This year’s Stanley Cup final series is one of the most geographically challenging we’ve seen in a while. Los Angeles and New York are separated by 2,450 miles and three time zones.
But the two finalists in the American League are a little farther apart. Cedar Park, Texas, home of the Texas Stars, and St. John’s, Newfoundland, home of the St. John’s IceCaps, are separated by 2,648 miles.
The farm teams for the Dallas Stars and Winnipeg Jets begin their playdown for the Calder Cup Sunday in Texas. Here are the top five NHL prospects to watch in the AHL championship series.
1. Josh Morrissey, D, St. John’s. Winnipeg’s first pick, 13th overall, in the 2013 draft has had a well-travelled season. The Calgary native started his third season with the Western League’s Prince Albert Raiders, then represented Canada at the world juniors. When Prince Albert was eliminated in the first round of the WHL playoffs, Morrissey joined St. John’s for the final eight regular season games and has played another 15 in the playoffs. The slick, offensive defenseman is still just 19 and will be back in the WHL next season unless he makes Winnipeg as an underage. Morrissey was ranked No. 30 in Future Watch 2014.
2. Brett Ritchie, RW, Texas. The 44th overall selection in the 2011 draft has had an impressive rookie pro season. The two-way power forward scored 22 goals and 48 points in 68 games as a 20-year-old, getting stronger and more productive as the season wore on. Ritchie, whose younger brother Nick is projected to be a top 10 pick in the June 27-28 draft, scored the winning goal and added two assists in the Game 7 showdown with Toronto that sent the Stars to the Calder Cup final. Ritchie was ranked No. 39 in Future Watch 2014.
3. Jamie Oleksiak, D, Texas. He was the first round pick, 14th overall, in the same draft Dallas got Ritchie. The 6-foot-7, 241-pound rearguard has been working on his decision-making and physicality in his second AHL season. Any offense he provides is a bonus. Oleksiak (pictured above) had managed 23 NHL games with Dallas, seven this season and 16 in the lockout-shortened 2012-13. Oleksiak was ranked No. 38 in Future Watch 2014.
4. Adam Lowry, C, St. John’s. He was drafted as a towering, but slender 6-foot-5 left winger out of Swift Current. The IceCaps and Jets have taken to converting him to center where the hope is he can mature to being a third or fourth-line pivot in the NHL. After a slow, injury-filled start to the season, Lowry has been a sturdy force down the stretch and in the playoffs. Lowry was ranked No. 4 on the Winnipeg top 10 list in Future Watch 2014.
5. Radek Faksa, C, Texas. The development curve has been slow for the 13th overall pick in 2012. After splitting the season between Kitchener and Sudbury and see his offensive production slip, Faksa joined the Stars after Sudbury was eliminated in the first round of the OHL playoffs. The big pivot has played mostly a fourth-line role and scored five goals and seven points in 22 regular season and playoff games. Faksa was ranked No. 4 on the Dallas top 10 list in Future Watch 2014. Faksa wouldn’t be a first round pick if the 2012 draft were to be re-held today.
Another Future Watch top 75 prospect is part of the Calder Cup final. Texas goalie Jack Campbell, 22, has played just four playoff games while serving as backup to 30-year-old Swede Cristopher Nilstorp. Campbell was ranked No. 68 in Future Watch 2014.
Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior editor and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Brian Costello on Twitter at @BCostelloTHN