AHL’s Heat, Condors to play outdoor game in California

Jared Clinton
Golden State Hockey Rush logo. (via AHL)

As part of promoting the AHL’s expansion to California, the league is planning to have its first warm-weather outdoor regular season contest.

The league announced Wednesday that the Stockton Heat and Bakersfield Condors, two of the new AHL clubs that help make up the Pacific Division, will take part in an outdoor game on Dec. 18 at Raley Field in West Sacramento, Calif. The game will be part of the Golden State Hockey Rush.

“This event will be a special showcase for our Pacific Division in its inaugural season,” said AHL president David Andrews. “We look forward to this celebration of hockey outdoors and to sharing the experience with the terrific hockey fans in Northern California.” Read more

AHL Logo Ranking: No. 13 – Utica Comets

Jared Clinton
Utica Comets logo (via SportsLogos/Chris Creamer)

(The AHL has undergone a season of change and one-third of the league has changed locations or logos for the 2015-16 season. Leading up to the new season, The Hockey News will be ranking the logos of the league’s teams and offering a brief look at the history of each franchise. See the rest of the rankings in our AHL feed.)

The Utica Comets were so close to capturing their first Calder Cup in just their second season in upstate New York, but they were run over in five games by the mighty Manchester Monarchs. So where do the Comets go from here?

During this off-season, Utica has lost both of its starting goaltenders from 2013-14 — Jacob Markstrom will be in Vancouver, Joacim Eriksson left for Europe — and both of its top scorers. Cal O’Reilly, who led the team with 61 points, is off to Buffalo and Brandon DeFazio landed a deal with Boston. Coming in this year, though, the Comets have snagged Blair Jones, who notched 9 goals, 21 points in 33 AHL games in 2014-15. That’s a nice addition for the club.

Plus, there’s always the youth talent to consider. Hunter Shinkaruk, Brendan Gaunce, Cole Cassels, Dane Fox and Alexandre Grenier are all a year older. For Cassels and Fox, this will be their first taste of the AHL, but they’ve got the ability to contribute enough to replace the losses the Comets have suffered.

But that still leaves the goaltending issue. In 2014-15, Markstrom was nothing short of incredible, posting a 1.88 goals-against average and .934 save percentage. It’s tough to find a goaltender to replace that kind of puck-stopping in the AHL, but Richard Bachman will have to give it a shot. This past season Bachman posted a 2.38 GAA and .918 SP, but maybe he sees a bump from the quality of players in front of him in Utica. If the Comets want to get back to the Calder Cup final, Bachman might be the key. Read more

It’s either Winnipeg or Europe for Nikolaj Ehlers this season

Nikolaj Ehlers

In terms of drafted prospects, few teenagers could top the season that Nikolaj Ehlers is coming off. The incredibly talented Halifax Mooseheads left winger put up approximately two points per game in the regular season, then paced The Herd with 31 points in just 14 QMJHL playoff games. He also helped Denmark win its first-ever game at the world juniors and was the most electrifying player in the entire tournament.

So what does he do for an encore?

Read more

AHL Logo Ranking: No. 14 – St. John’s IceCaps

Jared Clinton
St. John's IceCaps logo. (via SportsLogos/Chris Creamer)

(The AHL has undergone a season of change and one-third of the league has changed locations or logos for the 2015-16 season. Leading up to the new season, The Hockey News will be ranking the logos of the league’s teams and offering a brief look at the history of each franchise. See the rest of the rankings in our AHL feed.)

The St. John’s IceCaps are getting a different look thanks to a brand new affiliation with the Montreal Canadiens, and along with the change in affiliate could come a return to the post-season after a disappointing 2014-15 campaign.

In their third season in St. John’s in 2013-14, the IceCaps came three wins away from the franchise’s first Calder Cup, but in 2014-15, the team fell off hard. In a tough Eastern Conference, the IceCaps, then affiliated with the Winnipeg Jets, fell off hard and missed the playoffs by a dozen points. And a team that was offensively gifted in 2013-14 fell apart as they scored more than 70 fewer goals in 2014-15 than they had the year prior.

In 2014-15, the Hamilton Bulldogs, who will become this season’s IceCaps, missed the post-season by six points. That said, they packed significantly more offensive punch and are getting a number of fresh, young faces who could score in droves. Having the young players come in and score will be important, too, as five of their top-10 scorers from 2014-15 are gone. T.J. Hensick, Nick Sorkin, Eric Tangradi, Drayson Bowman and Davis Drewiske have all moved on, but in their place come young players such as Nikita Scherbak, Michael McCarron, Tim Bozon, Jeremy Gregoire and Brett Lernout.

The IceCaps will be one of the youngest teams in the league and it could be boom or bust in 2015-16. Read more

AHL Logo Ranking: No. 15 – Lehigh Valley Phantoms

Jared Clinton
Lehigh Valley Phantoms logo (via SportsLogos.net/Chris Creamer)

(The AHL has undergone a season of change and one-third of the league has changed locations or logos for the 2015-16 season. Leading up to the new season, The Hockey News will be ranking the logos of the league’s teams and offering a brief look at the history of each franchise. See the rest of the rankings in our AHL feed.)

It’s been a while since the once dominant Phantoms franchise has found its way into the post-season. Can 2015-16 be the year they make the jump from AHL pretender to Calder Cup contender?

Since 2009-10, the club has failed to make the playoffs and there has been quite a bit of change to the Phantoms roster in time for the new season. Gone are 12 regulars from last season’s lineup, including top-10 scorers Jason Akeson, Blair Jones and Zack Stortini. On the backend, Adam Comrie, Steve Delisle, Oliver Lauridsen and Brett Flemming are all off to new opportunities for the upcoming campaign.

The big names coming in are Chris Conner and Colin McDonald, who scored a combined 87 point in 101 games this past season. That should make up for the production lost this off-season and there’s also some youth that could be on its way to town. Young defenseman Samuel Morin, one of the Flyers’ top prospects, could start his campaign in the AHL, and Tyrell Goulbourne and Pavel Padakin might be able to provide some scoring up front as first-year AHLers.

In goal, the addition of veteran Jason LaBarbera provides some stability in goal, especially with how much Anthony Stolarz struggled this past season. It’ll likely be the combination of 35-year-old LaBarbera and 21-year-old Stolarz defending the net for the Phantoms in 2015-16.

Entering their second season in Lehigh Valley, a playoff berth would be a pleasant surprise for the Phantoms. Read more

AHL Logo Ranking: No. 16 – Springfield Falcons

Jared Clinton
Falcons logo featured

(The AHL has undergone a season of change and one-third of the league has changed locations or logos for the 2015-16 season. Leading up to the new season, The Hockey News will be ranking the logos of the league’s teams and offering a brief look at the history of each franchise. See the rest of the rankings in our AHL feed.)

As part of the AHL’s big shuffle for the 2015-16 season, the Springfield Falcons lose their affiliation with the Columbus Blue Jackets and a squad that missed the post-season in the Eastern Conference by one point. In their place, the Falcons join up with the Arizona Coyotes and a club that made the post-season by in the Eastern Conference by one point. That’s quite the interesting swap.

Because of the affiliation change, there are obviously going to be a lot of changes to the Falcons lineup, but considering the amount of turnover in the Coyotes’ minor league system, there’s the chance this isn’t even a post-season team anymore. Really, it’s hard to tell what they’ll be.

This off-season alone, the Coyotes’ affiliate lost goaltenders Mark Visentin, Mike McKenna and David Leggio, forwards Justin Hodgman, Alexandre Bolduc, Darian Dziurzynski, Greg Carey, Francis Wathier, Phil Lane and defensemen Evan Oberg, Joel Hanley and Matt Lashoff. That’s more than half of a decent AHL team. That said, reinforcements were brought in.

Most notable of the new faces are Dustin Jeffrey and defenseman Dylan Reese, but there’s also the chance that should Anthony Duclair not make the Coyotes roster — which seems like a slim chance, at this point — he could end up in Springfield. This is a young, young roster. Only two players are 30 and not a single goaltender is over the age of 25.

One player who could make an impact, however, is Brendan Shinnimin. The 24-year-old finished second on the Coyotes in scoring with 22 goals and 47 points, but has improved his production steadily each year. He’s not a lock to spend the season in Springfield — he played 12 games for Arizona this past season — but he could breakout offensively this season. Read more

Futures mailbag: Marner vs. Nylander, one nasty Avs prospect and more

Mitch Marner (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

Welcome back to the THN futures mailbag, where I answer all things prospect and draft related. I’m really getting a good crop of questions coming in, so keep that momentum going, folks (hit me up at @THNRyanKennedy with the hashtag #thnfutures). With the major junior season around the corner and the Traverse City prospects tournament also coming up, I may save some questions until the action begins, for accuracy’s sake. So hold tight if you don’t see your submission right away. Let’s get to it:

Read more

AHL Logo Ranking: No. 17 – San Diego Gulls

Jared Clinton
San Diego Gulls logo (via SportsLogos.net/Chris Creamer)

(The AHL has undergone a season of change and one-third of the league has changed locations or logos for the 2015-16 season. Leading up to the new season, The Hockey News will be ranking the logos of the league’s teams and offering a brief look at the history of each franchise. See the rest of the rankings in our AHL feed.)

The San Diego Gulls are preparing for the inaugural season, but it doesn’t appear as if it’ll be an incredibly successful one for the Gulls.

San Diego is inheriting the former Norfolk Admirals, which would have been quite the story were these the Admirals of the early-2000s. Unfortunately, the Admirals of the past eight seasons haven’t quite been the same club. Sure, the change in affiliation from Chicago Blackhawks to Tampa Bay Lightning to Ducks has had something to do with it, but the Gulls roster hasn’t been a top for any of its three seasons as the Anaheim affiliate.

In 2014-15, there was realistically only one team worse than the then-Admirals — the 50-point, basement-dwelling Iowa Wild. But no team was as offensively stunted as the Admirals, who scored only 168 goals over the course of the season, and were it not for netminding efforts Jason LaBarbera the season could have been much, much worse.

There are some new pieces that should make fans in San Diego feel a bit more hopeful, however. Anaheim scooped up Chris Mueller, Harry Zolnierczyk, Joe Piskula, Shane O’Brien and Matt Hackett this off-season, who will fight for starts in the AHL with either John Gibson or Anton Khudobin — whichever doesn’t land an NHL backup gig this season.

Mueller is coming off of a 40-point campaign with Hartford, which would have tied him as the leading scorer in Norfolk this past season, while Zolnierczyk’s 44 points would have made him the team leader. Piskula, 31, and O’Brien, 32, are veteran presences — and the only players to have celebrated 24th birthdays — on a very young D-corps that includes Shea Theodore and Brandon Montour.

Realistically, things can’t get much worse for the franchise after what was their worst season since affiliating with the Ducks. Or we hope not, at least. Read more