Each year, I look for the best minor league players (by position) with an eye toward future NHLers who are possibly under the radar. The lockout made ‘under the radar’ impossible, but there are true gems on this list and all six players this season could end up being legit NHL players.
GOAL: ROBIN LEHNER
The Senators brought Lehner along slowly during his entry level contract (although he played in the NHL at least a little all three seasons) and at this point the club has an outstanding 22-year old ready for steady work. Now, they already have a veteran incumbent (Craig Anderson) signed for two more years, but I imagine Lehner will push him out of the way in one season. Lehner’s outstanding .938SP in the AHL is the best number in many years and the Senators look set for the rest of the decade at the position.
DEFENSE: JUSTIN SCHULTZ
Although Schultz played in just 34 AHL games, he led the league in points by a defenseman (34, 18-30-48) and won post-season 1st All Star honors for a phenomenal pro debut. He also finished very high in rookie AHL scoring despite being a defenseman and playing in far fewer games:
Schultz entered the NHL after the lockout and (as he admitted this week) the wear and tear of a long season (with monster minutes, especially in the minors) took its toll on him. This is an electric talent and we should look forward to years and years of offense from the blueliner, along with more effective defensive play. Won the Eddie Shore award as top AHL defenseman this season.
DEFENSE: MARK BARBERIO
Won the Eddie Shore award one year ago, the TBay Lightning prospect is another outstanding puck mover who has improved his defensive play since turning pro. Got his first taste of NHL action this season and should be at the start of a long and productive NHL career.
CENTER: LINDEN VEY
Former Medicine Hat Tiger has transitioned nicely into pro hockey and would probably have some NHL games if not for the myriad quality LA Kings forwards ahead of him on the depth chart. He’s a player who can set up at center or wing, suspect he’ll have to find another NHL city.
LEFT WING: MATT FRASER
Bigger winger with hard work and toughness on his resume, Fraser played well enough offensively (62, 33-13-46 with Texas) to be considered an attractive NHL option moving forward. Boston liked him well enough to ask after him in the Tyler Seguin trade, so the Bruins have another rugged winger for the collection.
RIGHT WING: GUSTAV NYQUIST
Those damned Detroit Red Wings. Nyquist is another from the Motown factory, and taken in the bowels of the 2008 entry draft (4th round, 99 picks after Jordan Eberle). He’s probably going to see plenty of NHL action this season, as he’s already cleared the 40GP mark with the Red Wings after year two of his three year entry level deal. Nyquist’s skill set includes high end skill set, terrific wheels but he’s slightly undersized. Detroit. Rock City. Man.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
It’s the usual suspects–Detroit, Los Angeles–but the Oilers have one of this year’s All-Stars and Justin Schultz has tremendous potential as an NHL player. I know he played in the AHL on a technicality, but hell boys I’ll take it! Last season’s All Stars are here, Schultz photo courtesy Rob Ferguson all rights reserved.