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AHL season starts with plenty of young players looking to make an impression

The 20-year-old will get his first taste of pro hockey when the puck drops on the AHL season Wednesday with the Manitoba Moose visiting Schremp's Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.

The junior scoring star had dreamed of starting his career by pulling an Edmonton Oilers jersey over his head. But after failing to crack their lineup in training camp, he plans on using the AHL as a stepping stool to the NHL.

"It's good experience to learn and develop down here," Schremp said Tuesday after his first practice in Scranton, Pa. "I've got to make sure that my game's ready for when I get a chance to play in the NHL."

As the top developmental league in the world, the AHL is teeming with young players like Schremp who are eager to make an impression.

He had 145 points in 57 games with the OHL's London Knights last season but the Oilers felt he could still use some time in the minors to develop.

Alex Radulov, the QMJHL's scoring leader last season with Quebec, is in the same position. He was the last player cut by the Nashville Predators on Tuesday and will start the year with the AHL's Milwaukee Admirals.

Anthony Stewart in Rochester, Kyle Chipchura in Hamilton, Benoit Pouliot in Houston and Nigel Dawes in Hartford are just a few others who know the feeling.

They're all close, but not quite there.

There isn't a big gap between the kind of game they'll play in the AHL and the one they dream of playing in the NHL.

"There are a lot of very skilled hockey players down here," said Schremp. "It's not that big of a difference, maybe a few mistakes per game.

"It's not that far off."

The AHL begins its 71st season on strong footing because it continually produces top-notch players. Eric Staal emerged as one of the NHL's best last year in Carolina and that probably wouldn't have happened had he not spent the lockout season in the AHL with Lowell.

The 27-team league will again have franchises in Winnipeg, Hamilton and Toronto. Those three cities are expected to be joined in 2008 by Windsor, Ont., after a group from that city purchased the defunct Cincinnati franchise earlier this week.

The goal of every team is to not only win the Calder Cup, as the Hershey Bears did last spring, but to watch their players grow and graduate to jobs in the NHL.

Enter Schremp, who hopes to follow friend Patrick O'Sullivan and become one of the most dynamic players in the league.

O'Sullivan was fourth in AHL scoring with 93 points for Houston last year and will start this season in the NHL with the Los Angeles Kings.

"He came down here and developed his game in the A and had a great year and lit it up," said Schremp, who played a season with O'Sullivan in the OHL. "Now he's a complete player, which I'm sure is what the organization wanted for him.

"It's the same for me here."

The Vancouver Canucks will continue counting on their AHL affiliate in Manitoba to produce players. Backup goalie Wade Flaherty, defenceman Kevin Bieksa and winger Josh Green all made the Canucks lineup Tuesday and played part or all of last season with the Moose.

Manitoba will start the season with its fourth new coach in as many years in Scott Arniel. He has plenty of familiarity with the team, though, having played for Manitoba in the late 90's and served as an assistant coach there from 2000 to 2002.

Arniel has high expectations for a team that finished with 100 points last year before being knocked out of the playoffs in the second round.

"We've got good size (and) we've got some experience," he said. "I really like the look of our team right now."

Greg Gilbert takes over the coaching portfolio for the Toronto Marlies and is trusted with overseeing the development of goalie Justin Pogge, the Maple Leafs top prospect who will see most of the action for their minor-league team.

The new coach believes there's one way to get guys to the next level.

"We want to create an atmosphere of winning," said Gilbert.

A young Bulldogs team didn't do very much winning a year ago in Hamilton and coach Don Lever would like to change that.

He's got a good start with flashy forward Mikhail Grabovski, who turned heads during the pre-season. The 22-year-old has offensive skill to spare.

"He's a little like Pavel Bure, we like to say," said teammate Chipchura. "He's fun to watch."

And you can bet the parent Canadiens will be doing just that, anxious to see if he has what it takes to one day play in the NHL.


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