NASHVILLE (The Draft Analyst) — The abbreviated 2020-21 AHL season is underway. The entire point of having an AHL season is the development of individual players. There are currently no plans for a leaguewide playoff format and while coaches would never admit this, wins and losses are a secondary concern. It’s very early, but here are some players who have stood out this far for their respective teams.
(Note: All stats are at time of writing)
Lukas Dostal, G Team: San Diego Gulls (Anaheim Ducks) Height/Weight: 6’2, 174 pounds Acquired: 3rd Round (85th overall), 2018
Dostal rarely gets talked about when discussing the top goalie prospects in the NHL, but he was one of the best netminders in Europe the past two years and has performed well (5-2-0, 2.68 GAA, .929 save percentage) in the early going for San Diego. Still just 20 years of age, Dostal played 64 games in Finland’s Liiga over parts of the past three years, posting a stingy 1.76 GAA and .929 save percentage with five shutouts. Dostal is looking at an extended run in the minors given his youth and the presence of John Gibson in Anaheim, but his positioning and hockey IQ give him the floor of a potential long-term NHL starter.
Jack Dugan, LW Team: Henderson Silver Knights (Vegas Golden Knights) Height/Weight: 6’2, 209 pounds Acquired: 5th Round (142nd overall), 2017
Dugan turned himself into one of the better forward prospects in the league during his two collegiate seasons at Providence College and is off to a quick start in his first AHL campaign. Dugan lead all of college hockey in both assists (42) and points (52) a year ago. He was named a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award and signed his entry-level deal with Vegas last May. He has a goal and six assists in his first seven games for Henderson. Dugan is a big body who battles hard for pucks in the offensive zone. He also has a solid shot for a player I would describe as more of a playmaker than finisher. He could probably play in the NHL right now, but Vegas has plenty of depth and can afford to let him develop in the minors.
Ryan Murphy, RHD Team: Henderson Silver Knights (Vegas Golden Knights) Height/Weight: 5’11, 185 pounds Acquired: Free Agent (Drafted 12th overall by Carolina in 2011)
I’m a sucker for a good comeback story and Murphy is trying to write his own. Originally the 12th overall pick by the Hurricanes in 2011, Murphy spent six nondescript seasons in the Carolina, Minnesota and New Jersey systems before spending the last two years in the KHL. He returned to the states this season and currently leads all AHL defenders with 10 points in nine games. Murphy’s offensive skill has never been in question. It’s his defensive play and physicality that are the issues. I think there’s room for Murphy in the NHL if he’s deployed correctly, but it almost certainly won’t come in the Vegas system. Still, putting together some good tape for the other soon-to-be 31 teams in the league is a good thing.
Seth Jarvis, C Team: Chicago Wolves (Carolina Hurricanes) Height/Weight: 5’10, 175 pounds Acquired: 1st Round (13th overall), 2020
Jarvis through Tuesday was the AHL’s top scorer (11 points in first nine games), which is somewhat surprising considering he was drafted just this past year and would be playing in the WHL if not for the pandemic. He was a typical Carolina draft pick in the sense that he is exceptionally skilled with the potential for big-time point production at all strengths, so it’s natural for one to be high on Jarvis’s long-term upside, especially when you factor in his tireless effort and sublime skill. He’s not very big, which for smaller players usually translates to a lengthy adjustment period while struggling with the physicality of pro hockey just months after being drafted. Luckilly for Jarvis, however, it hasn’t happened. Small sample size applies here, but the early returns are strong.
Goal by Phil Tomasino (NAS 1st/2019), but Seth Jarvis with one of sweetest secondary assists you’ll ever see.pic.twitter.com/IEBQOAaItk
Rasmus Kupari, C Team: Ontario Reign (Los Angeles Kings) Height/Weight: 6’1, 185 pounds Acquired: 1st Round (20th overall), 2018
Kupari is one of several high-profile center prospects in the Kings’ system, but injuries and periods of ineffectiveness have lowered his stock from where it was several seasons ago. That is what makes his strong start to the year — seven assists in seven games — more reassuring than anything else. Kupari, who will turn 21 in mid-March, is one of the AHL’s top set-up men through the early portion of the schedule. He has a clear top-six offensive skill set and has always been a dual threat with the puck, but Kupari will have to continue producing at a high clip if he wants to remain competitive alongside Kings’ blue-chip center prospects Alex Turcotte and Quinton Byfield.
Many great assists so far this season, but February's Assist of the Month goes to Quinton Byfield and Rasmus Kupari on Akil Thomas' goal! pic.twitter.com/hO7YACMpoa
Laaksonen spent parts of the past three seasons playing professionally in Finland despite the fact he won’t turn 22 years of age until early July. He began this year on loan to the Pelicans of the SM-Liiga, posting 12 points in 20 games. He later followed that up with five assists in his first six games with Rochester. Although the current situation with the parent Sabres is anything but stable, the losing and internal disputes could open the door for youngsters like Laaksonen to not only receive a look or two, but wind up sticking around for the rest of the regular season. Laaksonen’s offense is clearly ahead of his defense at this point, so the Finn likely won’t be asked to log heavy minutes during critical late/close or penalty-killing situations.
Tarmo Reunanen, LHD Team: Hartford Wolf Pack (New York Rangers) Height/Weight: 6’0, 185 pounds Acquired: 4th Round (98th overall), 2016
Reunanen has been one of Hartford’s best players in the early going; no small task considering the newly minted 23-year-old had never played a game in North America prior to this year. Reunanen, who has been deployed on either the top or middle pairing as well as the lead power-play unit, has points in four of Hartford’s first five games. Reunanen is an offensive player with a hard shot who thinks the game well. He’s not Cale Makar or Quinn Hughes in terms of dynamism or excitability, but his passes are crisp, and he can be an asset on the power play. Reunanen’s probably a number four or five defenseman long term, but there’s a realistic argument to be made that he would be more useful (and promising) than most defenders already on the Rangers’ current roster. He’s certainly made his case for NHL promotion, which means it’s only a matter of time.
Jeremy Swayman, G Team: Providence Bruins (Boston Bruins) Height/Weight: 6’2, 201 pounds Acquired: 4th Round (111th overall), 2017
Swayman isn’t nearly as highly regarded as some of the other goaltenders who have come out of the NCAA ranks in recent years (Jake Oettinger, Connor Hellebuyck, Thatcher Demko), but the results are undeniable. The 2017 fourth rounder posted a 2.51 GAA and .927 save percentage in 100 games over three seasons at the University of Maine. His professional career with the Baby Bruins has gotten off to a strong start, as Swayman currently owns a perfect 4-0-0 record with a 2.00 GAA and .929 save percentage. In terms of style, Swayman is a big-bodied butterfly type who battles hard, tracks pucks well and consistently fights through screens. With the current Boston tandem of Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak getting up there in age, I see no reason why Swayman can’t be considered a strong candidate to one day compete for the No. 1 job.
Drafted as a middle-round prospect, Wisdom is looking more like a blue-chipper thank to an explosive start to his AHL career. Through Tuesday, the former Kingston Frontenac scored six goals in his first seven games, which is quite impressive for a kid who would be playing in the OHL if not for the pandemic. Wisdom was considered a potential sleeper at last year’s draft since he proved to be a low-maintenance threat on a top line with potential 2022 No. 1 pick Shane Wright, but few could have predicted this kind of production so early in his professional career. There’s always the chance that Wisdom’s hot streak is more flukey than an indicator of NHL production, but it’s impressive, nonetheless. Still, I see Widsom as a potential third liner who can certainly fill the net but needs to work on his foot speed and overall quickness.