An article linked to this afternoon in the comments section has me thinking again about the role of an AHL team in today’s NHL. The article is here, and the conclusion is the following:
- Clarence Paller, for PHPA.com: The AHL is a critical factor for an NHL team’s success. More young players are stepping into key roles with NHL teams and are being heavily relied on. This is made possible by the development model of the AHL. It is no surprise that the Canucks are full of Utica Comets players from last season’s Calder Cup final run team and this season the Maple Leafs heavily relying on players from the Toronto Marlies, who are also poised to make a deep playoff run. Ultimately, the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Vancouver Canucks are re-structuring around young talents and this season offers us a glimpse of an exciting future to come. Source
Is this true? Are the Leafs and Canucks re-structuring around young talents who have spent time in the AHL? At first blush, I think the answer is probably not, unless the Maple Leafs and Canucks plan on having Zach Hyman, Connor Brown, Brendan Gaunce, Jordan Subban and Andrey Pedan as stepping into key roles. It depends on your definition of key roles, but for me the idea of finding useful support players in the AHL—while key players are established veterans, high draft picks or free-agent additions—seems to be the modern template. Even with the cap being an issue, NHL teams usually fast track their impact prospects to the NHL. Let’s have a quick look at my Farm Workers list from the offseason to see what we can see.
- Men who are over 30 and come out of the minors to establish (0r re-establish) themselves are pretty much a thing of the past. No one 30 or older has been called up to the NHL by the Edmonton Oilers this season.
- Pretty much everyone who is in the AHL past (say) 21 has some issues and is going to do some meandering (this is universal from 1965 through 2016). It remains so, as is shown by the meandering journey of Anton Slepyshev, Jujhar Khaira and the less famous players in this age group. Darnell Nurse is gone to the NHL, while Slepyshev is pushing from Bakersfield and Bogdan Yakimov is chasing from the KHL.
- We shouldn’t expect Rob Schremp to play more career games than Sam Gagner or Andrew Cogliano. The idea here is that if a young player sidesteps the AHL, a young player—even a high pick, highly touted—will never catch them. The current count has Cogliano at 744, Gagner at 651 and Schremp at 114. This isn’t meant to pick on Schremp, only to reflect that even first-round selections who spend time in the AHL do not have the same bell curve as the guys who skip the minors.
- No minor league regular is likely to do anything incredible like play in 1,000 NHL games. Martin Marincin is at 166 NHL and 127 AHL games, but he would have to have a helluva run to make it to 1,000 NHL games. Oscar Klefbom might play 1,000 NHL games (he is at 147 now) but spent only 57 games in the AHL. The bell curve makes its decision early, seems to me.
- If you haven’t established yourself as a prospect of interest by 22 you are in trouble. Several Leafs cleared the hurdle, Connor Brown made it, Connor Carrick, maybe Fred Gauthier will too. I don’t know Brendan Gaunce’s progression well, but he doesn’t appear to be a top level prospect at this time. Among Oilers, Slepyshev, Khaira and Griffin Reinhart are there, maybe Nick Ellis joins the band at some point too. Lots of kids are 22 in all three organizations and are not strong NHL prospects at this time.
- Exceptions are college men. This is an area I think Mr. Paller may have mined a little more, this does seem to be a portion of the cupboard NHL general managers are using now. Troy Stecher in Vancouver, Matt Benning in Edmonton are two examples—although neither man was really an AHL player for any length of time.
- A large group of players on the current team could be described in the “tweener” division. This is an interesting spot, and on area Mr. Paller may have a point. Oilers fans have seen Brandon Davidson and Tyler Pitlick emerge from the tweener division and find some traction on the NHL roster over the last two seasons. Is this a reflection of his point? Do we consider Davidson and Pitlick potential key players? Hmm. Maybe a window there.
- If we make a list of the minor league RFA’s each summer, we can probably as a group pick the cuts and be fairly close. This remains true, although not especially important to our conversation. You could say that Davidson and Pitlick were signed beyond their entry-level deals due to the importance of the tweener division in the new cap world. Is that a workable theory?
- Daniel Cleary, Fernando Pisani and Jason Chimera became productive players in the toughest league on the planet. THEY are the stars in this study. Always. Brandon Davidson, Tyler Pitlick, Sven Baertschi, Connor Brown these are (honestly) the success stories of the AHL. How many of these play key roles? That is what Mr. Paller is suggesting, I don’t know my answer yet.
- For Rob Schremp fans, there’s exactly ONE pure offensive player who made it: Mike Walton. I am still waiting.
- The future NHLERS are……. I chose four men (Slepy, Reinhart, Oesterle, Khaira) in the last Farm Workers edition, and have chosen Tyler Pitlick in the past. It is a crapshoot, bunch of men in the window of opportunity, with luck and need and goodness knows all in there pitching for a chance.
I think Mr. Paller does bring up some good points, and it is certainly true NHL teams need AHL players in complementary roles. I am likely parsing here, but for me the phrase more young players are stepping into key roles with NHL teams and are being heavily relied on from his article is something I cannot agree with at this time.
I think NHL teams look for handy replacements to secondary problems from their AHL group, and hope the player grows into a larger role. If said player is found wanting, the replacement player may come from a waiver claim or possibly a minor deal. Words like key and phrases like heavily relied on seem—to me, anyway—imply these AHL hopefuls are heading for major roles on their respective NHL teams. I think that may be aiming higher than reasonable. Thoughts?