team. Henrique and Jacob Josefson will lead a decent cast of players up front, and Adam Larsson will patrol the blueline for the Devils after spending last season in the NHL. Albany won't dazzle you, but, like the NHL Devils, they have enough scoring and a solid blueline to win games.

The Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins (Pittsburgh Penguins) will get most of their lineup back from last season. Along the blueline, they'll have Simon Despres after it appeared he'd be playing in the NHL this season. The Penguins will be decent, but the question will be whether they have enough scoring and stable goaltending. I see the Penguins doing well again this season, though.

If Albany got a great player, the Charlotte Checkers (Carolina Hurricanes) may have the next Les Cunningham Award winner assigned to them. NHL phenom Jeff Skinner will suit up for the Checkers this season, and he'll be joined by Zach Boychuk, Jared Staal, Brett Sutter, Brody Sutter, Justin Faulk, Marc-Andre Gragnani, and Justin Peters. That, readers, is the lineup to beat. On paper, Charlotte is strong everywhere on the ice. The Checkers might make a run to the Calder Cup Final this season based on this incredible roster.

Squaring off in the Calder Cup Final against Charlotte might be the Oklahoma City Barons (Edmonton Oilers). It seems like the Oilers sent half their team to Oklahoma City for this AHL season. Led by Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Teemu Hartikainen, Magnus Paajarvi, Alex Plante, Colten Teubert, and Justin Schultz, the Barons are rock-solid from top to bottom. If Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins don't win scoring awards this season, something went very wrong in OKC. The Barons are my pick for the Western Conference representative in the Calder Cup Final.

The St. John's IceCaps (Winnipeg Jets) will have nearly the same roster back this year on the Rock. The big name coming to St. John's will be Alexander Burmistrov, and he should see top-line minutes. Patrice Cormier, Carl Klingberg, and Ivan Telegin will help to carry the load up front, and Eddie Pasquale will be back in the nets for the IceCaps. They played sound defensive hockey last season, so another year of that would serve the IceCaps well.

The Rockford IceHogs (Chicago Blackhawks) are getting some solid players for their lineup. Brandon Bollig, Andrew Shaw, and Jeremy Morin will get ample time up front while Nick Leddy will get his minutes on the blueline. The IceHogs will be solid and gritty, but they don't have that explosive player who can light up the scoreboard. The whole will need to be greater than the sum of the parts for the IceHogs to grab a hold of the division title.

The Toronto Marlies (Toronto Maple Leafs) will basically field the same team that finished the season in the Calder Cup Final. Nazim Kadri, Joe Colborne, Jake Gardiner, and Carter Ashton will return to the Marlies. Goaltending might be an issue this season as Ben Scrivens is not returning, so there will be a change in the blue paint. That could be the breaking point for the Marlies this year, but they should still be a strong team overall.

The Adirondack Phantoms (Philadelphia Flyers) will get some serious help this year. Sean Couturier, Erik Gustavsson, Zac Rinaldo, Brayden Schenn, Eric Wellwood, Harry Zolnierczyk, and Danny Syvret will all play for the Phantoms this season, and these players could be the infusion of talent that Adirondack needs to put them over the hump. Couturier and Schenn could have monster seasons if the Phantoms play well.

The Milwaukee Admirals (Nashville Predators) are getting a few good players back, but they may still be short compared to their opposition. Gabriel Bourque and Ryan Ellis will be boosts for the Admirals' scoring, but they'll need some solid team play to raise the bar for the season.

The Portland Pirates (Phoenix Coyotes) may win the Atlantic Division based on the players they received. They should be one of the best defensive teams thanks to Oliver Ekman-Larsson, David Rundblad, and Brandon Gormley, and that's something to build on. Don't be surprised of the Pirates play in a lot of one-goal games. If they're lucky, they'll be on the good side of those one-goal games.

The Worcester Sharks (San Jose Sharks) will have the majority of their lineup back this season. Alex Stalock should provide sound goaltending again, and the Sharks will be solid. They won't have a scorer in the top-ten, but they should battle hard each and every night. As long as they can be defensively responsible, they shouldn't get blown out by some of the restocked teams in the AHL.

The Hamilton Bulldogs (Montreal Canadiens) received some talent after the Canadiens re-assigned 21 players. Blake Geoffrion, Michael Blunden, and Jerrod Tinordi will lead the way for the Bulldogs, and they'll need solid contributions from the rest of the squad to challenge for the division title. They won't be flashy, but the Bulldogs should be in every game.

In case I haven't said it yet, I'm hoping that some AHL games will be carried on television this season. This year's AHL season should be one of the best in recent memory, and there could be a vast number of great young players lighting the lamp this season. Get tickets if you can, and go see some AHL action!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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