Fielder had a long (looooonnnnngg) career in the minor leagues. He won the AHL Rookie of the Year Award (52-53) when he had 61 assists in 62 games. He was 22 years old. Twenty years later he was still setting up goals in the minors (the old WHL pro league) and earned the reputation as the finest minor league player in hockey history.
Bill James used to do a “Minor League All-Star” lineup in each of his Abstracts. I looked forward to them because there was always an Expo (“Mike Stenhouse could be the next Ken Phelps!”) mentioned as being a possible future major leaguer. The idea was to identify 9 guys who could play in the bigs if they only had the chance. Math loved these men, but the scouts kept worshipping at the feet of the Juggs gun and never gave them a chance.
In honor of Mike Stenhouse, Dave Hostetler, Wallace Johnson (remember the triple?), Jeff Huson and others, here’s my first (of an annual) Minor League All-Stars.
Goalie: Michael Leighton (Albany). He had a .968SP in the playoffs this spring, leading the AHL. During the regular season he led the league in SP with .931 for an Albany team that didn’t score much (they finished tied for 22nd in a 29-team league in GF) but gave up very little (only 3 teams allowed fewer goals). Leighton got into 3 NHL games (with Carolina, 2.66 .897SP) and is 27 years old. Won the Baz Bastien Award (top goalie) in the AHL for 07-08.
Defense: Sami Lepisto (Hershey). 23-year old Finn saw his first AHL action this past season and went 55gp, 4-41-45 +29. The plus minus total was third in the league and the next Hershey defender was +18. It’s unlikely Lepisto was playing the tough competition (the Bears had a couple of D with NHL experience in Josef Boumedienne and Ben Clymer) but on a team that looks like it was about a dozen goals to the good at EVs +29 is pretty damn good. Plus he can obviously move the puck and picked up some points (1-18-19) on the powerplay and also delivered pretty well at even strength. 6-0, 180, described as a very confident player.
Defense: Andrew Hutchinson (Hartford). 28-year old won the Eddie Shore award as top defender in the AHL and then signed an NHL contract with a team that has no defensemen. Not a bad 12 months. 67gp, 18-46-64 +28 with a very good club. I would rather have had a defensive defenseman here but both of these guys stood out to me.
Center: Jason Krog (Chicago). 33-years old this fall, you can’t tell me he can’t put up points with a legit NHL shot (80gp, 39-73-112 in regular year and 24gp, 10-26-36 in the playoff). He’s played in almost 200 NHL games but size and speed concerns have kept him out of the show (as a regular) since 03-04. Krog signed with the Canucks for next season.
Left Wing: Jeff Tambellini (Bridgeport). 57gp, 38-38-76 -2 in the AHL this season. Good wheels, apparently plays an intelligent game and has been knocking on the door for what seems like ages. His NHL coach (based on reports) was hesitant to play him in some offensive situations last season, so today’s events on Long Island may benefit him.
Right Wing: Teddy Purcell (Manchester). 23-years old this fall, Purcell has a beauty chance to make the big leagues with Los Angeles. Has good size (6-3, 180) and had a nice offensive season in the AHL (67gp, 25-58-83). He had a wonderful year on the PP (13-36-49) in Manchester.