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AHL Report: At NHL Trade Deadline, prospect depth provides options

Manitoba, Syracuse, Providence among teams with multiple high-end players

by Patrick Williams / Correspondent

With the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline on Monday at 3 p.m. ET; it pays for NHL franchises to have options.

The player-development work a team does in the American Hockey League goes far beyond producing players for its own NHL roster. 

Prospects can be the difference between being able to make a potentially season-changing trade or missing out. Also, the salary cap flexibility provided by a prospect who's ready for promotion might let a team fit another high-priced incoming player onto the roster for a potential run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Here is a look at three organizations that have built strong talent pipelines sure to attract attention from other NHL general managers:


Manitoba (Winnipeg Jets)

When Kevin Cheveldayoff became general manager of the Jets in 2011 after the team relocated to Winnipeg from Atlanta, he immediately made draft-and-develop an organizational mantra.

That process is a long one, but the patience has paid off in Winnipeg. Goalie Connor Hellebuyck, defenseman Josh Morrissey, and forwards Kyle Connor, Jack Roslovic, Adam Lowry, Mason Appleton and Brendan Lemieux are among the products of the Manitoba pipeline.

Yet that AHL talent pool might have more to give. 

The present goalie due of Hellebuyck and Laurent Brossoit looks to have a bright future in Winnipeg. That leaves questions about the future of 23-year-old workhorse prospect Eric Comrie, who may well be the best goalie in the AHL.

Manitoba allows the third-most shots per game in the AHL (33.9), but Comrie (6-foot-1, 175 pounds) has done much of the work to carry his team to within three points of a postseason berth in the Central Division.

Comrie, a second-round selection (No. 59) by Winnipeg in the 2013 NHL Draft, leads the AHL in minutes (2178:51), ranks fourth in save percentage (.919), and is 19-13-4 with a 2.70 goals-against. Comrie is in his fourth pro season and is an attractive goalie prospect for a team in need of help.

The Jets also have 22-year-old defenseman Sami Niku, another of their draft-and-develop finds.

Winnipeg selected him in the seventh round (No. 198) of the 2015 NHL Draft. Niku (6-1, 176) made the move last season from JYP Jyvaskyla in Finland to Manitoba and adapted quickly to the AHL, finishing with 54 points (16 goals, 38 assists) in 76 regular-season games. Niku won the Eddie Shore Award as the AHL's best defenseman and was on the AHL All-Rookie Team and the AHL First All-Star Team. In his second North American season, he has split time between the Jets and Manitoba. He has two assists in 12 NHL games this season.


Syracuse (Tampa Bay Lightning)

There is young talent at all positions in Syracuse, but the forward group is particularly deep with Taylor Raddysh, Mitchell Stephens, Alex Volkov and Carter Verhaeghe.

Stephens, a second-round pick (No. 33) in the 2015 draft, has had to battle through injury after a strong rookie AHL season. The 22-year-old returned to play Feb. 8 after missing all but two games in the previous three months and scored two goals in his first game. Stephens (6-0, 193) has 11 points (five goals, six assists) in 15 games. Last season he had 41 points (19 goals, 22 assists) in 70 AHL games.

Raddysh (6-3, 216) was selected by the Lightning in the second round (No. 58) in the 2016 NHL Draft. The 21-year-old is a classic big-body forward who can win net-front puck battles. He has 31 points (14 goals, 17 assists) in 45 games as an AHL rookie.

Volkov (6-1, 192), who was selected by Tampa Bay in the second round (No. 48) of the 2017 NHL Draft, brought Kontinental Hockey League experience with him to Syracuse, where he had 45 points (23 goals, 22 assists) in 75 games last season as a rookie. The 21-year-old has continued to produce with 29 points (11 goals, 18 assists) in 49 games in his second AHL season.

Verhaeghe (6-1, 181) has had a breakout season for Syracuse. Selected by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the third round (No. 82) of the 2013 draft, the 23-year-old moved to the New York Islanders as part of the trade package for Michael Grabner on Sept. 17, 2015, and divided his first two pro seasons between the AHL and ECHL. Tampa Bay acquired him in a trade for goalie Kristers Gudlevskis on July 1, 2017, and Verhaeghe has thrived in Syracuse. In his fourth pro season, he is second in AHL scoring with 56 points (23 goals, 33 assists) in 50 games, seven points behind Daniel Carr of Chicago.


Providence (Boston Bruins)

Though the Bruins have amassed a strong base of young defensemen in Providence, they also have some intriguing forwards there. 

Zach Senyshyn (6-1, 192), selected No. 15 in the 2015 draft, exhibits excellent skating as he continues to round out his game in Providence. 
The 21-year-old has 21 points (13 goals, eight assists) in 45 AHL games.

Ryan Donato (6-0, 193) has nine points (six goals, three assists) in 34 NHL games this season. Selected in the second round (No. 56) of the 2014 NHL Draft, the 22-year-old was sent to Providence on Jan. 28. He has 12 points (seven goals, five assists) in 18 AHL games.

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