DES MOINES, Iowa -- In a matter of minutes, Sam Anas' plans for the AHL All-Star break needed to be changed on the fly.
After planning to head south to Florida for a visit with an uncle and some much needed R&R on the beaches of Naples, Anas and his girlfriend, Grace, instead headed west -- to Ontario, California -- after he was named as a fill-in for the Central Division team at the All-Star Classic.
"Had to call him and deliver some bittersweet news," Anas said with a smile.
It certainly was a deserving trip for the 26-year-old native of Potomac, Maryland. Anas is currently tied for third in the league in scoring with 46 points, one point behind teammate, and fellow All-Star, Gerry Mayhew, and four points back of the league lead.
His 23 assists on the power-play are five more than any other player, fueled in large part by the prodigious season Mayhew is having. Mayhew has a league-best 30 goals overall, 11 of which have come with the man-advantage.
"I don't think we all really appreciate what he's doing right now," Anas said. "It's unbelievable. It's at the point where, if he doesn't score, it's a surprise. And it's not like he's putting in tap-ins every night. His goal [Saturday was] a highlight-reel goal. It's been fun to watch."
For Anas, who is best known as a playmaker, skating on a line with a red-hot finisher like Mayhew has been a dream. It's proven to be a fantastic recipe for success for Iowa.
"It's been awesome," Anas said. "Two years ago, we played together most of the year and had great chemistry but last year, didn't play much together except on the power play. We got reunited last month and immediately just found that chemistry, which really stems from that, playing together on the power play the last two years. We think the game very similarly.
"I like to get him the puck because he likes to put it in the net."
Video: Iowa Wild riding last season's success
While he won't use it as an excuse, Anas' hand injury last season was one of the more frustrating developments of his pro hockey career.
Coming off a breakout 61-point season two years ago, there were high expectations that Anas would build on that yet again and have the kind of season that would see him lead the Wild deep into the Calder Cup Playoffs.
Well, Iowa made it to the postseason and advanced to the second round, but accomplished all that with Anas having an injury-shortened and ultimately disappointing season (by his standards).
Which makes one wonder... how far could Iowa have advanced with a fully-healthy and firing-on-all-cylinders Anas?
One look at this season's version of the club and you won't have to wonder much.
With teams enjoying the AHL All-Star break, Iowa is in the midst of its best first half in franchise history, and a big reason why has been the resurgence of Anas, who is having the kind of season many thought he'd have last year.
"I really worked hard this summer," Anas said. "I went back to kind of change my summer routine a little, went back and trained at Quinnipiac and surrounded myself with guys who are all kind of in the same position. I think that was a good environment and our strength coach there is top-notch. He really helped me become a better athlete and more explosive and I think everything has come from that."
Video: NHL 19 ratings with Sam & Gerry
Perhaps more importantly, Anas has played in all 46 games for Iowa after missing the better part of a month last year following surgery on his left hand.
Which was a big deal; at 5-foot-8 and 160 pounds, it's Anas' silky smooth hands that have gotten him this far in hockey, and hopefully, will one day allow him to reach the NHL.
Healthy hands are as important to Anas as a sharp pair of skates.
"I healed well, but it's one of those things. Lineups get set, lines and tendencies and things like that. You're behind the 8-ball," Anas said. "Injuries suck, but that's just the way the world works.
"It's good that it's all better now and I'm having a great year with good linemates. The power-play has had good chemistry, which is great."
Anas' main personal goal remains reaching the NHL, one that has proven elusive so far in his professional career. His head coach, Tim Army, says Anas shouldn't be pegged as an AHL-only guy just yet, however.
While a boatload of Anas' production has come on the power play during his career, his 5-on-5 play hasn't been as sharp.
That has changed this season. While his production with the man advantage remains elite, his overall play away from the puck and at even strength has made major strides.
It is that play that will likely earn him a ticket, at some point, to the NHL.
"I was hard on Sammy last year because there were holes in his game," Army said. "He was really, strictly a power-play producer last year. But he's come in and he's playing on our first line, playing against the best guys on the other side, playing 18 to 20 minutes a night. And when the other team pulls the goalie at the end of the game, he's out there."
What Anas does at that point, and how long he's able to remain in the NHL, will largely be up to him. But he has a big-time believer in Army.
"He's a far more complete player right now. He's made a huge jump this year," Army said. "He's produced on the power play, but he's also producing 5-on-5 because he's more aware of little things away from the puck, little battle, little decisions.
"Now we gotta keep rounding his game out so that it'll translate to the NHL and that's what he's beginning to do. He's playing against other teams' best lines, he's trusted in all situations. He's gotta keep doing what he's doing because you never know when that call is gonna come, but it comes."
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