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AHL Notebook: Teams go slow with top prospects

Hope commitment to developing young talent pays off in NHL success

by Patrick Williams / NHL.com Correspondent

A glance at recent Stanley Cup champion rosters reveals a sustained commitment to development by those teams in the American Hockey League.

The Washington Capitals won the 2018 Stanley Cup championship by defeating the Vegas Golden Knights in five games in the Final. Washington had 19 AHL alumni on its roster, and coach Barry Trotz, now with the New York Islanders, coached for five years in the AHL.

The Capitals joined the Pittsburgh Penguins, Chicago Blackhawks and others who have built the foundation of a Stanley Cup-winning team on player development.

Other teams have seen the success and are eager for more of their top prospects to receive experience at the AHL level at the start of their career path.

Here are five top prospects testing the AHL for the first time as they try to take a similar path to the NHL:

 

Carter Hart , G, Lehigh Valley

Hart, 20, is considered a future No. 1 goaltender for the Philadelphia Flyers, and for good reason.

The Flyers chose Hart (6-foot-1, 180 pounds) in the second round (No. 48) of the 2016 NHL Draft. In his final Western Hockey League season for Everett, he was 31-6-3 in 41 regular-season games and led the WHL with a 1.60 goals-against average and .947 save percentage. He was named the Canadian Hockey League Goaltender of the Year, the WHL Player of the Year and the WHL Top Goaltender.

His season also included a trip to the WHL final and a gold medal with Canada at the 2018 World Junior Championship.

Hart showed promise in the preseason for Philadelphia with a 1.87 GAA and .922 save percentage in four games.

AHL time is part of the process for most goaltenders as they develop.

Braden Holtby played parts of four seasons in the AHL before sticking with the Capitals. Pekka Rinne, the 2017-18 Vezina Trophy winner, needed three AHL seasons before establishing himself as a regular with the Nashville Predators. Connor Hellebuyck, who finished second to Rinne in Vezina Trophy voting last season, played two seasons in the AHL as a Winnipeg Jets prospect.

Video: Carter Hart joins the show to talk about WJC and more

 

Filip Zadina , F, Grand Rapids

The Detroit Red Wings will start Zadina (6-0, 195) in Grand Rapids, following a path like the one taken by New York Rangers forward Filip Chytil last season with Hartford. Doing so will allow for a more gradual transition for Zadina, 18, from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

Zadina, the No. 6 selection in the 2018 NHL Draft, had 82 points (44 goals, 38 assists) in 57 regular-season games with Halifax of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League last season.

In Grand Rapids, the 18-year-old will have time to adjust to the speed of the pro game, but he won't be expected to carry the scoring burden because as Detroit buttressed its AHL team during the offseason with several veteran free-agent signings.

 

Eeli Tolvanen, F, Milwaukee

Yet another forward with a first-round pedigree, Tolvanen (5-10, 191) already has a season of high-end pro experience in the Kontinental Hockey League.

Chosen No. 30 in the 2017 NHL Draft by Nashville, Tolvanen, 19, had 36 points (19 goals, 17 assists) in 49 games for Jokerit last season. He joined Nashville for three regular-season games (no points) before returning to Europe to play four games for Finland at the World Championship in Denmark.

The Milwaukee pipeline has been a rich source of opportunity for Predators prospects for more than a decade. Nashville has a track record of a deliberate approach to its prospects.

 

Jake Bean , D, Charlotte

The Carolina Hurricanes are in a period of organizational transition, with Charlotte expected to play a major role.

Charlotte is not afraid to employ an up-tempo game, and that style should fit a mobile defenseman like Bean (6-1, 173), who was the No. 13 pick in the 2016 draft.

Bean, 20, had 48 points (12 goals, 36 assists) in 57 WHL regular-season games last season. A trade after parts of four seasons with Calgary of the WHL allowed him to join Tri-City for a playoff run in 2018. He also won a gold medal with Hart for Canada at the World Junior Championship.

 

Kale Clague , D, Ontario

The Los Angeles Kings have put a premium on a patient approach in developing defensemen in the AHL. Derek Forbort, Alec Martinez, and Jake Muzzin each had lengthy stays in the AHL before moving on to Los Angeles.

Clague, 20, can expect a similar approach as he turns pro. Los Angeles made him a second-round pick (No. 51) in the 2016 draft and assigned him to Ontario on Tuesday after an extended run in training camp with the Kings.

Playing in Ontario will allow Clague (5-11, 178) to add muscle to complement his skill-first game.

He had 71 points (11 goals, 60 assists) in 54 regular-season games in the WHL for Brandon and Moose Jaw last season. He also was a World Junior Championship gold-medalist last season and was named WHL Top Defenseman.

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