With the OHL nonetheless on hiatus and far of the WHL ready for opening evening, the AHL has been injected with a ton of expertise thus far this season. And whereas it isn’t going to final all yr, the NHL is benefitting from seeing its youngest drafted prospects play professional video games towards older, stronger competitors.
One hot-spot for this pattern has been Southern California, the place two NHL groups particularly have been reaping the rewards: Los Angeles and Anaheim. The Kings have their affiliate within the close by metropolis of Ontario, whereas the Geese’ farm squad is down in San Diego. The Ontario Reign at the moment boast the likes of Quinton Byfield, Arthur Kaliyev, Akil Thomas and Tyler Madden. The San Diego Gulls counter with Jamie Drysdale, Jacob Perreault, Brayden Tracey and, earlier than he acquired referred to as up, Trevor Zegras.
“After we performed them, you appeared on the rosters and mentioned ‘Holy smokes,’ ” mentioned San Diego coach Kevin Dineen. “Not solely have been there a number of first-rounders, however there have been a number of first-rounders from this yr and final yr, which you actually do not get within the AHL. I even talked about it to the workforce: it bodes properly for the way forward for hockey in Southern California. They’re good gamers, they’re entertaining and so they’re good folks – that is the impression I get from each groups. The final sport we performed, there was a bucketload of expertise on each side.”
A few of these kids would have been taking part in their first professional seasons anyway, however Byfield, Kaliyev, Perreault and Drysdale ordinarily would have been pressured to play within the OHL because of the NHL’s settlement with the CHL. The early entry has made for some nice growth classes and the groups have used it to their benefit. Take Kaliyev and the Kings, for instance: he is a tremendous goal-scorer already, however he is been capable of work on different points of his sport with Ontario.
“His hockey IQ for scoring and offense is method above common,” mentioned Nelson Emerson, Los Angeles’ director of participant growth. “That capacity goes to assist his total sport as a result of he can use that hockey sense in his 200-foot sport. That is one thing we’re engaged on with him now that now we have him within the American League.”
Having a look on the AHL’s leaderboard and quite a few gamers within the top-20 for scoring ‘ought to’ be in main junior proper now: Carolina choose Seth Jarvis (who’s leaving for WHL Portland now that the Winterhawks have a schedule) is first total, whereas Drysdale, Toronto’s Nick Robertson and Philadelphia/Lehigh Valley’s Zayde Knowledge additionally rank excessive.
Clearly, taking part in within the AHL versus the OHL is a problem, nonetheless. Perreault for instance, would not flip 19 till subsequent month. The hard-shooting 2020 first-rounder is now getting a novel sneak-peek at what the subsequent stage is de facto like.
“The tempo is loads sooner – everyone seems to be stronger, too,” he mentioned. “There’s loads much less room on the market and that is the most important half, the adjustment is all time and house. It is good for my growth to have the ability to be taught these items at a younger age, so I am actually fortunate to be right here proper now.”
As for the coaches, getting a cohort of main junior teenagers presents its personal challenges and rewards, as San Diego’s Dineen attests to.
“I’ve acquired three children that age together with one within the USHL (Sioux Falls’ Will Dineen) and also you see the distinction between when he was 18 and when he was 20,” he mentioned. “It is not solely the bodily half, however the stage of maturity that goes together with that. Sure, there are variations, however in saying that: what a bonus for these guys, not solely to get uncovered to this stage of play, however the high quality of veterans introduced in to mentor them. We’re all about growth. There’s endurance and understanding that you simply give them to develop as folks, in addition to bodily.”
And on the finish of the day, that growth is the principle purpose. If it really works out, the Kings and Geese will as soon as once more be competing for Stanley Cups within the coming years.