The AHL Report is the newest section to be added to the family of Illegal Curve feature articles, appearing each and every Sunday at your favourite hockey blog. Although the report will explore a wide range of topics, a special emphasis will be placed on developing prospects and NHL call-ups.
The American Hockey League is often referred to as a second-tier professional hockey league, an inferior brand of bush-league bandy composed of NHL rejects who couldn’t cut it in the best league in the world. This misguided public view couldn’t be more fallacious as the AHL boasts a cornucopia of top prospects, talented veterans and world class goaltenders.
Upon recently attending a Manitoba Moose/Syracuse Crunch game on Friday at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, I counted at least six 1st round NHL picks from the past three entry drafts, many of whom will play huge roles in the NHL next year (Michael Grabner, Luc Bourdon, Cory Schneider, Gilbert Brule, Alexandre Picard and Derick Brassard). Juraj Simek, a 20-year-old winger from Slovakia, scored a picturesque dipsy-doodle goal that would give Rick Nash a run for his highlight reel money. Duvie Westcott, Zenon Konopka, Jason Jaffray and Mike Brown are all players who have contributed to their parent clubs this season. Aside from following your teams NHL call-ups, their are many AHL regulars who have excelled enough to capivate your attention. Unsung heroes like Brad Moran, Rick Rypien and Colby Genoway are all good players with exceptional hockey talent.
In a 3-1 Manitoba Moose victory which featured three fights, the arena was packed and engaged, and the on-ice action was intense and compelling. Given that many of these prospects will only spend one or two years “on the farm”, it is evident why fans find it difficult to become too attached to players who won’t be playing in the AHL for very long. However, this does not mean that the quality of hockey should be undervalued. Over the past three of four years, players such as Jason Spezza, Zach Parise, Travis Zajac, Brad Boyes, Patrick Sharp, Mike Cammalleri and Joe Pavelski have lit up the lamp in the ‘A’ along the way to the NHL.
The naysayers of the AHL like to point out that franchises relocate all the time, creating an unstable environment with dire consequences. This is simply the reality of a league which doesn’t have the guaranteed revenue streams to save all of their clubs. Teams in towns like Adirondack and Utica are forced to fold when ticket and merchandise sales slide too much in relation to inflating player costs. To the AHL’s credit, it still boasts 30 teams and manages to attract ownership interest whenever one of their franchises is on the brink of collapse. Had enough Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights? Enter Quad City or Rockford. Anyways, it isn’t like the National Hockey League doesn’t have ownership issues itself (Ahem! Nashville? Tampa Bay?).
The fact of the matter is people will always write-off the American Hockey League for vacuous reasons. Viewers of AHL Hockey, including this weekend’s 2008 AHL All-Star Classic festivities, know better.
For Illegal Curve, I’m Ezra Ginsburg.