AHL Western Conference notebook, November, 2013

By Tony Androckitis
Corban Knight - Abbotsford Heat

Photo: Abbotsford Heat forward and Calgary Flames prospect Corban Knight’s strong play from his final NCAA season has carried over into the early portion of the 2013-14 AHL season (courtesy of John Rivera/Icon SMI)

 

The American Hockey League’s Western Conference is approaching the end of the first quarter, and the wild, wild west is producing some dynamic offensive hockey players.

The Abbotsford Heat is the hottest team in hockey right now, winners of 13 of their last 14. The defending champion Grand Rapids Griffins continue to impress with a myriad of talent at every position. The Griffins lead the Midwest Division and look to defend their title. Meanwhile, the North Division is completely up for grabs with three teams tied for the division lead in the Toronto Marlies, Hamilton Bulldogs and Lake Erie Monsters. All stats cover games ending on or before Sunday November 24th.

Marlies' T.J Brennan Leading Defensemen

No one got off to a better start in the AHL this season than Toronto Marlies defenseman T.J. Brennan, who followed up his first career hat trick on opening night with a second hat trick in his third game of the season. All in all, Brennan tallied eight goals and four assists in the team’s first five games and was named the CCM/AHL Reebok Player of the Week for the first week of the season. Brennan currently leads all AHL defenseman in scoring with the most goals (11) and points (21).

Rookie forward Josh Leivo is off to a great start in his first full season as a pro. Three games into the 2013-14 season, Leivo was recalled by the Toronto Maple Leafs and appeared in his first seven NHL games, recording a goal an and an assist before coming back to the AHL near the end of October a much better player. Leivo has eight points (5G-3A) in his last 10 games and looks to build off the great start he’s had.

Carter Ashton started the season in the NHL, but the 6'3” forward has found himself back with the Marlies after posting one assist in 15 NHL games to start the season. The big, goal-scoring forward hasn’t let the demotion to the minors take him off of his game, however. Ashton has five points (3G-2A) in his first four games back in the AHL, looking to make it a short trip to the minors and hopefully get back to the Maple Leafs sooner rather than later.

The Marlies offense is also led by forward Spencer Abbott, whose 18 assists are the most in the league to date. Former Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins forward Trevor Smith had 12 points in seven games with the Marlies this season before being recalled by the Maple Leafs.

The Heat’s Hot Start

A quick look at the league standings might lead you to think that it’s no surprise the team with the most games played has the most points in the league. But all puns aside, there is no hotter team in hockey right now than the Abbotsford Heat. After a 4-4-0-1 start, the Heat have won 13 of their last 14 games, including nine straight from October 30th to November 15th. They lead the West Division with a 17-5-0-1 record and have scored a league-high 78 goals. The Heat’s high-powered offense isn’t led by a single player or a single line, as seven different players have scored 5 or more goals as well as recorded at least 15 points.

Most impressive has been rookie forward Corban Knight, who has tallied six of his seven goals at even strength. He’s also added 11 assists for 18 points in 23 games played, which is tied for the third most on the team. The fact that Knight, the former University of North Dakota standout, is not having his stats padded from power-play goals means his +9 rating is second best on the team. His 18 points have him tied for third among AHL rookies.

Acquired in the Jarome Iginla trade from the Pittsburgh Penguins, Knight’s linemate Ben Hanowski is also off to a good start. Hanowski (63rd overall in 2009) has been a nice complement on the ice with Knight, as Hanowski also has seven goals so far this season, adding eight assists for 15 points in his first 22 games. He got a taste of the NHL last season after finishing his collegiate career at St. Cloud State and Hanowski is looking to continue to produce offensively and try to separate himself from the rest of the forward core in Abbotsford.

Griffins’ Surge Continues

The defending 2013 Calder Cup champions are off and running in 2013-14 and wasted no time showing that last year wasn’t a fluke. The Grand Rapids Griffins opened the season with an 8-1 win over Rochester and lead the Midwest Division by six points with a record of 13-4-1-1.

Leading the way for the Griffins has been second-year forward Tomas Jurco. The Detroit Red Wings’ second round pick in the 2011 NHL Draft is fifth in the AHL in scoring with 22 points (10G-12A) in 19 games played and is already approaching his offensive production from his 74-game rookie season where he tallied 28 points (14G-14A). Jurco is not enduring “the sophomore slump” and started the season on a four-game points streak. He hasn’t shown signs of slowing down just yet ,either, recording points in five of his last seven games (5G-3A), including his first professional career hat trick in a 5-3 win over Rockford on November 15th.

Gustav Nyquist has split time between the NHL and AHL the past two seasons in the Red Wings organization and, after 21 points (7G-14A) in 15 games in the AHL, he is now second on the Griffins in scoring thanks to a recent NHL call up. Nyquist looks to be teetering between an AHL and NHL forward for a third straight season. A point-per-game player over the course of his career at the AHL level, there hasn’t been any signs that Nyquist won’t stop producing at en elevated rate. Currently in the NHL with the Red Wings, Nyquist is off to a good start in his first NHL stint this season, posting two goals in three games so far.

On the backend, rookie defenseman Ryan Sproul leads the Griffins offensive attack with five goals and eight assists on the season after coming off back-to-back 20-goal seasons as a defender for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the OHL. His five goals leads all rookie defensemen while his 13 points have him third in the AHL among rookie defenders. The 2012-13 CHL Defenseman of the Year hasn’t appeared in his first NHL game just yet, but it’s only a matter of time for the offensive defenseman to be given an NHL look.

Western Conference Hot List

1. Travis Morin, C, Texas Stars

Morin has taken the AHL by storm, tallying 19 points (8G-11A) in his first nine games in the month of October. Since being recalled by Dallas, the rest of the league has had a chance to catch up but Morin still has the league’s scoring lead despite not having played in the AHL for 10 days. Morin currently has 28 points (11G-17A) in 16 games and is in the midst of a five game points streak since returning to the AHL.

2. Tomas Jurco, RW, Grand Rapids Griffins

The second year pro has the defending champs right where they want to be as the schedule's quarter pole approaches. With 22 points (10G-12A) in 19 games, the Detroit Red Wings are hoping Jurco can continue to develop and continue to put up numbers at the rate he has so far this season.

3. Marek Mazanec, G, Milwaukee Admirals

Besides Jake Allen in Chicago, Mazanec is far and away the best goaltender in the Western Conference to date. It’s not often a rookie goaltender wins his first five starts, but it’s the way Mazanec has been able to consistently shut down his opponent that is most impressive. Mazanec has only allowed two goals in each of his five AHL outings this season. Mazanec hasn’t slowed down in the NHL, either, as he is 4-1 in his last five starts with the Nashville Predators with a 1.60 goals-against average, a .950 save percentage and one shutout in his five most recent appearances.

4. Corban Knight, C, Abbotsford Heat

The former University of North Dakota standout is continuing to put up offensive numbers in his first year of pro hockey. His 18 points (7G-11A) are good for third among rookies in scoring, and is one of the reasons why Abbotsford is off to such a good start.

5. Vincent Trocheck, C, San Antonio Rampage

After recording 109 points in the OHL last season, Trocheck has shown no signs of slowing down his offensive prowess through the first quarter of the AHL season. His 18 points (9G-9A) in 19 games is tied for third in scoring among AHL rookies. The Pittsburgh, PA native has been consistent throughout the season, recording nine points in both October and November.

Each month during the season, HF will be presenting a notebook feature for the two AHL conferences

Follow Tony Androckitis on Twitter at @TonyAndrock