There are qualified men playing in the shadows of the NHL, waiting for a chance to prove they have the right stuff. This year, as in seasons past, six men have shown themselves to be most worthy. These men are the 2012 Minor League All-Stars.
YANN DANIS, OKC BARONS: had a career year in Oklahoma City in 2011-12, helping the Barons to a West Division title while ranking among the league leaders in wins (26-14-2), goals-against average (2.07), save percentage (.924) and shutouts (five). The eighth-year pro from Lafontaine, Que., played in the 2012 AHL All-Star Game became the first goaltender in seven years to record a shutout period. He was re-signed by the Oilers and in prime position to play NHL games this season as #3 on a depth chart that includes 39-year old Nikolai Khabibulin.
MARK BARBERIO, NORFOLK ADMIRALS: Won the Eddie Shore award as the AHL’s top defender, and led all AHL defensemen with 48 assists and 61 points. Two-way defender with a bright future, had some questions about defensive play in the past but those have been ironed out and the future is bright. Should get a lot of playing time in Tampa Bay in 2012-13.
PAUL POSTMA, ST. JOHN’S ICECAPS: A 23-year-old native of Red Deer, Alta., had a 10-game scoring streak in December and made his second consecutive AHL All-Star Classic appearance in January. Postma has the offense down but improvement defensively makes him a candidate for NHL employment this coming season. Winnipeg has a strong group of blue, so time in the AHL in 2012-13 is possible.
TJ HENSIK, PEORIA RIVERMEN: Went 66, 21-49-70 with the Rivermen and displays outstanding skill and speed. As with many of the gifted forwards you’ll find in the AHL, the problem for Hensik is size (5.10, 190). At age 26, he’ll need a team to look to him in the Kyle Wellwood role and I’d think there’s every chance that he’ll get at least one more chance. Hensink has played in 112 NHL games so far, scoring 12-26-38.
CORY CONACHER, NORFOLK ADMIRALS: Holy hell what a rookie season. Conacher was selected as the American Hockey League’s Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year. Undrafted former Canisus College scoring star, he scored 75, 39-41-80. At 22, he is undersized (5’8", 175 pounds), but the Lightning have done well with Martin St. Louis so it’s unlikely the organization will buy into the same ‘size’ bias that is rife in the NHL. This guy has an amazing future based on his rookie year.
PATRICK MAROON, SYRACUSE CRUNCH: Massive forward (6.04, 225) has some offensive ability and looks like he might be ready for NHL action at age 24. He went 75, 32-42-74 with Syracuse this season and the Anaheim Ducks may look to him this coming season. There are more talented wingers in the AHL, but Maroon’s combination of size and skill will get him NHL employment soon. If not Anaheim, another NHL city. Perhaps Edmonton?
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
All 30 NHL teams have holes to fill and the AHL offers attractive solutions. Some of these men are just stopping off on their way to long NHL careers, others have played exceptionally well and are hopeful it results in another big contract with an NHL team. Either way, the 6 players mentioned here are just the tip of the iceberg.
Past editions of this post (here and here) offer proof. NHL General Managers will have to overcome bias–things like lack of size and the age old belief that AHL men can’t play at a higher level–but the talent is there and available. Often at a fraction of the price paid in free agency or via trade.