Andrei Vasilevskiy (Len Redkoles/Getty Images)
Last season, it was Detroit’s Gustav Nyquist who burst onto the scene from the AHL, and in 2014-15, it’s Ottawa’s Mike Hoffman. The next surprise star is somewhere in the AHL right now, and he could be coming to the big league before the season is through.
Every season, there are a few players who tear up the AHL and shock the big league when they finally make the jump. Last season, it was Detroit’s Gustav Nyquist. This season, Ottawa’s Mike Hoffman is making a name for himself.
So who are the players to watch from North America’s second best league? One of them, Teemu Pulkkinen, will likely make his debut tonight as a member of the same Red Wings Nyquist broke in with last season. Another, Teuvo Teravainen, worked his way in to the Chicago Blackhawks lineup following Kris Versteeg’s injury, but he was scratched on Thursday before drawing back in on Friday.
Another AHL notable, Pittsburgh’s Derrick Pouliot, is up with the big club, though he hasn’t seen game action since Jan. 2. Were he in the AHL at the moment, he, too, would make the list. But here are the five AHL players to watch in the latter half of 2014-15.
5. Drew Shore, San Antonio Rampage (Florida Panthers)
Shore is one to watch not just because he’s having a tremendous season putting up points, but also because his name has been thrown around in trade rumors from time to time this season. With a fairly packed lineup up the middle in Florida, it’s not likely that Shore will see any time in the big league this season.
Shore’s putting up pretty healthy numbers in his third season in the AHL. With nine goals and 30 points after just 35 games, he could be nice trade bait. He’s skated in 67 games with the Panthers over the last two seasons, tallying eight goals and 20 points.
4. Anthony Mantha, Grand Rapids Griffins (Detroit Red Wings)
Before he got hurt during rookie camp, there was serious thought about whether or not Mantha would eschew the Griffins altogether and make his professional debut as a member of the Red Wings. He hasn’t been outstanding quite yet, but there’s still a lot of time for the 20-year-old super prospect to turn it on and make some waves in the AHL. He has been tied at times to the Tyler Myers-to-Detroit rumors, but it’s hard to imagine the Wings giving up on Mantha.
In 22 games, Mantha has six goals and 11 points, and has fired 49 shots on goal.
3. Ryan Pulock, Bridgeport Sound Tigers (New York Islanders)
The former Brandon Wheat Kings standout is killing it on the blueline for the Sound Tigers, and his heavy shot is getting him noticed.
In 29 games this season, the 6-foot-1 blueliner has 12 goals and 17 points. The Islanders are looking better and better on the blueline with each passing game, but you have to wonder how much better they’ll be once Pulock rounds entirely into form. As a rookie in the AHL, to be putting up points and pounding the puck the way Pulock is should be impressive to even the most casual fan.
2. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Syracuse Crunch (Tampa Bay Lightning)
The rich get richer, as Tampa Bay may have just found a franchise goaltender to add to their embarrassment of riches. Vasilevskiy is in his first season with the Crunch and as a rookie has already gotten a few looks between the pipes for Tampa Bay. You can tell the franchise already has a great deal of trust in the 20-year-old goaltender.
In 17 games in the ‘A,’ the Russian netminder, who spent last season with the KHL’s Salavat Yulaev Ufa, has posted a 10-3-4 record, .923 save percentage, and 2.25 goals-against average. Those are remarkable totals, and put him among the AHL’s elite.
1. Charles Hudon, Hamilton Bulldogs (Montreal Canadiens)
The Canadiens drafted Hudon in the fifth round of the 2012 draft, and he’s looking like quite the steal. In 35 games, the 20-year-old has registered 10 goals and 23 points. It makes sense, then, that if Montreal continues to make a push for the playoffs or has a top-six player go down with injury, that Hudon will likely get the call.
Not only is Hudon fifth in the AHL in scoring, he’s doing it as a rookie and on a Hamilton Bulldogs squad that has been the very definition of average this year. Keep your eye on Hudon, because if the hot start to his professional career is any indication, he might be filling NHL score sheets soon.