Ottawa Senators winger Mike Hoffman currently sits among the top five goal scorers in the NHL this season, but there's one thing about his path to the show that stands out among his peers: he's the only one to have played a regular season game in the AHL. And he played a lot of them.
Five seasons ago, Hoffman was a depth player on a Binghamton Senators squad that won a Calder Cup championship. He had 25 points (seven goals, 18 assists) in 74 regular season games, good for ninth among the club's forwards, and added nine points (one goal, eight assists) in 19 playoff games.
Today, his 15 goals through 25 games played in 2015-16 are tops on the big Sens' roster. Only he and two-time Norris Trophy-winner Erik Karlsson are scoring at a better than point-per-game pace for Ottawa.
Between the start of his first pro season and now, Hoffman suited up in 242 AHL regular season games, recording 169 points (71 goals, 98 assists). He cleared NHL waivers at the start of the 2013-14 season and went on to record 67 points (30 goals, 37 assists) in 51 games with Binghamton. Last year, he burst onto the NHL scene with 27 goals. Just past the one-third mark of this season, he's on pace for 40-plus tallies. That's a long way from seven markers as an AHL rookie.
Hoffman, the Sens' fifth-round pick (130th overall) in 2009, is now among the NHL's top goal scorers, at least for the time being. With him in the league's top five are Jamie Benn, Patrick Kane, Vladimir Tarasenko, Tyler Seguin and Matt Duchene (the latter two were tied with Hoffman at the time this blog was published). Four of those guys were first-round NHL draft picks, while Benn, a fifth-rounder like Hoffman, actually made an AHL Calder Cup run with the Texas Stars in 2010, but didn't play any regular season games.
The AHL seems to be a more important resource for NHL player development each year. According to the AHL’s Guide & Record Book, 88 percent of current NHL players are AHL alumni. It's a necessary buffer for most players as they adjust to the steep learning curve from junior, college or Europe to the NHL.
Along with Hoffman, below are four other guys to round out the top five NHL scorers this season who played more than 100 AHL games before they transitioned to the big league full time. All five guys sat among the top 30 NHL point producers at the time this blog was published.
Mike Cammalleri, LW (New Jersey Devils)
Cammalleri, 33, notched 168 points (71 goals, 97 assists) in 133 regular season games and added seven points (one goal, six assists) in seven playoff games with the Manchester Monarchs from 2002-05. He led the league in goals with 46 in 2004-05.
David Krejci, C (Boston Bruins)
Krejci, 29, played 94 AHL regular season games with the Providence Bruins in 2006-07 and 2007-08, recording 102 points (38 goals, 64 assists). He also appeared in 13 playoff games, collecting 16 points (three goals, 13 assists).
Tomas Plekanec, C (Montreal Canadiens)
Plekanec, 33, spent three full seasons with the Hamilton Bulldogs from 2002-05 and added two more regular season games in 2005-06 before making the Habs for good. In 233 AHL regular season games, he registered 176 points (71 goals, 105 assists). He added 18 points (seven goals, 11 assists) in 27 playoff games.
Loui Eriksson, RW (Boston Bruins)
Eriksson, 30, spent parts of three seasons with the Iowa Stars from 2005-06 to 2007-08, posting 71 points (37 goals, 34 assists) in 95 regular season games. In 16 playoff games, he had 14 points (four goals, 10 assists).