Wednesday, 19 September 2012
5 NHL Players to Watch in the AHL
In anticipation of the NHL lockout NHL teams assigned eligible players to their AHL teams. While some of the players are prospects who are still a year or two away from breaking into the NHL, some of the players are full time NHL players. The good news for hockey fans is the AHL will only get stronger with the addition of players who have had experience in the NHL. For all you fans who are starved for hockey and upset with the lack of NHL hockey taking place over the next little while turn your attention to the AHL or other junior outlets to watch players who bust their butts each night. I present to you my 5 NHL Players to Watch in the AHL preview, look for these players to "light it up" in the AHL.
5. Cody Hodgson: Buffalo Sabres assigned to the Rochester Americans
Right from the day Hodgson was drafted by the Vancouver Canucks I fell in love with his game. Watching him play and develop into a leader in the World Junior Championships was amazing. I knew one day he would be a solid player in the NHL, unfortunately he never got that shot in Vancouver and because of the NHL isn't going to have that chance with Buffalo right now. With his development right now Hodgson has the ability to play on the 2nd or 3rd line on any NHL team but in the AHL he is easily a first line centre. His last season in the AHL (2010) was with the Manitoba Moose. He played in 52 games and racked up 30 points earning himself a call up to the Canucks. Add on some NHL experience and the confidence of not having to prove himself, Hodgson should flourish in Rochester.
4. Brayden Schenn: Philadelphia Flyers assigned to the Adirondack Phantoms
The younger Schenn brother has always been an interesting player to watch, especially since joining the Flyers last season. After being drafted 5th overall by the Los Angeles Kings everyone knew he was a talented forward with lots of upside and potential. Since joining the "Broad Street Bullies" his game has undergone a complete transformation. He along with teammate Wayne Simmonds have turned into the stereotypical Flyers players, and by that I mean they are much tougher physically. At 6 feet tall and just under 200 pounds look for Schenn to dominate the AHL, not only on the scoreboard but also intimidating some of the younger and smaller players. Another interesting aspect to watch will be his adjustment to the AHL, as he has not played a game at that level yet having played his junior hockey in the WHL for the Brandon Wheat Kings.
3. Jake Gardiner: Toronto Maple Leafs assigned to the Toronto Marlies
If there is anything positive to take away from the Leafs from last season it would have to be the play and development of Jake Gardiner. Early on in the season he was given the nickname "Gardiner Expressway" because of his offensive rushes up the ice, something rare for a young player to do so frequently. While he still made some defensive lapses he was a very solid defenceman and was in the Leafs top 4 defence. Like Schenn, Gardiner has not played a full season in the AHL as he virtually came right out of the University of Wisconsin. During the Marlies playoff run having the experience of Gardiner was beneficial. He should help to provide life to the Marlies blue line and be one of the top defenceman in the AHL. It will also be interested to see how he reacts to the coaching style of Dallas Eakins who has a much different style than Ron Wilson and Randy Carlyle.
2. Jordan Eberle: Edmonton Oilers assigned to Oklahoma City
Eberle is one of the new exciting players that have reached the NHL. Every time he scores a goal he looks just as excited as if it was his first goal, when he plays he looks like he's having fun. Fans love to watch players that are having fun, it's what makes him so relatable to the fans. It's hard not to stand up and cheer or sit on the edge of your seat when he's on the ice and in the offensive zone. Eberle truly won the hearts of Canadians with his late game heroics in the World Junior Championship in 2009 when he scored the game tying goal against Russia with 5.4 seconds left. Eberle has played just 20 games in the AHL yet has racked up 23 points. Watching Eberle play in the AHL will be awesome but may turn into a "man against boys" situation.
1. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins: Edmonton Oilers assigned to Oklahoma City
The first overall pick from 2011 has yet to step foot in the AHL as he made the transition to the NHL directly from the WHL. It the beginning of the season he looked a little lost and a little slow but thats to be expected with the jump he made. By the end of his first season in the NHL he had racked up 52 points and was a finalist for the Calder Trophy for best rookie. He fit in perfectly with his young Oiler teammates but his inexperience and lack of size played a part in a shoulder injury he suffered after being hit into the boards. With a year of some what easy playing, he'll gain some more experience and hopefully "bulk up" so he doesn't get shoved around so much when he's back in the NHL. Nugent-Hopkins should be able to challenge for the scoring championship and help Oklahoma City advance farther into the playoffs.
Other players to watch: Adam Henrique (last years Calder Trophy winner), Jeff Skinner (2011 Calder trophy winner), Braden Holtby and Zack Kassian.
To my surprise many of the players mentioned above have had little to none AHL experience. Many have come out of the WHL, and while it is a very solid respectable league the competition level doesn't match that of the AHL. In the AHL players are desperate to make a impression on their parent teams and earn a call up and eventually a spot in the big leagues. To quote the Toronto Marlies "Every game is a tryout". Despite not having NHL hockey I am extremely excited to watch the AHL and see the effect of adding young NHL superstars.