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AHL notebook: Wild, Stars hopefuls dot Western Conference All-Star roster

Kahkonen of Iowa, Lazar of Stockton among impressive talent for Central, Pacific divisions

by Patrick Williams / NHL.com Correspondent

The American Hockey League announced its rosters on Jan. 3 for the AHL All-Star Classic, and it will be another showcase for top-tier potential talent for the NHL.

Each of the AHL's four divisions will have a team of 12 players. The four teams will compete in a round-robin 3-on-3 tournament that will end with a championship game.

Thirteen of the 48 players selected were first- or second-round NHL Draft choices.

Iowa (Minnesota Wild) coach Tim Army will lead the Central Division, while San Jose (San Jose Sharks) coaching mainstay Roy Sommer will head the Pacific Division.

Here is a look at some of the high-profile Western Conference players who will compete for the Central and Pacific Division teams.

Last week's notebook featured a breakdown of some of the top talent from the Eastern Conference.

 

Denis Gurianov, Texas (Dallas Stars)

It has been a long journey through pro hockey for the Russian forward. Dallas selected him No. 12 in the 2015 NHL Draft, four spots ahead of center Mathew Barzal (New York Islanders), who won the Calder Trophy as the NHL's best rookie last season, and five spots ahead of forward Kyle Connor, who had 31 goals for the Winnipeg Jets in 2017-18.

Compared to the success of Barzal and Connor, Gurianov (6-foot-2, 195 pounds), had developed at a slower pace. When Texas went to Game 7 of the Calder Cup Final last season, Gurianov was a healthy scratch for five games, including the final two. He had five points (two goals, three assists) in 16 playoff games after scoring 19 goals during the regular season. His tendency to blend into the play, rather than stand out, did him no favors.

However, Gurianov has started to rewrite his story after a difficult 2017-18 season. Several offseason losses for Texas have allowed him to return to the lineup as a regular. He had six goals in the first eight games and was promoted to Dallas. In 11 NHL games, he had three points (one goal, two assists).

Time is still on the side of the 21-year-old, who has 31 points (11 goals, 20 assists) in 28 AHL games.

 

Kaapo Kahkonen, Iowa (Minnesota)

Kahkonen has been a major part of turning around what has long been a struggling AHL franchise. Minnesota has not had its AHL affiliate reach the postseason since 2013, a five-season drought.

The Wild selected Kahkonen (6-2, 214) in the fourth round (No. 109) of the 2014 NHL Draft but chose to give the goalie three seasons of top-level experience in his native Finland. The 22-year-old arrived in North America after a standout 2017-18 season with Lukko Rauma, where he went 20-23-12 with a 2.20 goals-against average and .922 save percentage.

Kahkonen is 11-6-4 in 21 games with Iowa and has an AHL-leading five shutouts. His 2.43 GAA and .918 save percentage each rank sixth in the AHL. He also had a league-best 207:55 shutout streak earlier in the season that also set an Iowa team record.

 

Curtis Lazar, Stockton (Calgary Flames)

While most AHL players are still trying to establish their NHL potential, Lazar is taking a different path.

A first-round pick (No. 17) of the Ottawa Senators in the 2013 NHL Draft, Lazar (6-0, 205) played 245 NHL games during four seasons with Ottawa and Calgary before being sent to Stockton. The 23-year-old forward was sent to the AHL to play major minutes.

His 31 points (13 goals, 18 assists) in 36 games tie him with forward Kerby Rychel for the team lead. He plays in all situations and serves as an alternate captain.

 

Sean Walker, Ontario (Los Angeles Kings)

Walker played himself into the organization's plans with a strong rookie AHL season in 2017-18, which followed a four-year career at Bowling Green University (NCAA).

Walker (5-11, 196) had 28 points (seven goals, 21 assists) in 64 regular-season games last season for Ontario. That was good enough to earn him a two-year entry-level contract from the Kings on July 3, 2018.

As the Kings try to retool their roster, the ability to skate and move the puck make the 24-year-old defenseman a good prospect to watch.

He has three points (one goal, two assists) in 17 games with Los Angeles and 17 points (six goals, 11 assists) in 20 games for Ontario.

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