Sophomores vs. the AHL - The Hockey News on Sports Illustrated

Sophomores vs. the AHL

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The Hockey News

The Hockey News

Last week, I took a look at the 2004-05 projected NHL rookies who were in the American League during the last lockout and compared them to this year's (potential) crop. This week, it's another group of lockout-impacted youngsters - the sophomores.

In the rookie column, found here, it was pretty easy to recognize that we're looking at status quo. A rookie is a rookie and there is really no indication that an extra year in the American League improves his numbers. Other than Brad Boyes' 69 points, the rookies who played the last lockout in the AHL mostly fell into that standard 30-55 range.

The 2011-12 NHL rookies are another matter. While this season's older sophomores, such as Matt Read and Craig Smith, are playing overseas, the younger ones remain in North America in the AHL.

From 2004-05, here are the results of notable NHL sophomores or third-year players, including a couple of borderline sophomores (Mike Cammalleri and Dustin Brown) who I included in the rookie column last week:

PLAYER

NHL ('03-04)

AHL ('04-05)

NHL ('05-06)

Joffrey Lupul

34

56

53

Patrice Bergeron

39

61

73

Pierre-Marc Bouchard

22

54

59

Matt Stajan

27

66

27

Eric Staal

31

77

100

Jason Spezza

55

117

90

Mike Cammalleri

15

109

55

Dustin Brown

5

74

28

The before and after picture shows a big difference. Perhaps the taste of the NHL taught them some things. Then they took those lessons and got into the mindset of dominating the lower league. And then they took the confidence they got from that and re-joined the NHL as improved players.

There's no good way to measure this and the sample size is too small to conclude anything outright. But it's good enough for me. There is no shortage of quality NHL youngsters who have left us disappointed about their offense in the past. This could be just what the doctor ordered for these second- or third-year pro players:

Drayson Bowman, Carolina

Zach Boychuk, Carolina

Ryan Johansen, Columbus

Cody Eakin, Dallas

Magnus Paajarvi, Edmonton

Mattias Tedenby, New Jersey

Jacob Josefson, New Jersey

Nino Niederreiter, NY Islanders

Brett Connolly, Tampa Bay

Zack Kassian, Vancouver

Alexander Burmistrov, Winnipeg

I would bet good money that at least a handful of these players will surprise next NHL season (whether it starts in December, January or next October). Here are the other notable NHLers in the AHL who have a lot of upside. Some of them have already shown their stuff:

Cody Hodgson, Buffalo

Roman Horak, Calgary

Justin Faulk, Carolina

Nick Leddy, Chicago

Andrei Loktionov, Los Angeles

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton

Taylor Hall, Edmonton (soon to start playing)

Jordan Eberle, Edmonton

Sean Couturier, Philadelphia

Brayden Schenn, Philadelphia

Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Phoenix

Jake Gardiner, Toronto

In the above group, Hodgson is really dominating offensively for Rochester. His 10 points in eight games put him in a tie for fourth place in league scoring. Ekman-Larsson is also off to a strong start with nine points in six games for Portland. I don't think any of us would be shocked if those two youngsters put forth really strong campaigns when the NHL starts up again. Of the names listed above, here are the top AHL scorers:

Hodgson, Rochester: 8-1-9-10

Ekman-Larsson, Portland: 6-3-6-9

Boychuk, Charlotte: 8-5-4-9

Schenn, Adirondack: 7-4-5-9

Faulk, Charlotte: 6-1-8-9

Bowman, Charlotte: 8-7-1-8

Horak, Abbotsford: 7-7-1-8

Nugent-Hopkins, Oklahoma City: 7-2-6-8

Eakin, Texas: 7-4-3-7

In particular, I'll be watching the performances of Niederreiter (six points in six games for Bridgeport), Paajarvi (six points in seven for OKC) and Burmistrov (six in eight for St. John's). All three of these players are at a crossroads - and I'm confident that all three will find their way. These guys have first-line NHL potential and, with the exception of about two weeks for Burmistrov early last year and about two games for Paajarvi, they have shown little to back that up so far. If they can post close to a point-per-game at the AHL level, they should be able to top a point every two games upon re-joining the NHL. That would be a promising step forward to becoming 65-point players in the future.

Another player I'm curious about is San Jose's James Sheppard. Can he somehow salvage his career and become a second-liner? Or will he be a career minor-leaguer? His two devastating knee injuries wiped out his past two seasons. As a ninth overall draft pick (2006), he has upside if he can recapture it. He has five points in seven games for Worcester.

Darryl Dobbs’ Fantasy Pool Look is an in-depth presentation of player trends, injuries and much more as it pertains to rotisserie pool leagues. Also, get the top 300 roto-player rankings on the first of every month in THN’s Fantasy section. Do you have a question about fantasy hockey? Send it to the Fantasy Mailbag.

Want more fantasy insider information or to contact The Dobber? Check out dobberhockey.com or follow him on Twitter at @DobberHockey.

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