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AHL Notebook: Second-helpings good for prospects

Dal Colle, Connor among returnees ready to prove NHL credentials

by Patrick Williams / NHL.com Correspondent

For top prospects, a second season in the American Hockey League is when NHL executives begin to receive some answers.

If the player had a difficult rookie season in the AHL, does he begin to figure out the pro game in his second season?

If he was struggling in the transition from Europe, was it simply an acclimation period to the North American game?

As a college product, did the first-year player simply need to time to adjust to the demanding AHL schedule?

For those that showed progress in their first go-round, does the improvement continue or has a ceiling been reached?

The answers to many of those questions for NHL front offices, or the introduction of still more questions, often occurs during the second season.

Here is a look at five prospects going into critical second AHL seasons:

 

Michael Dal Colle, LW, Bridgeport (New York Islanders)

Dal Colle, among a stable of prospects learning the pro game in Bridgeport, looks to be right on track for the Islanders. The No. 5 pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, the left wing (6-foot-3, 204 pounds) adjusted quickly to the AHL pace and had 41 points (15 goals, 26 assists) in 75 games as a 20-year-old rookie last season. Bridgeport coach Brent Thompson has a proven track record of preparing prospects for NHL duty, including defenseman Ryan Pulock and forward Joshua Ho-Sang. With the customary turnover that comes annually with AHL rosters, Thompson will rely on Dal Colle for even more production this season.

 

Mark Jankowski, C, Stockton (Calgary Flames)

The development curve has been a long one for the 23-year-old center. Calgary selected him in the first round (No. 21) of the 2012 NHL Draft before he went on to play four seasons with Providence College. Last season as an AHL rookie, he had a team-leading 27 goals and 56 points for Stockton in the difficult Pacific Division. After remaining with the Flames deep into training camp this fall, Jankowski (6-4, 204) opened his second AHL season with three goals in two games. He will receive first-line minutes and be one of the key pieces for an offense that also includes forward prospects Andrew Mangiapane and Emile Poirier.

 

Charlie Lindgren, G, Laval (Montreal Canadiens)

With Carey Price entrenched as the No. 1 goalie in Montreal, the Canadiens will not be in the market for a replacement soon. But a prospect like Lindgre, 23, is attractive for general manager Marc Bergevin all the same. As an AHL rookie coming from St. Cloud State University, Lindgren proved that he could be a workhorse with the heavier AHL schedule last season. He was 24-18-6 with a 2.56 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage in 48 games and helped St. John's, where the Canadiens' AHL team played last season, into the Calder Cup Playoffs. Against eventual Eastern Conference champion Syracuse he had a 2.21 GAA and a .922 save percentage in a first-round loss. With the move to Laval this season, the Canadiens undertook an extensive rebuilding project for its AHL affiliate, and Lindgren (6-1, 182) should have an excellent team in front of him. He started this season with two wins, one of them a shutout, to go with a 1.00 GAA and .956 save percentage.

 

Kyle Wood, D, Tucson (Arizona Coyotes)

The transition to the AHL can be difficult for any player, but it especially can be tough on defensemen. Habits and shortcuts formed in lower levels quickly are exposed by pro competition. While Tucson struggled considerably in the second half of last season, Wood, 21, finished as one of the bright spots in a non-playoff season. He had 43 points (14 goals, 29 assists) and was named to the AHL all-rookie team. He brings size (6-7, 235) and a powerful shot. As with most young defensemen in the AHL, a key part of the second season will be to continue to learn the pro game defensively and improve his mobility.

 

Kyle Connor, LW, Manitoba (Winnipeg Jets)

The Jets' draft-and-develop approach has started to churn out young talent. One of the key figures in that process is Connor, a first-round pick (No. 17) in the 2015 NHL Draft. The forward (6-1, 182) has proven to be a quick learner offensively. After eight goals in his first 32 AHL games as a rookie last season, he scored 17 goals in his final 20 AHL games. In between he had a 20-game run with the Jets, during which he had five points (two goals, three assists). His 2016-17 showing followed a 35-goal season as a freshman at the University of Michigan in 2015-16. A deeper NHL roster has afforded the Jets the luxury of taking a patient approach with Connor, 20, and starting him in the AHL for his second pro season to refine his two-way game further. The Jets should have their best group of AHL forwards in several seasons, with Connor joined by fellow forward prospects Jack Roslovic and Brendan Lemieux.

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