AHL Western Conference notebook, April, 2014

By Tony Androckitis

Josh Leivo - Toronto Marlies

Photo: Toronto Marlies forward and Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Josh leivo has been productive so far in the 2014 AHL playoffs, notching six points in five games for the Marlies (courtesy of Lucas Oleniuk/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

The Western Conference ran away with most of the AHL team and player honors for the 2013-14 season, with the explosive offense from the Texas Stars overshadowing the league’s annual awards. The defending champion Grand Rapids Griffins also took home some hardware, but can the West keep the most important award – the Calder Cup trophy – in the conference?

Playoff Performers

The four remaining teams in the Western Conference all boast a lot of firepower, with several names standing out from the first round.

From the Texas Stars, a player who kind of flew under the radar behind some of the big-name forwards is Brendan Ranford, who tallied three goals and an assist in four first-round playoff games. The rookie was drafted by Philadelphia in the seventh round of the 2010 NHL Draft but went unsigned, and was added on a professional tryout by the AHL Stars this past summer. Ranford appeared in 65 games with Texas this season, posting 12 goals and adding 21 assists. He’s turned things up for the postseason, though, as he is currently the leading goal-scorer in the AHL playoffs with five in five games.

Leading rookie point-getter Curtis McKenzie (65 points in 75 games) has five points (1G-4A) in five games and looks to build off of his impressive regular season.

Chicago Wolves rookie forward Dmitrij Jaskin leads the Wolves in postseason scoring with eight points (3G-5A) in seven games. The Russian-born forward was the St. Louis Blues' second round pick in 2011 and is enjoying success in his first pro season in North America, having tallied 29 points (15G-14A) in 42 regular season games.

Ty Rattie, the AHL’s leading rookie goal scorer with 31 regular season goals, has just three points (1G-2A) in his first seven AHL playoff games but will need to contribute more in round two.

The Toronto Marlies won the North Division and swept the Milwaukee Admirals in the first round, scoring 13 goals in three playoff games. Jerry D’Amigo, currently the top scorer in the AHL playoffs, led the Marlies with six points (2G-4A) in those three games and rookies Sam Carrick (3G-0A) and Josh Leivo (1G-2A) had three points each to add a secondary scoring touch to that of D’Amigo and forward Trevor Smith (0G-5A).

The Grand Rapids Griffins are benefiting from NHL parent club Detroit's elimination from the NHL playoffs. Many players that received valuable NHL experience have returned, with the Griffins looking to defend last year’s AHL championship.

Rookie forward Teemu Pulkkinen – a 31-goal scorer in the regular season – has five points (2G-3A) in six games and will need to continue to produce if the Griffins hope to get back into their second round series against the high-flying Texas Stars. Another first-year pro, defenseman Ryan Sproul, looks to build off an 11-goal rookie season and has five points (2G-2A) in six games to start off his pro playoff career.

Reach for the Stars

The Texas Stars had quite an eventful final week in the regular season. As a team, they captured the Macgregor Kilpatrick Trophy as the AHL's regular season points champions for 2013-14. They finished the regular season with a record of 48-18-3-7, beating out the Eastern Conference’s Manchester Monarchs by one point for the best overall record in the league this season.

The Stars also had two players take home awards as forward Travis Morin was named the league’s Most Valuable Player (the Les Cunningham Award). Morin also won the John B. Sollenberger Trophy as the leading scorer in the AHL with 88 points (32 goals, 56 assists) in 66 games.

Curtis McKenzie was awarded the Dudley (Red) Garrett Memorial Award as the AHL’s outstanding rookie for the 2013-14 season. McKenzie finished with 65 points (27 goals, 38 assists) in 75 games to lead all rookies in scoring.

Hot List – April

1. Zach Boychuk – LW, Charlotte Checkers

Boychuk won the Willie Marshall Award as the AHL’s leading goal scorer for 2013-14, with 36 goals on the season. In his last 10 games, Boychuk tallied 15 points (7G-8A).

2. Jake Allen – G, Chicago Wolves

Allen took home AHL Goaltender of the Year with a regular season record of 33-16-3 including seven shutouts. In April, Allen went 4-0-1 with a 0.79 goals-against average, a .966 save percentage and two shutouts.

3. Max Reinhart – C, Abbotsford Heat

The second-year pro produced at a nearly point-per-game pace this season with 63 points (21G-42A) in 66 games. Reinhart finished the season with 14 points (3G-11A) in his final 10 games of the regular season.

4. Josh Leivo – RW, Toronto Marlies

Leivo finished his rookie season with 42 points (23G-19A) in 59 games, including six goals and two assists in his final seven games of the regular season.

5. Brett Ritchie – RW, Texas Stars

The rookie forward was often overshadowed by the likes of Morin and McKenzie this season, but finished the season recording at least a point in six of his final eight games, including a four-goal performance on April 4th against Lake Erie.

Hot List – Season

1. Teemu Pulkkinen – RW, Grand Rapids Griffins

With all the injuries in Detroit this year and the subsequent call-ups from Grand Rapids, someone needed to step up and fill the void left by players like Gustav Nyqvist and Tomas Jurco. Pulkkinen more than filled that void, as the rookie forward tallied 31 goals and added 28 assists to lead the defending champs in scoring this season.

2. Curtis McKenzie – LW, Texas Stars

McKenzie took home the AHL Rookie of the Year award, leading all rookies in scoring with 65 points (27G-38A). It will be interesting to see if he takes the next step in his development with a playoff run with the Stars currently underway.

3. Ty Rattie – RW, Chicago Wolves

Rattie came in and took the Wolves by storm, scoring 31 goals and leading the team in scoring by a wide margin. Rattie has struggled to keep up his regular season goal-scoring pace against tougher competition in the AHL playoffs, however, with the Wolves currently down 2-0 in their second round series against the Toronto Marlies.

4. Jake Allen – G, Chicago Wolves

Allen ran away with the league’s best goaltender award with 33 wins and seven shutouts on the season. He led all goalies in every relevant goaltending statistic including wins, goals-against average, save percentage and shutouts. Allen has not been as steady in the postseason, posting a 3-4 record in seven playoff games.

5. Max Reinhart – C, Abbotsford Heat

The second-year pro made big strides this season, going from 21 points (7G-14A) and a -26 in his rookie season to tripling his point total in one less game played this season with 63 points (21G-42A) and a +6 rating. He led the Heat in scoring in the regular season and produced at a point-per-game pace in the Heat's opening round loss in the AHL playoffs.

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