The Texas Stars and Toronto Marlies have earned berths into the 2018 Calder Cup final. Here’s who to keep an eye on as Dallas and Toronto’s farm clubs battle for the AHL crown.
With the Texas Stars’ Game 6 overtime victory over the Rockford IceHogs Monday night, the stage is now set for the Calder Cup final, as the Western Conference-winning Stars will now play host to the Eastern Conference champion Toronto Marlies in a series that gets underway Saturday in Texas.
So, as the Dallas Stars and Toronto Maple Leafs’ farm teams prepare for the AHL final, here are five players worth keeping a close eye on as they could be making their mark in the NHL in the near future:
Carl Grundstrom, Toronto Marlies
After joining up with the Marlies for their brief playoff run in 2017, Grundstrom headed back to Sweden where he had himself a decent year with Frolunda, potting 17 goals and 24 points in 35 games in Sweden’s top flight. And after another short playoff run in Frolunda, Grundstrom, 20, found himself back on a plane heading to Toronto, this time for what he hopes is the long haul in Toronto.
He’s certainly making his case as a contributor for the Marlies, and maybe one day the Maple Leafs, during this run, too. In his two games prior to the post-season, Grundstrom fired home a goal and three points, but that wasn’t just a stroke of early luck. He’s continued to stuff the scoresheet and has six goals and 10 points through 13 games with the Marlies. Few players have been as good at generating chances as Grundstrom, either. He has 31 shots in his 13 outings, good for third among Toronto skaters. And none of this is to mention his seemingly timely knack for scoring. He has three game winners and a pair of insurance tallies.
Roope Hintz, Texas Stars
Dallas’ prospect pool isn’t nearly as deep as Toronto’s, but there are some sneaky good youngsters in the Stars’ system. Hintz is one of those players who could earn his way onto the big club in the coming seasons and blossom under the right coach. He has already shown that he can translate his scoring touch to the North American game, too. Following a 19-goal, 30-point season in the Finnish League in 2016-17, Hintz came over to Texas and fired home 20 goals and 35 points in 70 games in the AHL.
If that wasn’t enough, Hintz has had himself quite the post-season as a freshman in the minors. In 20 games, the 21-year-old has fired home four goals and 11 points. That makes him the highest scoring rookie skater still remaining in the Calder Cup playoffs, and he ensured he would take that mantle with a snipe from the high slot in Game 6 of the Western Conference final Monday night. The tally, which eliminated the IceHogs from the post-season, came in overtime and sent the Stars to the final.
Travis Dermott, Toronto Marlies
Sure, the Maple Leafs don’t have the deepest defense corps in the NHL, but it says something about Dermott’s game, and his development, that his January call up led to him sticking with the big club for the remainder of the regular season and through Toronto’s eventual seven-game playoff ouster at the hands of the Boston Bruins. Dermott didn’t log big minutes — he averaged 16 minutes per game — but he fired home a goal and 13 points in 37 games and added another goal in the playoffs, though his ice time during the first-round series was diminished.
The Marlies sure were glad to get Dermott back, though, and he’s been just as excellent since his return as he was before he left. During the campaign, he had two goals and 18 points in 28 games while bringing a steadying presence to the blueline, and he has contributed another goal and three points in nine games to the Marlies in the playoffs. Keep your eye on Dermott, as this could be the last we see of him in the AHL.
Jason Dickinson, Texas Stars
After a standout rookie year in the AHL in 2015-16, the past two campaigns have brought with them some ups and downs — both literal, as he has moved between the NHL and AHL, and figurative — as his scoring rates have dipped since that freshman season. Dickinson, however, remains one of the top prospects in the Stars’ system and Dallas fans should keep a watchful eye on him because it appears he could be ready to make the full-time leap to the NHL as early as next season.
Offensively, even if his numbers of late might not back it up, Dickinson has always had the touch. During his OHL career, he scored 84 goals and 231 points in 253 games, and the 22-year-old has shown some deft hands as set-up man this post-season. He has two goals and eight points in 15 games. Dickinson is becoming more responsible player, too, who can take on any role a coach throws at him. There’s a ton of value in that and he could play a major part in whatever success the Stars may have in the Calder Cup final.
Andreas Johnsson, Toronto Marlies
As an AHL rookie in 2016-17, Johnsson turned heads with a 20-goal, 47-point performance, following it up with six goals in 11 playoff games. So, when he took the AHL by storm with 26 goals and 54 points in 54 games this past campaign, it was no surprise he was the next-man-up when the Maple Leafs were looking to fill out the bottom of their roster. Did Johnsson get a boatload of ice time? Not at all, as he averaged less than a dozen minutes per game in the nine outings he saw during the regular season. But his combination of speed and skill made him tricky to handle and he was able to score two goals and three points. That continued in the post-season, too, as he drew into six games against the Bruins and registered a goal and an assist.
The Maple Leafs’ playoff exit, however, allowed Johnsson to head back to the Marlies, and he’s been an absolute force since arriving. He has six goals, three of which have come on the power play and two of which are game-winning goals. He also has 15 points, picking up three assists on a Marlies power play that is running along at 23.4 percent. He’s the highest scoring skater still around in the playoffs, and if he continues to score at his 1.67 points per game pace and Toronto wins the Calder Cup, it wouldn’t be surprising if he were named MVP.
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