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Future NHL stars to shine in 2010 AHL All-Star Classic

Tuesday, 01.19.2010 / 10:36 AM / AHL Update

By A.J. Atchue - Special to

The American Hockey League's All-Star Classic annually brings together some of the best young talent in the entire sport. The vast majority of participants are on the precipice of successful careers, as evidenced by the fact that more than 94 percent of AHL All-Stars since 1995 have gone on to play in the National Hockey League.

While the event always draws the very best the AHL has to offer, the All-Star Classic in 2005 marked a unique situation for the league. The National Hockey League was in the midst of a season-long lockout, but NHL teams across the board did not want to lose an entire season of development for their prospects.

Rather than play elsewhere or sit the year out altogether, a large collection of top young performers were assigned to spend the 2004-05 season in the AHL, and it resulted in arguably the most talented collection of players ever to appear in the league's annual midseason showcase.

That year's AHL All-Star Classic was held at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester, N.H., and the list of participants was impressive.

Jason Spezza, who has gone on to record three 30-goal seasons in the NHL for Ottawa, made his second AHL All-Star Classic appearance en route to a 117-point season and the league's Most Valuable Player award.

2005 AHL goaltender of the year Ryan Miller, currently enjoying a standout campaign for the Buffalo Sabres, suited up for the Canadian AHL All-Stars in 2005. And Niklas Kronwall, the 2005 Eddie Shore Award winner as the AHL's top defenseman, played for the PlanetUSA squad in Manchester before going on to win a Stanley Cup with Detroit in 2008.

Eric Staal parlayed a 2005 AHL All-Star Classic appearance into a Stanley Cup title with Carolina in 2006, and he was one of five AHL All-Stars from 2005 to play in the 2009 NHL All-Star Game, joining Dustin Brown, Jay Bouwmeester, Mike Komisarek, and Zach Parise.

Several sets of current NHL teammates were previously AHL All-Stars in 2005, including Boston's Patrice Bergeron and Dennis Wideman, Calgary's Rene Bourque and Bouwmeester, Carolina's Joni Pitkanen and Staal, Minnesota's Chuck Kobasew and Mikko Koivu, Montreal's Mike Cammalleri and Tomas Plekanec, Ottawa's Spezza and Anton Volchenkov, and Vancouver's Christian Ehrhoff, Ryan Kesler, and Kyle Wellwood.

Plekanec was named most valuable player of the All-Star Classic after registering a goal in regulation and the shootout as PlanetUSA eked out a 5-4 victory.

"Our All-Star Classic has continuously served as a springboard to the NHL, and the 2005 event in particular gathered in one place some of the best talent currently competing in the National Hockey League," said AHL President and CEO David Andrews. "But you can take any year's event and be assured that most of the players will later make an impact at the next level."

All told, 37 former AHL All-Stars are set to participate in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver next month, including 11 who suited up in the 2005 game in Manchester -- Bergeron, Brown, Ehrhoff, Kesler, Kronwall, Miller, Parise, Staal, Volchenkov, Denis Grebeshkov and Antero Niittymaki.

Both head coaches from the 2005 AHL All-Star Classic have also graduated to positions in the NHL. Washington's Bruce Boudreau won the NHL's Jack Adams Award in his first year behind the bench in 2008, and Claude Noel -- who won a Calder Cup with the Milwaukee Admirals in 2004 -- is now in his third season as an assistant coach with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The 2005 event notwithstanding, numerous NHL standouts previously suited up in other AHL All-Star Classics. It's a list that includes 2009 Norris Trophy winner Zdeno Chara and Boston Bruins teammate Marc Savard, who each played in the 1998 event. Nashville's J.P. Dumont, San Jose's Dan Boyle and Tampa Bay's Martin St. Louis were AHL All-Stars in 1999.

Other notable former AHL All-Stars include Brad Boyes (2003), Daniel Briere (1998), Brian Campbell (2001), Miikka Kiprusoff (2000), Bobby Ryan (2008), and Tomas Vokoun, who was the All-Star Classic's most valuable player in 1998.

"Our All-Star Classic has continuously served as a springboard to the NHL, and the 2005 event in particular gathered in one place some of the best talent currently competing in the National Hockey League. But you can take any year's event and be assured that most of the players will later make an impact at the next level." -- AHL President and CEO David Andrews

The AHL's showcase event -- highlighted by Tuesday's 2010 AHL All-Star Classic -- is taking place in Portland, Maine. The event features 11 former NHL first-round draft picks, a list that includes Los Angeles draftee Jonathan Bernier, San Jose's Logan Couture, St. Louis' Lars Eller, Buffalo's Tyler Ennis, the N.Y. Rangers' Bobby Sanguinetti, Chicago's Jack Skille, and Washington's John Carlson, who scored the game-winning goal for Team USA at the World Junior Championships earlier this month.

"We're looking forward to an outstanding event again this year," Andrews said. "Portland is a city with a lengthy history in our league, and we again have a tremendous collection of talent to put on display for our fans."

Couture, Eller, Ennis, and reigning AHL rookie of the year Nathan Gerbe have all scored their first career NHL goals this season prior to taking part in this week's AHL All-Star Classic. All told, 26 AHL All-Stars have also seen NHL action during the 2009-10 campaign.

Given the event's previous track record, it will come as no surprise when many of this year's AHL All-Stars begin making waves in an NHL city near you.

Quote of the Day

That was something I've been dreaming of, something I've told myself before the third period I was going to do ... It was an amazing feeling. It's hard to describe. I didn't believe it went in at first but when I saw all the reaction and all the fans going crazy and my teammates going crazy, it's just an unbelievable feeling. I didn't know what to do. I didn't know whether to jump or just skate and do a Theo Fleury. I don't think I'm the same caliber player he is so I couldn't do it.

— Flames forward Mikael Backlund on scoring the overtime winner against the Ducks in Gm. 3