BY JOHN BAIN – FAN FUEL BLOGGER
The NHL lockout has resulted in an influx of young talent to the American Hockey League. There are so many NHL ready young players and recent draft picks sitting dormant during the lockout that parent clubs have begun to send their eligible stars down to the farm. A prime example is the Toronto Marlies of 2011-12 who came within four wins of the Calder Cup last season. The parent club Toronto Maple Leafs had failed to make the NHL playoffs, and with so much young talent and eligible players, they were able to send a young NHL caliber team to play in the AHL playoffs. Should the lockout take the entire NHL season, the AHL will be a very entertaining league to watch this year.
Some big names starting the year in the AHL include Jeff Skinner with the Charlotte Checkers, Adam Larsson and Adam Henrique with the Albany Devils, Justin Schultz, Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to the Oklahoma City Barons. Other stars like Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn find themselves on the farm along with Aleksandr Burmistrov, Oliver Ekman Larsson, Brett Conolly and Nino Nederreiter. These are just a couple handfuls of the tremendous talent in the AHL this season.
Now if you have to break it down into the top teams with the best shot at the Calder Cup in 2013, it would have to be (in no specific order) the Toronto Marlies, Oklahoma City Barons, Adirondack Phantoms, and the Charlotte Checkers.
The Toronto Marlies are intriguing as they are essentially the same team that we saw in the 2012 Calder Cup playoffs. Last season they made the Calder Cup finals with the likes of Nazem Kadri, Joe Colborne, Tyler Biggs and Carter Ashton up front. With guys like Mark Fraser, Jake Gardiner, and veteran Paul Ranger on the blue line, it is going to be tough to gain and retain the Marlies defensive zone. Keep in mind that Ben Scrivens will be starting for the Marlies in net again this year, and Toronto has a great shot of winning those final four games in 2013 and lifting the Calder Cup over their heads.
The Adirondack Phantoms, farm affiliate of the tremendously talented Philadelphia Flyers, have plenty of talent on their AHL team this season. With the Flyers sending Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn, and Erik Gustaffson heading down to play with the Phantoms, don’t expect much change from their NHL style of play. The Adirondacks are going to be a hard hitting, physical, and fast hockey team in the AHL this year. Additions including Zac Rinaldo and Eric Wellwood bolster the team’s talent that much more as they have NHL playoff experience already in their young careers. The one question mark for the Adirondack Phantoms is their goaltending situation. Not so different from the mess of a goaltending situation of their parent club the Philadelphia Flyers, there is no clear-cut starting goalie going into the season. If the Phantoms can outscore their opponents however, they shouldn’t have too much issue punishing teams and giving them a chance at a Calder Cup.
Finally we have the Oklahoma City Barons who might as well just be the Edmonton Oilers. The Barons have Justin Schultz, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Magnus Paajarvi in their line up this season. If Taylor Hall weren’t out with a shoulder injury they would have him too. The Barons will have no trouble scoring this season, and their defence shouldn’t have too much of an issue keeping the puck out of their zone either. Along with the highly touted Justin Schultz, the Barons have Colten Teubert and Taylor Fedun as well. If anyone wants to push around the Barons young guns, they will have to deal with 23 year-old d-man Alex Plante, all 6’5″ 229 pounds of him. In net the Barons have plenty of options including Olivier Roy and Tyler Bunz, two goaltenders coming off tremendous major junior careers.
So who is the favourite for the Calder Cup? On paper most would say the Oklahoma City Barons, but purely based on last season it could very well be the Toronto Marlies. Barring an agreement to a new CBA any time soon or at all, these four teams are the ones showing the best shot at a Calder Cup title in 2013.
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