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Sanheim, Nedeljkovic, Delia among those shining in Calder Cup playoffs

Youth brigade takes leading role in AHL postseason success stories

by Patrick Williams / Correspondent

High-end young talent is earning its fair share of attention in the American Hockey League as the first round of the Calder Cup Playoffs continues.

There is little time to waste in finding your groove in the AHL postseason. The NHL's top developmental league utilizes a best-of-5 format in the first round. All subsequent rounds are best-of-7.

Here is a look at four series where youth is shining extra bright:


Here come the reinforcements

Lehigh Valley (Philadelphia Flyers) received a major boost Monday. Tied 1-1 in a first-round series against Providence (Boston Bruins), Lehigh Valley received defenseman Travis Sanheim and forward Oskar Lindblom on loan from the Flyers, who were eliminated Sunday by the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games in the Eastern Conference First Round

Lehigh Valley, the Atlantic Division regular-season champion, hosts Game 3 against Providence on Friday.

Sanheim, 22, (6-3, 181) played in each of the four playoff games for the Flyers as an NHL rookie, scoring a goal in Game 5 for his only pointof the series. He had 10 points (two goals, eight assists) in 49 regular-season games. He had 16 points (one goal, 15 assists) in 18 regular-season games with Lehigh Valley this season. Philadelphia selected him No. 17 in the 2014 NHL Draft.

Lindblom, 21, (6-1, 191) brings more offense to one of the top 5-on-5 teams in the AHL and a group that placed second in the AHL with 3.42 goals per game. He had six points (two goals, four assists) in 23 regular-season games for Philadelphia, but had no points in four postseason games. He had 34 points (16 goals, 18 assists) in 54 regular-season AHL games as a rookie this season. He also represented Lehigh Valley at the 2018 AHL All-Star Classic.

Philadelphia drafted him in the fifth round (No. 138) in the 2014 draft, and he has emerged as one of the top prospects in an organization brimming with young talent.

Lehigh Valley managed a split in the first two games at Providence this past weekend. Helping to lead the way was forward Danick Martel, 23 (5-8, 162). He had two goals, including the game-winner, in a 3-2 win in Game 1. He had 25 goals in 59 regular-season games, the third consecutive AHL season that he has scored at least 20 goals.

Video: NYR@PHI: Lindblom scores eight seconds into the 3rd


Into the spotlight

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (Pittsburgh) is getting a first-round lesson in the many ways Charlotte (Carolina Hurricanes) can overwhelm an opponent.

Charlotte has a 2-0 series lead going into Game 3 at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Thursday. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (45-22-6-3 in the regular season) had 99 points, fifth-most in the AHL.

The Charlotte offense attracted plenty of attention this season, but it has been workhorse goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic who has frustrated Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

A second-round pick (No. 37) of the Hurricanes in the 2014 draft, Nedeljkovic, 22 (6-0, 198) missed the final seven games of the regular season with an injury. Before the injury, he had taken the No. 1 job in Charlotte and played 49 games (31-12-3-5) in the regular season, second-most among AHL goaltenders.

He has stepped right back into action in the postseason with a 1.46 goals-against average and .945 save percentage in the two wins.

Video: CAR@CBJ: Nedeljkovic swallows Gagner's slap shot


Fresh starts

Every team starts fresh come the playoffs, for better or for worse.

Chicago (Vegas Golden Knights) is receiving that reminder against Rockford (Chicago Blackhawks). Chicago finished second in the Western Conference with a 95-point regular season.

That has meant little against Rockford, who finished seventh in the conference. Chicago trails the series 2-0. Game 3, at Chicago, is Thursday.

Rockford needed a dominant finish down the stretch to fend off Milwaukee (Nashville Predators) and Iowa (Minnesota Wild) to secure fourth place in the Central Division.

Rockford rookie goaltender Collin Delia (6-2, 200) has Chicago in trouble. Delia, who was not drafted, signed a two-year contract with the Blackhawks on July 28, 2017.

Since then, the 23-year-old has pushed veterans Jeff Glass and J-F Berube aside and earned the playoff starting job in Rockford. He has a 1.51 GAA and .952 save percentage against a Chicago offense that averaged 3.21 goals per game in the regular season, sixth in the AHL.


Getting hot at the right time

San Jose (San Jose Sharks) has been scrambling for a while.

Six consecutive wins to close the regular season put San Jose into the playoffs when Tucson (Arizona Coyotes) defeated San Diego (Anaheim Ducks) three times on the final weekend of the regular season to deny San Diego the one point it needed to bounce San Jose for the final playoff berth in the Pacific Division.

In the first-round series against Tucson, San Jose continues to press the Western Conference regular-season champion. The teams split the first two games in San Jose. The series resumes with Game 3, at Tucson, on Wednesday.

A pair of fifth-round picks have led San Jose. Rookie forward Rudolfs Balcers, 21, was chosen No. 142 in the 2015 draft. Balcers (5-11, 170), had a team-leading 48 points and 25 goals in 67 regular-season games as a AHL rookie. His 25 assists ranked second on the team.

He had four points (two goals, two assists) in Game 2, including the game-winning goal in the third period.

Rourke Chartier (5-11, 190) scored three points (two goals, one assist) in Game 2. In his second pro season, he was chosen No. 149 in the 2014 draft by the Sharks.

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