NHL Lockout: Best NHL Players in the AHL and Why This Will Help Their Game
As was the case in 2004-05, the NHL lockout has forced a number of big-name young stars to hone their skills in the American Hockey League until the world's best league resumes play.
Though the AHL is clearly a step down in terms of skill and speed, it's still an elite level of hockey, and for players still in the development stage of their young careers, it's a valuable training ground.
Just as Jason Spezza, Eric Staal and Cam Ward did during the last work stoppage, there is a group of future All-Stars who will benefit from the lockout by gaining confidence and experience from a year in the AHL.
Here's a look at some of the guys that fit that billing.
The Edmonton Oilers' rebuild has been jump-started by a fistful of fresh-faced offensive dynamos, and though Eberle wasn't a No. 1 overall pick like many of his fellow budding stars, he's been the best of the bunch so far. His appearance at the 2012 NHL All-Star Game will be the first of many for the former Canadian World Junior hero.
Though he's already proven that he's capable of consistent offensive production at the NHL level, spending the year in the AHL will allow him to continue to grow alongside the players who should be his linemates for the next decade or so.
The Oilers made waves by signing the former Ducks draft pick to a free agent deal this summer, and so far, Justin Schultz has lived up to all the hype.
Schultz was named the AHL's Player of the Month for October, and given how quickly he's adjusted to professional hockey, the former Wisconsin Badger is a lock to be a top-pairing defenseman for the Oilers when the NHL resumes play.
Yeah, Braden Holtby's spent more than his fair share of time riding the buses in the minors, but after his breakout performance during the Caps' run to the Eastern Conference Semifinals in 2012, Holtby will only continue to develop during his latest stint with the Hershey Bears.
Through his first four starts with the Bears in 2012-13, Holtby's save percentage of .937 is the best of his career at any level of hockey, so it's safe to say the kid is motivated to be even better once the Verizon Center opens its doors once again.
For Taylor Hall, it's all about getting healthy, because the former No. 1 overall pick has battled injuries constantly since entering the league in 2010.
Hall has all the tools to be one of the game's best snipers, and when healthy, he's been just that, as he notched 27 goals in just 61 games last season with the Oilers.
He's finally back in the lineup for Oklahoma City, and alongside Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the trio has a fantastic opportunity to build even more chemistry for the future.
When the Flyers agreed to move Mike Richards to Los Angeles, the biggest asset they demanded in return for their former captain was Brayden Schenn. Paul Holmgren knew he had something special in the former World Junior MVP.
After a solid rookie season in Philadelphia, Schenn exploded during the 2012 Playoffs, scoring nine points in 11 games during the Flyers two-round postseason run.
Now with the Phantoms, Schenn will have the chance to play bigger minutes in every situation. So far, the results have been good, as he's potted 11 points in his first nine games.
The Carolina Hurricanes' defense corps was anchored last season by rookie Justin Faulk, who scored 22 points in 61 games while playing No. 1 defenseman minutes.
Faulk, now with Charlotte in the AHL, is clearly one of Carolina's most valuable assets for the present and future and seeing as he's only in his second season of pro hockey, spending the year developing with the Checkers will only speed up the development process.
He's already got 13 points in eight games, so Faulk's rookie season was no fluke, and he'll be an even bigger offensive presence for the revamped Canes when the NHL resumes play.
As the Oilers' franchise centerman, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins did not disappoint during his rookie season, scoring 52 points in 62 games en route to a spot on the NHL All-Rookie Team.
Alongside Eberle and Hall with the Barons, RNH will be primed for a breakout season once the lockout ends. The 19-year-old simply has too much talent and hockey sense not to be a star at the NHL level.
As the No. 8 pick of the 2011 NHL Draft, it wasn't exactly a sure thing that Sean Couturier would crack the Flyers' lineup as a rookie.
But the lanky centerman did just that, and was a solid two-way presence for Philadelphia all year long.
His 27 points weren't overly impressive, but Couturier brings so much more than offense to the table. He should be the Flyers' second-line pivot for a very long time.
So far with the Phantoms, Couturier has been dynamite, racking up eight goals and 10 points in his first nine games, so it's possible that when the NHL resumes play, he'll be a 20-goal, 50-point guy with the Flyers.
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