Minor League All-Stars

This is Guyle Fielder. He played only 15 NHL games (and many of those with some of the best talent in the history of the game), but never scored a point in any of them. In the minor leagues, he was Gretzky. 

Guyle Fielder was dominant for many years in the minor leagues, mostly on the west coast. A very nice summary of his story is here. The line between an NHL team’s 14th forward/7th defenseman and the best of the minor leagues is miniscule–in fact in some cases the more talented man is probably playing bigger minutes in the AHL. The following list is my group of candidates who played (mostly) in the AHL last season but deserve a long look in the big leagues in 10-11:

  • GOAL: Nathan Lawson, New York Islanders. 26-year old came to pro hockey via NCAA (Alaska Anchorage) and began in obscurity in the ECHL a couple of years ago. In two AHL seasons, his SP has been very impressive (.927 and .922) and two years ago his SP was 27 points better than the backup. He has never played in the NHL but odds favor him getting a chance in the next couple of years.
  • DEFENSEPK Subban, Montreal Canadiens. This is an obvious pick (Subban was outstanding in the American League a year ago) and if you watched the SC playoffs he was on display (and overplayed, good grief) by the Habs this spring. He has some work to do defensively but is a quality talent.
  • DEFENSE: Arturs Kulda, Atlanta Thrashers. Stay-at-home type with good size and a reputation for playing an intelligent game. Led the AHL in plus minus (+47) as he and Chris Chelios (+34) towered above the other defenders on the Wolves.
  • CENTERKeith Aucoin, Washington Capitals. If Aucoin stood 6.0 he’d be making millions. As it is, he has to settle for being the most ridiculous player in a very good league. Last year’s boxcars (72gp, 35-71-106) were slightly better than last year but this fellow has been good enough to play in the NHL for some time.
  • LEFT WING: Alexandre Giroux, Washington Capitals. If Aucoin is ridiculous, Giroux is preposterous. In his last 2 AHL seasons, Giroux has scored 50 and 60 goals. In fact, in his last 5 AHL seasons, Alexandre Giroux has scored 221 goals (44 a season). He signed with the Edmonton Oilers this summer and it is entirely reasonable to project him as a 20-goal man in the right NHL circumstances.
  • RIGHT WINGJerome Samson, Carolina Hurricanes. Lots of talk about the Hurricanes inactivity this summer, but the fact is the big league club has some nice things bubbling under. 22-year old has decent size and good speed, plus the scouting report tells us he can win puck battles and plays with tenacity. 37-goals in the AHL at age 22 is a very nice total.
  • So how is a guy like Giroux not an auto call-up when somebody goes down? Is this simply a reflection of his age or has he spent some time in the bigs and just not panned out? Seems like he’s the textbook definition of “late bloomer”.

  • It has to be frustrating for these guys.

    The nature of player development means that guys less skilled than you are today might get more shots in the bigs, just because someone thinks they have a higher ceiling down the road.

    These kinds of guys will get passed over again and again – tough to get used to for anyone.

  • Very good article.

    I’ve been eager to an article focused on the best professional-league players not playing in the NHL for some time. Would be interesting to get a glimpse of the top performers in Europe as well.

    Like Moneyball, I wonder how much more valuable talent like this becomes under a mature salary-cap system. Chris Kontos might’ve been a hall-of-famer.

  • book¡e

    When guys like this retire they must have the biggest ‘what if’ twitch in their brain. At least a few of them make some good coin down in the AHL.

    I wonder if guys like Strudwick can look some of these AHLers in the eyes and not feel a bit of shame/thankfullness all combined together. I don’t mean that as a hit on Strudwick, but he could easily have been the guy who rode the bus for 15 years before moving on to sell cars in his hometown.

    Sometimes I wonder if the difference between a Ray Whitney and an Alex Giroux is a lucky week or two.

    • Crackenbury

      I think a large part of the reason guys like Strudwick have careers in the NHL at all is that they ARE very aware of how lucky they are to play in the NHL and take nothing for granted. They are usually character guys who stay in good shape, stick up for their teammates, play whatever role they are asked without question, and avoid being a negative influence on the team.

      Conversely, some much more talented players never seem to get established because they arrive riding a lifelong wave of adulation and never grasp onto what it takes to stick before their window of opportunity slams shut.

      Sometimes the difference is luck in terms of opportunity or injury, and sometimes the player makes his own luck.

  • Lofty

    I’m really suprised that Nathan Lawson is doing so well and could make it to the big show. I played Bantom with the guy and he was never a real standout. Good to see a guy that stuck with it and is working his way up.

  • RLH

    Let’s keep the woe-is-them in the realms of reality. Remember that these guys, whether they make it to the show or not, are getting paid what most of us would think of as very good money to do the job that they love. You want to pay me $90,000 to do what I love best? No problem.

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    Alot of them just can’t cut it in the big show (with ample opportunity)

    Jason Krog

    202 NHL games 59 points

    445 AHL games 523 points

    I’m sure theirs the odd guy that slips through the cracks and could have been a solid NHL’er, but for the most part I’d trust the pro’s. If a guy isn’t in the NHL it’s probably because he isn’t good enough to be there.

    • Hemmercules

      Living in Winnipeg, I know all too well the fine line between a bona-fide NHL player and a minor league superstar.

      Guys like Giroux, Krog, Maxim Fortunas, Alexandre Bolduc, etc earn $250,000 salaries being AHL superstars. They are the makings of Calder Cup lore. Despite being excellent hockey players, their offensive talent is contained to a league where their size defficiencies (usually), poor two-way play, bad attitude (Schremp), are not as injurious to their team as it would in the NHL.

      As someone who watches an embarrassing amount of AHL hockey, the biggest difference between the two leagues is the ability for players to make passes and plays at high speed. Ergo, a turnover is not as likely to end up in the back of your net in the AHL.

      However, I maintain that players like this can be a cost-effective alternative to signing Maxim Afinogenov, Petr Sykora, or Ales Kotalik, and that their usefulness on a 4th line or 2nd power play unit is worth re-consideration when a GM is managing payroll. They effectively bring the same offensive upside, but typically offer a far less polished all-around game. Some of these guys can evolve, most cannot.

      Patrick Sharp used to be on the same list.

  • gibshot

    Every one posts comments saying they want superstars on every line. You cant have a team with all 20 plus goal scorers it doesnt work u need role players and positive influences on the team to be succesful.

    • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

      I thought it was mentioned on Gregor’s show monday that by the start of the season all networks will have Sportsnet1?

      • I continue to hope this will be the case. Several boards (including one whose name rhymes with “Fockey’s Huture”) are speculating that Shaw is in the process of negotiation right now. They’d better be because SN1 is slated to broadcast a whack of Oilers games.

      • Hemmercules

        Where did they get this info from??? Everything I have read says bell and shaw “might” get it, no guarantees yet. I have been worried about this since I heard about the new channel, I’m not too excited about possibly having to switch to Rogers just to watch Oilers games. The Rogers CEO seems to be pretty happy with himself over the whole thing, he makes his millions weather hockey fans are pissed off or not.

        • Crackenbury

          I’m pretty sure Shaw will have to carry it. Rogers cable isn’t an option in Edmonton. I doubt the Oilers and Flames would negotiate a deal where the local markets are unable to view the games.

  • HardBoiledOil 1.0

    i’m hoping Giroux can make the Oilers this year and score some goals, but ya, i did forget about Jason Krog. a very good comparison to Giroux. had great AHL numbers, but couldn’t get the job done in the NHL. i’m hoping this ISN’T the case with Giroux!

  • Lovely article on Fielder by the way. I seen him play here when i was a youngster at the old Edmonton Gardens . Don’t want to elaborate on such a wonderfull article , but i’ll just say he was not exactly in a category anywhere near a Gretzky , Howe , etc.. He was an offensive talent and not much else, with questionable personal problems .

    Hockey was different back then , stars and circumstances included . I was not surprised he never stuck in the NHL , his numbers were not that reflective of his overall abilities .I suspect others run similiar baggage as well, which may have kept them out of NHL .

    One other name that you may have missed was Jim Papin of the Leafs, and his playoff heroics that never seem to lead to him finding a permanent spot as a regular during seasonal play .

  • HardBoiledOil 1.0

    apparently, David S, Shaw doesn’t want to carry the competition’s channel on it’s cable network. that’s the problem with having Shaw as a monopoly here in Edmonton. there used to be a choice here, now there isn’t and Shaw cable can do as they please. i this case it’s doing what is best for itself and not the fans. thanks a lot Shaw!

  • Ender

    Interesting article on TSN regarding proposed rule changes. Some such as the new OT format I dont mind; others like the 3 faceoff dots instead of 5 I have a harder time with. The faceoff format sounds kind of interesting, if quite a departure from tradition.

  • Crackenbury

    See ya’ Fernando, hopefully the Hawks have enough left over for you to have a good run this season.

    Plus we don’t have to keep reading about how the Oilers should sign him.

  • Cowbell_Feva

    Wow, didn’t know this Giroux character had that much finish. Seeing as the Oilers really struggled in that area, I would say this may be his best shot of making the show.

    I have never seen him play but those stats don’t lie. If he isn’t a total bust on the defensive end of the game, I can’t see how he won’t make the team, assuming he continues to tickle the twine.

    And yes, I know he isn’t going to give goalies sunburn from the goal light in the NHL the way he did in the AHL, but 50 to 60 G-notes in any professional league will guarantee him a good long look during training camp. Just not sure there’s gunna be room on the roster IF the kids stick around.

    Should be an interesting camp.