Sifting The AHL

ST PAUL MN - Casey Wellman #17 of the Minnesota Wild on September 25 2010 in St Paul Minnesota. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

So I know the draft is coming up in a couple of days, and I know the Leafs need more help in their prospect pool. I've actually been thinking about the common perception about the Leafs lack of offensive producers in the pipeline, and considered some potential prospects to target in trades leading up to next season.

Unfortunately the AHL's statistical database isn't particularly comprehensive. Using birthdate information gleaned from HockeyDB.com and this past year's point production, I've highlighted a couple of names that may be worth exploring - if their current teams have ANY interest in making a move. Bear with me as this is a fairly lengthy posting, but read on for more details:

Ideally in a trade you want the assets with the best likelihood to appreciate in the future. Sometimes, those assets will be undervalued, and sometimes they'll be available. Hopefully your team can snag them before other teams recognize their worth. This basically amounts to exploiting another team's wealth if possible. The other side of this coin is figuring out who might be undervalued in your own organization. In the case of the Leafs this might be an issue as frustration builds with the rebuild process.

So what I looked for initially were players who fit the following criteria just to narrow it down:

  • 21 years of age or younger
  • 50 or more total games in the AHL this past season (including playoffs)
  • Ideally 10+ games of Calder Cup Playoff experience this year - but this isn't necessary for me.

Leafs on Deck

A few interesting things cropped up in doing this analysis. First, the Marlies Nazem Kadri, Jerry D'Amigo, Nicolas Deschamps, and Joe Colborne all fall within the top 12 AHLers who were 21 or younger on the basis of overall points per game. Secondly, there really aren't that many players who DO qualify.

Only 21 players in the entire AHL played over 10 games in the Calder Cup Playoffs and 50 games in total, prior to the age of 22 this past season. Nazem Kadri ranks 3rd on the list in terms of point per game production. D'Amigo, Deschamps, and Colborne fall into the "Leafs fans may not realize what they have, but I sure hope management does" category.

Considering he's already built up 103 games of AHL play and he isn't even 22 yet, with 38 goals and 91 points to show for his trouble, I'd suggest Leaf fans really should relax when it comes to Kadri. The kid will likely produce offensively in the NHL in the not too distant future. So far in his 51 games in the NHL he's outscoring draft peer Brayden Schenn in points per game.

Nazem Kadri should be compared to Brandon Pirri and Kyle Palmieri - his closest two comparables in terms of AHL production in the same age range. All three players were drafted in 2009 and have played between 110 and 150 AHL games. Palmieri has produced 63 goals and 111 points in 117 AHL regular season and playoff games (0.54 gpg, 0.95 ppg); Pirri has produced 35 goals and 99 points in 136 AHL games (0.26 gpg, 0.73 ppg); Kadri has the aforementioned totals (0.37 gpg, 0.88 ppg). He's slightly less productive than Palmieri, but more productive than Pirri thus far in their careers.

It of course deserves mention that Kadri's birthday is 6 months before Pirri's, and 4 months before Palmieri's, so he has a slight age advantage developmentally. It will be interesting to see where the three of them end up at the NHL level.

D'Amigo has obviously great wheels - his skating is already NHL caliber. He's an excellent penalty killer at the AHL level and his abilities may translate to the NHL effectively at this early stage of his career. The interesting question is, how big of a jump can his offensive output make? He made huge strides in the latter half of the season and in the playoffs, showcasing his speed in the Calder Cup playoffs early rounds. In total he produced 23 goals and 54 points in 93 games this year, good for 0.25 gpg and 0.58 ppg. His production rate this year actually came in directly alongside draft classmate Jeremy Morin, another Leaf fan favourite to target in Chicago trade rumours.

He has now skated in 136 AHL games, producing 28 goals and 69 points along the way. He's likely already equivalent to an NHL 3rd line forward in terms of point production, and he's turning 21 next season, with lots of room to improve. I look forward to him making strides.

Deschamps and Colborne are two I will save for another posting (this one is getting lengthy), but the logic of this exercise was to identify potential targets that the average onlooker might not identify. So who do I think is worth pursuing?

Casey Wellman of the Conneticut Whale/NY Rangers

He was most recently a NY Rangers prospect after he was obtained mid season from the Minnesota Wild, and he posted 56 points in 66 games this year as a 23 year old. He's now 24, and is currently RFA, but the Rangers probably wouldn't mind adding some scoring options by clearing some cap room. If the Leafs could add a contract (a la Matt Lombardi) they might be able to convince Glen Sather to toss in a player like Wellman who was obtained at a cost of Erik Christensen this past year.

Wellman has played in 132 regular season and Calder Cup games at the AHL level, producing 47 goals and 102 points (0.36 gpg, 0.77 ppg). He's also seen 41 NHL games with the Wild and produced 4 goals and 13 points thus far while seeing 483 minutes of ice time. Compare that to the output of Matt Frattin who has 8 goals and 15 points in 753 minutes thus far, and who is a year older. I'd take a run at him and see if we could catch Sather napping.

Matt Fraser of the Texas Stars/Dallas Stars

He's a Dallas prospect, who skated in all of 1 NHL game this season, but at 6'2" and around 207 lbs, he would help the Leafs size concerns up front. In 75 AHL games the undrafted prospect, who played his junior in Kootenay, produced 37 goals and 55 points - ranking him 2nd in the AHL in rookie goal scoring.

He's only turning 22 this coming year, and is 5 months older than Kadri. His 0.49 gpg and 0.73 ppg indicate he likely has a nose for net. He also fired 253 shots on goal in 73 games this year, indicating that he fires the puck on net at a pace of 3.47 times per game. It also means his 14.6% shooting percentage isn't ridiculously unsustainable.

He has one year left on his contract with Dallas, but I'd look hard at making a trade for him before he hits the NHL if at all possible. He could quite possibly develop into an NHL scorer in the power forward mold. He's noted for his physical style of play, and he isn't afraid to drop the gloves as he racked up over 100 PIMs in each of his last 3 years in junior.

Here are a couple of quotes courtesy Mark Stepneski of ESPNDallas.com. First from Scott White, Dallas' Director of Minor League Operations:

"I think he’s learned about the pace of the game, I think he’s learned about the defensive detail of the game that’s going to make him a legitimate two-way player in the NHL. And I haven’t even got to the 37 goals that he’s scored. He has an NHL shot. He’s well on his way."

and from Les Jackson, Dallas' Director of Player Personnel:

"He really embraced the opportunity to play in the American League. He had close to 40 goals and he finished the last couple months with an injury. Matt is in a good place and he is making good strides,"

"I suspect he’ll have a good summer and come in and make it interesting at training camp. Whether he makes the big team, he is definitely close. We’ll just have to see where he falls in that group."

His skating has improved over time and he's continued to develop at an even pace that is often seen for late blooming power forwards in the NHL. If he continues to add bulk, and work on his skating, he could well be a point producer at the NHL level.

Andreas Engqvist of the Hamilton Bulldogs/Montreal Canadiens

Engqvist has already played 15 NHL games, 131 AHL games, and 181 games with Djugardens in the SEL. All by the age of 23. He's not likely a future offensive contributor, but he has played at a high level at a young age, and his size is worth noting at 6'4" and 197 lbs.

Despite his defensive skill set, his AHL numbers took a jump this past year, with him posting 20 goals and 43 points in 60 games, giving him a total of 30 goals (0.23 gpg) and 68 points (0.52 ppg) in his AHL career. Those numbers do make it more plausible that he'll fit in at the NHL level eventually.

He was recently rated as Montreal's 15th best player under the age of 25 by Andrew Berkshire over at Eyes On The Prize, and this was largely on the basis of the potential for offensive upside, paired with excellent defensive efforts. To pull from the same quote Andrew used, courtesy Christopher Boucher of Boucher Scouting:

"Andreas Engqvist simply dominated defensively. He won an incredible 75% of his defensive-zone puck-battles, and would have challenged Carle for the top mark if not for his 6 losses in the faceoff circle."

In all likelihood Engqvist is a 3rd or 4th line checker in the future. He lacks finish and polish offensively, but he wins battles and protects the puck reasonably well. His faceoff skills are lacking, so he may best be served by a shift to the wing on a club like the Leafs. Either way, he'd be a useful asset going forward.\

Those are just some names to consider as the Leafs scour the AHL for talent to add to their roster. It will be interesting to see how the coming off season develops.

Feel free to toss out any other names you think the Leafs should be looking into, and let's keep the discussion going around possible trade and draft targets in this "break" prior to the draft.

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