Going to Russia last season could wind up as the best move that center Yanick Lehoux ever disliked.
"It made me a better person and a better player," he said last week.
If that's true, the rest of the AHL should be on notice.
Lehoux, 26, signed a free-agent deal with the Canadiens organization last month. He spent most of last season skating with Khimik Mytishi of the Russian Super League. That was something of a rebound option after playing just seven games in San Antonio because the team had too many veterans.
The way Lehoux describes it now, he might have had more fun working as a stick-boy with the Rampage than going overseas. It was nothing against the Russians or the country, but he, like many North American players who give that country a try, found the culture a little too rigid and suffocating.
"When you go into rush hour, it's worth a ticket to see that," he said. "It's chaos. It's every man for himself. I experienced the lifestyle in Russia. It wasn't a good fit for me."
But here's the thing, as wild and unorganized as Russia seemed on the streets, it was the direct opposite on the ice. The disciplined systems at least introduced him to the concepts of defense and structured play, which could make him an even more valuable commodity here.
"Sometimes you have to take a step back to go forward," he said. "I felt I was standing still a little bit in my career. I've matured. It (Russia) made me realize how bad I want to play in the NHL. The game has changed. You need to be a more complete player."
If Lehoux is approaching that level, he's traveled a long way to get there. In 2004-05, he was a monster for Manchester, scoring 54 points in 38 games before a knee injury ended his season. The next season he bounced around among two teams in Switzerland, Phoenix of the NHL and Manchester and San Antonio of the AHL. In 2006-07, he produced 73 points in 72 games for the Rampage.
"I think I'm the same guy (offensively). I don't think you can take away skills," he said. "What happened in the past is there. There's nothing I can do about it. It was a crazy couple of years for me. But I don't think there's a defined recipe for success."
Paddock learning the ropes -- New Phantoms coach John Paddock is candid when assessing his current preparedness for the job.
"I don't know their young players," Paddock said last week. "I don't have a clue about our roster. I'm not very good on the Internet. I looked at their stats from last year. But I don't know how many of those players will be back."
Something about Paddock suggests that he'll get it all together in more than enough time. That something is the three Calder Cups that Paddock has earned with three AHL teams.
Paddock's unfamiliarity with the Phantoms is understandable considering he had no reason to focus on the team until less than two weeks ago. Relieved of his coaching duties with Ottawa last season, he was prepared to scout for the Senators this year.
"I was looking forward to scouting for Ottawa. I thought since nothing had happened, that's how it was going to shake out. I would call it the opportunity to go back and work with the Flyers. It was too good an opportunity to pass by."
-- John Paddock
"It was out of the blue. I wasn't desperate for a job," he said. "I was looking forward to scouting for Ottawa. I thought since nothing had happened, that's how it was going to shake out. I would call it the opportunity to go back and work with the Flyers. It was too good an opportunity to pass by."
If Paddock still has his magic touch within the organization, the Phantoms could be playing well into the spring. Two of his AHL titles came behind the bench of Philadelphia affiliates -- Maine in 1984 and Hershey in 1988. He also led Hartford to the title in 2000, and his 542 career AHL wins rank third in league history.
"It is no factor in me coaching this year, but I'm aware of those numbers," Paddock said. "There's only one team that wins every year. Things have to fall right. You have to have the right mix of players. I'm not thinking about the Calder Cup right now, or even really hockey. We have to see what the team is."
Ling headed to Switzerland -- The AHL will be a little quieter place this season.
Forward David Ling, one of the league's all-time great agitators who backed up his words with production, has agreed to a deal to play in Switzerland. Ling, 33, doesn't necessarily want to shut down his North American career. It's just that, according to him, no NHL organization was interested in his demographic.
"My agent just said they came back with, going younger, going younger, going younger," Ling said. "I would have liked to have stayed. But maybe it's time to start a career over there. Yeah, I'd come back. But it'd have to be worth my while."
Ling admitted to a little bit of sadness, "now for sure that the NHL's over." He said his playing career itself isn't done, joking that he needs the employment because "I can't read or write."
"I think I have six or seven more years left in me," he said. "Just not in the AHL."
AHL coaches in demand -- Scott Gordon's ascension to the bench boss of the Islanders from Providence earlier this week continued a remarkable run that shows the NHL considers the AHL as much of a proving ground for coaches as players.
Of the 29 AHL head coaches on opening night of 2007, nine are now head coaches or assistants in the NHL. They are John Anderson (Atlanta head coach), Craig Berube (Philadelphia assistant coach), Bruce Boudreau (Washington head coach), Kelly Buchberger (Edmonton assistant), Randy Cunneyworth (Atlanta assistant), Gordon, Mike Haviland (Chicago assistant), Todd Richards (San Jose assistant) and Tom Rowe (Carolina assistant).
Gordon becomes the seventh former Pieri Award winner (Coach of the Year) in the NHL, joining Haviland (2007), Cunneyworth (2005), Columbus assistant Claude Noel (2004), Boston head coach Claude Julien (2003), Carolina head coach Peter Laviolette (1999) and Nashville head coach Barry Trotz (1994).