Moving On Up

Dobber Sports

2011-07-16

Desharnais

 

A September ’09 article of mine explained how NHL teams like to transition potential scoring forwards from the AHL to the NHL. Since the lockout, most teams have developed a three-season program for transitioning proven AHL producers to scoring NHL forwards. It’s a fairly simple formula but it’s amazingly consistent.

 

Once a player proves they can score at the AHL level, usually among the top-25 point scorers, the team will sign the player to a two-way contract. This second, transition year gives teams a chance to get a better read on a player’s development. It’s a crucial year for the player and can mean anywhere between 10 to 60 NHL games to see if they can still produce in either league, can handle the rigours of the NHL, and don’t show any major NHL deficiencies. If the player avoids a major injury and continues to produce in either league they almost always get a one-way contract the following season.

The following year, which I call the breakthrough year, is when the player gets an opportunity to make the team and gets more than a few opportunities to produce in the NHL. Breakthrough doesn’t necessarily mean high fantasy numbers, but it often means a 40+ point season for a forward that has top-six/power play potential and is usually under the radar. If a player is breaking through you can draft them for potential, but have a fair idea that they'll produce something as well. Last season an average second liner scored 41 points and an average top-six forward scored 55 points. Of the 11 breakthrough players I have monitored, only two are no longer top-six prospects. Despite injuries and the two busts, the 11 players still averaged 42 points in their breakthrough season. It's a low risk move that will deepen your pool of productive forwards.

In 2009, my candidates for a one-way contract and a breakthrough year were Cal O’Reilly, Andrew Ebbett, Rob Schremp, and Artem Anisimov.  I said to wait on Anisimov because he’s big, Russian and needed another year of seasoning to produce in the NHL. The Rangers, not caring about fantasy pool numbers, stuck with the formula and put Anisimov in the NHL for the entire season where he scored 28 points in 82 games. The following season Anisimov produced good second line numbers, scoring 44 points in 82 games.

O’Reilly appeared to be ready in 2009-10, but Nashville realizing smaller players develop more slowly, gave him another two-way contract before giving him a one-way deal in 2010-11. O’Reilly managed 18 points in 38 games in his NHL breakthrough season which was cut short with a broken fibula. Had he played a full season he would have been projected to score 39 points.

Rob Schremp was signed by the Islanders in his breakthrough season and produced until he tore the meniscus in his right knee. Schremp had 25 points in 44 games (a 47 point projection) before the injury and had started to score consistently after a slow start. The Anaheim Ducks also stuck to the formula giving Andrew Ebbett a one-way contract where he played in 61 games in 2009-10 where he managed 15 points.

Although the production of these players wasn’t consistent due to injuries and other factors, in each case the NHL teams stuck to the formula. It’s always good to know when a team is willing to give a player every chance to succeed (a one way contract) and you can do this by keeping an eye on the AHL’s leading scorers. Kris Versteeg scored 53 points in his breakthrough season while Tyler Ennis had 49, David Krejci had 73, Dustin Penner had 45, Patrick O'Sullivan had 53, Rich Peverly had 44 and Jiri Hudler had 42.  One caveat is to be wary of perennial top-25 AHL scorers because they will only ever see spot duty in the NHL. In most cases if a player has two high scoring AHL seasons, do not draft him…ever. It means too many quality people question his NHL ability.

This year my candidates for a transition year are Chris Terry, Rhett Rakhshani, Bud Holloway, Tomas Tatar and Zac Dalpe  
Terry scored 34 goals and 64 points in 80 games for Charlotte, Carolina’s farm team. He will almost certainly see time in the NHL this season because of his AHL numbers but Carolina has a lot of prospects ahead of him so he won’t see much more than 10 NHL games. Watch him closely, because although he’s a 5th round pick and he’s 5’10, he weighs a so