The AHL Impact

Jason Demers’ demotion to the AHL falls into a very common trend that occurs to the majority of players who enter the League at a young age. After scoring 10 points in his first 15 games, Demers managed just 3 in his last 12. This kind of thing happens all of the time. A young player comes into the League on a tear and racks up a lot of points early and then boom, they hit a wall. Everyone always says this is because they are young and have not learned how to maintain success in the League, with its grueling schedule and physical play. I definitely agree with that; but I also think a lot has to do with other teams taking note and adjusting their defense to shut down these productive players.

Michael Del Zotto is going through the exact same thing in New York, he was a point per game player through the first 12 games but now has just  four in his last 14. Viktor Stalberg and Tyler Bozak looked NHL ready in their first few pre season games, but then they came back down to life. The Leafs actually made the right decision in this case, which is to send the player to the AHL to let them get used to the professional style. Too many big prospects are forced into the League by their respective teams, and while they may be successful for a short period of time, it usually hurts them in the long run. Luke Schenn probably should have spent last season with the Marlies, but the Leafs were too desperate to cling on to some sign of a future that they kept him. Now he is barely holding on.

Other teams have also learned this lesson the hard way, but are now taking the steps to resolve the problem. In Phoenix, Peter Mueller’s career points have looked like this; 54, 36, 4 (through 24 games). He has taken the sopohmore slump to a whole new level, and a whole new year. Last season, the Coyotes kept 18 year old Mikkel Boedker on their roster  for almost the whole season. After scoring 28 points in 78 games, they decided that he should probably take a year down in the minors to perfect his game. Kyle Turris is an elite prospect who played 63 games in a limited role last season, but like Boedker, is playing for San Antonio this year.

A team that just has not learned their lesson is the Columbus Blue Jackets. Year after year they rush young prospects into the League. Gilbert Brule was taken early in the “Crosby Draft” and was plugged into the League right away. He did not succeed in the 9 game try out, so he was sent back to the WHL for the 2005-06 season. Over the next two seasons he scored only 28 points in 139 games for the Jackets before being sent to Syracuse for two injured filled seasons. After not showing any further development in the AHL, he was shipped to Edmonton for Raffi Torres. After five seasons of trying to break into the League, this highly skilled player has finally found his touch in Edmonton with 17 points in 24 games. 

I could go on with these examples, because there are many, but a good way to prove the impact that the AHL has on a player’s development is to look at those who played their during the lockout year instead of making their NHL debuts. These were highly regarded players that had the chance to grow their game in the AHL due to the lockout of the 2004-05 season: Thomas Vanek, Brad Boyes, Ryan Getzlaf, Zach Parise, Duncan Keith, Mikko Koivu, Niklas Kronwall; not mention Mike Richards and Jeff Carter who led the Phantoms to the Calder Cup. On the goalie side, Ray Emery, Ryan Miller, Marc Andre Fleury and Cam Ward all played over 50 games in the AHL in 2004-05 before making their debuts in 2005-06. They haven’t done much since the lockout though, four Stanley Cup appearances between them. Ryan Miller has not been there yet, but he already has two Eastern Conference Final appearances on his resume.

So really what I am saying is yes, there are the select few that can come straight from being drafted and turn into very successful players; Crosby, Kane, Tavares; but that is because their names are Crosby, Kane and Tavares. These are one of a kind players. Teams have to stop thinking that their prospects are better than they actually are, just because they are drafted high. These are 18 year old kids who have their whole careers to develop into superstars.




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