October 12, 2012

AHL New England preseason power rankings

By Jesse Connolly

With the NHL embarking on its second lockout in the last nine seasons, the AHL will welcome an influx of talent from its parent clubs, much like how the league did during the last work stoppage in 2004-05. How big of an effect will it have on the Seaside Seven — the seven New England-based teams? Jesse Connolly makes his predictions for the 2012-13 season:

 

1. BRIDGEPORT SOUND TIGERS

New head coach Scott Pellerin takes over a squad that won the Northeast Division last season but was swept out of the playoffs in the first round. Rhett Rakhshani’s departure hurts, but Casey Cizikas, Brock Nelson, Calvin de Haan and plenty of other former first-rounders are ready to blossom. The Poulin-Nilsson tandem is rock solid and proven NHLer Travis Hamonic’s presence on the blue line will be a big boost.



2. 
SPRINGFIELD FALCONS

First-year head coach Brad Larsen will have a lot of fairly inexperienced youngsters to tutor, but Cam Atkinson (29 goals in 51 games in 2011-12), Tomas Kubalik (Falcons’ top point-getter in 2010-11) and Matt Calvert should lead the way offensively, while blue-chip blueliner Tim Erixon (acquired in the Rick Nash deal) could be in for a huge season. Allen York, who performed well in stints with Columbus, should be reliable in goal.




3. PROVIDENCE BRUINS

 The arrival of prized prospects Ryan Spooner and Jared Knight — and the return of Jordan Caron — should pay big dividends for a squad in need of top-flight talent up front. Providence’s ‘D’ also should improve thanks to the continued development of David Warsofsky, and the additions of Torey Krug and Tommy Cross. Swedish newcomer Niklas Svedberg and Michael Hutchinson should form a strong tandem in goal.



4. MANCHESTER MONARCHS

You’d be hard-pressed to find a team with better balance. Linden Vey and Brandon Kozun should be good for 25-plus goals, defenseman Thomas Hickey is coming off a trip to the All-Star Game, the underrated Martin Jones will take the reins in net and three key players from the Cup-winning Kings (Andrei Loktionov, Slava Voynov, Jordan Nolan) also will be suiting up for the Monarchs.



5. PORTLAND PIRATES

Allowing a league-high 254 goals last season ultimately killed their playoff chances. The Pirates should be able to trim that number down considerably in 2012-13. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, one of the best young defensemen in the NHL, will lead a back end that features promising rearguards David Rundblad, Michael Stone and Brandon Gormley. Veteran goalie Chad Johnson will mentor rookies Louis Domingue and Mark Visentin.

 

6. CONNECTICUT WHALE

 The Whale suffered a boatload of big losses. Co-leading scorer Jonathan Audy-Marchessault is now in Columbus’ organization, as is the aforementioned Erixon. Goalie Chad Johnson and point-per-game forward Mats Zuccarello also are gone. The saving grace for Connecticut is the arrival of Chris Kreider, who will begin the season in the AHL after lighting it up for the Rangers during the playoffs.

 

7. WORCESTER SHARKS

The Sharks were just about the only team to not announce AHL assignments prior to the lockout, making it hard to peg how they’ll fare. Void of high-end talent (no one topped 50 points), Worcester will need former Northeastern forward Brodie Reid and undrafted defenseman Sena Acolatse to step up, former UMass blueliner Matt Irwin to keep the points coming and goalie Alex Stalock to bounce back after an injury-plagued season.

This article originally appeared in the October 2012 issue of New England Hockey Journal.

Jesse Connolly is the Bruins beat writer for New England Hockey Journal and is the editor of hockeyjournal.com.

Twitter: @JesseNEHJ
Email: jconnolly@hockeyjournal.com