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Minor-league depth key to NHL Trade Deadline plans

Lightning, Bruins among contenders with options because of strong player development

by Patrick Williams / Correspondent

Strong player development at the American Hockey League level can pay off for NHL teams this week as they plan for the 2018 NHL Trade Deadline.

Regardless of what NHL teams do at the deadline, which is Monday (3 p.m. ET), successful investment in AHL player development provides them options.

Here is a look at some of the top NHL contenders and their AHL prospects that might tempt another general manager to make an offer. Prying away one of these prospects could be an entirely different story.

Tampa Bay Lightning (Syracuse)

Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman, assistant GM Julien BriseBois and an excellent scouting staff have teamed to build one of the most successful AHL talent pools in recent seasons. A patient approach and a knack for unearthing talent have formed an AHL affiliate capable of churning out young players inside a winning environment.

Syracuse has reached the Calder Cup final twice in the past five seasons.

The Lightning have attractive talent in Syracuse, which has the AHL's third-youngest roster, according to Rookie center Anthony Cirelli, 20, is tied with forward Mathieu Joseph, 21, for the Syracuse scoring lead at 34 points. Another rookie forward, Mitchell Stephens, 21, has a team-leading 17 goals. Rookie forward Alexander Volkov, 20, has 15 goals.

Defensemen Dominik Masin, 22, and Ben Thomas, 21, each in his second pro season, went through a two-month run to the Calder Cup Final last season.


Boston Bruins (Providence)

Boston and Providence have teamed to build one of the quietly productive NHL-AHL pipelines.

Boston defenseman Matt Grzelcyk and forwards Noel Acciari, Jake DeBrusk, Danton Heinen, and Sean Kuraly were part of a Providence team that went to the Eastern Conference Final last season.

Next up in Providence are forwards Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson and Peter Cehlarik. Forsbacka-Karlsson, 21, was a second-round pick (No. 45) in the 2015 NHL Draft and has 29 points (13 goals, 16 assists) in 52 AHL games. Cehlarik, 22, had 20 goals in 49 AHL games last season; however, a lower-body injury sustained with Boston on Nov. 24 has limited him to 25 AHL games. He has 15 points (six goals, nine assists).

Providence defenseman Jakub Zboril, the No. 13 pick in the 2015 draft, turned 21 Wednesday and is another young talent.


[RELATED: 2017-18 NHL Trade Tracker | Full trade coverage]


Toronto Maple Leafs (Toronto)

Rebuilding the Maple Leafs also meant building perhaps the most formidable setup in the AHL.
Maple Leafs forwards Connor Brown, Zach Hyman, Kasperi Kapanen , Josh Leivo, and William Nylander are AHL graduates, as is defenseman Travis Dermott .

Excellent drafting has the Maple Leafs in a good position. Forward Andreas Johnsson, 23, was a seventh-round selection (No. 202) in the 2013 NHL Draft; he leads the Toronto affiliate with 46 points in 47 games, and his 23 goals are tied for second in the AHL, two behind Valentin Zykov of Charlotte. Forward Dmytro Timashov, 21, a fifth-round pick (No. 125) has 24 points (10 goals, 14 assists) in his second AHL season.

Washington Capitals (Hershey)

Hershey coach Troy Mann and his staff may have been victims of their own development success this season.

Hershey graduated defensemen Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos, along with forwards Chandler Stephenson and Jakub Vrana to the Capitals.

That exodus has left Hershey struggling in the grueling Atlantic Division. Forwards Riley Barber, 24, and Travis Boyd, 23, remain young enough and have shown promise in each of their first three AHL seasons to be intriguing to other teams.

Nashville Predators (Milwaukee)

Successful player development emerges as a common theme when discussing top NHL teams, and Nashville-Milwaukee has been a model affiliation.

Frederick Gaudreau, 24, has made himself into a dominant AHL forward in Milwaukee after going undrafted. He has 25 points (13 goals, 12 assists) in 32 AHL games.

Winnipeg Jets (Manitoba)

Another model draft-and-develop team, Winnipeg has several AHL graduates in its lineup and more talent could be on the way.

Forward Nic Petan, 22, is an excellent AHL playmaker with 41 points (12 goals, 29 assists) in 39 games before a recent call-up. He played 54 games with the Jets last season before sliding back to the AHL. Feisty forward Brendan Lemieux, who has seen time with the Jets this season, has 29 points (13 goals, 16 assists) in 33 AHL games.

Defenseman Sami Niku, 21, is in his first AHL season. His 37 points (10 goals, 27 assists) place him second among AHL defensemen behind Matt Taormina of Laval, and he is a key part of Manitoba's second-ranked power play.

Goaltender Eric Comrie, 22, is on recall with the Jets but has shown excellent potential. A workhorse who pushed through two losing AHL seasons (including a 50-loss Manitoba team in 2015-16), patience has paid off for Comrie in his third pro season. He was in a dominant AHL tandem with veteran Michael Hutchinson before each was recalled to the Jets; in 25 AHL games, he is 15-8-2 with a 2.54 goals-against average and .921 save percentage.

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