NHL Western Conference Prospects to Watch in the AHL Calder Cup Playoffs

Al DanielCorrespondent IIApril 23, 2013

NHL Western Conference Prospects to Watch in the AHL Calder Cup Playoffs

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    Six of the NHL teams who will still be in the Western Conference after realignment will have a farm team in the first round of the 2013 American Hockey League playoffs starting this weekend.

    The Texas Stars are the No. 1 seed in the AHL’s Western Conference and will face the Milwaukee Admirals, Nashville’s affiliate, in their best-of-five conference quarterfinal.

    Elsewhere, the Oklahoma City Barons (Edmonton) face Charlotte; the Manchester Monarchs (Los Angeles) engage Springfield; the Houston Aeros (Minnesota) battle Grand Rapids; and the Portland Pirates (Phoenix) take on Syracuse.

    As of Tuesday, two of the six parent clubs have been ruled out of Stanley Cup playoff contention and nothing is guaranteed for the Coyotes, Stars or Wild.

    Come what may, whether a fanbase is following one or both halves of its AHL-NHL tandem this postseason, here are 11 prospects worth keeping an eye on in the Calder Cup tournament. (That is, unless any of them are summoned to take part in the big league playoffs.)

    Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via theahl.com

Chris Brown, Portland/Phoenix

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    Even if you deleted his 14 power-play goals, rookie Chris Brown would have still been third on the Portland Pirates with 15 strikes.

    In reality, though, he surpassed all first-year AHLers with 29 goals in addition to placing third overall in man-advantage conversions.

    Brown put in five appearances with the Phoenix Coyotes earlier this season and, in his online scouting report from The Hockey News, has “an aggressive game” listed as one of his strengths.

    The upset-minded Pirates will be looking for that aggression in the opening round against Syracuse and the parent Coyotes ought to be watching for it with equal diligence.

Jack Campbell, Texas/Dallas

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    Since being drafted 11th overall by the Dallas Stars in 2010, goaltender Jack Campbell has not had many chances to flatter himself with his statistics. But one key exception has been his performances in the World Junior Championships.

    His first crack at a little tournament glory in the professional ranks ought to be a test of his aptitude in moments that harbor the highest stakes. If he turns in a stable performance and the first-place Stars last multiple rounds, he ought to advance his profile and amplify everyone’s conviction, including his own.

Alex Chiasson, Texas/Dallas

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    It should be noted that Alex Chiasson has stepped into the NHL this month, collecting seven points in as many appearances for Dallas. In turn, his presence in the AHL playoffs will all but certainly be conditional on the Stars missing the Stanley Cup dance.

    If the big club comes up short, there will be consolation for the organization in that Chiasson’s input can embolden the younger Stars’ persona as the team to beat in the Western Conference.

    The first-year pro initially suffered from freshman frostbite this season, starting with only one goal and zero assists in his first 12 games with Texas. But he followed that with 34 points in 45 outings post-Thanksgiving.

Mikael Granlund, Houston/Minnesota

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    Admittedly, it is hard to keep classifying Mikael Granlund as a “prospect” when he has already logged 27 appearances with the Minnesota Wild during this shortened NHL season. However, he and fellow rookie Jason Zucker were reassigned to the Houston Aeros this week and Granlund will likely see his first North American postseason action at the AHL level.

    Regardless of what level it is, it ought to offer a worthwhile barometer as to where Granlund, the ninth overall draft choice in 2010, stands in his development.

Andy Miele, Portland/Phoenix

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    Portland’s top pivot, Andy Miele, has finished each of his first two AHL seasons with a nearly identical output, tallying 54 regular-season points in 2011-12 and 53 this season.

    Now the Miami RedHawks alumnus, who also has eight NHL games on his transcript, will have his first crack at professional postseason action with the Pirates.

Jamie Oleksiak, Texas/Dallas

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    Towering, yet mobile, Jamie Oleksiak was called up to the parent Dallas Stars within two days of participating in the AHL All-Star Game. The 6’7", 254-pound defenseman logged 16 games in the NHL as well as 59 twirls with the Texas Stars, for whom he pitched in six goals and 27 assists.

    Oleksiak’s plus-19 rating was second only to Colton Sceviour among all Texas skaters and easily the highest among blueliners on the team that finished first in the AHL’s Western Conference.

    One year removed from his lone major-junior campaign, when he went on a ride to the OHL finals with the Niagara IceDogs, Oleksiak has reasonable hope for a similar run at a higher level with the T-Stars.

Tanner Pearson, Manchester/Los Angeles

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    The final pick in the first round of last year’s NHL draft, Tanner Pearson set a promising personal tone for the AHL playoffs with a productive sugar rush late in the homestretch.

    He stamped three multipoint efforts and an overall transcript of 4-3-7 within the final six games, helping the Manchester Monarchs to a timely winning streak and ensuring their playoff qualification.

    Starting with the go-ahead goal en route to a 3-1 victory over Connecticut on April 12, Pearson has had a hand in seven of the Monarchs’ last 16 tallies.

Tyler Toffoli, Manchester/Los Angeles

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    Tyler Toffoli, recently named the AHL’s top rookie, led the Monarchs with 28 goals despite missing 18 games. Some of those absences have been due to eight appearances with the Kings, in which time he has cultivated five points.

    After a six-week hiatus from Manchester for that very purpose, Toffoli returned for the final weekend of the regular season and logged an assist in each of three successive game days.

    In four previous meetings with first-round opponent Springfield, Toffoli tallied a 2-2-4 scoring log, including a pair of power-play points.

Linden Vey, Manchester/Los Angeles

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    Second-year center Linden Vey has excelled in all situations en route to a sophomore surge with the Monarchs. He topped Manchester’s chart with 45 assists, including 14 on the power play, and 67 points overall, five of which were shorthanded.

Austin Watson, Milwaukee/Nashville

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    A two-time OHL playoff champion in his major junior days, Austin Watson faces a role reversal as the top regular-season goal-getter for an upset-minded Milwaukee team.

    By the same token, the top-dog Texas Stars will be the most demanding measuring pole for Watson in his attempt to keep translating amateur success to the professional level.

Jason Zucker, Houston/Minnesota

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    For Jason Zucker, it is the same basic concept as it is for his teammate and fellow 2010 draft choice Granlund, whom he joined on a return to Houston on Monday. He has a generous sprinkling of NHL seasoning to his credit, but will nonetheless face a new challenge with the Aeros in his first professional postseason run.

    Splitting his rookie season between the top two leagues, Zucker pitched in four goals and an assist in 19 appearances with Minnesota. Only that barred him from surpassing Justin Fontaine as Houston’s top producer.

    In 55 AHL twirls, Zucker tallied a team-best 24 goals, half of those coming on the power play, and 50 points.