2013-14 AHL Western Conference preview

By Tony Androckitis
Teemu Pulkkinen - Grand Rapids Griffins

Photo: Detroit Red Wings prospect Teemu Pulkkinen got a taste of the Red Wings’ winning ways late last season as he was a part of the Grand Rapids Griffins’ run to the AHL’s Calder Cup championship. Pulkkinen will begin his rookie season with the Griffins in 2013-14 (courtesy of Rick Madonik/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

 

The American Hockey League (AHL) embarks on its 2013-14 campaign beginning this evening with five games on the schedule. Hockey's Future will be previewing both conferences, with an emphasis on the notable NHL prospects that will be competing for each club.

The first preview out of the box takes a look at the AHL's Western Conference. There haas been some change to this conference since last season, with two new teams being added to the mix, along with a newly-named division and a change in affiliation for one team.

Here, then, is a preview of the Western Conference for 2013-14. The NHL team affiliated with the AHL club is indicated in parentheses next to the AHL team name.

North Division

Hamilton Bulldogs (Montreal Canadiens)

Last Season: 29-41-1-5 (64 points, 5th Place in the North Division)

The Bulldogs finished last in the Western Conference last season and look to get things back on track in 2013-14. They have brought in some promising AHL veteran forwards in Martin St. Pierre and Nick Tarnasky to lead the way, but the younger prospects will need to step up.

Guys to watch up front are Patrick Holland, Sven Andrighetto and Christian Thomas. Holland, 21, is a skilled forward looking to pick up where he left off at the tail end of his rookie season (12 points in his last 18 games). Incoming rookie forward Andrighetto is coming off a 98-point season (31G, 67A) with the QMJHL’s Rouyn-Noranda Huskies last season and will look to be in a top-six scoring forward role this season. Thomas, 21, got a taste of the pro game last spring with the AHL’s Connecticut Whale (NYR) and looks to use that experience in his rookie season with the Bulldogs this year.

Defensively, returning defenders Nathan Beaulieu, Morgan Ellis and incoming rookie Darren Dietz are intriguing. Beaulieu has the offensive tools to be an NHL defenseman and will look to build off a good rookie season and fill out his game in 2013-14. Ellis was hampered by injuries to start his rookie season and will look to bounce back with solid play this year. Dietz is coming off a very productive season with the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades (72GP: 24G, 34A, 100 PIM) and will see a lot of ice time in the AHL this season.

Utica Comets (Vancouver Canucks)

Last Season (as the Chicago Wolves): 37-30-5-4 (83 points, 4th place in the Midwest Division)

This is a new AHL team based in Eastern New York and is the sole affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks. They’ve brought in forwards Benn Ferriero, Brandon DeFazio and Zach Hamill to add some scoring and checking depth. Also, look for second year pro Niklas Jensen to take on a larger role this season.

Defensively, Frank Corrado is entering his first full season as a pro and is considered NHL-ready by most. Meanwhile, Henrik Tommernes has moved to North America and will transition from playing overseas this season.

Goaltender Joacim Eriksson is coming off a great season with Skelleftea of the SHL and looks to play in his first North American pro season starting this fall in the AHL.

Rochester Americans (Buffalo Sabres)

Last Season: 43-29-3-1 (90 points, 2nd place in the North Division)

Rochester was right in the thick of things last year and look to take it to the next level this season. The Amerks have brought in Mike Zigomanis and Jamie Tardif, two high-end AHL veteran forwards, to bolster the forward core in Rochester.

Up front, incoming rookies Joel Armia and Daniel Catenacci look to make a name for themselves in 2013-14. An injury to Armia will prevent him from making his pro debut, but Catenacci is ready to bring his style of play to the pro level. Among other Sabres forwards that could potentially land in Rochester, Johan Larsson looks to spend his sophomore season up with the NHL club, and will do so to at least start the season.

On defense, the Amerks boast two defenders with potential. Brayden McNabb, entering the final year of his entry level contract, is poised for a more consistent season. Chad Ruhwedel continues to learn the pro game entering his 2nd year of professional hockey, but didn't look out of place in a stint with the Sabres at the end of 2012-13.

Toronto Marlies (Toronto Maple Leafs)

Last Season: 43-23-3-7 (96 points, 1st place in the North Division)

The Marlies won the division last year and have brought in Trevor Smith and Troy Bodie to add to their young group of forwards poised for another deep playoff run in 2013-14.

Josh Leivo is an all-around solid player looking to make the transition to the pro game. He is currently on the Maple Leafs roster and may stay with the top club if his performance warrants it. Tyler Biggs is a power forward looking to get his feet wet with the pro game this season, as well. Greg McKegg and Spencer Abbott are returning second-year forwards looking to build off their performances from last season.

Defenseman Stuart Percy will make the full-time jump to professional hockey this year and looks to be a solid two-way defender.

Lake Erie Monsters (Colorado Avalanche)

Last Season: 35-31-3-7 (80 points, 3rd place in the North Division)

The Monsters look to get over the hump and get into the playoffs this season after missing them last year. They’ve brought in Nate Guenin and Andre Benoit on the back end and J.T. Wyman up front, but will need contributions from younger players in the system if they are to make a serious run in 2013-14

Second-year forwards Andrew Agozzino (52 points in 76 games) and Michael Sgarbossa (44 points in 57 games) led the team in scoring last season and are looking to build on that success this season.

Karl Stollery, who led Monsters defenseman in scoring, is returning for his second season with the team. Duncan Siemens starts his professional hockey career this season and is looking to make an impact right away.

Midwest Division

Iowa Wild (Minnesota Wild)

Last Season (while the Houston Aeros): 40-26-5-5 (90 points, 4th place in the Midwest Division)

The Wild moved from Houston and added defensemen Jonathon Blum and Jon Landry to the mix, building depth on the blue line for the 2013-14 season. They also added former Aeros and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins forward Warren Peters on a tryout contract.

Incoming rookie forward Tyler Graovac has a chance to come in and play an offensive role from the start after an impressive playoff run in the OHL this past spring. Returning sophomore forward Jason Zucker is coming off a 24-goal rookie campaign at the AHL level, while also adding four goals in 20 NHL games last season.

Grand Rapids Griffins (Detroit Red Wings)

Last Season: 42-26-4-4 (92 points, 1st place in the Midwest Division)

The defending champs didn’t bring in many big names to their roster for 2013-14, but have a solid crop of rookies coming in at the AHL level with the core of the team that won the Calder Cup last season also returning, including goaltender Petr Mrazek and forward Tomas Jurco, both entering their second season of professional hockey.

Up front, the Griffins have a trio of incoming rookie forwards looking to come in and compete in Marek Tvrdon, Teemu Pulkkinen and Martin Frk. Of the three, Pulkkinen appeared in the 2012-13 Calder Cup Playoffs with the Griffins and looks to adjust to the pro game in North America after playing with Jokerit.

On defense Ryan Sproul, the 2012-13 CHL Defenseman of the Year, will make the leap into the AHL full-time this year after putting up numbers in three seasons with the OHL’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. The Griffins will also see another high-end prospect turn pro in Xavier Ouellet, a solid two-way defender who played for the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada in the QMJHL.

Rockford IceHogs (Chicago Blackhawks)

Last Season: 42-31-2-1 (87 points, 3rd place in the in the Midwest Division)

The Icehogs just missed the postseason last year and added some veteran depth to complement their young forward core.

Returning forward Brandon Pirri led the entire AHL in scoring last season and the Icehogs look to build around him and some other talented young forwards to lead the IceHogs to the playoffs in 2013-14. Jeremy Morin is coming off a 30-goal season in his second pro season. Drew LeBlanc, a St. Cloud State standout, looks to make the full-time jump to pro hockey.

On defense, Adam Clendening led all defenseman on the team in scoring as a rookie and he will look to build off that success with a larger role and more ice time this season. Klas Dahlbeck plays a defensive-minded game and looks to build off of his first season of pro hockey in North America.

Chicago Wolves (St. Louis Blues)

Last Season (while the Peoria Rivermen): 33-35-5-3 (74 points, 5th place in the Midwest Division)

After bringing in an elite class of dominant AHL scoring forwards in Corey Locke, Keith Aucoin, Marc Mancari and Alexandre Bolduc, it’s obvious that the Wolves mean business this year with a new NHL affiliate in the Blues.

Despite the forward fire power, the Wolves will house one of the most intriguing forward prospects in the conference in former Portland Winterhawks standout Ty Rattie, who makes his pro debut this season.

The Wolves also have a solid pair of netminders in Jake Allen and Jordan Binnington. Allen can fill the void at the NHL level when needed and Binnington shows promise after a great year with the OHL's Owen Sound Attack.

Milwaukee Admirals (Nashville Predators)

Last Season: 41-28-4-3 (89 points, 2nd place in the Midwest Division)

The Admirals just snuck into the playoffs as the eighth seed before bowing out in the first round last year. They’ve brought in a group of forwards and defensemen to try to push themselves over the hump in the Midwest Division.

Returning forward Austin Watson is coming off of a 20-goal rookie campaign while incoming rookie Zach Budish captained the University of Minnesota last season and looks to make his pro debut this fall.

On defense, Anthony Bitetto and Joonas Jarvinen look to get more accustomed to pro hockey in their second full seasons of minor pro hockey.

West Division (Known as the South Division in 2012-13)

Texas Stars (Dallas Stars)

Last Season: 43-22-5-6 (97 points, 1st place in the South Division)

The Stars look to build upon last year’s best record in the Western Conference. They added Pat Nagle and Ryan Button to last year’s returning team.

Jamie Oleksiak returns his 6'7 frame to the Stars' AHL blue line. Oleksiak led his team in scoring by a defenseman during his rookie season last year.

The Stars also have a pair of young forwards looking to make an impact in their rookie season in Brett Ritchie and Matej Stransky, who are both coming off of successful junior hockey seasons.

Oklahoma City Barons (Edmonton Oilers)

Last Season: 40-25-2-9 (91 points, 3rd place in the South Division)

The Barons brought in some forwards to add depth in Derek Nesbitt, Matt Ford and Ryan Hamilton, and look to avenge a stunning Game Seven loss in the Conference finals last season.

Up front, Andrew Miller will make his pro debut after four seasons at Yale University.

On defense, Martin Marincin was second in scoring among blueliners on the Barons with 30 points (7G,23A) in his rookie season and he will look to build off of that. Defenseman Oscar Klefbom has a ton of potential and looks to make his pro debut at the AHL level this season after shoulder surgery ended his 2012-13 season prematurely.

San Antonio Rampage (Florida Panthers)

Last Season: 29-38-2-7 (67 points, 5th place in the South Division)

After a tough go of things in 2012-13, the Rampage bring back Jon Matsumoto to lead the team heading into 2013-14.

Up front, Quinton Howden looks to build off a rookie season where he tallied 30 points in 57 games. Logan Shaw will make his pro debut this season and looks to use his size and grit to his advantage.

On defense, Alex Petrovic will aim to refine his game on the back end and to become even more NHL-ready after a solid rookie campaign last season. Incoming rookie Jonathon Racine looks to impress the Florida brass right from the beginning.

Abbostford Heat (Calgary Flames)

Last Season: 34-32-4-6 (78 points, 4th place in the North Division)

The Heat missed the playoffs last season and move to a tough South Division this year.

Forward Max Reinhart looks to build off of a rookie season last year which saw him tally 21 points in 67 games. The two-way forward plays in all situations and will carry an expanded role in 2013-14. Returning forward Roman Horak is coming off a 30-point sophomore season. Ben Hanowski will look to build off a 5-game NHL stint last year and continue to develop in his first full pro season in the AHL this season.

On the back end, Mark Cundari returns for his first full season with the Heat after three seasons with Peoria. Incoming rookies Tyler Wotherspoon and John Ramage are the players to watch on the blue line.

Charlotte Checkers (Carolina Hurricanes)

Last Season: 42-26-4-4 (92 points, 2nd place in the South Division)

The Checkers are coming off a second round playoff exit and look for a better result this season. They’ve brought in goaltender Mike Murphy and defenseman Matt Corrente for 2013-14.

Up front, Victor Rask is looking to show what he can do in his first full season at the pro level. On the blue line, Danny Biega will start his rookie campaign after four years of college hockey at Harvard. Keegan Lowe makes the jump to pro hockey after four seasons with the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL.

Follow Tony Androckitis on Twitter via @TonyAndrock

 

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