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Veteran players find multiple positives in AHL duty

Beleskey, Lack among those looking to parlay minor-league revival into NHL return

by Patrick Williams / Correspondent

The American Hockey League has built its reputation on prospect development, but its usefulness for NHL teams goes beyond that singular mission.

Forty-nine AHL players have advanced to make their NHL debuts this season, including several first-round selections from recent NHL drafts. Defensemen Haydn Fleury (Carolina Hurricanes) and Travis Sanheim (Philadelphia Flyers) along with forwards Jake DeBrusk (Boston Bruins) and Luke Kunin (Minnesota Wild) are among those to make the jump in the first half of this season.

In any given season, nearly 90 percent of NHL players have spent time in the AHL.

But, it is not just prospects advancing to the next level in the AHL; some veteran players rely on the AHL to tune up for a return to action or to revive NHL ambitions.

Here is a look at four established NHL players using the AHL for far different purposes than development:


Zach Parise - Iowa (Minnesota Wild)

Parise had not played a game this season when he opted to head to the AHL on a conditioning assignment.

Parise, 33, had missed the first 39 games of the season for Minnesota before returning against the Florida Panthers on Tuesday. He had microdiscectomy surgery Oct. 24 after back issues plagued him throughout the start of the season.

He returned to the Minnesota lineup Tuesday, but first went to Iowa for a tune-up game. He skated a regular shift and had an assist in a 6-3 loss against Rockford on Dec. 28.

For Parise, Iowa offered something that practice could not.

"I've said it all along, you can't replicate the games," he told the Wild website. "It's a little different when you're out here, and you have to make plays at higher pace and at top speed."


Eddie Lack - Binghamton (New Jersey Devils)

The well-traveled Lack is not the only person counting on his return to form.

Binghamton, the AHL affiliate of the Devils, needs Lack to make an impact quickly. New Jersey acquired him in a trade from the Calgary Flames for defenseman Dalton Prout on Dec. 30 and assigned him to Binghamton.

At 10-17-4-1, Binghamton is second-to-last in the AHL in points (25) and last in points percentage (.391).

Binghamton has relied on young goaltending prospects Mackenzie Blackwood and Ken Appleby. Blackwood, 21, is 4-10-3 with a 3.81 goals-against average and .868 save percentage in 19 games; Appleby, 22, is 5-7-2 with a 3.08 GAA and .892 save percentage.

Lack, 29, landed in the AHL this season after early-season struggles with the Calgary Flames. Before being sent to Stockton on Nov. 24, he was 1-2-0 in four games to go with a 5.29 GAA and .813 save percentage.

With a solid Stockton team competing for first place in the Pacific Division, Lack began to put his game back together, going 2-2-1 with a 2.57 GAA and .916 save percentage in five AHL games. However, the Flames had David Rittich taking the backup job in Calgary, and a pair of solid prospects in Jon Gillies and Mason McDonald also needing playing time with Stockton.

Bringing in Lack, who is with his fourth organization in less than three seasons, should help alleviate some of the pressure on Appleby and Blackwood, who was assigned to Adirondack of the ECHL on Monday, in their ongoing development. Plus, if Lack plays well, he could pull Binghamton back in contention, raising his NHL stock in the process.


Matt Beleskey - Providence (Boston Bruins)

After Beleskey struggled to get into the lineup, Boston management put him on waivers, On Dec. 15, he was sent to Providence.

"I'm just looking to get some confidence, play my game, [get] some opportunity," said Beleskey, who had no points and a minus-8 rating in 14 NHL games this season.

The ice time that eluded him in Boston is more than available in the AHL. Providence starts a stretch of nine games in 17 days Friday.

Beleskey, 29, has two goals in the six AHL games he has played. Providence has the best point percentage in the Eastern Conference and one of the deepest collection of forwards in the AHL.

"He is a great example for our players," Providence coach Jay Leach said. "He is a very welcome addition to our group."


Louis Domingue - Syracuse (Tampa Bay Lightning)

Domingue may not be in line for much playing time behind Andrei Vasilevskiy, the No. 1 goaltender for the Lightning. However, Domingue's future looks much brighter than it did two months ago.

The Lightning acquired Dominigue from the Arizona Coyotes in a trade for goaltender Michael Leighton and forward Tye McGinn on Nov. 14. Dominigue, who had played 70 NHL games with Arizona in the past two seasons, was sent to Syracuse after the trade.

The mission with Syracuse for Domingue, 25, was simple. After struggling with the Coyotes and heading back home to train by himself, he needed to find his game and revive his career.

He did that in Syracuse. He settled down a struggling team and went 9-4-0 in 13 games to go with a 2.39 GAA and .911 save percentage; he also played a key role in a 10-game win streak.

A lower-body injury to Peter Budaj prompted the Lightning to recall Domingue on Dec. 30.

Dominigue can look to Budaj for further inspiration.

In 2014-15, Budaj was 0-9-6 with a 3.55 GAA and .888 save percentage for St. John's (AHL). He rallied the next season and went 42-14-4 with a 1.75 GAA and .932 save percentage for Ontario, won the Baz Bastien Award as the top goaltender in the AHL, and took the Los Angeles Kings affiliate to the Western Conference Final.

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