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Five AHL Players Who Deserve an Extended NHL Audition

There are some AHL players with little NHL experience who deserve an audition in The Show. Jacob Stoller chose five to analyze.
Matthew Phillips

We're approaching the point where we find out the AHL standouts one month into the season. The players make a solid case to earn a recall when injuries or trades occur or by virtue of just their play itself. Here are five players that are playing well enough to warrant an audition at the NHL level. If you're looking for Ville Heinola, he was featured last week after his agent said he deserves a chance in the NHL.

(All advanced statistics are from InStat.)

Philip Tomasino, RW, Milwaukee Admirals

Fresh off a rookie campaign where he scored 32 points in 76 games with the Nashville Predators last season, Philip Tomasino – the Preds’ 2019 first-round pick – had an inside track at landing a top-six role this season. But after an underwhelming pre-season, Tomasino – whose stickhandling, deceptive speed and playmaking ability make him one of the organization's most purely skilled players– was leapfrogged on the depth chart and re-assigned to the AHL.

"We think that’s the right thing for now for him," Predators coach John Hynes told the media two days after Tomasino was demoted to the minors on Oct. 10. "Make no mistake – we think he's a top-six talent and a top young player for us, and his future’s bright here."

The 21-year-old right winger recorded eight points and averaged four shots on goal per contest through nine games with the Milwaukee Admirals. Five of his points have come at even strength, where he currently boasts a 57 percent Corsi For percentage and a team-high 64 percent expected goals for percentage. Statistics aside, the most encouraging part of Tomasino’s AHL stint so far is how he’s been leveraging his strengths to be the go-to guy as he works to show Nashville’s brass he doesn’t belong in the minors.

“Philip is definitely someone that will be back with us, we’re just trying to make the right decision on when [that will be],” Hynes said Thursday in an interview with Robby & RexRoe of ESPN 102.5.

With a glaring hole in the Predators’ second-line right-wing slot, Tomasino could very well be back in Smashville sooner rather than later if he keeps playing the way he has been.

Jordan Spence, D, Ontario Reign

The fact Jordan Spence is still in the AHL sums up all you need to know about the Los Angeles Kings’ logjam on defense. During the 2021-22 season, the 21-year-old right-handed defenseman scored 42 points in 46 games with the Ontario Reign and earned a spot on the AHL’s all-rookie team and first all-star team. Spence also suited up for 24 games (eight points) with the Kings and three Stanley Cup playoff games last season.

But coming into training camp, the Kings’ 2019 fourth-round pick didn’t really have much of a chance to crack the lineup with right shots Drew Doughty, Matt Roy and Sean Walker ahead of him, plus Brandt Clarke – the eighth overall selection at the 2021 draft – making the team out of camp.

Depth chart logistics aside, Spence – a sound puck mover who's unafraid to join the rush – has hit another gear this season. Averaging a team-high 25:03 time on ice per game, Spence has been a pillar for the Reign and a big reason they’re sitting third in league standings. 

The Australian-born blueliner quarterbacks Ontario’s power play and became a staple on the penalty kill, all while maintaining a high-end offensive output. His 10 assists tie him for the AHL's league lead among defensemen – and matching up against opponents’ top lines. He’s probably the most dangerous defenceman in the AHL, and I don’t think it’s even close.

If he keeps playing the way he has, Spence could very well force the Kings’ hand in calling him up. Even if there’s not a spot available.

Matthew Phillips, RW, Calgary Wranglers

Even as he's established himself as one of the AHL's most dynamic forwards over the last couple of years, Matthew Phillips has played just one NHL game.

He’s been knocking – or better yet, pounding – on the door for a while now.

Since the start of the 2019-20 season, Phillips has tallied a league-high 66 five-on-five primary points, according to ahltracker.com. He’s been on fire to start his 2022-23 campaign – currently tied for the league lead in goals (eight) and fifth in points (14). 

It’s fair to wonder what more the 5-foot-7 right winger could even do – besides magically grow a couple of inches at 24 years old – for Calgary to give him a chance as the first call-up. 

From the outside looking in, one could be quick to write Phillips off as a dime-a-dozen tweener – a player renowned as “too good” for the AHL but not good enough for the NHL, like Nic Petan for example. The thing is, the undersized crafty forward doesn’t really fit the cookie-cutter descriptions often used for players with similar Hockey Reference pages. 

For example, Phillips doesn’t shy away from the middle of the ice. Phillips generated the second most even-strength inner slot chances per 60 minutes last season (4.28). And when you factor in his aforementioned 5-on-5 production, his output is far from empty calories.

The counter, though, is that Phillips has been placed on waivers for a few years now and no team claimed him. If he was as good as some advertise him to be, you’d think someone would’ve taken a flier on him. Nevertheless, it’s still really odd Calgary hasn’t given him more leash, especially when injuries have arisen.

Kirill Marchenko, RW, Cleveland Monsters

A month ago, Columbus Blue Jackets coach Brad Larsen said cutting Kirill Marchenko was a difficult move to make. And it hasn’t taken long to understand why.

Marchenko hasn’t exhibited any growing pains in his first season of North American pro hockey. Columbus’ 2018 second-round pick has 12 points in his first 10 games with the Cleveland Monsters, tying him for the third most points amongst U-23 skaters. The six-foot-3 right winger has a stealth amount of agility to go along with smooth hands in tight. And he’s got a pretty good shot, too.

“He’s got one of the best releases I’ve ever seen,” Monsters forward Carson Meyer told Brian Hedger of The Columbus Dispatch. “Every time you give him a pass, you just watch him and think, ‘I might get an assist here.’ Every single time he shoots, it feels there’s a chance it’s going in.”

It’ll be interesting to see if Marchenko remains in the minors for much longer, or if he forces Columbus’ hand in recalling him. The bottom line is that he’s got star player written all over him.

Mikey Eyssimont, LW, Manitoba Moose

This is sort of a non-traditional pick, but it’s not without merit.

Eyssimont has 229 career AHL games under his belt, and it wasn’t until last year that he made his NHL debut – playing in his sole career game. 

The 26-year-old winger is, in the most complimentary of ways, a pain in the butt. He’s a speedy, tenacious forechecker who's quick on loose pucks and drives opponents crazy in the thick of battles. Over the years, Eyssimont has evolved into a practical piece at the AHL level, carving out a niche for producing scoring chances — finishing above the 95th percentile in each of the last three seasons — and shots on goal. 

A fifth-round pick of the Los Angeles Kings in the 2016 NHL draft, the Colorado native joined the Winnipeg Jets organization after signing a two-year deal ahead of last season. Eyssimont quietly became a valuable piece at the AHL level last season, posting a career-high 42 points in 58 games to go along with strong underlying numbers.

Michael Eyssimont

After a strong showing at training camp – cut arguably much sooner than he should’ve been – Eyssimont has continued trending upward to start out the year. In addition to being a real driver at even strength — 63.8 CF percent and 74 xGF percent – Eyssimont is scoring at a point-per-game pace through nine games. If Winnipeg gets another forward injury, it’d be shocking if Eyssimont wasn’t the one summoned from the Manitoba Moose down the hallway at Canada Life Centre.

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