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Down on the Farm: Undrafted Mayhew, Menell form All-Star core in Iowa

Each player has debuted in the NHL this season but have been major difference makers for AHL club

by Tom Witosky @toskyAHLWild /

DES MOINES -- When Gerry Mayhew and Brennan Menell arrived to play for the Iowa Wild for the 2017-18 season, the two of them already had a lot in common.

Undrafted, the two rookies spent much of the time in their early hockey development dealing with the same skepticism about their future. Too small and not fast enough is how Mayhew described the "blah, blah, blah" he heard almost from the beginning of his career.

But now Mayhew and Menell have something else in common. They are AHL All-Stars, representing Iowa on Jan. 27 in Ontario, California in the 2020 AHL All-Star Classic. 

It is the first time for each player to get the AHL honor and only the second time in franchise history the Wild has had more than one representative at the All-Star Classic; last year, Cal O'Reilly and rookie goalie Kaapo Kahkonen were named to the team along with head coach Tim Army.

Tom Kurvers, Iowa's general manager and the Minnesota Wild's assistant general manager, said the players deserve the recognition from a league that "is better than people know."

Video: Mayhew nets first NHL goal

"Even in the State of Hockey, the American Hockey League is almost an unknown quantity," Kurvers said. "But these players come here and are equally committed to the game as our NHL players. And they deal with tougher travel, tougher schedules, tougher everything."

Statistically, it's easy to see why the two players were named. Mayhew, the 27-year-old forward from Wyandotte, Michigan, is tied with teammate Sam Anas for the AHL scoring lead. His 26 goals are four more than the next best player. His 10 power-play goals are tied for second. All of this while missing a handful of games while playing in Minnesota.

Meanwhile, Menell, 22, is tied for third place among all AHL defensemen in assists (23) and is fourth in points (27).

Those two, along with Anas and Kyle Rau, have helped guide Iowa to a second place standing n the Central Division, 11 points behind division-leading Milwaukee but seven points clear of the third-place Chicago Wolves. 

But Mayhew and Menell's recognition also is emblematic of an AHL team that is playing at a high level despite having exactly zero first or second-round draft choices on the roster. Instead, the roster consists of a majority of players signed as undrafted free agents and, right now, six of their top players are too injured to play.

Anas, who has been playing on the same line with Mayhew and Nico Sturm, another undrafted free-agent, said the apparent lack of highly-rated talent has galvanized the team into a cohesive unit intent on helping each other make it to the NHL as well as play championship-level hockey in the AHL.

Video: Menell on call-up to Wild

"I think about how great they've done or how any of us have done," Anas said. "We wouldn't be there without each other. It's something that we've all kind of done together. We work hard, and we like it when each other succeeds."

Army acknowledged the two players named to this year's All-Star game have a lot in common with a number of the Wild players on this year's team.

"We are a group that's put together in a little bit different way than most teams," Army said. "We don't have the first and second draft choices right now, but we do have some guys who played in college or played juniors and were unsigned, but got an opportunity here and have worked hard for it."

As a group, Army called it a good fit.

"Those guys reflect Individually what we do collectively in how we play," he said. "That's why we are so good because we have a lot of guys who come from the same situation and they are making the most of it."

Menell and Mayhew agree.

"It's been a hard road for a lot of us," Mayhew said. "That gives us something we share and work with hard for each other."

Menell credited his teammates and the Iowa coaching staff for his success.

"It shows how the coaching staff has helped me out," Menell said. "My teammates and just the whole organization have given me the opportunity. I'm just so grateful. It's a real honor."

Down on the Farm:

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