The AHL’s Central Division features a team that’s turned the corner after a slow start, the Chicago Wolves, and the defending Calder Cup champions who might miss the playoffs altogether — the Grand Rapids Griffins. Manitoba, meanwhile, continues to simmer after their hot start. What is the state of each team heading into the deadline? Let’s take a look.
Division Record: 22-12-3-2
Leading Scorer: T.J. Tynan, 49 points (12 G, 37 A)
Affiliation: Vegas Golden Knights & Quad City Mallards, St. Louis Blues & Tulsa Oilers
Rostered players on AHL-only contracts: RW Tyler Wong, D Scooter Vaughan, LW Brett Sterling, D Kevin Lough, F Bryce Gervais
Strength(s) of team: Penalty kill and depth. The Wolves do not find themselves shorthanded often (league’s second-least penalized team), but when they are they consistently create scoring chances on the other end.
State of the team: The Vegas Golden Knights acquired Philip Holm at the NHL Trade Deadline to sure up their AHL-affiliate’s blue line and add more offensive firepower. Barring injury, both the Golden Knights and Wolves will be regaining all their injured players before playoffs and therefore should not be making any more moves. Rocky Thompson, just like Gerard Gallant, is extremely happy with his lineup and won’t make changes to it. One thing the Wolves have to worry about is player losses due to the NHL playoffs – the Golden Knights are a lock and the Blues are close – but the amount of depth in this team means it should not hurt significantly if bodies do get pulled.
Division Record: 14-23-1-3
Leading Scorer: Alex Broadhurst, 31 points (15 G, 16 A)
Affiliation: Columbus Blue Jackets
Rostered players on AHL-only contracts: C Michael Kirkpatrick, LW Terry Broadhurst, D Brady Austin, D Garret Cockerill, LW Brett Gallant, RW Hayden Hodgson, C Miles Koules, C Joe Pendenza, D Scott Savage, G Brad Thiessen
Strength(s) of team: The Alex Broadhurst – Zac Dalpe – Terry Broadhurst line.
State of the team: This team is very far out of a playoff position and any movement in regards to AHL players would be futile since their season is almost over. The Monsters have really been hurt by the Blue Jackets’ indecisiveness in regards to players such as Dalpe, Sonny Milano and Nathan Gerbe. All three are great pieces to have in your lineup, but they’re also extremely difficult to replace. With the amount of movement these men have experienced, playing with a completely different roster from one night to the next spells ruin for any organization.
Grand Rapids Griffins
Division Record: 25-15-1-4
Leading Scorer: Eric Tangradi, 47 points (25 G, 22 A)
Affiliation: Detroit Red Wings & Toledo Walleye
Rostered players on AHL-only contracts: F Colin Campbell, C Corey Elkins, C Luke Esposito, RW Matthew Ford, D Patrick McCarron, RW Dominik Shine
Strength(s) of team: Matt Puempel and Filip Hronek have two of the longest home point streaks in the AHL this season, but this team excels in away games, going 15-8-0-4. Their power play is third in the league.
State of the team: The Griffins are almost assuredly a lock for the playoffs if they continue their success within the division. For a long time, they were not getting the scoring depth needed, but they turned their season around and realized how they needed to play if they wanted even a chance at repeating as Calder Cup Champions. Luckily for the Griffins, the Red Wings look as if they will miss the playoffs this season, so the Griffins do not need to worry about replacing important pieces who could be called up for playoff hockey.
Division Record: 20-12-3-4
Leading Scorer: Cal O’Reilly, 45 points (10 G, 35 A)
Affiliation: Minnesota Wild & Rapid City Rush
Rostered players on AHL-only contracts: LW Colton Beck, D Matt Caito, C Gerald Mayhew, LW Jack Walker, RW Ryan White
Strength(s) of team: One of the least penalized teams in the league, the Wild also have the league’s sixth-best power play, third in the division.
State of the team: The Wild were hindered a bit by call-ups due to injuries at the NHL level, but now that everyone is back and healthy they have a really solid goaltending duo with Niklas Svedberg and Steven Michalek who combine for a Goals Against Average under 2.70. They’re being hunted down by the Rockford IceHogs and Milwaukee Admirals for the final playoff spot in the Central Division, but they have a solid lead with games in hand. Defense is the weakest spot on this team, and they could lose some valuable pieces at all ends of the ice to the Minnesota Wild come playoff time.
Division Record: 20-10-3-2
Leading Scorer: Mason Appleton, 51 points (18 G, 33 A)
Affiliation: Winnipeg Jets & Jacksonville Icemen
Rostered players on AHL-only contracts: D Charles-David Beaudoin, C Francois Beauvillier, C Patrice Cormier, D Kirill Gotovets, C Darren Kramer, D Jake Kulevich, RW Cam Maclise, D Peter Stoykewych, C Brody Sutter
Strength(s) of team: Away record (20-5-2-1) and depth from AHL-only contracted players.
State of the team: This team took the AHL by storm to begin the season, but it seems to have cooled off a bit recently. While the Moose will still make the playoffs, they have struggled to win at home (15-10-2-2) and could improve upon their record against the division. The Moose are a lock to make the playoffs, but if they want to put together a deep playoff run they need to get over their mental slump and quit taking so many penalties (849, most in North Division). It boasts the league’s fifth-best PK unit and second-best PP unit, but every minute spent shorthanded during the playoffs is costly.
Division Record: 24-17-3-0
Leading Scorer: Emil Pettersson, 39 points (12 G, 27 A)
Affiliation: Nashville Predators
Rostered players on AHL-only contracts: RW Bobby Butler, RW Trevor Mingoia, D Jimmy Oligny, G Jake Paterson, RW Mark Zengerle
Strength(s) of team: Bobby Butler. Not only did he represent the United States of America during the 2018 Winter Olympics, but he is the only man on the Admirals roster with multiple three-point games.
State of the team: This team needs to improve its defensive play as a whole. Anders Lindback is one of the best goaltending prospects in the AHL, but he keeps getting left out to dry by his team. They allow teams to create traffic in front of their goaltender and capitalize on rebounds which costs the Admirals over and over again. Lindback has done all he can to try and steal wins for this club, but without any help in the defensive zone, he can only do so much. The Admirals still stand a chance of challenging for the final playoff spot in the Central, but they need help in their own zone to do so. Unfortunately, the backbone of this team is mostly guys on NHL contracts, so there is not much wiggle room for the Admirals front office to make improvements through trade or free agency.
Division Record: 18-21-2-2
Leading Scorer: Matthew Highmore (now with the Chicago Blackhawks), 35 points (21 G, 14 A)
Affiliation: Chicago Blackhawks & Indy Fuel
Rostered players on AHL-only contracts: RW Radovan Bondra, LW William Pelletier, D Darren Raddysh, C Henrik Samuelsson, LW Tyler Sikura
Strength(s) of team: Goaltending and the number of talented Blackhawks prospects on the AHL roster.
State of the team: The Blackhawks have a problem – they’re much too deep in certain areas of the ice and the IceHogs have benefited well from a trickle down of guys who should be on an NHL roster. This is especially true of the goaltending tandem of J-F Berube and Jeff Glass, who were the strongest tandem in this division for a while. However, goaltender injuries in the system led to the IceHogs being backstopped by their ECHL Fuel tandem for a bit. While those men are not horrible by any means, they are still early in the development process and this was taken advantage of repeatedly as the IceHogs now find themselves outside of a playoff spot. If Rockford wants to see playoff hockey, the IceHogs need defensemen who can help out their goaltenders and an offense which will not get comfortable with a lead. The IceHogs are 25-18-5-0 when scoring first, meaning they cannot keep their early lead as well as many other teams.