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Young prospects getting seasoning in Calder Cup Playoffs

Lyon, Edjsell, Hintz, Grundstrom developing during pressure-packed postseason

by Patrick Williams / Correspondent

NHL general managers want their prospects to experience the pressure and demands of a long postseason run, and some of those young players are getting just that in the American Hockey League's Calder Cup Playoffs.

In the best-of-7 Eastern Conference Final, Toronto (Toronto Maple Leafs) has a 2-0 lead against Lehigh Valley (Philadelphia Flyers). Toronto will take a seven-game playoff winning streak into Game 3 at Lehigh Valley on Wednesday.

Texas (Dallas Stars) has a 3-0 lead in the best-of-7 Western Conference Final against Rockford (Chicago Blackhawks) after a 6-5 overtime win Tuesday. Rockford hosts Game 4 on Thursday. Texas has won its past seven playoff games.

Here is a look at four NHL prospects who have made strong showings in the Calder Cup Playoffs:


Alex Lyon, Lehigh Valley

Top goaltending prospect Carter Hart has joined Lehigh Valley after finishing his Western Hockey League season, but Lyon is doing plenty to make his own mark on Philadelphia's depth chart.

Lyon, 25, is completing his second pro season, having taken the No. 1 job from veteran Dustin Tokarski in the postseason.

Lehigh Valley had 104 points, second-best in the AHL, but has faced a treacherous path so far. Facing the first- and third-best regular-season offenses in the postseason, the undrafted Lyon (6-foot-1, 198 pounds) has shown he can handle the playoff grind.

Lyon limited Charlotte (Carolina Hurricanes), the No. 1 offense (3.45 goals per game) to four goals in four games, including carrying Lehigh Valley through a 2-1 five-overtime road win in Game 4 with 94 saves.

Toronto's offense ranked third in the AHL during the regular season (3.34 goals per game). After making 28 saves in a 4-2 loss in Game 1, Lyon made 44 saves in a 3-2 overtime loss in Game 2.


Victor Ejdsell, Rockford

Though Texas has held the 22-year-old forward scoreless in three games, Ejdsell is tied for the AHL lead in rookie playoff scoring with eight points (five goals, three assists) in 10 games.

He brings size (6-5, 214) and excellent offensive instincts as part of a talented young cast the Blackhawks have put in place in Rockford.

Chicago acquired Ejdsell in a trade with the Nashville Predators for forward Ryan Hartman on Feb. 26. Ejdsell spent most of the season in the Swedish Hockey League with HV71, where he finished with 34 points (20 goals, 14 assists) in 50 regular-season games.

After his SHL season, he headed to North America to finish the regular season. He had an assist in five regular-season AHL games and played six games with the Blackhawks with one assist.


Roope Hintz, Texas

Dallas could have rushed the 21-year-old forward to the NHL, but Stars management has chosen to take a more patient approach.

After having 35 points (20 goals, 15 assists) in his first AHL season, Hintz (6-3, 205) has continued a strong postseason in helping to push Texas past playoff opponents Ontario (Los Angeles Kings) and Tucson (Arizona Coyotes), the Western Conference regular-season champion.

He is tied for the AHL rookie playoff scoring lead with Ejdsell and Tucson forward Dylan Strome, with eight points (two goals, six assists) in 12 games.

Dallas selected him in the second round (No. 49) of the 2015 NHL Draft. He has been joined on a line with another top prospect from the Stars' draft class that year, forward Denis Gurianov (No. 12).

Hintz had a goal and assisted on Remi Elie's game-winning goal in a 4-2 home win in Game 1 against Rockford.


Carl Grundstrom, Toronto

AHL opponents did not need to see another offensive option for Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe.

Keefe already had an abundance of skill in his lineup before Grundstrom arrived late in the regular season from Frolunda of the SHL.

The 20-year-old forward (6-0, 194), who was selected by the Maple Leafs in the second round (No. 57) of the 2016 NHL Draft, had 24 points (17 goals, seven assists) in 35 regular-season SHL games.

After three points (two goals, one assist) in two games for Toronto on the final weekend of the AHL regular season, Grundstrom continues to excel on a line with skilled prospects Andreas Johnsson and Miro Aaltonen. His third-period goal in Game 2 against Lehigh Valley set up the overtime win.

He is always active in the offensive zone, and his seven points (five goals, two assists) in 11 playoff games place him second in rookie scoring.


A "vaulting stone"

Nashville has had one of the most successful AHL pipelines for years, and the Minnesota Wild are hoping they can tap into the expertise that helped to build it.

Paul Fenton, named the Wild's general manager Monday, had been the Predators' assistant general manager for the past 12 seasons. He also was the general manager of their AHL affiliate in Milwaukee.

Nashville had 19 former Milwaukee players on its roster that reached the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. Predators with Milwaukee roots include goaltender Pekka Rinne; defensemen Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm, and Ryan Ellis; and forwards Viktor Arvidsson, Kevin Fiala, and Filip Forsberg. Former Predators defenseman Shea Weber, now with the Montreal Canadiens, also began his pro career in Milwaukee.

"I believe that your [AHL] team has to be your vaulting stone to get to the next level," Fenton said during his introductory news conference at Xcel Energy Center on Tuesday. "That's the biggest thing -- to draft and develop."

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