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.

  • Hippy

    GSC wrote:

    No offense, but if you really want to make an impact then get a journalism degree and go about taking Jones’s job from him. If bitching about his writing on a blog is all that you want to do that’s fine, but don’t expect to obtain a ton of credibility from doing so. At least not from readers like me who will almost always defer their judgment to a paid columnist.

    Are you saying his criticisms aren't valid because he's not a professional journalist? Getting paid to do a job doesn't automatically grant credibility, which is earned by the quality of your work and the integrity of your writing, not by a paycheck.

    There are dozens of writers whose opinions I find completely lack credibility and merit. There are others whose opinions I look to regularly because they have displayed credibility.

    If a writer uses good sources for his information and has a sound rationale for his opinions then I consider him to be of good credibility, with a caveat on writing ability of course. Professional status has little to do with it.

    Guys like Gregor and Brownlee who interact regularly with fans and are happy to discuss their positions carry a lot of sway in my mind because even if I disagree about something it is almost always easy to understand where they are coming from and why because they can back up what they say. I just wanted to add that because I didn't want my post to sound anti-journalist. I am just saying that people without credentials can formulate valid opinions and criticisms, and when doing so can be just as convincing as a journalist.

  • Hippy

    @ Chris:

    There's definitely a systemic problem with the Falcons over the past two seasons; that said, if it's a team problem it would be wrong to ignore some very decent prospects (Potulny, Brule) because they had to play on a lousy team. Just like Lemieux on the woeful Penguins back at the start of his career; the team was bad, but that wasn't his fault.

    There was a lack of veterans in Springfield, and Prendergast banked too much on continued development. To quote him:

    "When you’ve got guys that we were expecting… Robbie Schremp to get 30-35 goals, Slava Trukhno to get 30 goals, and one had 7 and one had 9 and Schremp had 40 points and Trukhno had 28."

    Schremp's previous career high was 23 goals; Trukhno's was 14. When you're banking on one prospect to increase his offensive output by one-third (After already posting good numbers the year before) and another to more than double his, you will be wrong more often than not.

    Fans get into thinking this way; a G.M. should never bank on more than a player is already contributing.

  • Hippy

    @ GSC:

    I'd never recoup the investment in time and money that acquiring a journalism degree would cost me, and I'd be highly unlikely to make more than I am in my current career path. With newspapers dying, it's not all that appealing anyway.

    I'm not terribly worried about that affecting my credibility though; the argument of amateur vs. professional is generally trotted out when the professional can't counter the factual argument made by the amateur.

  • Hippy

    @ Jonathan Willis:
    Adjusting numbers to the percentage of team offence is a somewhat glib way of ignoring the central problem: Why did all the Falcons combine for only 188 goals last season? This is the central question, and deserves careful analysis when considering how Oiler AHL prospects "measure up". Does it matter how crappy forward A compares to crappy forward B? I think the more relevant question is how these forwards compare to the prospects being developed in the organizations of our rivals. Why are these other AHL players destroying our guys on a nightly basis?

  • Hippy

    Jonathan Willis wrote:

    On a completely different topic, my other article today.

    JW,

    No offense, but if you really want to make an impact then get a journalism degree and go about taking Jones's job from him. If bitching about his writing on a blog is all that you want to do that's fine, but don't expect to obtain a ton of credibility from doing so. At least not from readers like me who will almost always defer their judgment to a paid columnist.

    I guess I'm just someone who would rather see a skilled writer like you re-shape the journalist profession instead of doing this. If this is your cup of coffee, however, then so be it.

  • Hippy

    Archaeologuy wrote:

    4936 Internet Road
    The Interwebs, AB, Canada
    T4E W3B

    I think that thoughts guy thinks this is a real address.
    I feel sorry for some peoples parents, if thoughts was me son/daughter i would kill myself lol.

  • Hippy

    @ Jonathan Willis:
    As far as moving him, i doubt he would be worth much at this point in time anyway. Let him keep working on his stuff in the minors. He's had success in the AHL before, he can do it again. Maybe this fresh start will make him feel less like he's been spinning his wheels. It's not as if he doesnt have skills. The mental part of the game is not an automatic. Some guys need more time to figure out how to be true professionals. He's 22 or 23, not exactly over the hill.

  • Hippy

    Jonathan Willis wrote:

    On a completely different topic, my other article today.

    Oh man, we are on the same wave-length on that one! I read that article and couldnt help but think almost everything you wrote!

    You're scaring me Willis. I'm thinking that Penner must have taken the last Donair before Jonesy got to it one day and things went downhill. Labelling the guy a coach killer is weak stuff from that tabloid "journalist".

  • Hippy

    ya, really is time to move on from shremp. there simply isnt room for him right now. he doesnt have the game to be a 3rd/4th and he isnt better than what they have in the top 2.