As promised, I’ve returned with the second edition of the “Next in Line” mini-series that was proposed earlier in October beginning in the Western Conference with the Pacific Division. Admittedly, I had initially (and foolishly), planned on completing this content in a single edition of the Journey, before realizing that it would have evolved into an enormous piece.
With each passing day and week, the dynamics of both the NHL and the AHL seem to shift – more drastically so this early in the season. It makes for an acute investigation, which is a point that I wanted to drive home as a disclaimer in the first edition of this series.
In any case, prior to beginning our discussion of teams in the Atlantic Division, I thought it would be valuable to review my choices from the Pacific, and how they’ve fared.
Using some color coding, I’ve indicated the accuracy of my predictions. So… there’s a lot of red up there. In my defense, however, the only totally wrong prediction that I had who was overcome by a player with a relevant fantasy ceiling is in the case of Nicolas Hague and Nicolas Roy being recalled over Lucas Elvenes. I also feel like I deserve a bit of a break here considering that since making that prediction, Elvenes has gone on to lead the AHL in points, but I digress.
In most of the other cases, the player who was recalled in favor of my prediction holds nil fantasy value. Nonetheless, I stand slightly defeated. In the case of Nikolai Prokhorkin, he wasn’t my ultimate selection, however, I had indicated that I thought he was a very close second. Likewise, since I had not included Aaron Ness as a potential second recall for Arizona, I’ve also highlighted him in red.
To be clear, moving forward, these predictions are skewed to predict which player with some level of fantasy relevance will be recalled soonest. Each prediction is also intended to be for a player with some staying potential, rather than aiming to predict which player could simply be the first up-down, which would likely be a crap shoot anyway. So without further ado, the Atlantic.
Week 2: The Atlantic Division
Detroit Red Wings – Michael Rasmussen
Considering the mediocre production of some of the depth forwards in their organization, combined with an overall positive impression by many of their active defensemen, it’s much more likely that we see the Wings’ recall a forward next rather than a defenseman. Thankfully, the team has just the player in their back pocket. Rasmussen is a player with a relatively significant amount of experience at the pro level, and his early assignment to the AHL seems to have paid dividends in the form of a reborn confidence. His 18 points through 62 NHL contests as a rookie were hardly a disappointment. However, with the team’s level of compete on a downward trend, the AHL seemed like an appropriate home for Rasmussen to begin the year.
Florida Panthers – Owen Tippett
The Panthers’ pipeline includes a handful of quite attractive names who until this fall have been on a sharp incline in terms of professional projections. Their AHL affiliation in Springfield has welcomed bits of production from every corner of their lineup, however, a valiant superstar has yet to emerge. The Panthers’ offense on the other hand has been relatively concentrated down the middle of the ice. With players like Aleksi Heponiemi and Cliff Pu struggling mightily to make any kind of an impact in the AHL, the odds are in favour of Tippett, who, despite only tallying one goal has fired 22 shots on goal through his first seven games in his rookie campaign.
Montreal Canadiens – Xavier Ouellet
The Habs have done a better than expected job finding the back of the net through the first few weeks of the NHL slate. However, the tale told by some advanced stats explains that it’s actually been one of the team’s weaker points.
Team stats heatmap
NSH and COL have +1.5 goal differentials per 60 (wow) and DET and SJS have -1 goal differentials per 60 (wow but the other kind of wow). pic.twitter.com/VxD7rjtJeU
— Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey) October 25, 2019
The team seems to be quite content with the roster that they’ve put together. However, with the minimal deployment that Cale Fleury has been given, there’s a possibility that the organization exchanges him with an AHL counterpart so that he can maximize his ice time.
Ottawa Senators – Drake Batherson
As a surprise to nobody, the Sens’ lack confidence in their own depth. So much so, that less than a week into October, they parlayed a draft pick to obtain middle-six winger Vladislav Namestnikov from the Rangers. With the baby-Sens’ leading scorer Logan Brown already having been recalled by Ottawa, it’s likely only a matter of time before the team gets the itch to have the now confident Batherson back in their lineup.
Boston Bruins – Anders Bjork
Bjork is the victim of a deep Bruins’ NHL roster that has limited his opportunistic deployment at the NHL level over the last several years. Unfortunately, Bjork simply isn’t cut from the same mold as other Bruins’ bottom-six contributors and he’s struggled to adapt his to the role that he’s been requested to play. Nonetheless, the 23-year-old forward possesses offensive tools that make him a valuable replacement should a Bruins’ star player go down.
Buffalo Sabres – Tage Thompson
A surprising cut from Sabres training camp was the experienced forward Thompson. The demotion has seemingly lit a fire under his butt as his production in the AHL has been heavy and consistent for the Amerks. The Sabres have been gelling atop the Atlantic Division, but it’s unlikely that they go out of their way to restrict the almost 22-year-old from what should be a productive future in the NHL. His biggest hurdle once the team does decide to have him back in Buffalo will be earning the trust of head coach Ralph Krueger and finding himself an equally successful line to contribute with.
Tampa Bay Lightning – Alexander Volkov
The organizational model that has allowed the Lightning to reach their current heights can largely be attributed to their focus on development in the AHL ranks. The team’s structure has wavered very little over the past few years, with a talented pool of players continuing to flow through their farm. The Lightning have chosen to carry a skimpy forward core on their NHL roster for the time being, while the Syracuse Crunch have been left to ice some players who otherwise could find themselves on NHL rosters. Despite only playing in a single AHL game to this point in the year, Volkov is the player who seems most worthy of an opportunity in the NHL should an injury or trade related void appear.
Toronto Maple Leafs – Timothy Liljegren
While it was previously suspected that the Leafs would be forced to carry an absolute minimum roster at the NHL level, Kyle Dubas seems to have out-witted the pundits, demonstrating that the team is, in fact, capable of carrying a 14-forward, 7-defenseman roster. With their seemingly continual cycle of defensive pairs and forward lines, it’s difficult to pin-point exactly where the Leafs might seek their next addition. Considering that the team is expecting to lose at least one of their top-four defensemen in the coming year, they could find an extra bit of motivation to recall Liljegren and provide him an opportunity to find his bearings in the NHL. The 20-year-old has done well to begin his second AHL stint, and there should be no reason to question a promotion at this point.
This mini-series will continue over the coming weeks and months in rotation with the typical Journey content such as fastest rising prospects. I’d love feedback on the segment – find me on Twitter @olaf1393