The NHL and NHLPA are still at loggerheads as they try to resolve their labor dispute hopefully in time for play to resume by the beginning of December. It is looking gloomy at this time but possibly we can take solace that it usually looks the worst just before a breakthrough.
The good news is that the young stars and future stars are getting in plenty of action in the AHL. It happened before, during the 2004-05 season when the NHL last underwent labor strife as players such as Jason Spezza, Michael Cammalleri, Eric Staal and Thomas Vanek shone during the regular season and Jeff Carter and Mike Richards were stars during the playoffs. It was a rough league as eight players had over 300 penalty minutes including a whopping 551 by Brian McGrattan.
Look for the same to happen this season if the NHL is dark the whole year.
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Kris Newbury – (C) – The 30-year-old veteran has been a very good player in the NHL but has had limited NHL duty as he has played only 66 games in the big leagues in his career, scoring four times and assisting on four others, while accumulating 123 penalty minutes. Newbury is off to a great start with 14 points in 12 games, tying him for third in the AHL scoring race. He re-signed with the Rangers in the off-season and cleared waivers enabling him to play with the Connecticut Whale. He is likely a depth player at best in the NHL but his scoring prowess this season after a 64 point effort in 2011-12, makes him noteworthy at this time.
Chris Conner –(RW)- Conner signed a two-way deal with the Phoenix Coyotes in early July and has shown veteran leadership for the Portland Pirates with five goals and 13 points in 10 games thus far. He has bounced around the NHL, playing for Dallas, Pittsburgh and Detroit and he hopes that he has finally found a home in the desert. He will be a fringe NHLer as he has already played 147 games in the league with 17 goals and 43 points. He is not worth selecting in fantasy pools.
Jordan Eberle – (RW) – It was thought that Eberle would be able to tear up the AHL this season as he finished with 76 points to tie for 15th overall in the NHL last season. Eberle got off to a slow start and is now starting to heat up as he has six goals and 12 points in 12 games to tie for 14th in the AHL. He will likely move to the top of the scoring race in short order as the Oilers winger is a stud player. Grab him fairly early in fantasy pools, especially keeper leagues as the 22-year-old has plenty of great seasons ahead of him as a top line winger alongside Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall.
Chad Billins –(D)- Chad Billins has been the surprise of the AHL this season as the undrafted defenseman on the Grand Rapids Griffins has 12 assists in 13 games thus far to lead the league in helpers, one ahead of Justin Faulk and Ondrej Palat. Billins played four seasons with Ferris State, scoring seven times with 22 assists as a senior before signing on with the Red Wings in the off-season. He has struggled in the plus/minus category as he is minus-six thus far. The Red Wings do not like to rush their players and since Billins was undrafted, do not look for him in the NHL, except as an injury-replacement, for at least a couple of seasons.
Keith Aucoin – (RW) – Aucoin signed in the off-season with the Toronto Maple Leafs and since he inked a two-way deal, the 34-year-old was sent to the minors before the lockout. He hopes to stick with the Maple Leafs once the lockout ends and his goal and 10 assists in 11 games to lead the Marlies won’t hurt his cause. Aucoin is a power play specialist as well, an area that the Maple Leafs could use some depth especially on the second unit. Aucoin has played in 102 NHL games since making his debut with Carolina after the first lockout and has been a tweener in that he is too good for the AHL but not quite good enough to be a top-six forward in the NHL. He is worth a look in deep fantasy leagues but is more likely to be grabbed off the waiver wire if he has a hot streak.