You don’t have to be a blue-chip NHL draft prospect to have success at the professional level.
A draft-day photo can bode well for future pro success, but playing in Europe and being far removed from the shine of the North American spotlight, or taking a detour to the ECHL doesn’t have to impede pro success, either.
Later this month, the American League All-Star Classic will see a number of lesser-heralded names share the spotlight with an abundance of NHL first round picks and other top prospects dotting the AHL’s signature event.
The Hershey Bears will host the event and Bears fans will be familiar with a pair of all-stars from division rivals Charlotte and Norfolk. The Checkers and Admirals are two Calder Cup contenders playing out of a competitive division, but their all-stars have decidedly low-key pedigrees.
Checkers defenseman Bryan Rodney was undrafted coming out of an Ontario League career that saw him call three different cities home. Even after a 2005 Memorial Cup championship with London, Rodney spent most of his first two pro seasons in the ECHL before latching on with the Carolina organization when the Hurricanes’ former Albany affiliate was faced with a depleted roster. Rodney managed to stick in the AHL, made his NHL debut a year later and now will make his second AHL all-star appearance.
Norfolk’s Johan Harju made his first trek across the Atlantic Ocean this season after spending the start of his pro career in Sweden and Russia. Back-to-back 20-goal seasons in Sweden followed by a year in the Kontinental League earned the 24-year-old a contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Harju has responded well to the North American game, potting 15 goals in 31 games to lead the AHL’s highest-scoring offense.
Out west, Nashville has a wealth of goaltending talent learning the pro game in Milwaukee and with the club’s ECHL affiliate in Cincinnati. But it is Mark Dekanich, an unheralded 2006 fifth round selection, who has emerged this season as one of the AHL’s best goaltenders. Dekanich has out-battled Chet Pickard and Jeremy Smith, both highly regarded goaltenders who were first and second round picks. Dekanich, a 24-year-old NCAA product out of Colgate, has fashioned a 16-6-3 record to go with a sparkling 1.79 goal-against average in his third pro season.
Travis Morin of the Texas Stars was a 2004 pick taken in the ninth round by Washington – a round that no longer exists in the NHL draft. Even a solid NCAA career at Minnesota State-Mankato followed by seasons of 34 and 26 goals in the ECHL did not carry Morin into the Capitals’ plans. Stalled by a deep talent pool in Washington, Morin was 25 years old before he managed to stick in the AHL with the Stars. Last season, he put together a 21-goal campaign for a Texas club that reached the Calder Cup final and he hasn’t slowed this season, rolling out 13 more goals through 42 games.
Elsewhere in Texas, Houston blueliner Maxim Noreau has quietly become one of the AHL’s most dangerous offensive defensemen. Last season, Noreau, who was undrafted out of the Quebec League, tied Hamilton’s P.K. Subban for the AHL lead among defensemen with 18 goals, despite the Aeros missing the playoffs. This season, the former Victoriaville defender will return to the AHL All-Star Classic for the second time as part of a dark horse Houston club that could cause some second-half disturbances in the Western Conference.
THIS & THAT
• Bryan Helmer, who captained Hershey to back-to-back Calder Cup championships, spent much of the first half of the season out of a job. But the tough market eventually softened enough to allow the 38-year-old defenseman an opportunity with the Oklahoma City Barons. Helmer wasted little time in becoming the AHL’s all-time leading scorer among defensemen when he compiled a three-point night Thursday, Jan. 13 against Peoria and passed John Slaney’s 519 career AHL points. The achievement helped Helmer earn AHL weekly honors as well.
• Charlotte’s Nick Dodge saw his consecutive games streak end at 201 last week. Checkers teammate Chris Terry and Jamie Johnson of Grand Rapids now own the longest current games played streak at 123.
• A franchise-record 12-game scoring streak helped send Manitoba’s Sergei Shirokov to Vancouver. The streak, which is still running, saw Shirokov post 10 goals and 15 points.
• Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s Brad Thiessen has been stout in net all season for the Penguins, earning himself a trip to the 2011 AHL All-Star Classic later this month. But a three-game weekend on the road ended on a rocky note for Thiessen after Connecticut chased him with four goals on 10 shots to take a 6-3 decision over the Penguins.
From THN.com American League correspondent Patrick Williams, Around The AHL keeps tabs on the world’s second best circuit, details all the news and notes and profiles prospects destined for the next level. It appears every Thursday only on TheHockeyNews.com.