Five players to watch at AHL All-Star Classic

Connor Brown. (Graig Abel/graigabelphotography)

The AHL’s All-Star Classic will take place on Monday night, and there is no shortage of NHL-calibre players on display. Of the 46 players selected, 34 are first-timers while 18 of those are former first- and second-round picks. In fact, 17 have already played in the NHL this season.

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The event will be a glimpse into the NHL’s immediate future, so here are five players to keep an eye on.

1. Jacob Markstrom, Utica Comets

Having already played 47 NHL games since the 2010-11 season, Markstrom could be considered a hard-luck goaltender. He was largely perceived as the future in Florida only to fall victim to a trade to the Vancouver Canucks in the Roberto Luongo deal. Then, with Ryan Miller signing long-term as a Canuck in this off-season, Markstrom has played the entire 2014-15 season in Utica with the Comets. His numbers this year, however, are outstanding, winning 12 games and sporting a 1.86 GAA with a .935 save percentage.

Markstrom may be in line behind Miller for some time but he’s a large goalie with a big personality, as evidenced by his passion for The Venga Boys:

2. Connor Brown, Toronto Marlies

A former sixth-round pick from 2012, Brown has perhaps been overlooked as a Leafs prospect because of his stature — listed as 5-foot-11, a tad generous. He led the OHL in scoring in 2013-14 — well ahead of then-teammate Connor McDavid — and was named the league’s most outstanding player. He raised some eyebrows earlier this season when he won player of the month honours in December, scoring 12 points in 14 games. He has dropped off a bit in January, but has 31 points in 39 games.

3. Matt Dumba, Iowa Wild

It’s been a rough year for the Minnesota Wild and Matt Dumba has felt some of the effects. A healthy scratch in the team’s last game before the break, Dumba was sent down to the AHL after playing 23 NHL games this season and scoring just five points. In 18 games with the Iowa Wild, Dumba has four goals and 12 points.

In bouncing up and down from Iowa to Minnesota, the defenceman has been making progress. Coach Mike Yeo told the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune, “I don’t want to pin (the team’s struggles) just on him. This is a young kid, he’s learning lessons.”

A stress-free all-star experience could go a long way for a young player with a franchise in flux.

4. Teemu Pulkkinen, Grand Rapids Griffins

When you read “fourth-round pick by the Detroit Red Wings,” you likely expect big things. Teemu Pulkkinen, 23, has not disappointed in the AHL, scoring 31 goals last season and 20 in 34 games this season, which leads the league. His shot is already making waves. “We know we can count on his shot — he’s got a rocket,” said Wings forward Tomas Tatar to the Detroit Free Press.

Pulkkinen scored his first NHL goal Tuesday in Detroit’s win over Minnesota.

5. David Pastrnak, Providence Bruins

The Boston Bruins have elected to keep David Pastrnak for the remainder of the NHL season, burning a year of his entry-level deal, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be able to attend the AHL’s all-star game. Over a two-game span in January with the Boston Bruins, Pastrnak scored four of the team’s seven goals. His 12 NHL games have been a blip but he has produced consistently in the AHL, scoring 27 points in 24 games in Providence.

Perhaps he has nothing left to prove at the AHL level, but that might make him someone to watch with no expectations to live up to during a weekend that’s better served by relaxed players showing off skills you won’t always see in a typical game.

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