Almost 90 percent of players to appear in the NHL go through the American Hockey League at some point in their careers. The starting points for those journeys, however, can vary wildly.
The AHL is playing a condensed, intra-divisional schedule this season, which began Feb. 5, due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus. A month into the AHL season, plenty of NHL first-round picks are excelling. However, less-heralded players are also making an impact this season.
Here is a look at five such players making names for themselves in the AHL this season:
Jack Ahcan, D, Providence (Boston Bruins)
Ahcan (5-foot-8, 179 pounds) could be the next in a wave of smaller defensemen making an impact in the NHL.
Providence has churned out Boston-bound defensemen for years, and the 23-year-old rapidly has won the trust of coach Jay Leach. Through eight games for Providence (6-2-0-0), Ahcan has scored six points (one goal, five assists).
Ahcan, who was not selected in the NHL Draft, signed a two-year, entry-level contract with the Bruins on March 27, 2020, after playing four seasons at St. Cloud State University. He scored 25 points (seven goals, 18 assists) in 33 games last season and was named to National Collegiate Hockey Conference Second All-Star Team for the second consecutive season. He scored 103 points (21 goals, 82 assists) in 144 NCAA games.
Joachim Blichfeld, F, San Jose (San Jose Sharks)
Blichfeld is putting up good numbers in his second pro season in San Jose. The 22-year-old Denmark-born forward scored two goals in a 3-1 win against Ontario (Los Angeles Kings) on Sunday, and through six games has scored nine points (six goals, three assists), including a five-game point streak.
Last season he scored 32 points (16 goals, 16 assists) in 44 AHL games for San Jose. He also played in the 2020 AHL All-Star Classic.
The Sharks selected Blichfeld (6-2, 190) in the seventh round (No. 210) of the 2016 NHL Draft. He made his NHL season debut with San Jose against the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday; he was suspended two games for an illegal check to the head of Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon in the Sharks' 3-0 loss.
Ryan Murphy, D, Henderson (Vegas Golden Knights)
First-round picks need a few chances sometimes.
The 27-year-old defenseman, selected by the Carolina Hurricanes with the No. 12 pick in the 2011 NHL Draft, played 175 NHL games with the Hurricanes, Minnesota Wild and New Jersey Devils before resetting his career in the Kontinental Hockey League last season. Murphy (5-11, 185) scored 23 points (eight goals, 15 assists) in 56 games for Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk.
Murphy, who signed a one-year contract with the Vegas' Golden Knights' AHL affiliate Aug. 14, 2020, leads AHL defensemen with 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in nine games and could be setting himself up to earn another NHL contract.
Logan Thompson, G, Henderson (Vegas Golden Knights)
Thompson (6-4, 190) is 24 years old but has traveled a lengthy road to the Golden Knights' new AHL home.
After four seasons with Brandon of the Western Hockey League, Thompson played for Brock University (USports) in 2018-19 and finished that season with stops in Adirondack of the ECHL and Binghamton (New Jersey Devils) of the AHL. In 2019-20, he played for South Carolina of the ECHL, going 23-8-1 with a 2.25 goals-against average, a .929 save percentage and three shutouts.
That performance attracted the interest of Vegas, which signed him to a two-year contract July 13, 2020.
Thompson has adapted quickly. He was named the CCM/AHL Goaltender of the Month for February after going 4-1-0 with a 1.81 GAA and a .942 save percentage in five games for Henderson (8-1-0-0), which is tied with Chicago (Carolina Hurricanes/Nashville Predators) for the best point percentage in the AHL.
The proximity of the NHL and AHL franchises has allowed the Golden Knights to rotate Thompson between Henderson and the NHL taxi squad.
Zayde Wisdom, F, Lehigh Valley (Philadelphia Flyers)
The Ontario Hockey League has not begun its 2020-21 season due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus and has yet to commit to a restart date, so the 18-year-old forward is eligible to remain in the AHL for now and is taking advantage of the opportunity. His six goals in eight games tie him with teammate Max Willman for second among AHL rookies. Wisdom also has three assists for nine points.
Wisdom (5-10, 201), who scored 59 points (29 goals, 30 assists) in 62 games with Kingston of the OHL last season, was selected by the Flyers in the fourth round (No. 94) of the 2020 NHL Draft.