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AHL Notebook: Milwaukee, Tucson off to strong starts

Success of Predators, Coyotes affiliates top storylines in first two months of season

by Patrick Williams / NHL.com Independent Correspondent

The American Hockey League season is more than two-months old, and some patterns have started to emerge. Here is a look at some key headlines through the opening third of the regular season:

 

Milwaukee (Nashville Predators)

The Predators have relied on Milwaukee to deliver a steady supply of young talent over the years. Defensemen Roman Josi and Shea Weber, forward Filip Forsberg and goalie Pekka Rinne are among the most notable Milwaukee alumni to play for the Predators. 

One pillar has been to develop prospects in Milwaukee within a winning AHL environment, but that has been taken to new heights this season.

Milwaukee has a 14-point lead on Rockford for first place in the Central Division. It had a 13-game winning streak from Nov. 2 to Dec. 1. No other AHL team has won more than eight in a row this season.

Milwaukee is third in the AHL at 3.55 goals per game and second in power-play percentage at 26.8 percent. It ranks second in goals-against at 2.38 per game.

Prospect Yakov Trenin and veteran Cole Schneider are each tied for eighth in AHL scoring at 26 points. Trenin (6-foot-2, 201 pounds), a 22-year-old forward chosen by Nashville in the second round (No. 55) of the 2015 NHL Draft, is also tied for third in the league with 14 goals in 19 games. Schneider (6-1, 203), a 29-year-old forward, has nine goals and 17 assists. 

 

Tucson (Arizona Coyotes)

The Coyotes struggled to build a successful AHL development program for several seasons and longed to have an affiliate closer to home.

That has changed with general manager John Chayka. The Coyotes found geographical convenience and set up an in-state AHL base with Tucson before the 2016-17 season.

Coyotes assistant GM Steve Sullivan is also Tucson's GM and has worked with Tucson coach Jay Varady to turn around the Coyotes at the AHL level. A winning culture for their prospects has followed.

Tucson's 21 wins lead the AHL. It is second in scoring (3.65 goals per game) and third in goals-against per game (2.42). 

Rookie goalie Ivan Prosvetov (6-5, 175) has emerged quickly as a strong prospect after Arizona selected him in the fourth round (No. 114) of the 2018 NHL Draft. After one season in the Ontario Hockey League, the 20-year-old turned pro and is 7-1-0 with a 1.97 goals-against average and .944 save percentage in eight AHL games.

Arizona collected enough prospect depth to allow it to give up forward prospects Nick Merkley and Nate Schnarr, each of whom was playing in Tucson, in the Taylor Hall trade with the New Jersey Devils on Monday.

 

Hartford (New York Rangers)

The Rangers made significant offseason investments to bulk up Hartford with veteran help.

They also welcomed top-end goalie prospect Igor Shesterkin (6-2, 182), whom they selected in the fourth-round (No. 118) of the 2014 NHL Draft. Fresh off a standout season with SKA St. Petersburg in the Kontinental Hockey League, the 23-year-old is 11-3-3 with an AHL-leading 1.81 goals-against average and .936 save percentage, which is third. He is tied for fifth among goalies with 17 games.

Shesterkin and the improved roster has Hartford tied with Providence (Boston Bruins) for second place in the Eastern Conference, one point behind Rochester (Buffalo Sabres).

 

Texas (Dallas Stars)

Perhaps no team in the 31-team AHL has had a more eventful start than Texas.

An 0-11-0-1 stretch from Oct. 23 to Nov. 23 threatened to sink the season. However, Texas went on an 8-0-1-0 run to salvage things before a 3-1 loss to Tucson on Saturday.

More change occured when Dallas fired coach Jim Montgomery on Dec. 10 and replaced him with assistant Rick Bowness. That move prompted the Stars to bring Texas coach Derek Laxdal to the NHL as an assistant. Neil Graham was promoted from assistant to coach with Texas.

Last in the Central Division (11-14-1-2), Texas has work to do. But what was a 10-point gap between Texas and the playoff line has shrunk to three points.

 

Revitalized goaltending

Have a goalie who needs a fresh start?

A good destination might be Springfield (Florida Panthers), where goaltending coach Leo Luongo has shown a knack for rebuilding careers.

Philippe Desrosiers (6-1, 204), selected by Dallas in the second round (No. 54) of the 2013 NHL Draft, had been shuttling between the AHL and ECHL for several teams since turning pro for the 2015-16 season.

The 24-year-old signed with Florida on July 3 and has flourished. He made 62 saves in a 3-1 home win against Lehigh Valley (Philadelphia Flyers) on Dec. 4. His .922 save percentage is eighth in the AHL and he is 7-3-0 with a 3.05 GAA.

Before Desrosiers was Chris Driedger, who is 1-1-0 with a 1.53 GAA and .942 save percentage in two games for the Panthers. Florida recalled him from Springfield on Nov. 25 after a stellar start to his AHL season. Like Desrosiers, Driedger (6-4, 205) had struggled elsewhere. The 25-year-old, selected by the Ottawa Senators in the third round (No. 76) of the 2012 NHL Draft, struggled to establish himself at the AHL level.

He signed an AHL contract with Springfield for the 2018-19 season before signing with Florida on Feb. 24 after a strong performance. This season, he has an AHL-leading .938 save percentage and is 6-8-0 with a 2.09 GAA that's tied with Veini Vehvilainen of Cleveland (Columbus Blue Jackets) for second.

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