Fan Fuel: NHL should give AHL stars a chance

February 6, 2012, 3:14 PM


Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau currently sits 21st in National Hockey League scoring, with 47 points in 51 games and a healthy average of 18:22 of ice time per game. In fact, he leads his New York Islanders team in assists and is behind only young star John Tavares in points.

Life hasn’t always been so good for Parenteau, though.

Before the 2009-10 NHL season, at the age of 26, he had played in just five NHL games. And by the time he embarked on his first full NHL season in the fall of 2010, he had toiled mostly in the American Hockey League for six years and 450 games.

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Many players never display the talent necessary to make it in the NHL and must establish successful careers for themselves in other professional leagues. But that’s where I am confused about Parenteau’s lack of NHL opportunities over the years – he did display talent. Consistently, too. In fact, in his 450 AHL games, he tallied 403 points. Not only that, but in the four seasons from 2006-07 through 2009-10, he managed a remarkable 283 points in 252 games.

It took years of that production for Parenteau to finally get a fair chance at being a top-six forward in the NHL, and he hasn’t looked back since cracking the Islanders’ lineup as a full-timer last season. He potted 53 points in a very respectable first season in the NHL, and he’s on pace to shatter that mark with 74 this year.

Parenteau isn’t the only NHLer who was forced to bide his time in lower leagues, either.

David Desharnais, for instance, spent 68 games (106 points) in the East Coast Hockey League and 183 (184 points) in the AHL before he was finally allowed to play in more than a few NHL games with negligible ice time. This season, he’s tied for third on the Montreal Canadiens in points.

Unfortunately, the list of top-flight AHL scorers who have never been given fair shots in the NHL is a longer one.

Corey Locke has been a tremendous scorer in the AHL for several years (279 points in his past 248 games), but NHL teams have allowed him just nine games to strut his stuff. The Ottawa Senators gave him his best chance last season with five games, but with an average of just 9:10 of ice time. What is an offensive player expected to do in such a limited role?

Darren Haydar has been handed a similar lack of opportunities. The 32-year-old has racked up 528 points in 466 AHL games since the end of the NHL lockout, and yet he’s only played more than four NHL games in a season just once. Curiously, in that one season (2007-08), in which he played in 16 NHL games, he managed a respectable eight points – in fewer than 12 minutes of ice time per game. That production has earned him just five minutes in the NHL since, though.

The knock on AHLers who don’t land NHL opportunities often has to do with size or skating ability. Indeed, Haydar and Locke are both 5’9″. But how is anyone to know if either of those two factors will hold a player back if he never gets a chance to prove his doubters wrong?

Martin St. Louis couldn’t score himself a chance in the NHL a dozen years ago because he was “too small.” The 5’8″ offensive dynamo eventually stuck in the NHL, though, and has become one of the best players of any height in the NHL.

Here’s my question: what does an NHL team – particularly a struggling one, like the Columbus Blue Jackets this year, or the Edmonton Oilers or New York Islanders in previous years – stand to lose by allowing an AHL scoring star to play in several games in a top-six forward (or top-four defenceman) role? In the worst case, the team would continue to flounder and could send him back down to the minors. In the best case, the team would end up with the next Parenteau.

I’m not saying that every AHL scoring star will turn out like Parenteau has. It’s undeniable that some players simply cannot translate success at lower levels to NHL success. My point, simply, is that it’s unfair to write off an offensive player who has dominated at lower levels before giving him a legitimate opportunity in the NHL. Only once a player has been given a chance and not done anything significant with it am I prepared to hear that he is a career AHLer.

All I am saying, really, in my best John Lennon voice, is to give these guys a chance.

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