A Dose of the AHLThursday, September 27, 2012
No fan of the game wanted an NHL lockout, but at least it does have a silver lining. As long as the lockout is going on, some incredibly talented young players will be forced to play in a strengthened AHL – and that might be to their benefit. Look at Jason Spezza, who went from 55 points in 2003-04 to 90 points in the season following the last lockout in 2004. Spezza was dominant with the AHL Binghamton Senators in 2004-05 and that helped push his career forward. In this article, we’ll highlight some players who might see similar benefits from this lockout.
Mikael Granlund (MIN – Houston Aeros) – Granlund is moving to North America after being a dominant force in the top Finnish league as a teenager. If the season isn’t lost to a lockout, Granlund will be considered a serious contender for the Calder Trophy. All the same, this might be in his best interests. He’ll be able to get lots of minutes in the minors while adjusting to North American hockey in a pressure-free (at least when compared to the NHL) environment. He would get those benefits even if he was just sent to the minors under normal circumstances, but the difference is that during a lockout he’ll be able to test himself against plenty of NHL-worthy players. As bad as the lockout is, it offers a guy like Granlund the best of both worlds.
Magnus Paajarvi (EDM – Oklahoma City Barons) – The Edmonton Oilers have been very fortunate with their top-tier prospects because they have been able to make a smooth transition to the NHL. Paajarvi is the exception. Since being taken with the 10th overall pick in 2009, he’s recorded 42 points in 121 NHL contests. Last season he took a step backwards and ended up spending half his time in the minors. However, because the Oilers are such a young team, the AHL Barons will be gifted with a ton of top-end talent during the lockout. This will give Paajarvi a chance to play alongside some of the Edmonton Oilers’ best players and develop alongside them and it might make him better prepared when the Oilers give him his next shot after the lockout.
Justin Schultz (EDM – Oklahoma City Barons) – If not for the lockout, Schultz would be getting an unfair amount of attention right now. After leaving the Anaheim Ducks as an unrestricted free agent, Schultz signed an entry-level contract with the Edmonton Oilers in July . This past season, Schultz was stunning with the University of Wisconsin, and after his dramatic summer, there’s even more hype surrounding him. The lockout will give Schultz the ability to develop in a league that has essentially become the NHL light without any undue pressure or media scrutiny. That should be incredibly helpful and enhance the chances of him actually living up to expectations once we have a new CBA.
Cody Hodgson (BUF – Rochester Americans) – Hodgson was nearly kept off this list for two reasons. One is that he took a big step forward in 2011-12 with 19 goals and 41 points in 83 games with Vancouver and Buffalo. The other is, he was likely to get top-six minutes for the vast majority of a season now that he’s with the Sabres. Still, Hodgson hasn’t reached his peak yet and in the AHL, he’ll get to continue his development in a setting where he’s one of the elite players – but not by a lot. He won’t get the same benefit out of this as the first three players on this list, but at the same time, he might be the guy who gets one of the biggest jumps in production between 2011-12 and 2013-14 if – and we certainly hope this isn’t the case – the 2012-13 season is wiped out. In that respect, Hodgson might be the closest to the example of Jason Spezza, even if it’s largely just because Hodgson was on the cusp of a breakout anyways.
Jeff Skinner (CAR – Charlotte Checkers) – Like Hodgson, I nearly kept Skinner off this list. This is about the players who stand to benefit the most from the lockout, and Skinner’s 63-point rookie season will probably end up being near his career-high when the dust settles on his playing days. Still, he did have a rough sophomore campaign, in no small part due to a concussion, and if that shook his confidence even slightly, then a trip to the AHL should do him wonders. During the lockout, he’ll be playing with the best players the AHL has to offer and a 100-plus point campaign is certainly possible if the NHL season is lost. That should give him a boost to his morale and make it even more likely he’ll bounce back when the NHL season finally starts.
Nino Niederreiter (NYI – Bridgeport Sound Tigers) – Niederreiter has tremendous offensive potential, but you’d never know it after he recorded just one point in 55 games with the New York Islanders last season. Part of the problem is that he was getting just 10:07 minutes per game with the Islanders. A limited amount of playing time isn’t always devastating to a player’s development, but during the lockout, he’ll get a chance to get top-six minutes while still playing against guys like Jeff Skinner and Cody Hodgson. The work stoppage could do wonders for his development and simultaneously allow him to build some confidence. Niederreiter could turn some heads once we finally get a new CBA.
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