Futures mailbag: Dylan Larkin, Alex DeBrincat’s uphill battle and more

Dylan Larkin (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

After a week off for vacation, the mailbag returns in full force. The volume of questions is beginning to get fatter and that’s awesome, so keep them coming by hitting me up on Twitter with the hashtag #thnfutures. If your question isn’t answered this week, check back next time. Let’s get to it!

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AHL Logo Ranking: No. 22 – San Antonio Rampage

Jared Clinton
San Antonio Rampage 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.)

Due to an affiliation change, the San Antonio Rampage could go from division champion to fighting for a post-season berth. This past season’s affiliation with the Florida Panthers resulted in what was inarguably the most successful regular season team the Rampage have ever iced. However, a new affiliation with the Colorado Avalanche is set to begin in 2015-16 and it could be yet another campaign of missing out on the post-season for the Texas team. Sadly, that’s something the club has grown accustomed to.

In the 13 seasons the club has been in San Antonio, there has only been five post-season appearances. While this season’s roster should show some growth from the Lake Erie team that missed the playoffs by a mere five points in 2014-15, there haven’t been any major signings that will assuredly put the new-look Rampage over the top.

Luckily, the stars of the 2014-15 Monsters will be coming over to the 2015-16 Rampage. That includes Andrew Agozzino, who led the Monsters with 30 goals and 64 points this past season. That said, Stefan Elliott and Freddie Hamilton, who were two of the top five scorers on the roster in 2014-15, have yet to sign new deals and remain restricted free agents with the Avalanche.

Youngsters Mikko Rantanen and Chris Bigras, both high draft selections of the Avalanche, should be making their AHL debuts this season, too. That could provide the offensive impact the (then-Monsters) roster were missing last season, as they finished 16th in the league in goals for.

The Rampage’s play between the pipes should be good — and possibly even great. Goaltender Calvin Pickard has been a standout at the AHL level and will be suiting up for the club in 2015-16, and he’ll have young backups Roman Will and Spencer Martin backing him up.

Never has there been back-to-back post-season appearances for the Rampage, but it could be close in 2015-16. Read more

AHL Logo Ranking: No. 23 – Portland Pirates

Jared Clinton
Portland Pirates 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.)

Without so much as making a single signing, the Portland Pirates have likely improved enough this off-season to make a significant climb in the Eastern Conference standings.

Thanks to a change in affiliation, the Pirates are no longer the AHL representative of the Phoenix Coyotes and, in a sense, this upcoming season’s Pirates team will be the same club that the West Division champion San Antonio Rampage iced in 2014-15.

That means gone are the likes of Alexandre Bolduc, Brendan Shinnimin, Jordan Martinook and Dylan Reese, and in come the likes of Connor Brickley, Brett Olson and Rocco Grimaldi. That said, the Rampage, and in turn the Pirates, did lose two of their top three leading scorers as both Bobby Butler and Mark Mancari signed in Europe. Replacements are coming, though.

This off-season the Panthers signed 26-year-old Shane Harper, who scored 32 goals and 50 points with the Chicago Wolves in 2014-15, and he’s likely to spend the year in Portland. Up front, the club also added Rob Flick, who had 19 goals and 24 points with Providence and Gregg McKegg, while defensemen Cameron Gaunce, Sena Acolatse and Brent Regner will also join the roster. That’s not a bad group to add to your AHL ranks. Add to it that goaltender Mike McKenna will stay in Portland — his contract with Arizona ended and he was signed by Florida to a two-year deal — and you’ve got the makings of a team that could make some noise in the Atlantic Division.

Because of the AHL’s structure, a franchise can sometimes get a boost simply due to the business side of the NHL. In 2015-16, it looks like San Antonio will be a beneficiary of one of those bumps. Read more

AHL Logo Ranking: No. 24 – Iowa Wild

Jared Clinton
Iowa Wild 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.)

Success has been hard to come by for the Iowa Wild over the past two seasons and, unfortunately, there’s not much reason to believe the 2015-16 campaign is going to be any different.

For the Wild, one of the biggest troubles has been a lack of top-tier prospect talent making stops in Iowa before continuing on to Minnesota. Even in the past few seasons, when the Wild organization has had some good prospects in the pipeline, they’ve jumped over the AHL level or had shorter stays than would have been expected. And with the off-season the Wild have had, it doesn’t project to be much different this time around.

Gone is defenseman Jonathon Blum, who in only 66 games last season finished second in scoring for Iowa with 12 goals and 37 points. Also out are defenseman Stu Bickel, goaltender John Curry, left winger Jason Gregoire and veteran Stephane Veilleux.

In their place will come Maxime Fortunus, a veteran AHL defenseman with a knack for putting up points, and 36-year-old left winger Ruslan Fedotenko. Other additions will include Zac Dalpe, Tyson Strachan and Matt Carey. There doesn’t look to be a star sniper on the club, and for a team that had 50 points and were far and away the worst team in the AHL this past season, those aren’t improvements that are going to solidify the club.

The struggle is going to continue in Iowa this season and the only hope to stop it is some incredible seasons by young talents like defenseman Gustav Olofsson and center Tyler Graovac. Read more

OHL’s Steelheads vs. AHL’s Griffins: which new logo is better?

Jared Clinton
The Mississauga Steelheads and Grand Rapids Griffins unveiled new logos Tuesday. (via Twitter/SportsLogos.net)

It’s not often that two teams unveil new logos on the same day, but Tuesday both the OHL’s Mississauga Steelheads and AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins debuted brand new primary marks.

Trouble for the Steelheads is there’s a clearcut winner and it’s certainly not the OHL club. While the new Mississauga crest stays true to what the club has worn over the past three seasons, it’s not enough of a departure to really even feel like a new logo. All the updated features are ones that were included previously, and the only thing removed was the Steelheads word mark.

Previously, the logo had the trout leaping across the top of the Steelheads name, with a small bar underneath reading “Mississauga.” The ‘A’ of the Steelheads word mark contained a maple leaf as a nod to Canada. The updated logo dropped the Steelheads name and placed Mississauga in a rounded border with a maple leaf after the city. Read more

AHL Logo Ranking: No. 25 – Rockford IceHogs

Jared Clinton
Rockford IceHogs 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.)

One might expect that the Rockford IceHogs, the Chicago Blackhawks’ AHL affiliate, would have benefitted from the success of the big club over the past several seasons, but that simply hasn’t been the case. Prior to the 2014-15 season, the IceHogs went four campaigns without a post-season appearance and had gone six seasons without a win in the playoffs.

Even though the IceHogs flamed out in the second round of the post-season, losing in five games to the Grand Rapids Griffins, it’s hard not to consider the 2014-15 season one of the most successful in the franchise’s short time in Rockford. The IceHogs, led by Mark McNeill, Garret Ross and, for a short while, Teuvo Teravainen, posted Rockford’s best ever winning percentage, highest point total and one of the stingiest defenses in the entire AHL, surrendering just 180 goals against in 76 games.

A big part of the success came from a few fresh faces, but two of the three key additions won’t be back in Rockford next season. Goaltender Scott Darling made the most of his opportunities in the IceHogs net and an injury to Blackhawks netminder Corey Crawford early in the year gave Darling his shot at the NHL, one which he took and turned into a full-time backup gig. Tervainen spent only 39 games in the AHL before making the jump to the Blackhawks roster, and after the youngster’s post-season play, it’s unlikely he’s ever heading back to the IceHogs. And in the trade that sent Nick Leddy to the New York Islanders, the Blackhawks (and, in turn, the IceHogs) received Ville Pokka, who was a standout on the blueline for Rockford and scored eight goals and 30 points in 68 games.

The IceHogs know how quickly success can disappear — three straight post-season appearances became four playoff-less seasons over the course of one summer — and it will be up to the IceHogs’ trio of McNeill, Ross and Pokka to keep Rockford in a playoff position this season. Read more

AHL Logo Ranking: No. 26 – Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins

Jared Clinton
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 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.)

Heading into the 2014-15 campaign, there are two major questions the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins fans are going to want answered: can new coach Mike Sullivan help the Penguins get over the hump and into another Calder Cup final and will goaltender Matt Murray have another remarkable season between the pipes for the baby Pens?

In two of the past three seasons, Wilkes-Barre has made it to the Eastern Conference final, and were it not for drawing the eventual-Calder Cup champion Manchester Monarchs in the second round — a team that was dominant from start to finish this past AHL season — it could have been three straight appearances in the conference final. Problem is, however, when the Penguins have reached the conference final, they’ve come up short.

In 2013-14, they were bounced in six games by the St. John’s IceCaps and in 2012-13 they lost in five to the Syracuse Crunch. But with a replenished roster, maybe the Penguins make another deep run this season and finally get over their final post-season hurdle.

For the 2015-16 campaign, the club brought back 23-year-old playmaker Conor Sheary, who led the team in scoring this past season with 20 goals and 45 points in just 58 games. They also added wingers Kevin Porter and Kael Mouillierat and defensemen Will O’Neill, Steve Oleksy and David Warsofsky. That’s not to mention the club brought over former captain of SHL’s Brynas, Niclas Andersen.

If everything goes right — and Murray doesn’t hit a sophomore slump — Sullivan may have a true contender on his hands in 2015-16. Read more