Last season, the American Hockey League boasted arguably its deepest pool of talent ever, due to the NHL lockout. A tremendous collection of first-year players made names for themselves in the league, and are now shining in the NHL.
Former Hershey Bears standout Marek Svatos has been turning heads all year. Before a recent shoulder injury ended his season, he was leading the Avalanche in goals. Sabres first-round pick Thomas Vanek was selected to the AHL All-Rookie Team last season, and is now a big part of the surprise resurgence of a Buffalo that has taken the NHL’s Eastern Conference by storm.
Chicago Blackhawks forward Rene Bourque, last year’s recipient of the Outstanding Rookie Award, has carried the momentum of a terrific freshman AHL campaign into the NHL, and looks to be a big part of a promising future in Chicago.
Those are just a few of the names that the AHL watched graduate to the NHL this season. No question they are a tough act to follow. But a fresh new crop of rookies has taken the torch and ran with it this season, and has given both AHL fans and their future NHL franchises something to be excited about.
The following is a list of prospects in the running to win the Dudley “Red” Garrett Memorial Trophy as the AHL Rookie of the Year.
Patrick O’Sullivan, C, Houston Aeros
After leaving behind a tremendously successful junior career for the OHL’s Mississauga Ice Dogs, where he became the franchise’s all-time leader in goals, assists, and points, Aeros rookie Patrick O’Sullivan is continuing his high scoring ways in Houston. The 21-year-old first year forward has scored 75 points, including 41 goals, in just 62 games so far this season, good for sixth in the AHL and first amongst rookies. The 5’11, 190-pound forward has tallied 15 power play goals so far this season, and was selected to the 2006 AHL All-Star Classic. However, he’s posted just a +8 rating on an offensively explosive Aeros team.
Barry Brust, G, Manchester Monarchs
Signed as a free agent by Los Angeles, Brust dominated the ECHL last season, earning himself a look at the AHL level. With the end of the work stoppage, a spot on the Manchester roster opened for Brust and he has thrived. His 2.55 goals-against average over 28 games is good enough for 11th in the league and his .920 save percentage places him in the top five for the league, and first amongst rookies. As Brust gains more experience, look for him to take over the starting duties from Hauser in the next year or so.
Ryan Shannon, C, Portland Pirates
Perhaps no rookie has meant more to his team this season than Portland Pirate Ryan Shannon. With an emphasis on playmaking, the 23-year-old centerman has scored a team-high 68 points this season on 21 goals and 47 assists, helping the Pirates to first place in the Atlantic Division standings. His point total, which includes six power play goals, places him 11th in overall league scoring and second amongst rookies, but he’s also been strong defensively, as he boasts a +14 rating. Though small in stature at 5’9, 180 pounds, Shannon is durable, hard-working, and disciplined.
Roman Voloshenko, LW, Houston Aeros
The Minnesota Wild prospect has 47 points this season this season in just 53 games, good for fifth on the Aeros. His 29 goals are second amongst rookies behind teammate O’Sullivan. The offensive upside that the Brest, Belarus native possesses has been evident this season, particularly on the power play, where 17 of his 29 goals have been scored. While his terrific shot and solid hockey sense have been on display all season in Houston, Voloshenko continues to work on his defensive play, as he’s registered just a +3 rating up to this point.
Nigel Dawes, LW, Hartford Wolf Pack
Winnipeg, Manitoba native Nigel Dawes is fourth on his team in scoring with 28 goals and 23 assists for 51 points, placing him seventh amongst league rookies. Dawes’ impact has been felt most on special teams. Eleven of his goals have come on the man advantage, and he’s tallied one shorthanded score as well. A key on both the power play and penalty-killing units, the diminutive forward – who stands at 5’8, and weighs in at 175 pounds – takes care of the puck on the defensive end as well, as he’s posted a stellar +15 rating.
Daniel Girardi, D, Hartford Wolf Pack
The 20-year-old defenseman and former OHL standout has played a vital role in Hartford’s second place seeding in the Atlantic Division. The Welland, Ontario native has been productive from the blue line this season, scoring seven goals and 27 assists for 34 points on 50 games, making him the top scoring rookie defenseman. But, as productive as he’s been on the offensive end, he’s been just as reliable defensively, as evidenced by his terrific +20 rating.
Kyle Quincey, D, Grand Rapids Griffins
A former OHL All-Star, Quincey has had a very solid season thus far for the North Division-leading Grand Rapids Griffins. The 20-year-old blueliner, the youngest player on the roster, has scored 26 points (5 goals, 21 assists) so far in 56 games this season. The Kitchener, Ontario native has taken advantage of his offensive opportunities, as he’s spent significant time quarterbacking the power play this season, but the 6’2, 215-pound rearguard is a strong, stay-at-home defenseman, posting a +12 rating. Possessing good skating ability, and a strong work ethic, the Detroit Red Wings prospect earned a one-game call-up to the big club earlier this season.
Eric Fehr, RW, Hershey Bears
The 20-year-old Washington Capitals prospect is leading the Hershey Bears offensively this season with 52 points (24 goals, 28 assists) in 63 games, placing him sixth in scoring amongst rookies. While his scoring ability has earned him a few call-ups to the Caps this season, he is sporting a -6 rating with the Bears — a competitive AHL team — an indication that his defensive game needs work.
Al Montoya, G, Hartford Wolf Pack
Al Montoya has helped the Hartford Wolf Pack to a 37-19-2-6 record, good for second place in the Atlantic Division. The 6’1, 200-pound netminder has accounted for 19 of those wins thus far, two of them coming via shutout. His .910 save percentage puts him in fourth place amongst rookies. The former University of Michigan netminder is making a strong case for himself to become the first Cuban-American ever to play in the NHL.
Noah Welch, D, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins
The Penguins got off to the hottest start in North American hockey earlier this season, boasting a terrific collection of young talent, including first-year defenseman Noah Welch. A native of Brighton, Massachusetts, the Harvard graduate has been a steady force on the blue line for Wilkes-Barre all season. Selected to the AHL Rbk Hockey PlanetUSA All-Star squad, the 6’3, 212-pound backliner has scored 24 points (8 goals, 16 assists) in 65 games, while registering a +11 rating. Welch has seen plenty of power play time this season, scoring five times on the man advantage, and has also chipped in a shorthanded goal.
Pekka Rinne, G, Milwaukee Admirals
The Nashville Predators prospect has appeared in 42 games this season for the Admirals and has compiled a record of 25-15-2. His 25 wins are tops among AHL rookie goaltenders. The Kempele, Finland native stands at 6’3, and uses his side effectively to cover the net. His 2.87 goals against average so far this season places him sixth among first-year netminders, while his .902 save percentage is good for seventh. The 23-year-old has also posted one shutout this season, helping the Admirals to second place in the Western Conference’s West Division.
Now in the NHL
Jeff Tambellini, LW, New York Islanders
Acquired in a recent trade involving NHLer Mark Parrish, former Los Angeles Kings prospect and current New York Islanders prospect Jeff Tambellini has picked up in the professional ranks where he left off in the college ones – piling up points. The 21-year-old has earned a spot on the Islanders roster, and will likely play out the year there. A standout forward for the University of Michigan during the past three seasons, Tambellini ranked second on the Monarchs with an even 56 points in 56 games before he was dealt on the eve of the trade deadline. While the 5’11, 186-pound left wing has always been a more than capable scorer, he used his time in Michigan to develop his defensive game, resulting in a + 17 rating in his rookie campaign with Manchester, tied for the team lead before the deal.
Steve Bernier, RW, Cleveland Barons
Bernier was putting up terrific numbers in his first professional campaign this season with the Cleveland Barons. The 20-year-old scored 43 points (20 goals, 23 assists) in 49 games this season before getting called up to the Sharks late last month. The 6’2, 233-pound right wing has surprisingly soft hands and a nose for the net. He is still working on his defensive game however, as he had posted a –2 rating on a last place team before his call-up, but the Sharks 16th overall draft pick in 2003 looks to have a bright future with the organization.
Shea Weber, D, Milwaukee Admirals
A solid all-around defenseman, Weber has earned numerous call-ups to the Nashville Predators, the latest being on February 22, and it looks like he’ll stick there for the year. The 20-year-old blueliner has solid offensive ability, to go along with a strong defensive game. He put up 27 points (12 goals, 15 assists) in 46 games with Milwaukee, doing most of his damage on special teams, tallying nine of his 12 goals on the man advantage.
Dave Rainer contributed to this article. Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.