AHL Forward Prospects: How Does The Current Crop Measure Up?

Brule and Potulny

With few exceptions (Oilers examples include Ales Hemsky, Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano) most future NHL forwards need to refine their game in the minors before they can make the jump to the world’s best league. Their performance in the AHL gives us an idea of their potential as NHL’ers.

The AHL is often not given the credit it deserves as a tough league; after the NHL it’s probably the best in the world, with the KHL and SEL also in the same range (with other top European leagues falling in a little lower on the depth chart). It’s a very difficult league for a junior player to come in and dominate at a young age.

Comparing prospects year over year is difficult; there’s much greater fluctuation in team quality and makeup from one year to the next than there is in the NHL, but what follows is an attempt at it. Players are ranked by percentage of team offense, since players on a team like Wilkes/Barre-Scranton in 2006-07 had a much better chance of putting up points than players in Springfield last season.

Percentage of team offense is calculated with the following formula:

Player’s Point Total / Team’s Total Goals For * Games Player Appeared in / 80 = Percentage of Offense

Notes:

  • Players acquired midseason are judged against both of their teams, which accounts for someone like Ryan Stone being ranked lower than expected after a fine half-season in Springfield.
  • Players with less than 20 games played were excluded from consideration.
  • Players with absolutely no chance of ever playing an offensive role in the NHL (Tim Sestito as one example) were also excluded, although I tried to be relatively generous with the cut-off point.
  • Prior to 2008-09, players who jumped to the NHL in the following season are highlighted in bold.
  • During the lockout season (2004-05), the AHL was a much more difficult league since many players who otherwise would have been in the NHL played in the AHL. This pushed other prospects further down the lineup and made the competition that much stronger, so numbers from that year should be viewed in context.

2008-09 Springfield (188 goals scored)

Ryan Potulny (24): 70GP – 38G – 24A – 62PTS (37.7%)
Gilbert Brule (21): 39GP – 13G – 11A – 24PTS (26.2%)
Rob Schremp (22): 69GP – 7G – 35A – 42PTS (25.9%)
Ryan Stone (23): 77GP – 17G – 39A – 56PTS (25.2%)
Slava Trukhno (21): 56GP – 7G – 19A – 26PTS (19.8%)
Bryan Lerg (22): 42GP – 9G – 8A – 17PTS (17.2%)
Colin McDonald (24): 77GP – 10G – 12A – 22PTS (12.2%)
Tyler Spurgeon (22): 73GP – 6G – 14A – 20PTS (11.7%)

2007-08 Springfield (214 goals scored)

Rob Schremp (21): 78GP – 23G – 53A – 76PTS (36.4%)
Patrick Thoresen (24): 29GP – 13G – 13A – 26PTS (33.5%)
Marc Pouliot (22): 55GP – 21G – 26A – 47PTS (31.9%)
Liam Reddox (21): 65GP – 16G – 28A – 44PTS (25.3%)
J-F Jacques (22): 38GP – 11G – 14A – 25PTS (24.6%)
Slava Trukhno (20): 64GP – 14G – 21A – 35PTS (20.4%)
Stephane Goulet (21): 36GP – 9G – 5A – 14PTS (14.5%)
Colin McDonald (23): 73GP – 12G – 11A – 23PTS (11.8%)

2006-07 Wilkes-Barre (276 goals scored)

Robert Nilsson (21): 69GP – 18G – 48A – 66PTS (31.6%)
Marc Pouliot (21): 33GP – 14G – 17A – 31PTS (27.2%)
J-F Jacques (21): 29GP – 10G – 17A – 27PTS (27.0%)
Kyle Brodziak (22): 62GP – 24G – 32A – 56PTS (26.2%)
Rob Schremp (20): 69GP – 17G – 36A – 53PTS (22.3%)
Alexei Mikhnov (24): 27GP – 6G – 12A – 18PTS (19.3%)
Tyler Spurgeon (20): 34GP – 5G – 10A – 15PTS (12.8%)
Zack Stortini (21): 47GP – 9G – 6A – 15PTS (10.5%) *played in Hamilton

2005-06 Hamilton (225 goals scored)

Brad Winchester (24): 40GP – 26G – 14A – 40PTS (35.6%)
Marc Pouliot (20): 65GP – 15G – 30A – 45PTS (24.6%)
J-F Jacques (20): 65GP – 24G – 20A – 44PTS (24.1%)
Yan Stastny (23): 51GP – 14G – 17A – 31PTS (20.4%) *played in Iowa
Kyle Brodziak (21): 55GP – 12G – 19A – 31PTS (18.9%) *played in Iowa

2004-05 Edmonton (201 goals scored)

Raffi Torres (22): 67GP – 21G – 25A – 46PTS (27.3%)
Tony Salmelainen (23): 76GP – 22G – 24A – 46PTS (24.1%)
Jarret Stoll (22): 66GP – 21G – 17A – 38PTS (22.9%)
Kyle Brodziak (20): 56GP – 6G – 26A – 32PTS (22.7%)
Brad Winchester (23): 76GP – 22G – 18A – 40PTS (20.9%)
Jesse Niinimaki (21): 24GP – 1G – 0A – 1PTS (1.7%)

Things That Jumped Out At Me

Ryan Potulny’s season in Springfield was probably the best of any Oilers’ prospect during this time span, particularly when considering that the greater part of his offense was goals. I think he has to be considered on the cusp of gainful NHL employment, despite the fact that he’s very rarely mentioned as a possibility for the roster. Here’s what Kevin Prendergast said a few weeks back on the Pipeline Show:

“He’s a great player, he was the leader down there on that hockey club this year – he never quit. The opportunity when he came up here, he certainly showed us a lot. In order to play 82 games in the National Hockey League his skating has to get a little bit better. We had a long talk with him at the end of the season; he’s aware of that, he’s going to work really hard on that this summer.”

Another thing that caught my eye was the obvious discrepancy in offensive requirements for players with well-rounded skills (Stoll, Brodziak, Reddox) vs. those with a more one-dimensional game (Rob Schremp, Robert Nilsson). I’d say that the rough lines are at about 20-25% and 30%, respectively. This doesn’t bode well for players like Tyler Spurgeon and Colin McDonald – both of whom did a fine job in a checking role this past season – because while they’ll never be offensive players, they probably need to hit a certain level of offensive ability to get a serious shot at a roster spot. Both will get that chance.

Speaking of McDonald, one thing the numbers here don’t show is how he turned it on offensively after Rob Daum took over as coach. Prendergast certainly noted it (saying that he had one goal at Christmas and finished with 12) and as far as dark horses go, McDonald’s not a bad one to consider for a team looking to get bigger, especially given the level of opposition he faced. It’s going to be a fight, though, since aside from incumbent Zack Stortini, all of J-F Jacques, Ryan Stone and Guillaume Lefebvre also bring size to the match and while Jacques and Stone bring more offense, Lefebvre brings a much nastier disposition and some previous NHL experience. Lefebvre didn’t make the list above because his offense was non-existent, but Zack Stortini has shown that for an enforcer that isn’t necessarily vital. Steve MacIntyre will also be in the mix, as he’s the purest heavyweight of the bunch. All things considered, I wouldn’t bet against Jacques starting next season with the team.

Rob Schremp’s timing was incredibly unlucky. If he’d had his breakout season a year sooner, I doubt the Oilers would have bothered acquiring Robert Nilsson (the Ryan Smyth trade looks worse all the time, doesn’t it?). Since he had it in 2007-08, he had to force his way by Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano and Nilsson for a spot and they were all having good years. The slope is getting steeper, I think, since aside from those three he also has to contend with former teammate Patrick O’Sullivan, Steve Tambellini’s stated commitment to get bigger and edgier, and his own sharp decline in production. There isn’t a place for him on the team, and it would probably be best for all parties if he was traded at the draft. 

I’d think that the only regular farmhands from last season in serious consideration for a roster spot are Potulny, Brule and possibly Lefebvre. J-F Jacques, injured for most of last season, is another player who will be involved in the fight for a roster spot. Despite Springfield’s poor season, Pat Quinn and Tom Renney do have some options from the farm to consider.