AHL Thoughts - 5/4/17

Thursday, May 4, 2017
Photo: Nina Weiss/Highland Park Hockey
Editor's Note: Now that the main source of content for the website - the Lehigh Valley Phantoms beat - has entered its off season, there's going to be a different look this spring/summer before our annual AHL Free Agent Big Board starts to get put together leading up to free agency in July.

New content starts with my 30 'AHL' Thoughts - a new feature I might roll with weekly if it receives positive feedback. Let me know in the comments below, on our Facebook page or tweet at @TonyAndrock/@H_P_Hockey with your thoughts.

The American Hockey League's 2017 Calder Cup Playoffs are entering the second round this week as there were quite a few surprises in an entertaining first round that saw five of the eight series go the distance in the best-of-five divisional semifinals round.

My 15 AHL Thoughts after the jump.

1.  I was in a discussion among some AHL writers earlier this week - namely Stephen Meserve of 100 Degree Hockey covering the Texas Stars and NHL.com's AHL reporter Patrick Williams - about the need for the AHL's 1st round to be a best-of-seven round series. With over half of the first round series' needing all five games to produce a winner, the league missed out on a chance for plenty of extra first round games (at least five, only if every single Game 5 winner won their Game 6). Seeing the Atlantic Division Semifinals series' unfold first hand, the Lehigh Valley vs Hershey and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton vs Providence series were certainly some of the best postseason hockey matchups I've seen since becoming credentialed media in 2012 - and perhaps comparing to some of the AHL Penguins' series further back in the early to mid 2000's.
2.  Speaking of the Atlantic Division, those two series were incredible like I said. The Phantoms(2)/Bears(3) series saw Hershey take a 2-0 series lead despite holding a lead for just a combined 33 seconds in Games One and Two, only to see the Phantoms score a game-tying third period goal from center ice to set up an overtime win in Game Three and a 4-1 win in Game Four to send the series back to PPL Center for Game Five. The Bears pulled off the series win with a 3-2 decision in the final game, becoming just the second best-of-five series in the AHL's postseason history to have the road team win every single game of the series (Fredericton over St. John's - 1999)
3.  The Penguins(1)/Bruins(4) series also had its quirks. Despite being the AHL's regular season champion with the best record, the Pens started the series on the road in Providence for the first two games - which the two teams split. A 1-1 series headed back to Wilkes-Barre for the final three games seemed to be under the Penguins' control. They took a 2-1 series lead, but a dismal showing by the Pens in Game Four allowed Providence to force the decisive fifth game before the Bruins ousted the Penguins in the first round - having their goaltender Zane McIntyre take over and steal their most important game of the season to date with 50 saves in a 2-1 win. The Penguins' early exit marked the first time since 1995-96 season that the AHL's regular season champion didn't advance past the opening round of the Calder Cup Playoffs.
4.  The Lehigh Valley Phantoms' season might have just ended last weekend, but the Flyers organization has already seen a key member of the AHL squad find a new home for the 2017-18 season. Forward Andy Miele confirmed to Highland Park Hockey Tuesday morning that he has signed with the Malmo Redhawks in Sweden's top pro league SHL. While the move appears to put the 29-year-old's NHL aspirations on hold for two years (the deal he signed is reportedly for two seasons), Miele still has a love for the game and the will to win.
5.  Miele isn't the only pending free agent in the Flyers organization to sign overseas shortly following the conclusion of the organization's regular season. Former 2014-7th round pick defenseman Jesper Pettersson signed a two-year deal with Djugardens IF in the same Swedish pro league as Miele. He began his rookie season in the AHL in 2014-15 appearing in 51 games and adding seven points (two goals, five assists) to go along with a minus five rating. The undersized defenseman split the 2015-16 between the AHL and ECHL before finishing out his entry-level contract in 2016-17 entirely in the ECHL with Reading. It was clear he was written off by the Phantoms' coaching staff after all of the highly-regarded prospects began entering the organization at the pro level.
6.  Miele and Pettersson are just a few of the names that have already committed to playing hockey overseas in 2017-18. Albany's Vojtech Mozik is headed to the KHL, signing a contract with Vityaz Podolsk. Bakersfield's goaltender Jonas Gustavsson (Linkoping - SHL) and St. John's IceCaps forward Max Friberg (Frolunda HC - SHL) are notable overseas transactions among AHL players on Tuesday. I'll be keeping track of the AHL movement all summer long, so stay tuned to see where guys end up. 
7.  Who did head coach Scott Gordon say was the Phantoms' most-improved player this season? More on that in a story online here after the weekend. Paraphrasing what Gordon said in an explanation of his most-improved player - the staff was hesitant to play him in the defensive zone in late-game or one-goal game situations last year in the forward's rookie season. This season, he's become more of a two-way player and thus has been given a larger role that should continue to grow in 2017-18.
8.  Hershey advanced to the second round without playing arguably their top prospect in the two most important games of the series in Games 4 and 5 last weekend. Listed as a healthy scratch for both games, the 13th overall pick in 2014 forward Jakub Vrana seems to be having troubles off the ice. According to a source close to the situation, Vrana was seen during Sunday's Game Five in Allentown outside walking the streets during the game - a move especially troubling that could be seen negatively by his teammates. 
9.  No telling whether Vrana will be back in the Bears' lineup for the second round but by all accounts the forward has some maturing to do. The kid has obvious talent, but appears discouraged currently in the AHL. If he doesn't get his act together and this benching during the playoffs continues, Vrana could be a change-of-scenery trade target heading into the summer.
10.  Want to talk about a road warrior? How about Lehigh Valley Phantoms forward Corban Knight, who makes a 50-hour road trip home this offseason from Allentown, Pa on the eastern coast of the United States all the way cross-country to western Canada to his home Province of British Columbia. He was talking about the trek at the Phantoms' exit interview day on Tuesday, saying he will be able to stop at several places along the way to catch up with some good friends to really make a road trip of it. I'll never complain about my sometimes 1,000-plus mile road trips to cover 3-in-3 weekend road trips ever again.
11.  It's been a big year for the Phantoms' organization in 2016-17. They hosted the 2017 AHL All-Star Classic at the end of January, made the Calder Cup Playoffs for the first time in eight years and don't forget they'll be appearing in the AHL's 2018 Outdoor Classic at Hersheypark Stadium on January 20th, 2018 against rival Hershey.  
12.  With the top two AHL clubs in terms of the regular season standings out of the postseason in the first round, the final three rounds should provide some intriguing match ups between unlikely opponents - especially in the Eastern Conference with Hershey and Providence battling in the Atlantic Division Finals. Their best-of-seven series kicks off Saturday night in Hershey.
13.  The other Eastern Conference playoff series sees the Toronto Marlies and Syracuse Crunch battle in the the North Division Finals - considered considerably weaker as a division in comparison to the Atlantic. 5th place Bridgeport missed the postseason in the Atlantic Division this season but would have clinched the North Division's top seed if they had been in the North Division instead of the Atlantic. Still, plenty of talent on both rosters especially the Marlies with the addition of Kasperi Kapanen after the Maple Leafs return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs ended with a first round defeat at the hands of the Washington Capitals.
14.  Out West, the two divisional finals in the Western Conference feature a pair of heated rivalries with Chicago and Grapids in the Midwest Division Finals and a pair of California teams - San Jose and San Diego - doing battle to move into the AHL's final four. 
15.  Second round action of the 2017 Calder Cup Playoffs begins Friday. Since my 1st round AHL picks weren't hilariously bad (I got five of the eight series correct including four correct with the right amount of games played too), here's my 2nd round picks: 
  • Hershey defeats Providence in six games
  • Toronto defeats Syracuse in six games
  • Grand Rapids defeats Chicago in seven games
  • San Diego defeats San Jose in seven games 
Feel free to leave your picks in the comments or on our social media pages.   


Post a Comment