AHL Western Conference notebook, January, 2014

By Tony Androckitis

Spencer Abbott - Toronto Marlies

Photo: Toronto Marlies forward and Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Spencer Abbott is currently ranked fifth in scoring in the AHL with 42 points in 40 games (courtesy of David Cooper/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

With the American Hockey League season passing the midway point, a great deal of young prospects have already made some noise with their respective NHL clubs while others continue to adjust to the pro-style game.

The AHL's Western Conference has had no shortage of highlights in the last month, with plenty of high scoring and great goaltending around the conference. All stats from December 19th – January 27th, unless otherwise noted.

Divisional Round-Up

Despite numerous injuries and call ups in the Detroit Red Wings organization, the Grand Rapids Griffins continue to roll on. The Griffins are the top team in the conference and have an 10-point lead on the second place Chicago Wolves in the Midwest Division.

The surging Texas Stars and their high-octane offense have overtaken the Abbotsford Heat for the top spot in the West Division by three points. Both the Stars and Heat have separated themselves from the rest of the division.

The Toronto Marlies have started to separate themselves from their competition in the highly competitive North Division, with the streaking Hamilton Bulldogs climbing up the divisional standings and looking to make a push for the division lead as well.

Hockeytown Winter Festival – Toronto Marlies vs. Grand Rapids Griffins

Just two days before their NHL counterparts battled at Comerica Park in similar fashion, the second outdoor game in the AHL season and seventh all-time was just as eventful and exciting as the Frozen Frontier game earlier this year, with the Toronto Marlies edging the Grand Rapids Griffins 4-3 in a shootout.

In a back and forth battle, the Marlies forward tandem of Spencer Abbott and Carter Ashton went to work early and often in the first period. The duo assisted on the game’s opening goal, a point shot from Kevin Marshall 1:10 into the contest.

After a Grand Rapids goal evened the score at 1-1 midway through the first period, Abbott assisted on Ashton’s ninth goal of the season along with Greg McKegg to put the Marlies back in front with two minutes remaining in the opening period.

Abbott leads the Marlies in scoring with 42 points (10G-32A) in 40 games played this season. Abbott has enjoyed offensive success much of his second full season in the Toronto Maple Leafs system. He started the season on a 13-game point streak (1G-18A), and has started to put the puck in the net more as of late, as well.

Greg McKegg is also starting to produce offensively in his second full season of professional hockey in the Maple Leafs system. In 34 games this season, McKegg has exceeded his offensive numbers from his 61-game rookie season with 25 points (9G-16A).

Carter Ashton played only three more games in the AHL after the Hockeytown Winter Festival game before being recalled by Toronto (NHL). In 14 games with the Marlies this season, Ashton tallied 10 goals and five assists. Now in the NHL with Toronto, Ashton has tallied three assists in 28 games with the Maple Leafs.

The Griffins responded with a much better second period and took the lead on a pair of goals from forward Luke Glendening, who was called up to the Detroit Red Wings (NHL) after the game. In 18 AHL games with the Griffins, Glendening tallied 12 points (5G-7A). Since being recalled by Detroit, he’s tallied three assists in 27 NHL games this season.

Even without leading scorer Tomas Jurco (13G-19A in 32 games) and others such as forwards Gustav Nyquist, Cory Emmerton and Riley Sheahan and even goaltender Peter Mrazek, who hasn’t played at the AHL level since the first week of December (Mrazek was just returned to the Griffins, however), the Griffins continue to play top-tier AHL hockey.

On the season currently, they lead both the Midwest Division and the Western Conference and have allowed the second fewest goals-against in the entire AHL, while also scoring the third-most goals in the league.

The Marlies tied the game at 3-3 early in the third period and after a scoreless overtime, Abbott and McKegg scored the only goals in the shootout and Marlies goaltender Drew McIntyre stopped all four Griffins’ shooters in the Marlies’ 4-3 win.

Shooting Stars

Halfway through the season, the Texas Stars have scored a total of 161 goals in 44 games. That’s nine more goals than any other team in the conference. The Stars also have four of the top eight scorers in the AHL including league-leading scorer Travis Morin (25G-36A) and third overall Colton Sceviour (27G-19A).

Perhaps most impressive on Texas this season is rookie forward Curtis McKenzie, who leads all first year players in scoring with 41 points (14G-27A) in 43 games played. McKenzie, drafted by Dallas in the sixth round (159th overall) of the 2009 NHL Draft, was the third-leading scorer for CCHA regular season champion Miami University as a senior last year, scoring 11 goals and adding 13 assists, and was +2 with a team-leading 80 penalty minutes. McKenzie is certainly having a breakout season in Texas this year.

Another rookie, forward Brett Ritchie, is also enjoying some offensive success in his first full season of professional hockey. The big 6-3, 220-pound forward, drafted in the second round (44th overall) of the 2011 NHL Draft by Dallas, has 26 points (8G-18A) in 38 games this season including eight points (4G-4A) in his last seven games.

Hot List

1. Curtis McKenzie – LW, Texas Stars

McKenzie leads all AHL rookies in scoring with 41 points (14G-27A) in 43 games and tallied 18 points (3G-14A) in his last 15 games.

2. Spencer Abbott – RW, Toronto Marlies

Abbott is fourth in the AHL in scoring, just completed a second long-term point streak, and has tallied 17 points (6G-11A) in his last 17 games.

3. Joakim Nordstrom – C, Rockford IceHogs

After a slow start to his rookie season (5G-1A in first 15 games), Nordstrom has caught fire with 15 points (6G-9A) in his last 17 games including a nine-game point streak from December 20th through January 8th.

4. Alexandre Grenier – RW, Utica Comets

The rookie forward has scored 10 goals in his last 13 games and has been producing at a point-per-game level on a last place team.

5. Adam Clendening – D, Rockford IceHogs

Clendening leads the IceHogs offensively and is third among AHL defensemen in scoring with 33 points (6G-27A) in 45 games, including 10 points (2G-8A) in 12 January games.

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