Joshua Ho-Sang is back in the NHL but Bridgeport is standing tall.
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NHL Prospects

AHL POWER RANKINGS: Checkers, Barracuda reign supreme

Each Tuesday, EP Rinkside serves up the weekly AHL Power Rankings, a look at some of the top contenders across the 31-team circuit and their NHL-AHL player development picture.


23-7-2-0 – 48 POINTS

Charlotte had a rare dip in fortunes this past week, losing twice in three tries at home to finish a six-game homestand. But a six-game win streak that came before it had given the Checkers ample margin for error. They received a jolt this past Friday when the Bridgeport Sound Tigers handed them a 6-1 loss on Charlotte ice. With Bridgeport clamping down on second place in the Atlantic Division, that cut into the Checkers’ grip on first place in the division. However, a 3-1 Charlotte victory the next night again put Bridgeport seven points behind the division leader on Checkers goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic’s 27 saves; he leads the AHL with 15 wins. “What I love is that the game before Christmas is never usually that good,” Checkers head coach Mike Vellucci told the team website after the win. “Everyone usually has one foot out the door, but we competed hard, and we played the game the right way. After the second, I told (assistant coach Ryan Warsofsky) that if we can learn how to play in these games, this is playoff atmosphere. This is what a young team needs to learn how to win.” Now the Checkers start a six-game Canadian road trip that takes them to see the Belleville Senators, Laval Rocket, and Toronto Marlies. All three North Division teams have struggled considerably this season, though the Marlies have started to generate some semblance of momentum lately. The AHL schedule gave the Checkers a breather with an extended holiday break as they do not resume play until Friday night at Laval. Checkers forward Aleksi Saarela took an eight-game point streak (2-7-9) into the break.

Last Week: #1 – fourth week in a row


17-5-1-3 – 36 POINTS

After a down week by San Jose standards, the upcoming schedule does not look all that welcoming either. After a stretch of five games in seven days, the Barracuda are getting much-needed time to relax. However, they resume play at home this week against a stout opponent in the Colorado Eagles. A visit from the San Diego Gulls follows – the same Gulls team thumped the Barracuda, 6-1, this past Wednesday. A trip to see the Stockton Heat on New Year’s Eve closes out the month for the Barracuda, who have had their Pacific Division lead closed to two points. That despite the Barracuda having played .731 hockey, second-best in the AHL this season. Along with last week’s loss to San Diego, the Barracuda split a two-game home set with the Tucson Roadrunners, who hold the second spot in the division. Czech goaltender Josef Korenar continues his excellent first AHL season with an 11-1-1 | 2.06 | .926 in a top tandem with Antoine Bibeau.

Last Week: #2 – fourth week in a row


18-9-4-1 – 41 POINTS

Bridgeport took to the road and stood toe-to-toe with the top team in the AHL, taking a hard-fought split with Charlotte. It capped a demanding week, as the Sound Tigers lost a 4-3 overtime game to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins before going to Charlotte. Their 3-1 defeat at Charlotte going into the holiday break stopped a five-game point streak. The AHL schedule will confront the Sound Tigers immediately when they resume – a three-in-three set book-ended by contests against the rival Hartford Wolf Pack is on Bridgeport’s calendar. Sebastian Aho is up to third place among AHL defensemen with 23 points (3-20-23) after a three-assist evening in the opening game of the Sound Tigers’ weekend stop in Charlotte. More impressively, the Sound Tigers’ strong play has continued even with forward Josh Ho-Sang and defenseman Devon Toews on recall to the Islanders.

Last Week: #4 (▲+1)


17-8-2-0 – 36 POINTS

While the winning continues, so do the injury problems. Goaltender Connor Ingram is the latest addition to the injury list; Lindsay Kramer of reported that Ingram will miss two to three weeks with an injury. That will leave the Syracuse net to veteran Eddie Pasquale, who has shown in the past that he can run with an opportunity. After a road loss to the Springfield Thunderbirds, the Crunch picked up back-to-back wins against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. The Syracuse power play went 1-for-11 against the Penguins, but it still leads the AHL at 27.1 percent. After a 1-1-2 night against the Penguins, rookie forward Alex Barré-Boulet continues his excellent first half, leading the AHL in rookie scoring (13-14-27) and also tied for the league lead with nine power-play goals. A run of three games in four nights starts on Boxing Day, including a Saturday night visit from the Thunderbirds.

Last Week: #5 – (▲+1)


17-9-3-1 – 38 POINTS

December has been very prosperous for the Wolves, who have run off an eight-game point streak (7-0-1-0) that has them tied for the Western Conference lead at 38 points. Even better for the Wolves, they will have sniper Brandon Pirri back in their line-up. The 27-year-old forward leads the AHL in scoring, going 17-24-41. His 17 goals are second in the AHL, and his 24 assists lead the league. On a three-game recall to the Golden Knights last week, he picked up three goals and an assist. Combine that with the seven goals that he had in four AHL games before being recalled, and he has 10 goals in his past seven games divided between the NHL and AHL. The Wolves will be without dynamic rookie defenseman Erik Brännström, who is off at the World Junior Championship playing for Sweden. A challenging run of four games in six nights that features road stops against the Milwaukee Admirals, Rockford IceHogs, and Iowa Wild will keep the Wolves busy after their abbreviated break that ends Wednesday.

Last Week: Not Ranked


16-8-3-1 – 36 POINTS

The Roadrunners made sure that they would go into their break feeling better. They left Northern California with a split against San Jose and are positioned just two points behind the Barracuda. They took a 4-3 win at San Jose into their break, ending a four-game losing streak. Tucson has been a headache for San Jose, going 3-0-1-1 so far in the teams’ season series. Special-teams play remains an issue for the Roadrunners, whose power play ranks 24th while their penalty kill is 21st. Another tough weekend is ahead for the Roadrunners, this time being a pair of home games against Stockton this weekend.

Last Week: #7 (▲+1)


17-9-1-2 – 37 POINTS

The hockey gods could not have thrown much more at the Phantoms in the first third of the season. AHL life means that the NHL parent team’s problems become the AHL club’s issues; the challenge in the AHL is to avoid having those issues grow into problems, and the Phantoms have done more than that. Just in the past week, they have had to deal with losing head coach Scott Gordon to an interim assignment with the Flyers that could evolve into something much more long-term. Top-tier goaltending prospect Carter Hart also joined Gordon in Philadelphia. Yet buoyed by depth across their line-up and an excellent veteran core headed by captain Colin McDonald, all the Phantoms have done is take care of business. Interim head coach Kerry Huffman is clearly popular with his players, and he is off to a 2-0-0-1 start behind the Lehigh Valley bench. Against a high-end opponent like Syracuse this past Friday, the Phantoms poured 42 shots on net only to lose the game in the shootout. They blew out the rival Hershey Bears twice, outscoring their outmatched opponent by a combined 11-1 count. They play another major rival, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, twice more this week, including a Boxing Day trip to Northeastern Pennsylvania.

Last Week: Not Ranked


18-10-2-0 – 38 POINTS

Three very winnable home contests only added up to three losses. The Amerks’ maddening highs and lows continued last week. They coughed up a 4-1 lead on Belleville and turned it into a 5-4 loss to start a run of three home games in four nights. Then the struggling Wolf Pack visited for a pair of games. After 4-2 loss in the opener, the Amerks were blown out, 5-1, despite pouring 23 first-period shots on the visiting net. That week followed an impressive home-and-home sweep of the rival Cleveland Monsters the previous weekend. Now Rochester’s North Division lead is down to two points going into Wednesday’s trip back to Cleveland. That contest is followed by a visit from resurgent Toronto. A middling power play and a poor penalty kill is not helping matters for the Amerks, nor is their up-and-down goaltending. What it boils down to is this Rochester club for real or not?

Last Week: #3 – (▼-5)


15-9-3-1 – 34 POINTS

Just like that, the Eagles found themselves without their number-one goaltender and two high-end forwards going into the second half of their two-game home weekend against the solid Bakersfield Condors. Netminder Pavel Francouz headed off to the Avalanche along with forwards Sheldon Dries and A.J. Greer. Times like those are when AHL teams have to tap into their line-up depth, and they did that. Forward Michael Joly, who had a 41-goal performance in the ECHL before going on to become the Kelly Cup Playoff most valuable player last season, gave Colorado a quick first-period lead on the Condors. Later he helped finish off Bakersfield by striking in the shootout for a 3-2 victory. Playing on an AHL contract, Joly is 6-6-12 in 22 games this season, including a 2-2-4 effort this past weekend against the Condors. However, back-up Spencer Martin rallied with a 33-save performance after he had allowed five goals (all in the second period) the night before. After visiting San Jose, the Eagles go north to Manitoba for a two-game stop with the Moose.

Last Week: #8 – (▼-1)


16-10-4-0 – 36 POINTS

Head coach John Madden’s team took care of business. They went into Grand Rapids and grabbed a 3-1 win against a Griffins team that excels at Van Andel Arena. Then they traveled back to Cleveland and swept the Senators. Veteran forward Alex Broadhurst provided a 3-1-4 night in a 6-3 series-opening win. In all, he had a 3-4-7 week in the three games. After Rochester visits on Wednesday, the Monsters take on a major test with a home-and-home series against the rival Griffins.

Last Week: Not Ranked





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