While I am now in my 15th year as president of the American League, I was previously a coach in the Western League and a GM in the AHL, so I can’t help but continue to see games from the perspective of a team executive.
Combining my very rusty scouting skills with the interest The Hockey News has in presenting different perspectives, here is a look at a few of the next generation of great young AHL players destined for the NHL.
Manitoba Moose goaltender Cory Schneider is one of the best I have seen in our league in recent years, and there have been a lot of good ones. A first round choice of the Vancouver Canucks, Schneider is among the AHL leaders in goals-against average and save percentage. He reminds me of Carey Price in that he has great size and phenomenal positioning.
Center Nathan Gerbe is short in stature, but not on talent and he may not be here very long. The Buffalo Sabres prospect is the league’s leading rookie scorer and was MVP of last year’s NCAA Frozen Four for Boston College. Gerbe is an exciting talent, combining great speed with terrific stick skills and vision. Portland Pirates fans are having a blast watching this guy in his first pro season.
Left winger Tim Kennedy, Gerbe’s rookie teammate in Portland, has had a great start as well. Hard working, physical and offensively gifted, Kennedy looks to have a great future.
Kennedy’s former linemate at Michigan State, Justin Abdelkader, is off to a great start in Grand Rapids. The Griffins left winger got a taste of the NHL with Detroit last season and was one of the Red Wings’ “black aces” on their way to winning the Stanley Cup.
After leading the Chicago Wolves to the Calder Cup in his rookie season, goalie Ondrej Pavelec has continued to shine in the AHL this season and has established his credentials as more than a prospect with several stellar appearances for the Atlanta Thrashers. His cross-state rival, Rockford goalkeeper Antti Niemi, is putting up tremendous numbers as well, staking a claim as a future Chicago Blackhawks goalkeeper.
While he has not yet put up the rookie scoring points to match Gerbe or Kennedy, center Nick Spaling is a terrific prospect. A graduate of the Kitchener Rangers and a third round pick of the Nashville Predators, Spaling is a terrific skater with great hands. He competes every shift and has been one of the most impressive young forwards in the AHL with the Milwaukee Admirals.
The list of great rookie forwards is a long one. The Hershey Bears have two of them in Oskar Osala and Mathieu Perreault. A standout player in his native Finland last year, Osala is close to the league lead in goals, while Perreault, the Quebec League’s scoring champion last season, is near the top in assists. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton forward Janne Pesonen and Grand Rapids forward Ville Leino, two of the top scorers in the Finnish Elite League last season, are also putting up big numbers in the AHL so far.
Rounding out the “terrific players I have seen” list is left winger Nikita Filatov, the 18-year-old Columbus prospect who has been a standout in Syracuse so far. The sixth overall pick in the 2008 draft, Filatov has not looked out of place in his first professional season and has already netted his first NHL goal with the Blue Jackets.
After more than two decades in the AHL, I’m still tremendously impressed with the outstanding talent pool in this league. As you can see, there’s another batch of youngsters ready to continue our long-standing tradition of developing the NHL’s stars of the future.
Dave Andrews is the American League’s CEO and president, roles he has held since 1994. A goalie during his playing days, his administrative hockey career has included stops as the Edmonton Oilers’ director of AHL operations, senior consultant with SportCanada, and head coach and director of hockey operations for the Western League’s Victoria Cougars. You can read his other THN.com Blogs HERE.