A brief look at the Calder Cup
The American Hockey League's Calder Cup never gets much attention from anyone outside of the two cities involved, and that's certainly been the case this year, with the minor-league title being fought at the same time as the Stanley Cup.
So perhaps that's not surprising.
What is, however, is that with the Edmonton Oilers trailing in the big-league final three games to one, there's a pretty decent chance the Calder Cup won't be won until after the Stanley Cup. Which is rather bizarre.
So, who's playing? The Hershey Bears and the Milwaukee Admirals, the farm team affiliates for the Washington Capitals and Nashville Predators. Right now, the series is tied 2-2 with Game 5 going tonight in Hershey, Pa.
You might ask: Why pay attention to the Calder Cup? Well, if you're looking to project who will make an impact in the NHL next season and which teams are well-stocked with talented youngsters, the AHL is the place to look.
Last season's championship pitted the Philadelphia Phantoms (Philadelphia Flyers) against the Chicago Wolves (Atlanta Thrashers), a four-game sweep for the Phantoms. A ton of players from the series went on to big things this season in the NHL, namely R.J. Umberger, Joni Pitkanen, Fred Meyer, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards and Antero Nittymaki for the Flyers and Stephen Weiss, Jay Bouwmeester and Kari Lehtonen. (Weiss and Bouwmeester were on loan from the San Antonio Rampage for the playoffs.)
A lot of pundits don't make the correlation, but players who can score at a high level at a young age in the NHL are almost always on a path to being big contributers at the next level. (Eric Staal and Brad Boyes are two guys that come to mind who had big years in the AHL last season.)
So, who are the future stars emerging this year? Here's a quick look:
- Tomas Fleischmann. Originally a Detroit Red Wings draft pick (2nd round, 2002), Fleischmann was quite the sniper in the WHL and had 30 goals in just 57 games during the AHL regular season. He's second among all AHL playoff scorers with 28 points in 16 games and should make the Capitals full-time next season.
- Kris Beech. Seen as a throw-in in the Brendan Witt deal, Beech is actually an excellent youngster who hasn't been given much of a chance at sticking with an NHL team. Beech has been a point-a-game player in the minors for four years now and is still only 25.
- Graham Mink. An American who played in the NCAA, I hadn't heard of Mink before but he's broken through this year with 40 points in 43 games. He's a big guy who could eventually turn up in the NHL.
- Mike Green. An excellent pick by the Capitals when they took him 29th overall in 2004, Green was a superstar in the WHL and had a 22-game audition this year with the Capitals. He's undersized but skates so well that he'll definitely be a part of Washington's blueline for the next few years.
- Brooks Laich. Played 73 games in the NHL this season (bet you didn't know that). The Capitals picked up Laich in the deal from the Ottawa Senators for Peter Bondra and it could turn out well. He was an impact player in the WHL with 94 points in 60 games in his final year.
- Eric Fehr. A two-time 50-goal man in the WHL, Fehr put in 25 in his first AHL season. He's only 21 and could definitely blossom into a front-line NHLer.
- Boyd Gordon. The former WHL stars parade continues. The Capitals must be scouting the West more than anyone as their prospects list looks like the WHL leaders list circa 2002-03.
- Jeff Schultz. Big, big kid from — you guessed it — the WHL.
- Frederic Cassivi. He's too old to be a prospect (30), but big netminder's playoff numbers are fantastic and he may have revived his shots at an NHL spot here.
- Pekka Rinne. Big Finn should backup Tomas Vokoun next season after this performance.
- Darren Haydar. Has been in the Predators system since 1999 but finally exploded this year with 92 points in 80 games.
- Scottie Upshall. Former Kamloops Blazers captain is on his way to establishing himself as a scorer — at the NHL level. Had 17 goals in 23 AHL games this season, which means he's too good for that league.
- Jordin Tootoo.