A number of players currently plying their trade in the AHL will find themselves on NHL rosters by the post-season, and several of those AHL talents could be sneaky additions ahead of a playoff run.
The trade deadline is still fresh in our minds, but teams with post-season aspirations are looking ahead now. While some teams, such as the Washington Capitals and Minnesota Wild, used the deadline to beef up their rosters for what stands to be a potentially deep post-season run, others made minimal moves, picking up depth players rather than chasing the big fish at the deadline. That doesn’t mean some key additions aren’t on their way, though.
Each post-season, there are a number of players who seemingly come out of nowhere to make an impact. Take the 2015-16 Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, for instance. Entering the post-season, it was Marc-Andre Fleury’s crease, but a late-season surge by Matt Murray paired with an injury to Fleury resulted in the youngster taking the crease and hanging onto starting duties for the remainder of the playoffs. There was even a time Murray was in the conversation for the Conn Smythe Trophy.
Murray’s situation isn’t unique to him, however. During their run on top, the Los Angeles Kings had a pair of young scorers come up to the NHL just in time for the post-season. Tyler Toffoli produced two goals and six points in 12 games during the 2012-13 playoffs, a year the Kings went to the Western Conference final, and Tanner Pearson netted four goals and eight points en route to the Stanley Cup in 2013-14. Before their playoff performances, the two had combined for 35 regular season games, five goals and 12 points.
These helping hands come playoff time aren’t appearing out of thin air, though. They’re late-season additions by way of the AHL, as teams sometimes bring up promising talent just in time for the post-season. And this season, there are five players who could similarly contribute to lengthy playoff runs:
Vladislav Kamenev, Nashville Predators
The caveat here is that the Predators actually have to make a run in the post-season, and as of Friday they’re set for a first-round date with the Chicago Blackhawks. That’s not the best draw. Regardless, Kamenev could be one of those players who sneaks into the lineup either due to injury or if Nashville is looking to add some savvy offensive skill. In his rookie AHL campaign, he fared well, posting 15 goals and 37 points in 57 games, but he’s outdoing that pace this year with 14 goals and 39 points in 53 games.
Kamenev had his look with the Predators this season, too, so he’s definitely on the radar. He got into two games in January, one of which happened to come against Nashville’s currently projected first-round rival, the Blackhawks. His lone contribution during that pair of outings was a minor penalty and one shot while skating fourth-line minutes.
Nicklas Jensen, New York Rangers
Jensen has seen seven games with the Rangers this season. His first stint was a four-game run which ended in mid-December and he was up with the big club again to start January. He didn’t take a regular shift — he averaged little more than nine minutes of ice time per game — but the 23-year-old is starting to show the scoring touch that made him a first-round pick back in 2011. Through 50 games with the Wolf Pack, Jensen has 23 goals and 40 points. He’s the perfect choice for a bottom-six call up, if that’s what New York is after.
The thing about Jensen, though, is he hasn’t shown that level of effectiveness in limited minutes. Not putting home a single point in his seven-game stint isn’t the worst thing in the world, but the Rangers would have loved to see him flash some of the offense he’s shown in the AHL. Still, Jensen stands 6-foot-3, 203 pounds and has speed to him. That’s enticing.
Daniel O’Regan, San Jose Sharks
The San Jose Barracuda are leading the AHL’s Pacific Division and the opportunity for the club to make a deep run into the post-season might have the Sharks hesitating to call up O’Regan. But given what he’s shown in his rookie professional season, he should probably find his way into a spot on the roster if the scoring depth thins out at any point in the playoffs.
O’Regan, a fifth-round pick of the Sharks in 2012, left Boston University ahead of this season after a second-consecutive season of scoring more than a point per game. It should surprise no one, then, that he has come into the AHL and gone nearly a point per game once again. In 46 games, O’Regan has 16 goals and 45 points. He saw one game with the Sharks back in November, but was sent down shortly thereafter. Even if O’Regan doesn’t come up this post-season, he doesn’t seem far away from entering the NHL.
Jake Guentzel, Pittsburgh Penguins
OK, maybe this is cheating a bit, but Guentzel flies under the radar outside of Pittsburgh. He’s been up with the big club consistently since mid-January and he’s really found his fit. In 25 games, he has seven goals and 15 points and is skating right in the middle of the lineup. He’s definitely not the biggest, but he skates well and can use that to his advantage.
In a way, Guentzel can be compared to the likes of Conor Sheary, Bryan Rust and Tom Kuhnhackl. His game may not be the same as the three aforementioned Penguins, but the trio of fresh faces were all a big part of the Penguins’ success in the post-season in 2015-16. Guentzel is almost reprising the role those three played as the mid-season call-up who ends up becoming a key part of the scoring depth. Now all he has to hope for is the same result come the post-season.
Jesse Puljujarvi, Edmonton Oilers
This projects to be a season of growth for the Oilers. The likelihood they come out of the Pacific Division isn’t all that great, nor is Edmonton’s chance of coming out of the Western Conference. That doesn’t mean the team shouldn’t try to load up in time for the post-season, though. One way to do that would be to bring Puljujarvi back up and see if he can’t recreate some of the scoring prowess he’s shown in the AHL.
Through 20 games in the AHL, Puljujarvi has seven goals and 16 points and he definitely hasn’t been shy about shooting the puck. He’s averaging nearly three shots per game, which is a sign he’s both learning how to and getting the chances to put the puck in the net. There’s the possibility Puljujarvi could come in and have a Pearson-esque impact for the Oilers, which is to say Puljujarvi wouldn’t be a top scorer during the post-season run, but he’d definitely have the talent to find the score sheet a handful of times.
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