The American Hockey League (AHL) is getting ready to drop the puck on a season that will be hard to forget. The Winnipeg Jets have sent their top pick from the most recent draft down to AHL for some game action. Finally, a prospect for this year’s draft is looking to climb up the rankings in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL).
AHL Season Finally Set to Begin
The 85th AHL season will get underway today in what should prove to be a memorable campaign. The league has realigned into five divisions for just this season, including an all-Canadian division. Some teams have relocated for 2020-21 like the Stockton Heat playing Calgary. Three teams have decided to opt-out; the Charlotte Checkers, Milwaukee Admirals and Springfield Thunderbirds. In addition, the schedule is not uniform as some teams will play more than others and there has been no confirmed playoff format released yet.
“It has been nearly 11 months since we last dropped the puck, and there is no denying that this season is going to look and feel different than what we are all used to,” AHL President & CEO Scott Howson penned in a letter to fans. “With health and safety being the top priority, we are looking forward to being back on the ice and continuing our role as the top development league for nearly all the players, coaches, executive, trainers, broadcasters and officials in the National Hockey League.”
On the ice, this will be an intriguing season. With the expanded rosters at the NHL level, there are more AHL roster spots available for younger players. Plus, since the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) and Western Hockey League (WHL) are allowing recent draft picks to play in the AHL until their respective seasons begin, there will be an influx of raw talent into the league.
However, off the ice, there are still major issues. The Cleveland Monsters had to cancel their opening weekend trip to Rockford due to the league’s COVID-19 protocol. The Chicago Wolves, who host the Grand Rapids Griffins tonight, will make the short trip west to take on the rival IceHogs Saturday after.
According to Tony Androckitis of Inside AHL Hockey, tonight’s game between the Binghamton Devils, who are playing in Newark, NJ this season, and Hershey Bears could fall victim to COVID-19 protocol too.
In Ontario, the Belleville Senators and Toronto Marlies are still waiting to get the green light to host home games.
Just like in the NHL, this season will be fluid and subject to change at a moment’s notice. The health and safety of everyone involved, including those working at the buildings hosting games, should take top priority. Hopefully, this column will have a lot more blurbs about prospects making news than games being canceled.
Cole Perfetti Heads to Manitoba
One of those players who is going to benefit from the OHL allowing players to head to the AHL is Perfetti. He has spent the NHL season on the Jets’ taxi squad getting to stay in shape and practice at the game’s highest level. On Friday, he was sent down to the Manitoba Moose and one would think he is going to get some playing time over the next couple of weeks.
The Jets selected Perfetti with the 10th overall pick of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. He had back-to-back 37-goal seasons with the Saginaw Spirit. In 2019-20, he showed that he can be a playmaker as well as a goal scorer by recording 74 assists, double of what he put up the previous season.
In a normal season, Perfetti would not be able to compete in the AHL because he is under 20. The Jets could have given him nine games before deciding on burning the first year of his entry-level contract and keeping him in the NHL or sending him back to the OHL.
Perfetti has only seen game action at the World Junior Championship this season. He had two goals and six points in seven games to help Team Canada to the silver medal. It will be interesting to see how he fares in his first professional games.
James Malatesta Makes the Highlight Reel
The Quebec Remparts dropped their Thursday afternoon contest with the Shawinigan Cataractes 4-3, but it included a great play from one of their young forwards. It appeared that Malatesta was going to a breakaway after receiving a stretch pass but got turned around the wrong way and fell down.
The 17-year-old center quickly got up and was able to protect the puck while fighting off defenseman Pierre-Olivier Bourgeois. He then made a terrific backhand feed to Nathan Gaucher in the slot, who banged home the puck for his first of two goals on the night.
Malatesta finished the game with three points as he assisted on both of Gaucher’s goals after scoring one of his own in the opening minute of the second period. He now has four goals and 10 points in 14 QMJHL games. He is eligible for the 2021 NHL Entry Draft and early projections have him in the late second, early third-round range. Gaucher has six goals and 12 points in 12 games and won’t be eligible until the 2022 draft.
With the AHL kicking off their season tonight, this weekend should have plenty prospects news to bring to you.
Greg Boysen has been writing about the Chicago Blackhawks since 2010 and has been a site manager for both FanSided and SB Nation. He has been published in The Hockey News and was fully credentialed for the 2013 Stanley Cup Final. Among his various roles with The Hockey Writers are covering the Blackhawks, the AHL, writing the daily “Today in Hockey History” column, serving as a copy editor, and appearing and hosting multiple YouTube shows, including Blackhawks Banter. He is credentialed with the Chicago Wolves, Rockford IceHogs, and Milwaukee Admirals, while also being a regional scout for the NAHL. And, just because his plate isn’t full enough, Greg hosts trivia in the Chicago area two nights a week. For interview requests or to provide topic suggestions, follow Greg on Twitter and reach out.