Prior to September 16, 2012, NHL teams sent more than 50 young players to the AHL to continue their development while the reality of a lockout threatened to cancel the beginning of the regular season (which we now know threatens to cancel much more than that). Players like Adam Henrique, Chris Kreider, and Jordan Eberle are now playing in the top minor league in North America. These players, who are expected to play key roles for their NHL teams once the lockout ends, are now expected to dominate in the AHL.
The following provides a look at the AHL teams you should keep an eye on during the lockout:
The Bridgeport Sound Tigers have been relatively successful since they joined the AHL in 2001. Last season, they won the Northeast Division, but fell to the Connecticut Whale in the first round of the playoffs. This season, there are high expectations for the Sound Tigers. With the addition of NHLers Nino Niederreiter and Travis Hamonic to an already talented group of young players, Bridgeport is a strong contender for a repeat Division title, with an even better chance of advancing far into the playoffs.
Niederreiter was selected fifth overall by the New York Islanders in the 2010 NHL Draft. He started the 2010-2011 season with the Islanders, but was sent back to resume playing junior hockey with the Portland Winterhawks. During the 2011-12 season, Niederreiter again joined the Islanders and gained some experience playing mostly on the fourth line. This season, he is the Sound Tigers’ leading scorer with four goals in just six games. His experience in the NHL will not only benefit his growth, but also the play of those around him who have aspirations of playing at that level.
As their second round pick in the 2008 NHL Draft, it is obvious that the Islanders see potential in young defenseman Hamonic. During his debut season (2010-11), Hamonic had 21 assists, second most among Islanders defensemen. In 2011-12, Hamonic scored two goals to go along with 22 assists. This season, he is the Sound Tigers’ assistant captain, taking on an important leadership role for the rest of the young players.
Hamonic’s Gordie Howe hat trick with the Islanders 2/11/11:
Along with Niederreiter and Hamonic, the Sound Tigers have a roster packed with young prospects. Center Casey Cizikas was called up to the Islanders at the end of last season because of his stellar offensive play with the Sound Tigers. He is currently tied for third on the team in goals, with one power play goal.
Goaltender Kevin Poulin played most of his games last season with the Sound Tigers. His athleticism and quickness have helped him early this season, as he is currently tied for fourth in the league with four wins in five games played.
Forward David Ullstrom is a dangerous offensive player who got a taste of the NHL during the 2011-12 season. At 6’3”,200 lbs., he is a big player who skates very well for his size. His scoring ability seems natural, as he led the Sound Tigers in goals last season (with 24 goals in 40 games) and is expected to be among the top goal scorers on the team this season.
David Ullstrom’s Top Goals from 2011-2012:
These young prospects are now getting the opportunity to play alongside and against several high-end players, and playing NHL-style hockey will no doubt help these players develop their skills.
Bridgeport is currently second in the Northeast Division and fifth in the Eastern Conference. Since it looks like the Lockout isn’t ending anytime soon, it should be interesting to follow this team and see what these young players can achieve this season.
In an effort to relieve some of the stress brought on by Hurricane Sandy, the Sound Tigers are inviting fans to come watch the team free of charge this weekend. On Saturday, November 3 and Sunday, November 4, they will be playing the Hershey Bears and the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins, respectively.
Check out the Sound Tigers or Islanders sites for more details.