With the NHL lockout in full effect, there will be some options out there for you to get your hockey fix. There are pro leagues overseas, major junior hockey leagues in Canada, as well college and minor leagues here in the US. During the last lockout many youngsters and prospects honed their skills in these leagues, and when the NHL finally resumed there was an influx of young blood that revived the game.
The AHL scoring leaders in 2004-05 are filled with familiar faces that have become NHL regulars and all-stars. Among the top 14-point accumulators that season were: Jason Spezza (1), Mike Cammalleri (2), Kyle Wellwood (4), Eric Staal (10), Brad Boyes (12), Dustin Brown (13) and Antoine Vermette (14). Others who had notable seasons of development included Cam Ward, Thomas Vanek, Kari Lehtonen, Zach Parise, Josh Harding and Ryan Miller.
Assuming that there is no NHL season at all in 2012-13, this year in the AHL there will be an abundance of NHL-caliber players honing their skills under the watchful eyes of GM’s and fans which will result in some fun hockey for all of us. What I’ve done is assemble a 20-man roster of AHLers who are worth following their progress not only in the AHL this upcoming season, but also when the NHL finally gets back on the ice.
Adam Henrique (New Jersey Devils/Albany Devils) Henrique showed us last season he is a top-6 forward with a flair for dramatics (see: 2012 NHL playoffs). He should be able to work on face-offs in the AHL, one of his few weaknesses.
*UPDATED Jeff Skinner is not playing in AHL games*
Cam Atkinson (Columbus Blue Jackets/Springfield Falcons) Atkinson has already shown us that he can score in the AHL (44 points/29 goals last season). But will he score consistent enough to secure an NHL job? He has potted seven goals in 27 career games with the Jackets and has four points (1g-3a) in 3 games so far this year.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (Edmonton Oilers/Oklahoma City Barons) RNH missed time with injuries his rookie season and still had very solid numbers. The Barons should be a fun team to watch with their collection of top-notch talent.
Jordan Eberle (Edmonton Oilers/Oklahoma City Barons) Like Skinner, the sky is the limit for Eberle as far as talent goes. If he plays the full season, I’m betting he leads the league in scoring or finishes second.
Eberle’s 1st NHL goal, a thing of beauty:
Brayden Schenn (Philadelphia Flyers/Adirondack Phantoms) Schenn has only 14 games of AHL experience, but he tore it up in that span (9g/19p). He will get more ice-time in the AHL than if he was in NHL this year.
Cody Hodgson (Buffalo Sabres/Rochester Americans) Hodgson has not yet shown the scoring prowess he showed with Brampton in the OHL. His confidence (and Buffalo) could benefit greatly from the solid playing time that he’ll get.
Brett Connolly (Tampa Bay Lightning/Syracuse Crunch) Connolly had a rough first NHL season and the heavy ice-time he’ll get with the ‘Cuse should greatly benefit him. He should be able to double the 15 points he had when NHL play resumes.
Sean Couturier (Philadelphia Flyers/Adirondack Phantoms) Couturier had a nice season in Philly, jumping right in from the QMJHL. A little seasoning in the AHL should continue his development on the upswing.
Jayden Schwartz (St. Louis Blues/Peoria Rivermen) Schwartz saw action in 7 games for St. Louis after leaving college. A full season of AHL hockey could lead to a regular gig in the Blues’ top six.
Alexander Burmistrov (Winnipeg Jets/St. John’s Ice Caps) Burmistrov will be suiting up for his fifth team in five years when the AHL season starts. Consistency on a nightly is what he will need to work on most with the Ice Caps.
Blake Geoffrion (Montreal Canadiens/Hamilton Bulldogs) Geoffrion already has 70+ games experience in the AHL. He definitely has scoring potential and needs to find the net more often than he has been to stay afloat in the NHL.
Sven Baertschi (Calgary Flames/Abbotsford Heat) Bartschi posted back-to-back 30-goal seasons in the WHL and three goals in five games with Calgary. Expectations are high and he should be a top-10 scorer in the AHL.
Baertschi scores in CHL skills comp, one-handed & through his legs:
Adam Larsson (New Jersey Devils/Albany Devils) Larsson had quite the up-and-down season in NJ, but he did improve a little. A full season of top-pairing minutes should do him very well — he should be a top-four d-man when he returns.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson (Phoenix Coyotes/Portland Pirates) Ekman-Larsson really opened eyes last season in the desert and was a force in the ‘Yotes run to the West Finals. He may be the best d-man in the AHL this year.
Travis Hamonic (NY Islanders/Bridgeport Sound Tigers) Hamonic has already become a top-four blueliner and is a plus-player for his Islanders career (+10) over 135 games. His focus should be on improving his PP point-shot during the lockout.
Dmitri Orlov (Washington Capitals/Hershey Bears) Orlov was a nice contributor in 60 games with the Caps last year. He should have a nice career as long as he can eliminate the mental errors, like any young player aspires to do.
Jake Gardiner (Toronto Maple Leafs/Toronto Marlies) Gardiner spent almost a full season with the Leafs and quickly became an asset to Brian Burke. He should compete with Ekman-Larsson for top AHL d-man this season.
Justin Faulk (Carolina Hurricanes/Charlotte Checkers) Faulk put up 22 points in 66 games with Carolina, but his +/- rating was not good. A more conscious defensive effort will improve that for a player on the cusp of being a top-pair d-man.
Braden Holtby (Washington Capitals/Hershey Bears) Holtby shocked the NHL-world when he eliminated the defending champion Bruins & forced a 7th game against the Rangers. He’s already had two 20-win AHL seasons; this year he should get at least 30.
Jacob Markstrom (Florida Panthers/San Antonio Rampage) Markstrom could be this season’s version of 04-05’s Cam Ward. Let’s face it; Jose Theodore is just keeping the crease warm for him in Florida.
The moral of this story is that despite how sucky the NHL lockout is for all of us fans, there will be hockey to watch and there will certainly be even more players than this to keep your eyes on. Is there a player I didn’t mention that you will be watching in the AHL or elsewhere? Leave your comments below.