Of the 16 NHL teams that will be in the Eastern Conference in 2013-14, 10 will be represented by their affiliates in the best-of-five first round: Boston, Buffalo, Carolina, Columbus, Detroit, Ottawa, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Toronto and Washington.
Depending on whether those franchises will also be seeing Stanley Cup tournament action, each AHL playoff team’s roster may be subject to change. But as they stand now, here are some of the top specimens of young talent worth following in the minor league playoffs, all of whom are reasonable contenders for NHL ice time in 2013-14.
Unless otherwise indicated, all statistical information for this report was found via theahl.com
A year removed from finishing his college career as a Hobey Baker finalist, Spencer Abbott has logged 33 points in 55 appearances with the Toronto Marlies. He closed out the regular season with a 3-2-5 scoring run in six games, one of which saw him tally the eventual clincher in a 4-1 victory over Toronto’s first-round opponent from Rochester.
As of this report, Carter Ashton is in slim company with Abbott as one of the few Marlies with double digits in the 2012-13 goal column who does not have an “X” to indicate he is not currently on Toronto’s AHL roster.
Some of the other top point-getters could return to the team in the coming weeks, but Ashton should be leaned on as part of the offensive ensemble either way.
Adding to the intrigue of Ashton, who made 15 appearances with the Leafs last year, Toronto GM Dave Nonis mentioned him by name as an implicit untouchable shortly after the trading deadline.
In an interview with Kevin McGran, Bob Mitchell and Mark Zwolinski of the Toronto Star published on April 5, Nonis was quoted as follows: “We weren’t going to move Carter Ashton for a rental player, that wasn’t an option for us.”
After transferring from the Connecticut Whale in the summer of 2012, Jonathan Audy-Marchessault tallied a similar scoring log for the Springfield Falcons during his second professional season. He followed up on his rookie output of 24-40-64 with a team-best 21-46-67 with Springfield.
One outstanding difference was that his rating went from a plus-one in 2011-12 to a plus-20 in 2012-13. That is partially owed to his playing for a better team, but Audy-Marchessault also noted in a recent interview with Samantha Wood of NHL.com that “I improved my defensive side and my intensity.”
That intensity will naturally be a key to an encore in his second AHL playoff run. He logged four goals in nine postseason twirls with the Whale last year.
The Tampa Bay Lightning swapped affiliates with the Anaheim Ducks shortly after the Norfolk Admirals corralled the Cup last spring. In that sense, the Syracuse Crunch are the real defending champions and Mark Barberio is still the all-around anchor of the Baby Bolts’ blue-line brigade.
Despite a shaky regular season marred by a minus-11 rating, rookie defenseman Brian Dumoulin can redress his early impressions at the professional level with a sound playoff.
Last week, Dumoulin spoke with Mike O’Brien of AHL on the Beat and addressed the differences between this homestretch and his days as a constant winner with Boston College. Among other observations, he told O’Brien, “Obviously in college, it’s a single elimination in the playoffs and you have all week to gear ramped up for games…At this level, you’re just going and going.”
Traded from Carolina’s farm system to the Penguins as part of the Jordan Staal draft-day deal last summer, Dumoulin can set a tone for his path to Pittsburgh based on how he handles the new dynamic of a Calder Cup dance.
The 21-year-old Landon Ferraro is virtually a complete package of speed, physicality and scoring touch. He has used all of those elements to percolate a sophomore surge with the Grand Rapids Griffins throughout 2012-13.
After making 56 AHL appearances and sprinkling a 9-11-20 scoring log in his first full professional season, he stamped a 24-23-47 transcript in 72 games this year. This weekend will mark the start of his first professional playoff run.
By nabbing the league’s regular-season MVP trophy, Tyler Johnson put a stamp on his succession of former teammate Cory Conacher. Conacher won the Les Cunningham Award last season as part of Norfolk’s dominant banner campaign and moved up to the NHL as soon as the lockout ended this past winter.
Johnson himself earned a promotion that kept him on the Lightning roster for a month late this season. Despite that, he still finished first on the Crunch with 37 goals and 65 points, including a 5-2-7 log in the three games since being reassigned to Syracuse.
After a shaky October and November (four assists and a minus-10 rating in 16 games) and a December injury, Torey Krug has served as one of the quintessential aspects of the Providence Bruins’ turnaround.
The size-defying first-year professional blueliner caught fire in the final weekend of January, percolating a 10-game production streak with a 5-12-17 scoring log.
Starting with a 2-1-3 night on Jan. 25, Krug made 33 AHL appearances and amassed 10 goals and 37 points, including 11 points in seven appearances in April. Meanwhile, the Baby Bs went 30-5-2, including a pristine 9-0-0 in April, en route to the regular-season title.
Krug’s final collection of 45 points is the largest among any playoff-bound AHL defensemen.
A part of the package in the deal that sent Jason Pominville from the Sabres to the Wild, Johan Larsson made an instantaneous impact on the Rochester Americans with a point in each of three successive game days.
His goal scoring has been spotty throughout this season, but since Feb. 4, he has not gone more than four consecutive games without at least mustering an assist.
Rochester skipper Chadd Cassidy himself told the Olean Times-Herald, when asked of Larsson, “He’s probably more of a playmaker than a finisher” and went on to add “He’s very strong. He wins a lot of battles. He’s very well put together. He’s a guy that really helps your D corps out in terms of being able to get the puck out of your zone as a centerman.”
Detroit currently has Jonas Gustavsson signed through the end of the 2013-14 season. If Mrazek makes sure not to slow down his developmental pace, he ought to be handed the Jimmy Howard apprenticeship by 2014-15.
In the meantime, he will be tasked with helping the Griffins follow up on their Midwest Division title in this playoff run and the better part of next season.
Now that Ryan Murphy has outgrown the amateur ranks, his Kitchener Rangers having been zapped out of the OHL playoffs, the Carolina Hurricanes’ top draft choice of 2011 joined the Charlotte Checkers last week.
Murphy saw action in Charlotte’s last three regular-season contests, chipping in a power-play assist in two of them.
Although missing the Stanley Cup playoffs is a heavy scoop of vinegar for Carolina’s fanbase to swallow, one source of consolation is the smooth pace it inevitably lends to Murphy’s development. Any amount of time he can spend this spring focusing solely on the Checkers’ endeavor for a Calder Cup should make his bridge to the NHL that much sturdier.
It is safe to assume that no later than when the going-nowhere Lightning close up shop this weekend, Richard Panik will be back in the AHL. When he is, he will be another member of the Syracuse Crunch thirsting for a Calder Cup repeat.
The second-year pro matched his AHL rookie output of 41 points in 13 fewer games than he played in 2011-12. More recently, he has all but shed the “prospect” tag by putting in 23 appearances with the parent club.
A couple of call-ups had Ryan Spooner making four appearances with the Boston Bruins and partially contributed to his missing 17 out of 76 games on the Providence itinerary.
But even if he was not consistently available for the P-Bruins, Spooner was a consistent contributor, particularly in the playmaking department, when he was available. He only once went through three straight pointless outings and emphatically averted another one of those strings in Sunday’s season finale with a hat trick and an assist to knock off Norfolk, 4-3.
Providence is in the playoffs after a four-year absence owing in no small part to Spooner. In turn, his development as a rising NHL pivot has a chance to snowball in seasoning with an AHL postseason.
Rookie winger Mark Stone managed only 54 regular-season appearances but hovered at or near the top of the Binghamton Senators’ leaderboard in every key category. He amassed a 15-23-38 scoring log, 17.6 percent shooting accuracy and plus-21 rating, the last of those tied for second only to Eric Gryba.
A Swedish import who has drawn stylistic comparisons to Tim Thomas, Niklas Svedberg did not require much time to adjust to North American competition. He garnered the Baz Bastien Award as the AHL’s top stopper after going on a 37-8-2 tear in 48 appearances.
Those 37 wins give him shared possession of the single-season record for a P-Bruins goaltender, and he never went two consecutive decisions without a victory.
Providence will now bank on Svedberg to blend his performance for Brynas in last year’s Swedish Elite League championship run with that of this year’s regular season.