10 AHL Players Proving They're Ready to Make an Impact in the NHL

Allan Mitchell@@Lowetide_Featured ColumnistNovember 12, 2014

10 AHL Players Proving They're Ready to Make an Impact in the NHL

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    NHL teams use their minor league systems as both a developmental team and a place to store useful players whom they can recall as needed during the season.

    Some are draft picks in need of seasoning in pro hockey before stepping into the NHL, while others are college or European free agents signed to see if they can survive at this level. All NHL teams will look to the farm this season for help.

    Here are 10 NHL players proving they are ready for the call.

10. Jordan Weal, C, Los Angeles Kings

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    JACK DEMPSEY/Associated Press

    The Backstory: The Los Angeles Kings picked Jordan Weal in the third round of the 2010 draft. 

    The AHL Story: Weal took a big step forward, increasing his AHL point total from 33 in 2012-13 to 70 a year ago. This year, he's off to a great start again with the Manchester Monarchs.

    The NHL Story: The Kings are deep at center with expensive NHL veterans. If the team decides to save cap money for next year by dealing Jarret Stoll or Mike Richards, Weal looks qualified to step in and make his NHL debut.

9. Mark McNeill, C, Chicago Blackhawks

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    The Backstory: The Chicago Blackhawks drafted center Mark McNeill in 2011. He came with the reputation of being a physical two-way pivot, as reflected by this NHL.com article, via the 'Hawks website. 

    The AHL Story: In his first AHL season, McNeill impressed with his overall play, but he scored only 37 points in 76 games. In 2014-15, he's off to a much better start and scoring over a point per game. If he can sustain that kind of production, he won't be in the AHL much longer.

    The NHL Story: McNeill will bring value to Chicago as a plug-and-play option for an injured forward or as a trade asset for a deadline deal. Either way, the young center is playing very well and should see his first NHL action this year.

8. Teemu Pulkkinen, RW, Detroit Red Wings

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    Jose Juarez/Associated Press

    The Backstory: The Detroit Red Wings chose Teemu Pulkkinen in the fourth round of the 2010 draft. 

    The AHL Story: Pulkkinen scored 31 goals a year ago as an AHL rookie. This season, he leads the Grand Rapids Griffins in scoring and is among the league leaders in power-play goals.

    The NHL Story: The Red Wings are famous for incubating their prospects for long periods before graduating them to the NHL. In the case of Pulkkinen, his time may be close, and Detroit may see him during the 2014-15 season.

7. Jacob Markstrom, G, Vancouver Canucks

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    Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images

    The Backstory: The Vancouver Canucks acquired goaltender Jacob Markstrom from the Florida Panthers in the Roberto Luongo trade. 

    The AHL Story: Markstrom has significant NHL experience, but he finds himself behind Ryan Miller and Eddie Lack in the Vancouver system. He needs to establish himself as a strong call-up option, and so far, that has been the case. Markstrom leads the AHL in save percentage and has been playing well.

    The NHL Story: The Canucks look set in goal for now, but things can change in a hurry. It's also possible Markstrom's strong play will draw trade interest over the coming weeks.

6. Iiro Pakarinen, RW, Edmonton Oilers

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    The Backstory: The Edmonton Oilers signed Finnish winger Iiro Pakarinen in June 2014. This Canadian Press story (via NHL.com) details some of Pakarinen's background, including an impressive international resume.

    The AHL Story: Pakarinen scored well in his first seven AHL games, posting five goals and eight points. When Taylor Hall was injured in early November, Edmonton recalled their impressive young Finn and inserted him into the lineup.

    The NHL Story: Through four games, Pakarinen has one NHL goal and is playing a physical style that draws attention. He'll likely head down to Oklahoma City later this month but has made a positive impression. Pakarinen may parlay this into an NHL career.

5. Brendan Leipsic, C, Nashville Predators

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    The Backstory: The Nashville Predators selected center Brendan Leipsic in the third round of the 2012 draft. He enjoyed an exceptional junior career with the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL. 

    The AHL Story: Leipsic is an AHL rookie and is enjoying an impact season so far in 2014-15. He is among the league's leaders in assists and has adapted very well to pro hockey.

    The NHL Story: Nashville added several free-agent centers during the offseason in an effort to improve its depth and allow prospects to develop. Leipsic certainly has some things to learn, but his productivity so far this season suggests he may force the issue.

4. Griffin Reinhart, D, New York Islanders

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    The Backstory: The New York Islanders selected Griffin Reinhart at No. 4 overall in the 2012 draft. 

    The AHL Story: Reinhart has played in the NHL this season, but he is in the AHL to gain experience in pro hockey before returning to the world's best league. A New York Post article by Brett Cyrgalis from October described Reinhart's situation and the impact defenseman he'll be when mature.

    The NHL Story: The Islanders solved a lot of their defensive problems when acquiring Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk before the season. It allows the team to take their time with Reinhart, and playing in the AHL is a good place for the young defenseman. One day soon, he'll be recalled and stay for a decade or longer in the NHL.

3. David Pastrnak, RW, Boston Bruins

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    The Backstory: The Boston Bruins drafted talented winger David Pastrnak in the first round of the 2014 draft. Director of European Central Scouting Goran Stubb—courtesy of NHL.com—suggests Pastrnak is a top-level offensive prospect. 

    The AHL Story: It's unusual for 18-year-olds to play in the AHL, and when they can score beyond a point per game, it's a good sign. Boston is a veteran team and will want to see him flourish in the minors this season.

    The NHL Story: Pastrnak is in pro hockey at a time when young men his age are back in junior playing against kids their age. Pastrnak's ability to thrive against much older competition suggests he may be something special.

2. Derrick Pouliot, D, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    The Backstory: The Pittsburgh Penguins selected Derrick Pouliot No. 8 overall at the 2012 draft. 

    The AHL Story: Pouliot began his pro career in the AHL this fall. He's less than 10 games into the season and has already shown his range of skills. His speed and offensive creativity are going to be his calling card.

    The NHL Story: The Penguins are off to a strong start and can afford to keep Pouliot on the farm this year. If he continues to impact in a positive way, Pittsburgh may be tempted to call him up for a look, and Pouliot may make it difficult to send him back down.

1. John Klingberg, D, Dallas Stars

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    The Backstory: The Dallas Stars picked John Klingberg in the fifth round of the 2010 draft. He is a mobile, puck-moving defender with plenty of pro experience in Europe. 

    The AHL Story: This is Klingberg's first AHL season, and he's impressing with his offense. He's a lanky player, but he will need time to adjust to the physical aspect of the North American game.

    The NHL Story: The Stars have had all kinds of problems on defense and traded Sergei Gonchar on Tuesday. This NHL.com article details the trade, and it reveals Klingberg will be the call-up. Klingberg played in his first NHL game Tuesday night.