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The Coming Thing: Reflections on the AHL All-Star Game

Andrew Fiorentino

Andrew Fiorentino

A degenerate fantasy player since the age of 13.

Okay, so I know the outcome of the game counts for less than nothing, but I have to say, I was disappointed with the East's end of the shootout in the AHL All-Star Game. The West's goalie, Blues prospect Ben Bishop, is one of the hugest netminders you'll ever see - at 6-7, 210, the 25-year-old fills the goal mouth like few out there. The first thing that I'd want to do as a shooter is get him moving and expose some of that precious netting. Yet I watched all four of the East's shooters skate straight down the middle of the ice and take wrist shots on him. Save. Save. Save. Save. When you aim for the broad side of the barn, you usually hit it. Bishop took home the game MVP thanks to giving up just one goal in the third period and the shootout. He's an older prospect, but there are definitely worse NHL goalies.

And where was Mats Zuccarello in this shootout? The guy was a shootout specialist for the Rangers last year, but I guess scoring in NHL shootouts like it's your job isn't good enough, nor is having scored a beauty of a goal earlier in the game. Back from injury, the 24-year-old Norwegian winger looked every bit the polished, NHL-ready player. Sure, he's undersized, but he's tough and the Rangers need his offensive contributions. It's hard to mess too much with what's working, but maybe it's time to demote Artem Anisimov to the third line and give Zuccarello a chance to play top-six minutes.

Zuccarello's teammate, 21-year-old Jonathan Audy-Marchessault, was one of a few players who looked truly electric in this game. Both Whale players put up a goal and two assists, and their line with the similarly undersized Andy Miele seemed to account for a majority of the East's offensive rushes.

The offensive show-stealer, though, was Lightning prospect Cory Conacher. Maybe it was just the collection of Norfolk Admirals fans that happened to be sitting near me, but it seemed like the buzz in Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall grew more and more every time Conacher touched the puck. The 22-year-old is another little guy, but he looked like a transcendent talent out there, scoring a pair of goals and assisting on a third. That's become old hat for him - the undrafted former Canisius College star has been tearing up the AHL all year long, ripping off 25 goals and 24 assists in 44 games.

I'm going to allow myself to be impressed by ‘Canes wing prospect Chris Terry, who did what he always does - score. It's not always flashy or pretty, but Terry just puts up numbers. He scored twice and assisted on another goal - not bad for a guy who wasn't originally picked for the game. The 22-year-old has 40 points in 44 contests this year for AHL Charlotte, and he scored 34 goals and 64 points last year - isn't it getting about time to promote him?

On D, the biggest standout was Kevin Connauton, winner of Sunday's hardest shot competition (though he fell more than 9 MPH behind Zdeno Chara's NHL record-setter from the day before), who tied the game at 7-7 late in the third period with a zinger of a snap shot. The buzz is that the Canucks think he's NHL-ready, and I can't disagree. He looked like the best defenseman on the ice all night, and that was without being allowed to play the physical game he's known for.

And yeah, I did buy a program for 10 bucks. What a rip. Good thing I made out at the poker tables.

Call-Ups

David Savard, D, CLM - Savard's latest AHL stint went pretty well, as he collected a goal and two assists in five games. As a promising offensive defenseman who plays with an edge, he remains a strong prospect for Columbus, and the Jackets might be best served giving him a chance to play top-pairing minutes right now. Their blue line is an absolute disaster area.

Philip Larsen, D, DAL - Larsen's been terrific for AHL Texas in his limited time there this year, but hasn't really made an impact with the Stars yet. His latest AHL stint had him go scoreless for two games heading into the break, but before that he had 10 points in as many games. The 22-year-old has only three points in 21 games with Dallas, as he hasn't typically been trusted with major minutes, especially on the power play.

Rhett Rakhshani, RW, NYI - Last year, Rakhshani dominated the AHL as a rookie, racking up 62 points in 66 games for Bridgeport, but his stat line was tarnished by a minus-11 rating. This season, he's become a more complete player, and it's paid off in the form of a plus-19. Meanwhile, he's still scoring consistently, notching 25 points in 27 games, good enough for the 23-year-old to earn himself a ticket to the big leagues. The California native and '06 fourth-rounder got a late start this year due to a knee injury, but he's well past it now. It'll be interesting to see how much of a role he can carve out on the Island.

Kevin Poulin, G, NYI - After jerking Poulin around in his last call-up, the Islanders apparently learned from their mistakes, as they put him out there right after calling him up Tuesday. So far, so good: He stopped 21 of 23 and beat the 'Canes. The AHL has been treating Poulin much better lately, as he's raised his save percentage - which for the longest time lingered under .900 - to .907.

Andreas Engqvist, C, MON - Engqvist was sent down over the All-Star break and called up right after. M'kay. He's mostly skated bottom-six minutes with Montreal. At 24, he's an older prospect, an international free agent from Sweden. Engqvist has really built on last year's uninspiring point total, collecting 24 points in 29 games.

Cody Eakin, C, WAS - Eakin has been a nice little offensive player for AHL Hershey, totaling 16 points in 20 games for the Bears, and he's put up eight points in 27 games for Washington as a rookie. At 20, he's already a solid player who can be counted on to play good hockey on the back end of the forward rotation, and he's got potential to grow into much more. The 2009 third-rounder has been a 47-goal, 91-point scorer in juniors and put up 83 points in 56 games in his final junior season last year, splitting time between the Kootenay Ice and Swift Current Broncos of the WHL.

Jacob Josefson, C, NJD - Josefson played in two games after his send-down, recording a goal and an assist before the All-Star break. The '09 first-rounder was back for Tuesday's game, and he skated 14:03 with a shot, a hit and wins on seven of 12 face-offs. At 20 years old, Josefson is still a very interesting long-term prospect, but he really needs to get a chance to play in the AHL for a while and dominate a level. He hasn't done that in pro hockey - not in the minors, not in Sweden.

Matt Taormina, D, NJD - Sent down before the break, called up after - familiar story? At 25 and undrafted, he's not really a prospect anymore, but Taormina's got 14 points in 25 AHL games this year, which is something. He notched a goal and an assist in this brief send-down period.

Send-Downs

Jimmy Hayes, RW, CHI - Hayes' minutes were ramping up, then the ‘Hawks sent him down. Typical. Not an especially productive scorer either in the AHL (18 points in 28 games this year) or at Boston College (never a point-per-game scorer), Hayes had a pretty productive first 13 NHL games, picking up four goals and three assists. He'll be back soon enough.

Brandon Pirri, RW, CHI - Presumably, Pirri was just sent down to play in the AHL All-Star Game, but he hasn't been recalled yet. He's been a stud this year in the minors (45 points in 44 games) and at the exhibition, he looked every bit the part like yet another big-time forward for the Blackhawks. Just a couple assists in five NHL games this year, but not much ice time for the 20-year-old, who was taken in the second round in '09, spent one year in college at Rochester Polytechnic, and moved to the pros last season.

Matt Fraser, RW, DAL - Another All-Star send-down, Fraser's been a picture of streakiness as a rookie pro for AHL Texas. This after he got off to a hot start, then struggled badly through the month of November. First he scored eight goals in October, then he managed just three points in all of November, then he scored points in 14 of 16 games, and now he has points in just two of his last seven games -- although one of those was a four-assist effort. A bit of a roller-coaster ride, and as you might expect, there are some rough edges - a minus-15 rating, for one. He didn't see the ice during his call-up.

The Future to Come

Our prospect of the week is right wing Tomas Jurco of the QMJHL's Saint John Sea Dogs. A second-round draft pick, 35th overall, by the Red Wings this year, the 19-year-old Slovak has turned in the kind of growth season that's been in the cards for a while. He's just two shy of last season's 56-point total - in 36 games, as opposed to last year's 60. It helps that he's on a ridiculous offensive team, with studs Zack Phillips and Jonathan Huberdeau to help carry the load. Jurco's always been known for his high-end skill with the stick, leading to a shootout prowess that will serve him well in the NHL, the kid's got the kind of mid-air puck control that could make Corey Perry envious. You can't teach that kind of hand-eye coordination. If he's willing to grind like the NHL demands - and it seems he is - this guy is going to score a ton of goals. He's absolutely deadly any time the puck finds him around the crease.

Something to ask? Something to say? Prospects you're dying to hear about? You can contact me here.

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