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AHL Notebook: Midseason award winners

Utica forward Boucher, Charlotte defenseman Bean among best at halfway point

by Patrick Williams / NHL.com Independent Correspondent

American Hockey League teams have reached the midpoint of the schedule.

Here is a look at midseason award winners in the top developmental league of the NHL:

 

Most Valuable Player

F Reid Boucher -- Utica (Vancouver Canucks)

Boucher (5-foot-10, 195 pounds) has yet to stick in the NHL full-time at 26 years old, but he continues to dominate opposing AHL defenses.

The New Jersey Devils took him in the fourth round (No. 99) of the 2011 NHL Draft, and he has played 133 NHL regular-season games.

In the AHL, armed with a powerful shot and top-notch offensive instincts, Boucher is a threat in all situations. Of his 24 goals, seven were scored on the power play, and his two shorthanded goals are tied for third in the league. Those 24 goals are second, and his 25 assists are tied for fourth to give him a league-leading 49 points in 38 games. He has run away with the league lead in shots on goal (165).

 

Top goalie

Igor Shesterkin -- Hartford (New York Rangers)

Tied with Hershey (Washington Capitals) at 55 points atop the Atlantic Division, Hartford is learning about life without Shesterkin.

The Rangers selected Shesterkin (6-2, 182) in the fourth round (No. 118) of the 2014 NHL Draft, and he more than exceeded the expectations that greeted his arrival from the Kontinental Hockey League.

Shesterkin, 24, went 15-4-3 before he was recalled by the Rangers on Jan. 6 but remains tied for second in the AHL in wins. His 1.93 goals-against average is first and his .932 save percentage is second. Although Shesterkin has been away from Hartford for more than two weeks, he is seventh in games (23) among goalies.

Video: COL@NYR: Shesterkin denies Bellemare with the pad

 

Top defenseman

Jake Bean -- Charlotte (Carolina Hurricanes)

Charlotte looked like anything but the defending Calder Cup champions in the opening third of the season after numerous offseason departures.

Coach Ryan Warsofsky relied on returnees like Bean and goalie Alex Nedeljkovic to keep the Checkers afloat until they were retooled. Charlotte has since won 15 of 18 games.

Bean (6-1, 186), chosen by the Hurricanes with the No. 13 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, is in his second pro season. He was named to the AHL All-Rookie Team last season with 44 points (13 goals, 31 assists) in 70 regular-season games.

The 21-year-old is surpassing that strong performance with 31 points (seven goals, 24 assists) in 29 games, tied for second among AHL defensemen. He plays a smooth, composed game built on puck movement and is ideally suited for the modern NHL game. Twelfth among defensemen in shots (83), he also is a crucial piece of Charlotte's fourth-ranked power play (23.1 percent).

 

Top coach

Troy Mann -- Belleville (Ottawa Senators)

Mann had plenty of success in four seasons coaching Hershey, which had 14 players on the Capitals' 2018 Stanley Cup championship roster.

The first half of Mann's second season in Belleville might be his finest effort. The Senators are contending for first place in the Eastern Conference despite using 15 defensemen and with more than 100 roster transactions.

Belleville is on an eight-game, 16-day road trip. Going into play Tuesday at league leader Milwaukee (Nashville Predators), it had a league-best 16 road wins and started the trip 5-0-1-0

 

Top rookie

F Josh Norris -- Belleville

Much of Belleville's success has been centered around a growing base of top prospects.

Norris (6-1, 190) was selected by the San Jose Sharks with the No. 19 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft and came to Ottawa in the Erik Karlsson trade Sept. 13, 2018. The 20-year-old left the University of Michigan after two seasons and leads the AHL in rookie scoring with 40 points (22 goals, 18 assists) in 41 games entering Tuesday. His 22 goals and nine power-play goals are each tied for third.

He is not hesitant to shoot the puck. His 121 shots are tied for seventh.

 

Breakout player

F Joachim Blichfeld -- San Jose (Sharks)

With a long-standing NHL core based around Brent Burns, Logan Couture, Joe Thornton and more, the Sharks have not needed to heavily rely on their AHL affiliate to supply impact players. Instead, they have shown a knack for finding undrafted or overlooked talent that could be developed slowly at the AHL level before plugging a hole or playing a supporting role on the NHL roster.

Blichfeld (6-2, 180) is the latest find after the Sharks took him in the seventh round (No. 210) of the 2016 NHL Draft. The 21-year-old played three seasons for Portland of the Western Hockey League, including an overage season in 2018-19 when he had 114 points (53 goals, 61 assists) in 68 regular-season games.

The Barracuda have struggled and are in a tough fight in the Pacific Division playoff race, but Blichfeld has had a quick adaptation to the pro game with 25 points (13 goals, 12 assists). He played his first three NHL games in his second pro season and will represent the organization at the 2020 AHL All-Star Classic.

 

Top team

Milwaukee

The Nashville-Milwaukee pipeline has a long history of success going back to the Predators' inaugural 1998-99 season, when their affiliate was in the former International Hockey League.

Could Milwaukee, the 2004 Calder Cup winner, add another title this June?

That remains to be seen, but the Admirals are well-positioned for a long run. A team-record 13-game winning streak from Nov. 2-Jan. 18 helped them build a nine-point lead for first place in the Central Division going into play Tuesday.

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