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Plenty of prospects making impact in AHL postseason

Forwards Volkov, Joseph, goalie Hill among those impressing in Calder Cup playoffs

by Patrick Williams / Correspondent

The American Hockey League, the top developmental league of the NHL, will begin the second round of the Calder Cup playoffs this week. Starting this round, it will be a best-of-7 format after the best-of-5 first round.

Here is a look at the playoff picture and which prospects have impressed so far.


Second-round setup

Defending Calder Cup champion Grand Rapids (Detroit Red Wings) lost to Manitoba (Winnipeg Jets) in five games. Manitoba will face Rockford (Chicago Blackhawks), which swept Central Division regular-season champion Chicago (Vegas Golden Knights).

In the Pacific Division, Western Conference regular-season champion Tucson (Arizona Coyotes) advanced past San Jose (San Jose Sharks) in four games. It was the first playoff series (in a non-qualifying series) win for an Arizona AHL affiliate since 1997. Tucson will play Texas (Dallas Stars), which defeated Ontario (Los Angeles Kings) in four games.

Atlantic Division regular-season champion Lehigh Valley (Philadelphia Flyers) eliminated Providence (Boston Bruins) in four games and will play Charlotte (Carolina Hurricanes), which swept Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (Pittsburgh Penguins).

AHL regular-season champion Toronto (Toronto Maple Leafs) eliminated Utica (Vancouver Canucks) in five games and will play Syracuse (Tampa Bay Lightning), which swept Rochester (Buffalo Sabres).


Alexander Volkov, F, Syracuse

Syracuse eliminated Rochester by scoring 18 goals in three games and is one of the most balanced scoring teams in the AHL. Volkov, 20, was among 11 players on the team to score at least 10 goals in the regular season.

Volkov (6-foot-1, 195 pounds), Tampa Bay's second-round pick (No. 48) in the 2017 NHL Draft, had a team-leading 23 regular-season goals, and his 45 points ranked fourth on the team.

He has carried that production into the postseason. His five points (three goals, two assists) put him second in AHL rookie playoff scoring behind Tucson forward Dylan Strome.


Mathieu Joseph, F, Syracuse

Joseph (6-1, 183) has emerged as another strong rookie prospect in the Tampa Bay system after he was selected in the fourth round (No. 120) in the 2015 NHL Draft.

The 21-year-old had a team-leading 53 points (15 goals, a team-best 38 assists) and looks very comfortable in the postseason. His five playoff points (two points, three assists) tie him with Volkov.


Roope Hintz, F, Texas

After three full seasons in Finland with Ilves and HIFK Helsinki of the Liiga, Hintz (6-3, 205) took his game to North America.

The 21-year-old, a second-round pick (No. 49) by Dallas in 2015, has handled the adjustment well. He had 35 points (20 goals, 15 assists) in 70 regular-season games for Texas.

He has played with Denis Gurianov, the 12th selection in the 2015 draft, and has three assists in four playoff games.


Adin Hill, G, Tucson

Hill (6-4, 203), 21, split the goaltending workload with Hunter Miska during the regular season, but handled a busier workload in the final two weeks of the regular season. Tucson coach Mike Van Ryn went with Hill, Arizona's third-round pick (No. 76) in the 2015 draft, and the move has worked.

After San Jose scored five goals against him in Game 2, Hill had shutouts in Games 3 and 4 to close out the series. He made 36 saves in Game 1 and has a 1.76 goals-against average and .939 save percentage in four playoff games.


Aleksi Saarela, F, Charlotte

Saarela, 21, was acquired from the New York Rangers on Feb. 28, 2016, in a trade for Eric Staal. The Rangers selected Saarela in the third round (No. 89) of the 2015 draft.

An AHL rookie, Saarela (5-11, 198) had 43 points (25 goals, 18 assists) in 69 regular-season games. He has three points (two goals, one assists) in three playoff games.


An offensive wave

Lehigh Valley will have to do much more than stop Saarela.

The AHL's highest-scoring team in the regular season (3.45 goals per game), Charlotte scored 14 goals in three games against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, including a 7-3 series-clinching win on the road.

Charlotte had three players finish among the top 16 rookie scorers in the regular season -- Warren Foegele (team-leading 28 goals, 18 assists) and Janne Kuokkanen (11 goals, 29 assists) along with Saarela.

Valentin Zykov (6-0, 209) used his size in front of opposing nets on his way to an AHL-leading 33 goals. Charlotte also relies on leading scorer Lucas Wallmark (17 goals, 38 assists in 45 games) and Andrew Poturalski (22 goals, 27 assists). Poturalski (one goal, two assists), and Zykov (one goal, two assists) each had three points in the first round.


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