In a continuing look at the crop of new prospects coming into focus in the American Hockey League, the attention turns to defensemen, who face a challenging learning curve.
Mastering the ups and downs that come with the transition to the top developmental league in the world is a must for those who hope to find success at this level and, eventually, promotion to the NHL.
Each of the first two weeks of this series featured a look at some of the top young goalie prospects in the American Hockey League. Last week's installment was a look at five of the top defenseman prospects in the AHL's Eastern Conference.
Here is a look at five AHL Western Conference defensemen with ample NHL potential (all statistics are through Monday). A breakdown of forward prospects will follow each of the next two weeks.
Adam Boqvist, Rockford (Chicago Blackhawks)
The No. 8 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, Boqvist has the challenging task of handling the AHL as a 19-year-old.
Boqvist (5-foot-11, 179 pounds) started the season with Rockford and had one goal in six games. Chicago called him up for the first time Oct. 31, one day after he scored. He played six games with the Blackhawks, scoring once.
He was returned to Rockford on Nov. 14 and has handled the move well as part of a group of young prospects that includes defensemen Nicolas Beaudin, Lucas Carlsson, Dennis Gilbert and Chad Krys. He had three assists in a 7-6 shootout loss at Texas (Dallas Stars) on Nov. 23 and had two more assists the next day at San Antonio (St. Louis Blues).
Video: CHI@ANA: Boqvist scores off iron for first NHL goal
Evan Bouchard, Bakersfield (Edmonton Oilers)
Bouchard (6-3, 194), the 10th pick in the 2018 draft, is one of the prime examples of the patient approach the organization is taking with its prospects.
Aside from a brief call-up at the start of the 2018-19 NHL season, Edmonton has kept the 20-year-old with Bakersfield, where he has 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in 18 games.
This is not Bouchard's first taste of the AHL. He joined Bakersfield last season in the Calder Cup Playoffs for its first-round series against Colorado (Colorado Avalanche). He had three points (one goal, two assists) in Game 3 and finished the postseason with eight points (three goals, five assists) in eight games.
Kale Clague, Ontario (Los Angeles Kings)
Clague is a key part of the Kings' rebuilding process but is not being rushed.
Clague (6-0, 177), taken by Los Angeles in the second round (No. 51) of the 2016 NHL Draft, had a strong finish to his Western Hockey League career in 2017-18 with 71 points (11 goals, 60 assists) for Brandon and Moose Jaw in 54 regular-season games. He was named the WHL's top defenseman and won the 2018 World Junior Championship with Canada.
In 2018-19, he had 29 points (seven goals, 22 assists) in 52 regular-season games for Ontario in his rookie AHL season, which was cut short by an injury.
This season has started better for the 21-year-old. Clague has seven points (three goals, four assists) in 18 games, and Ontario is in the middle of the pack in the Western Conference after finishing last in 2018-19.
Jeremy Davies, Milwaukee (Nashville Predators)
Davies was acquired from the New Jersey Devils with defenseman Steven Santini, a second-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft and a second-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft for defenseman P.K. Subban on June 22.
Nashville sent Davies to Milwaukee for further seasoning, a path shared by Shea Weber, Roman Josi, and Ryan Suter, among other top-flight defensemen who have been in the organization.
A seventh-round pick (No. 192) in the 2016 draft by the Devils, the defenseman had his stock rise considerably during his time with Northeastern University (NCAA). He was a finalist last season for the Hobey Baker Award, given to the best men's NCAA player, scoring 36 points (eight goals, 28 assists) in 37 games.
Davies (5-11, 180), who turns 23 on Dec. 4, has six points (two goals, four assists) in 19 AHL games for Milwaukee (14-3-1-2), which leads the AHL with 31 points and has won 10 consecutive games.
Niko Mikkola, San Antonio (St. Louis Blues)
A fifth-round pick (No. 127) by the Blues in the 2015 NHL Draft, Mikkola (6-4, 185) has steadily climbed the organizational depth chart since arriving in North America to start the 2018-19 AHL season.
The 23-year-old had nine points (two goals, seven assists) in 70 regular-season games for San Antonio last season but ended on a high note when he had five points (two goals, three assists) in 10 games to help Finland win the 2019 World Championship.
This season, Mikkola has seven points (two goals, five assists) in 20 AHL games and has made himself a strong candidate to join the Blues if a need arises.