The postseason experience has long been an important final stop for many players before they graduate to the NHL. Last season Toronto (Toronto Maple Leafs) won the Calder Cup in seven games against Texas (Dallas Stars), and six Toronto players converted that experience into NHL opportunities. Forward Andreas Johnsson won the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy as the most valuable player in the Calder Cup Playoffs in his farewell.
Here is a team-by-team look at some of the intriguing prospects who will compete for the Calder Cup this year:
Bakersfield (Edmonton Oilers)
As the rebuild continues for the Oilers, Pacific Division champion Bakersfield could play a prominent role by giving players valuable experience with a long postseason run.
Bakersfield, which had a 17-game winning streak earlier this season, the second-longest in AHL history, faces Colorado (Colorado Avalanche) in the first round.
First-round series are best-of-5.
Goalie Shane Starrett and forward Tyler Benson were each named to the AHL Second All-Star Team and the AHL All-Rookie Team last week.
Starrett (6-foot-5, 181 pounds), emerged as Bakersfield's No. 1 goalie and had an exceptional season after spending most of last season with Wichita (ECHL) as a rookie. The 24-year-old undrafted free agent was 27-7-5 in 42 games with a 2.33 goals-against average and .918 save percentage, which led all rookies. Depending on Edmonton's plans for next season, Starrett could be a candidate to fill the backup role with the Oilers, especially if he can lead the Edmonton organization to its first Calder Cup championship since 1993.
Benson (6-0, 190) came into his rookie pro season with considerably more notoriety after being selected in the second round (No. 32) in the of the 2016 NHL Draft. The 21-year-old had 66 points (15 goals, 51 assists) in 68 games; eighth in AHL scoring and second among rookies behind Alex Barre-Boulet of Syracuse (68 points).
Charlotte (Carolina Hurricanes)
Defenseman Jake Bean, a member of the AHL All-Rookie Team, is with the Hurricanes, but Charlotte has an abundance of young talent to face Providence (Boston Bruins). Charlotte won the Macgregor Kilpatrick Trophy as the regular-season champion with 110 points and 51 wins.
Martin Necas did not turn 20 until Jan. 15, but he's shown why Carolina chose him in the first round (No. 12) in the 2017 NHL Draft. Necas (6-2, 189) finished with 52 points (16 goals, 36 assists) in 64 games. After 21 consecutive games without a goal from Jan. 11 to March 15, the forward found chemistry with Tomas Jurco, a late-season addition. Necas had 17 points (seven goals, 10 assists) in his final 15 games.
Necas is far from the only strong prospect. Goalie Alex Nedeljkovic was a second-round pick (No. 37) in the 2014 NHL Draft. In his third pro season, the 23-year-old led AHL goaltenders with 51 appearances and was 34-9-5. His 2.26 GAA ranked first, and his .916 save percentage tied for ninth.
Forward Aleksi Saarela (5-10, 200) had 54 points (a team-leading 30 goals, 24 assists) in 69 games as a 22-year-old. Rookie forward Morgan Geekie (6-3, 192) had 46 points (19 goals, 27 assists) in 73 games after Carolina selected the 20-year-old in the third round (No. 67) of the 2017 draft. Julien Gauthier (6-4, 227), selected in the first round (No. 21) of the 2016 NHL Draft, finished second on the team to Saarela with 27 goals. The 21-year-old forward had 41 points in 75 games.
Chicago (Vegas Golden Knights)
Injuries to key veteran forwards Daniel Carr and Brooks Macek, first and third in scoring for Chicago, left major holes, but the Golden Knights' AHL affiliate won a regular-season division title for the second consecutive season. Chicago's 98 points and 44 wins also led the Western Conference.
In a first-round series with Grand Rapids, forward Cody Glass (6-2, 178), the sixth pick in the 2017 draft, will have an opportunity to make an impression.
An injury interrupted his WHL season with Portland, but he had 69 points (15 goals, 54 assists) in 38 WHL regular-season games and returned in time for one playoff game. Glass turned 20 on April 1 and joined Chicago the following day. He adjusted quickly to the pro game and had five points (three goals, two assists) in six games, including a two-goal debut on April 5.
The Golden Knights have started to amass young talent in the AHL, starting with their defensemen. Rookie Nic Hague (6-6, 215), a 20-year-old second-round pick (No. 34) in the 2017 draft, had 32 points (13 goals, 19 assists) in 75 games. Rookie Dylan Coghlan (6-2, 190), undrafted from the WHL, had 40 points (15 goals, 25 assists) in 66 games.
Syracuse (Tampa Bay Lightning)
The Lightning have patiently developed a consistently productive prospect group in Syracuse, which won the North Division title and had 102 points, second-most in the AHL.
Headlining a deep collection of prospects that will meet Cleveland (Columbus) is undrafted forward Alex Barre-Boulet (5-10, 170), who finished in a first-place tie with teammate Carter Verhaeghe with 34 goals. The 21-year-old had 34 assists, giving him the rookie scoring title with 68 points.
Defenseman Cal Foote (6-4, 221), taken in the first round (No. 14) in the 2017 draft by Tampa Bay, played in the Calder Cup Playoffs last season before turning pro full-time. The 21-year-old defenseman played 76 games for Syracuse and had 31 points (10 goals, 21 assists).