AHL POWER RANKINGS: Full 31 team run-down
This week EP Rinkside serves up the weekly AHL Power Rankings with a twist. We will examine the Top Ten teams as always, but we also have a look at where each of the AHL’s 31 teams stand as the stretch drive approaches.
1. CHARLOTTE CHECKERS (CAROLINA HURRICANES)
31-11-4-0 – 64 POINTS
On so many nights the Checkers’ skill simply can find another level and push them past opponents. With a playoff spot all but officially locked up, the challenge now will be to avoid bad habits from creeping into their collective game and fine-tune themselves for what could be a lengthy playoff run. Head coach Mike Vellucci has enough of those nitpicky qualities needed to keep team complacency at bay. The Checkers ran into the hot Providence Bruins this past Friday night on the road and took a 5-3 loss. The next night in Hartford, they cruised past the Wolf Pack, 5-2. However, they have those same P-Bruins again this weekend, this time for a pair of tilts in Charlotte. Next week they face a two-gamer on home ice against the Cleveland Monsters. Rookie defenseman Jake Bean is looking every bit like an excellent first-round pick for the Hurricanes.
Where They Stand: Remain sharp despite having a playoff spot all but locked up.
Last Week: #1 – eighth week in a row
2. SAN JOSE BARRACUDA (SAN JOSE SHARKS)
24-8-2-4 – 51 POINTS
Head coach Roy Sommer raves about this year’s Barracuda roster, and he has plenty of context for that praise, given his 21 seasons running an AHL bench. This season’s Pacific Division has allowed no opportunity for even the smallest of slumps. Despite having the second-best point percentage in the AHL, only five points separate the division leader Barracuda from the fourth-place San Diego Gulls, who show no signs of slowing down. San Jose’s well-balanced roster does allow the Barracuda to not be overly susceptible to a recall or dry spell affecting a few key players. A tough February schedule is staring back at the Barracuda, who begin it with a home-and-home series against the rival Stockton Heat.
Where They Stand: A better power play (currently 24th) would be a major boost in such a tight division.
Last Week: #2 – eighth week in a row
3. SAN DIEGO GULLS (ANAHEIM DUCKS)
22-13-2-3 – 49 POINTS
After a 4-0 shutout loss at the San Antonio Rampage, the Gulls handled a quality Texas Stars team, 4-1, to complete a two-game trip to the Central Division. They face a tricky weekend in San Diego, starting with rivalry match-up with the Ontario Reign on Friday. Gulls-Reign match-ups are never easy, regardless of the standings. The next night, the Iowa Wild visit San Diego; that Wild team ended the Gulls’ eight-game win streak back on January 14th at Iowa. Then a home-and-home series with Ontario begins next week. The back of that match-up takes the Gulls into a six-game road trip through some of the toughest Western Conference opposition around.
Where They Stand: The penalty kill (23rd) needs work. The Gulls have to hope that the recent disarray in Anaheim does not hit their roster too much more.
Last Week: #3 – second week in a row
4. ROCHESTER AMERICANS (BUFFALO SABRES)
26-13-3-1 – 56 POINTS
Per letsgoamerks.com, the Amerks are without injured veteran number-one netminder Scott Wedgewood and elite defenseman Zach Redmond (an AHL-best 19 goals among blueliners) as they go into a weekend trip to see the Binghamton Devils on Friday before stopping by Hartford. Seeing two teams below the playoff line is another opportunity for the Amerks to avoid playing down to their opponents’ level, something that has been an issue this season despite their upper-echelon status in the AHL standings. The Amerks’ run of six of nine games on opposition ice begins in earnest this weekend, but they have been a very solid road team.
Where They Stand: Shore up the penalty kill, which is 20th. If adding proven help on the blue line is not on the must-have list, it at least qualifies as sure-would-be-helpful.
Last Week: #5 (▲+1)
5. TUCSON ROADRUNNERS (ARIZONA COYOTES)
23-13-3-1 – 50 POINTS
Last weekend the Roadrunners ran into the brick wall that is Bakersfield of late. In a back-to-back series at Tucson, the Roadrunners took consecutive 3-1 losses against the Condors. This weekend they have the rival Colorado Eagles in town for two more meetings. Their power play is capable of more than the 28th-place slot that it occupies right now. Much like the Gulls, the Roadrunners are looking at a challenging six-game road trip. After hosting Colorado, the Roadrunners are not back on home ice until February 23rd.
Where They Stand: Arizona is hanging around the Western Conference playoff line, so that might hold the Tucson roster stable for now. Keeping Adin Hill in net certainly would be nice.
Last Week: #4 (▼-1)
6. GRAND RAPIDS GRIFFINS (DETROIT RED WINGS)
25-14-3-4 – 57 POINTS
Quietly the Griffins have closed their gap with AHL-leading Charlotte to nine points. Offensive force Chris Terry returned to their line-up last weekend. This weekend, they have another major addition with Detroit forward Michael Rasmussen on a conditioning assignment. The Red Wings took him ninth overall in the 2017 NHL Draft, and he is 6-7-13 in 41 games as an NHL rookie. An injury kept him out of the Detroit line-up since January 4th. Fellow first-rounder Filip Zadina sometimes looks like the 19-year-old that he is, but he is up to 11 goals as an AHL rookie. Wade Megan had a big January, going 6-5-11 in 10 games after returning from Detroit.
Where They Stand: Terry acknowledged at the AHL All-Star Classic that the Griffins’ power-play difficulties are rather baffling, considering the bevy of talent in Grand Rapids. But he thinks that it is showing signs of life. Veteran Harri Säteri has gotten hot recently after struggling. More of that from him gives the Griffins a formidable one-two net punch with Patrik Rybar.
Last Week: #6 – second week in a row
7. SYRACUSE CRUNCH (TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING)
25-13-2-1 – 53 POINTS
Connor Ingram is back from injury, so that is a major jolt for the Crunch. This past Saturday, he played for the first time in more than five weeks and helped to pull out a 4-3 overtime win with Rochester in town. Four consecutive wins have helped to lessen the damage from a poor first two weeks of January. They also beat a quality Springfield Thunderbirds team at home the previous night, 6-1. Similar to the Barracuda in many ways, the Crunch do not have glaring weaknesses and possess a well-balanced line-up. Veteran Czech defender Jan Rutta, acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks organization for fellow defensemen Slater Koekkoek on January 11th, made his Syracuse debut this past weekend and was 2-2-4 in his first two games. Carter Verhaeghe’s excellent season continued with a hat trick against Rochester. Two games this weekend finish up a six-game homestand.
Where They Stand: Hope that the Lightning do not need to move any major assets in Syracuse via a deal at the NHL trade deadline.
Last Week: #7 – second week in a row
8. IOWA WILD (MINNESOTA WILD)
24-14-4-3 – 55 POINTS
Defenseman Ryan Murphy headed out of town this week, going to the New Jersey Devils organization for Binghamton blueliner Michael Kapla. It is the second trade that has moved a player off the Iowa roster in the past two weeks, as forward Justin Kloos went to San Diego. With two road dates last weekend, the Wild started a punishing stretch of 13 of 18 games on the road through March 9th. They resume play Friday at Bakersfield, go to San Diego on Saturday, and finish at San Jose next week. That meeting with San Jose is the first of four this month with the Barracuda. They will need the Kaapo Kähkönen–Andrew Hammond goaltending duo to continue its strong play. The Wild are second in the Central Division, but they have fifth-place Texas lurking only six points behind.
Where They Stand: Survive this road schedule.
Last Week: #8 – second week in a row
9. CHICAGO WOLVES (VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS)
24-14-5-1 – 51 POINTS
Oskar Dansk in net from the Golden Knights, but Max Lagacé and defenseman Jake Bischoff departed on recall to Las Vegas. The Wolves have lost three of four going into a Friday road visit to the Rockford IceHogs. The Manitoba Moose visit Allstate Arena the next night. Both of those opponents are below the playoff line, and the Wolves could use breathing room in the standings.
Where They Stand: Better goaltending is a must.
Last Week: #9 – second week in a row
10. BAKERSFIELD CONDORS (EDMONTON OILERS)
24-15-2-1 – 51 POINTS
The Top Ten has a new entry, thanks to the Condors’ eight-game win streak. They completed a brutal schedule of 14 games in 26 days, going 9-4-1-0 and taking 19 of 28 points to assert themselves as strong Pacific Division contenders. Forward Joe Gambardella won the CCM/AHL Player of the Week Award after a 4-2-6 performance in four games last week. He has a six-game point streak (7-3-10). Forwards Tyler Benson, Josh Currie, Cooper Marody, and Patrick Russell have been among the top performers in this tear for the Condors. Logan Day has a five-game point streak (0-8-8) from the Bakersfield blue line, and goaltender Shane Starrett has taken six consecutive victories. Starting Friday at home against the Wild, the Condors skate seven of their next 11 games at home, so the AHL schedule lightens up on them a bit. They have moved themselves into second in the Pacific Division.
Where They Stand: Are the Oilers serious when they say that they will take a more patient approach with prospect development? That would represent a major shift in organizational practices. If so, watch out.
Last Week: Not Ranked
BRIDGEPORT SOUND TIGERS (NEW YORK ISLANDERS)
24-16-4-2 – 54 POINTS
At one point, the Sound Tigers might have had a chance to chase down Charlotte. Thanks to a 3-7-0-0 slide, now they are trying to fend off four Atlantic Division clubs within five points of them. And they lost forward Michael Dal Colle and defenseman Devon Toews on recalls to the Islanders on Thursday. They have the Lehigh Valley Phantoms back in town Friday; those Phantoms are one point behind them. On Saturday night, they go into Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to battle the Penguins.
Where They Stand: They need to put together a strong February performance at home, where they have been formidable.
Last Week: #10
LEHIGH VALLEY PHANTOMS (PHILADELPHIA FLYERS)
24-16-3-2 – 53 POINTS
Where They Stand: The Phantoms have to hope that the season-long chaos around the Flyers does not hit them too much more. They have dealt with frequent roster shuffles. Colin McDonald is one of the AHL’s best captains, and he has his hands full this season.
PROVIDENCE BRUINS (BOSTON BRUINS)
22-16-6-1 – 51 POINTS
Where They Stand: As usual, the P-Bruins are heating up again. They had an uneven first half, but they have gone on a 7-0-1-1 streak that included two impressive home wins against Charlotte and Springfield this past weekend. The two-game trip to Charlotte comes with goaltender Zane McIntyre on recall to Boston. Last season, Jordan Binnington arriving on loan to Providence meant the goaltending was on lock-down even if Boston put in a recall. Not so this season, which means it is Dan Vladar’s net now.
TORONTO MARLIES (TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS)
22-16-3-3 – 51 POINTS
Where They Stand: So often this Marlies team leaves you wanting more. They can beat up the powerful Checkers on the road one weekend yet struggle against the Belleville Senators the following weekend. Management has been active in resetting the roster as needed. Now it is up to the dressing room to pick up the consistency.
TEXAS STARS (DALLAS STARS)
22-17-3-2 – 49 POINTS
Where They Stand: The Stars have feasted at home, but they only have six home contests between now and March 20th. Denis Gurianov and Roope Hintz are back in Dallas. Texas has to hope that the player movement ends there.
UTICA COMETS (VANCOUVER CANUCKS)
23-18-3-2 – 51 POINTS
Where They Stand: Somehow the Comets have been able to hold it together even after losing their top two goaltenders. Unproven Ivan Kulbakov has stepped up, all things considered. Only one team (Iowa) has scored first more often this season than these Comets. Reid Boucher is a pure sniper as usual, Tanner Kero has been strong, and Zack MacEwen has progressed from a support role to someone with 16 goals through 45 games. Head coach Trent Cull’s work with the Comets has been impressive through a season-and-a-half.
MILWAUKEE ADMIRALS (NASHVILLE PREDATORS)
22-17-6-1 – 51 POINTS
Where They Stand: Life in the Central Division does not do any team any favors, and the Admirals have been up-and-down. Forward Rocco Grimaldi sticking in Nashville brought a hit to the Milwaukee roster. Eeli Tolvanen is proof that the AHL is not a cakewalk even for first-round picks as he continues to adjust. Cole Schneider’s arrival helps a team challenged offensively.
CLEVELAND MONSTERS (COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS)
21-17-4-1 – 47 POINTS
Where They Stand: On too many nights, Cleveland falls behind early. They have allowed the first goal in 28 of 43 games this season. Goaltender Jean-François Bérubé will need to return his past form. Cleveland has one of the AHL’s best veteran groups. Another scorer would give head coach John Madden needed help. This should be a playoff team, at least on paper.
WILKES-BARRE/SCRANTON PENGUINS (PITTSBURGH PENGUINS)
22-18-4-1 – 49 POINTS
Where They Stand: After the top third of the roster, the line-up thins out rather considerably. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton has been able to hang around in contention, but they probably require a big piece or two to become a major threat. Goaltender Tristan Jarry needs a big stretch-drive performance.
SPRINGFIELD THUNDERBIRDS (FLORIDA PANTHERS)
20-16-6-4 – 50 POINTS
Where They Stand: Florida management invested in rebuilding the Thunderbirds this past offseason, and it largely paid off for all sides. After that purposeful offseason, shipping out an elite AHL goaltender like Michael Hutchinson was perplexing, especially given Florida’s first-half problems in net. That means that Sam Montembeault has taken on a very heavy dose of work in net. The playoff race is looking like it will be a grind.
COLORADO EAGLES (COLORADO AVALANCHE)
20-17-3-1 – 50 POINTS
Where They Stand: Allowing a combined 120 shots in a two-game series at Ontario this past weekend was alarming, to say the least. That is hardly a new development for the Eagles, either, as they have only outshot opponents 13 times in 41 games this season. They have a fairly soft February schedule, so their time to make a move in the standings is now. Otherwise they risk needing a late-season run when eight of their final 10 games come in two-game sets against the Barracuda, Roadrunners, Wolves, and then the Barracuda again.
HERSHEY BEARS (WASHINGTON CAPITALS)
21-20-0-3 – 50 POINTS
Where They Stand: A strong January at least keeps February interesting for the Bears. Ilya Samsonov has been much better in net. Ryan Sproul was a savvy pick-up by the Bears. Sergei Shumakov leaving was addition by subtraction.
SAN ANTONIO RAMPAGE (ST. LOUIS BLUES)
22-21-2-0 – 46 POINTS
Where They Stand: That the Rampage are anywhere near contention is a miracle. That said, their 3-12-0-0 start left them minimal margin for error. Much will depend on what the St. Louis roster looks like at the end of the month. With the annual February rodeo road trip starting next week, their unsightly 4-15-1-0 road record is alarming.
ROCKFORD ICEHOGS (CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS)
19-19-3-5 – 46 POINTS
Where They Stand: Losing Matthew Highmore to shoulder surgery in November was a massive blow. This team just cannot score enough.
LAVAL ROCKET (MONTREAL CANADIENS)
19-19-3-4 – 46 POINTS
Where They Stand: Starting with new head coach Joël Bouchard, the Habs ushered in an extensive offseason makeover out in Laval. In some ways, it has made a dramatic difference. The Rocket are strong defensively after being a nightly series of defensive-zone misadventures last season. However, summer additions Alex Grenier and Hunter Shinkaruk have not duplicated past performances, and fellow newcomer Kenny Agostino has been on the NHL roster for much of the season. Injury has kept Michael McCarron out for a month. Charlie Lindgren must return to his earlier standard in the Laval net.
MANITOBA MOOSE (WINNIPEG JETS)
19-19-3-4 – 46 POINTS
Where They Stand: As long as the Moose have Eric Comrie in the crease, they can be very dangerous. But what if Comrie is moved at the NHL trade deadline to bring in help for the Stanley Cup contender Jets? His play has kept the Moose hovering near contention.
HARTFORD WOLF PACK (NEW YORK RANGERS)
19-19-3-4 – 46 POINTS
Where They Stand: The three-man goaltending rotation that has cycled between New York and Hartford has been unwieldy. Another season, another captain traded. This season it was Cole Schneider. The Rangers conducting late-season auditions might be the final blow to the Wolf Pack’s playoff chances.
STOCKTON HEAT (CALGARY FLAMES)
18-20-4-1 – 41 POINTS
Where They Stand: It will take a Bakersfield-like burst to bring the Heat back into the thick of the Pacific Division top-four. No team is a bigger disappointment so far than the Heat. They possess some of the top offensive talent in the entire AHL, and that goal production has been there. But Jon Gillies has had his game fall apart on him in net. He certainly has not had much help, however. Stockton ranks as a bottom-third defensive club. Winning eight of their first 21 home games tells much of their story.
BINGHAMTON DEVILS (NEW JERSEY DEVILS)
20-23-5-0 – 45 POINTS
Where They Stand: Even in the turnover-heavy AHL, running out seven goaltenders in the opening 48 games is a formidable hurdle. The Devils can be a frustrating opponent, but not often enough. Still, they are hanging around the playoff race.
BELLEVILLE SENATORS (OTTAWA SENATORS)
20-23-2-1 – 45 POINTS
Where They Stand: That the B-Sens are even remotely near a playoff spot is testament to the work that head coach Troy Mann has done there. Constant movement between Ottawa and Belleville has hit the AHL roster, and the AHL Sens lost summer additions Paul Carey and Mike McKenna on top of that. But they can lock down play defensively well enough to steal wins here and there.
ONTARIO REIGN (LOS ANGELES KINGS)
13-20-4-2 – 32 POINTS
Where They Stand: Earlier this decade, while the Kings became a top-tier NHL contender, they enjoyed similar AHL success. The organization won a Calder Cup in 2015 and went to the Western Conference final the following season. Those days are long gone in Southern California, where the Kings’ early-season problems spawned any number of issues for the Reign. The brand of tight defensive play that characterized both Los Angeles and Ontario during their glory days is nowhere to be seen. Goaltender Peter Budaj, such a force in the 2015-16 season for the Reign, has not been able to recapture that level in his return to Ontario; then again, Reign goaltenders have been under non-stop pressure from opponents all season. Now it will be about testing out some young AHL talent in Los Angeles as each team plays out the string.