Division of the American Hockey League
The Albany River Rats continue to
reside at the bottom of the East Division of the American Hockey League. While
they are not hopelessly behind their opponents, the River Rats continue their
up-and-down play, and unless the team starts to show some more consistency, it
is unlikely that they will make the playoffs. If that ends up being the case,
it will be the fourth straight season that the once proud franchise will find
itself idle come April and May.
At the beginning of the season, a
lot of emphasis was placed on the incoming group of rookies. Some of the
rookies have clearly made their marks, with two, Tuomas Pihlman and
Suglobov, already earning their first recalls and making their NHL
debuts with the New Jersey Devils. Suglobov was also selected as the River Rats
sole representative for the PlanetUSA team at the upcoming AHL All-Star game.
However, it’s easy to forget that there are still a number of second and third
year prospects playing in Albany, and some of them are doing better than
G Ari Ahonen (14 games, 2.76 goals against average, .908 save percentage)
In his third year, the former first
round draft pick (27th overall in 1999) is having a breakout season. After two
seasons marked by inconsistency, Ahonen has not only been consistent, he has
been consistently good, which is no small feat behind a defensively challenged
River Rats team. Ahonen missed the first portion of the season while recovering
from minor knee surgery. When he finally returned to action, it has been
obvious that all the little details that goaltending coaches Chris Terreri and
Jacques Caron have worked on for the past two years have started to fall into place
like pieces of a puzzle. Ahonen is currently on his second recall assignment
with the New Jersey Devils, eagerly awaiting his first NHL game as he continues
to serve as Martin Brodeur’s backup.
D Krisjanis Redlihs
(30 games, 5 goals 6 assists, -10, 8 penalty minutes)
A second year defenseman out of
Latvia, Redlihs has had an outstanding season offensively. Mostly due to a good
wrist shot, Redlihs has already surpassed his point total from last year.
Defensively, however, Redlihs has shown little improvement. He is often too
indecisive, allowing attackers to take advantage and easily beat him
one-on-one. A few times this season his poor decision-making under pressure has
lost games for the struggling River Rats. Furthermore, although Redlihs does
not accumulate many penalty minutes, he will on occasion get caught taking
undisciplined retaliatory penalties.
D Victor Uchevatov (25 games, no goals, 1 assist, -12, 27
At 20 years of age, Victor Uchevatov
is already in his third professional season. His biggest hurdle has
been that as a defenseman, he does not use his impressive size (6’4″/225 lbs) very well. While he has
undoubtedly shown some progress over the past two years, Uchevatov is still
nowhere near the level he could be playing at. On the occasions that he does
play with some emotion and aggressiveness, Uchevatov can level opponents with
crushing hits. However, he still has trouble finding the fine line between
being aggressive and being undisciplined. River Rats coach Red Gendron recently
criticized Uchevatov publicly in local media for taking a bad penalty that lead
to an equalizing goal.
C Eric Johansson (31 games, 5 goals 11 assists, +3, 22 penalty minutes)
Johansson, a second year pro out of
Alberta, is getting a lot more ice time than in his first year, and this is
clearly reflected in his offensive production. Johansson still does not play a
very physical game, and he is not a great finisher, but he is creative with the
puck, and also very effective on the power play. Johansson is also starting to
show good improvement in his defensive game, as evidenced by his plus/minus rating,
the best on the team.
C/RW Chris Hartsburg (23 games, 1 goal 1A, -11, 6 penalty minutes)
After missing half of his rookie
season due to injuries, the defensive specialist has been making a slow but
steady return. Hartsburg has not been getting a lot of ice time due to the
offensive logjam in the River Rats lineup, and when he plays, he is not a
player one will likely take note of. Hartsburg excels at one thing, shutting
down the opposition.
In other news:
No news as
of yet about a possible extension of the River Rats franchise affiliation with
the New Jersey Devils. The current affiliation agreement is set to expire this
summer. If no new agreement is reached, it is believed that the River Rats
current owners will make an effort to secure another AHL franchise for Albany.