10 AHL Stars Set to Impress at the NHL Level in 2012-13

John B MathesonCorrespondent IJune 28, 2012

10 AHL Stars Set to Impress at the NHL Level in 2012-13

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    With the entry draft complete, NHL teams are starting to look at their roster’s needs and where they can find the players to fill the holes.

    While some will add free agents to shore up the weaknesses in their team, some will look to the AHL.

    A number of teams have solid players in development who are ready to impress next year. Some of the players have already had a chance to play in the NHL, such as Braden Holtby.

    Others are looking for their first chance.

    There are many more players who will be ready for next season at the NHL level, but in the list that follows are 10 players looking to make a difference next season.

Nazem Kadri

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    Leafs prospect Nazem Kadri has almost played the 65 games to be considered an NHL player at 21 years old.

    He has excited Toronto fans during his 51 NHL games, tallying 19 points in the NHL over three seasons, though the first season, he only played one game with the Leafs.

    Over the last two seasons, Kadri has attended the Leafs training camp, attempting to make the Leafs full-time.

    In his 92 games over two seasons with the Marlies, Kadri has racked up 81 points. Leafs fans have eagerly anticipated Kadri’s arrival in the NHL full-time.

    The only issue for Kadri next season is Randy Carlyle’s style of play. The new head coach of the Leafs prefers a larger core of forwards.

    Fortunately for Kadri, he is a very attractive player that many teams in the NHL would love to add to their roster.

    While he should break into the NHL full-time next season, it may not be as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

    Whether with the Leafs or if he is traded, Kadri will be at the NHL level next year, and fans can expect big things from this young forward.

Cade Fairchild

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    Fairchild was among the top defensive players this year in the AHL with the Peoria Rivermen.

    He was called up a couple of times to the Blues this season for a total of five games, where he managed one assist.

    With Peoria, he managed 34 points in 68 games, ending his season as a plus-26.

    The young 23-year-old is looking to break into the Blues defensive lineup and would be a great addition as an offensive defenseman.

    This past season was his first in the AHL, though he played the four previous seasons with the University of Minnesota.

    As a rookie in the AHL, Fairchild showed that he is ready to step up and play at the NHL level next year. 

Cedrick Desjardins

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    The 26-year-old netminder topped the AHL this season for the Lake Erie Monsters with a .932 save percentage and was third overall with a 2.11 goals against.

    He signed a one-year deal with the Colorado Avalanche last season and will be able to sign with another team for the 2012-13 season.

    Colorado’s situation in net was bolstered with the acquisition of Semyon Varlamov, meaning one of the best goalies in the AHL won’t have a place with the Avalanche next season.

    There are a number of teams who would be interested in the young netminder as a backup next season. Desjardins would be better off trying for one of those teams.

    He will be a solid backup for any team next season, as his ability has developed nicely over the last few seasons.

    The undrafted talent is ready to step up and begin his career in the NHL, and with many teams struggling in net, he will more than likely find a home during the preseason.

Trevor Smith

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    Smith signed a one-year deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning last July; during his tenure with Norfolk, he has been impressive.

    In 64 games with the Admirals, he notched 69 points and had 16 points in 18 postseason games en route to a Calder Cup Championship.

    The Lightning would do well to offer the 27-year-old an entry-level contract. Otherwise, he will be attending training camp for another team.

    Either way, expect Smith to be a mainstay on whichever NHL club picks him, as he has great hockey sense and proved this year he has a good shot as well.

Chris Mueller

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    At 26 years old, Mueller had a few seasons in the AHL before singing a deal with Nashville to play for the Milwaukee Admirals in 2010.

    With a number of injuries to the Predators in the 2010-11 season, Mueller was called up to play 15 games, where he managed three assists.

    This season, his game developed very well. While he only played three games with the Predators and was held without a point, his tenure with the Admirals was impressive.

    He managed 60 points in 73 games with Milwaukee in the 2011-12 season and played three postseason games with them as well.

    Mueller is looking ready to start in the NHL by next season, with a role in the bottom six forwards.

    Though his one-year deal with Nashville expires in July, he will either re-sign with Nashville or be taken by another team in the NHL who will give him a tryout.

Patrick Maroon

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    Syracuse Crunch winger Patrick Maroon had his best season since entering the AHL in 2007, with 74 points in 75 games.

    He has developed well over the last few seasons, and it would not be surprising to see the young power forward make the NHL next season.

    His hockey sense has improved vastly this season; adding to his size, he has already made an impact with the Crunch this season and looks ready to do the same in the NHL.

    Currently, Maroon has a deal with Anaheim, who need a few young, talented players to step up next season. Maroon has shown he is ready.

Cory Conacher

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    Cory Conacher of the Norfolk Admirals only played 10 games in the AHL during the 2010-11 season with three different teams as a part of amateur tryouts.

    At the beginning of last season, he impressed the Norfolk Admirals and was placed in the starting lineup.

    The 22-year-old impressed throughout the season, notching 80 points in 75 regular season games. He also had 15 points en route to winning the Admirals first Calder Cup.

    While he is still unproven at the NHL level, the Les Cunningham Award winner for the 2011-12 season will most likely get a tryout during the preseason.

    If he can keep his level of play up, there is a very good chance he will break into the Lightning’s lineup next season.

Matt Frattin

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    This was Matt Frattin’s rookie year with the Marlies, where he managed to get 18 points in 23 games.

    With 57 NHL games under his belt, Frattin has 15 points, all from this season.

    He finished this season with the Marlies, helping them on their Calder Cup run putting up 13 points in 13 games.

    At 24 years old, Frattin is looking to make the move up to play with the Leafs next season.

    There is a good chance that at training camp, Frattin will continue to impress the Leafs club and land himself a spot in the bottom six.

    He does possess the ability to eventually become a top-six forward; he will probably spend a couple years developing on the third and fourth line.

    Frattin has the size and is able to play in the dirty areas; the quick release of his shot makes Frattin a genuine scoring threat.

Braden Holtby

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    Braden Holtby was the surprise star of the Washington Capitals in this year’s postseason.

    The young netminder went into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, a question mark that had many wondering if he was ready to compete at the NHL level.

    With 21 regular season games over two seasons, Holtby had not seen much NHL level action before the Capitals started him in Round 1 against Boston.

    He faced 459 shots over 14 games, stopping all but 30.

    His performance in the playoffs gave Washington the confidence in his play to trade the rights to Tomas Vokoun to Pittsburgh.

    Holtby may not be the starter next season, but expect big plays from this young goalie. He is rapidly developing into one of the better netminders in the league.

Chris Bourque

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    Son of Hall of Famer Ray Bourque, Chris was drafted by Washington in 2004. He played this past season with the Hersey Bears, but was traded at the end of the season to Boston.

    Bourque led the AHL in scoring with 93 points in 73 games; he also had four points in five playoff games this past season.

    His trade to the Bruins has almost assured him a place at training camp this season, the 26-year-old is looking to make a name for himself in the town his father was a star.

    Boston has a very good team already, but will be that much better with the addition of a winger whose play style has been compared to Brian Gionta.