SAN ANTONIO RAMPAGE
2014-15 Regular Season Record: 45-23-7-1 (98 pts)– 1st in West Division
2015 Calder Cup Result: Lost in 1st round 3-0 to Oklahoma City
Key Addition: Andreas Martinsen will be a welcome addition to the Rampage, especially considering the offensive struggle this team had when they played in Lake Erie last season. In the German Elite League in 2014-15, Martinsen had 18 goals and 41 points in 50 games. Putting that in perspective, that would have made Martinsen second in team scoring last year and third in goals.
Key Loss: While he was only on the team for 18 games, Ben Youds did help fill the void that was left when Maxim Noreau had season-ending shoulder surgery. Youds post three goals and 11 points in his 18 games with Lake Erie, but opted to try his luck back in Providence this season.
What to Watch For: For the Rampage, it’ll be a new affiliation with the Colorado Avalanche and one that hasn’t been to the Calder Cup playoffs since 2011. And while the Rampage proper have only been to four postseasons in their 13 seasons, that playoff inexperience shouldn’t be too much of a downfall. Calvin Pickard will be forced to shoulder the load once again, but with the hope of Andrew Agozzino regaining his 30-goal form of last season (30g, 34a) and Stefan Elliott contributing from the blueline as he did last year (19g, 34a), the Rampage could be a dark horse in the Pacific to grab a playoff spot at the end of the year.
2014-15 Regular Season Record: 40-22-13-1 (94 pts)– 2nd in West Division
2015 Calder Cup Result: Lost in 1st round 3-0 to Rockford
Key Addition: When the Stars announced they wouldn’t re-sign Maxime Fortunus, they needed to find a mentor for the rookie defensemen coming into the system. The Stars were able to pluck Brennan Evans from Grand Rapids. Evans isn’t flashy (only 111 points in 719 career AHL games), but will be a serviceable leader on an inexperienced defense corps.
Key Loss: Losing a captain is never fun, especially with Maxime Fortunus being one of the few original Texas Stars left on the team from when the team came into existence in the 1999-00 season. However, with the addition of Evans, it will help give a mentor to the young defensemen that will be on the Stars blueline this season.
What to Watch For: While the offense provided by Travis Morin (22g, 41a), Justin Dowling (24g, 26a), and Brendan Ranford (18g, 33a) will return, all eyes will be on what Jack Campbell does with no safety net. All due respect to John Muse, but the Stars will look to Campbell to get the job done and show why he has been such a highly touted goaltending prospect. After a shaky start that saw him get demoted to the ECHL, Campbell finished the season strong with a 11-4-1 record after being recalled to the AHL in late February.
2014-15 Regular Season Record: 50-17-6-3 (109 pts)– 1st in Atlantic Division (as Manchester Monarchs)
2015 Calder Cup Result: Won in 1st round 3-2 over Portland; Won in 2nd round 4-1 over Wilkes-Barre/Scranton; Won in 3rd round 4-0 over Hartford; Won Calder Cup 4-1 over Utica
Key Addition: After a shaky start to last season, Valentin Zykov got back on track with a trade to Gatineau of the QMJHL and finished the season with 21 goals and 46 points in 42 total games between Gatineau and Baie-Comeau. The Kings brass has seen the growth of Zykov over the past season and saw the leadership he provided during summer prospects camp in helping his fellow prospects along with advice on drills and game situations.
Key Loss: Not only was he a leader on the blueline, but Colin Miller generated a ton of offense from the back end (19g, 33a in 70 games) and was second in the league in points for a defensemen with 52.
What to Watch For: In all likelihood, the top line of Jordan Weal, Brian O’Neill, and Mike Mersch will not be in Ontario for the balance of the season. That takes away over 25% of the scoring from last year’s team (the three had a 61 combined goals of the 241 total goals) which leaves a giant hole. With the expectation that Mersch will start in the AHL since he doesn’t have to clear waivers, he’ll still need some help getting him the puck. Expect Nic Dowd to be Mersch’s set-up man as Dowd had 32 assists last season, putting him fourth on the team.
SAN JOSE BARRACUDA
2014-15 Regular Season Record: 41-29-4-2 (88 pts)– 3rd in Atlantic Division (as Worcester Sharks)
2015 Calder Cup Result: Lost in 1st round 3-1 to Hershey
Key Addition: Getting his feet wet in the AHL for nine regular season games and four playoff games last year, a full year with Nikolay Goldobin on the roster will only help the Barracuda. Goldobin had 11 goals and 21 points in 38 games in the Finnish Elite League, while having three goals and five points in his nine regular season game with Worcester.
Key Loss: While Taylor Fedun was second in team scoring by a defenseman to Matt Taormina, the all-around play of Taylor Fedun on defense will be a key loss to the Barracuda. While contributing 34 points (6g, 28a), Fedun also was a team-leading plus-12 on the season.
What to Watch For: If not for Aaron Dell coming into the fold, this team would not have made the playoffs last season. Dell and Troy Grosenick will most likely be splitting time in the cage, with Grosenick most likely being the first to get a call across the hallway for the Sharks. Losing key scoring components in Evan Trupp, Daniil Tarasov, and Matt Taormina will put a lot of pressure onto the young Barracuda blueline and give Dell and Grosenick plenty of rubber coming their way.
2014-15 Regular Season Record: 41-27-5-3 (90 pts)– 3rd in West Division (as Oklahoma City Barons)
2015 Calder Cup Result: Won in 1st round 3-0 over San Antonio; Lost in 2nd round 4-3 to Utica
Key Addition: Without a doubt, a lot of eyes will be on Darnell Nurse and his development in Bakersfield. The top defensive prospect for the Oilers will hone his craft and with a full season in the AHL in 2015-16. Nurse will be able to not only contribute offensively like he did in juniors (36g, 89a in 221 games), but learn how to play responsibly in his own end at the pro level.
Key Loss: While he wasn’t all that flashy, Jason Williams was able to provide a fair amount of offense to the Barons last season with 21 goals and 53 points. His move to Germany will leave a bit of a gap in the offense as the Condors start up.
What to Watch For: While Nurse will be one of the focal points, the other will be how the players who have been sent down by Edmonton will react. Both Nikita Nikitin and Ben Scrivens are expected to be with the team for a time and many might wonder how the two will react to their demotion and what it could mean to the kids surrounding them. While Scrivens may gel well with Laurent Brossoit in net, the question of whether Nikitin will be toxic for the defensive corps remains to be seen. Luckily, veterans Matt Ford and Ryan Hamilton will be around to stand up for the young kids and maybe get Nikitin to fall in line should he need it.
2014-15 Regular Season Record: 35-33-6-2 (78 pts)– 4th in North Division (as Adirondack Flames)
2015 Calder Cup Result: Did Not Qualify
Key Addition: Coming over from the Pittsburgh organization, Eric Hartzell will probably be the rock in net for the Heat. While Calgary looks figures out what to do with Joni Ortio, Hartzell will most likely get the starting role in Stockton should Ortio not be sent down or not clear waivers. Hartzell will also play the role of teacher for rookie Jon Gillies.
Key Loss: Though his points went from 63 points to 39 in a span of a season, Max Reinhart did provide plenty of goal-scoring prowess as he was one of seven players to have 15 or more goals on the season in 2014-15.
What to Watch For: The goaltending situation aside, the Heat have a lot to build off of from last season. With Kenny Agostino and Emile Poirier coming back to the AHL, the offense should have an impressive punch to it, especially when you add Drew Shore and Bill Arnold. How well Oliver Kylington adjusts to the North American game will be something to watch, as well. While Calgary is high on Kylington’s skating and puck possession, the time in Stockton will be used to shore up his play in his own end.
SAN DIEGO GULLS
2014-15 Regular Season Record: 27-39-6-3 (64 pts)– 5th in East Division (as Norfolk Admirals)
2015 Calder Cup Result: Did Not Qualify
Key Addition: After posting 44 points in 60 games with Bridgeport, Harry Zolnierczyk will join the Gulls and add some experience to a rather young roster. With added NHL experience, Zolnierczyk should add guidance to a team that seemed lost at times during the 2014-15 season.
Key Loss: Though his record wouldn’t show it (9-16-7), Jason Labarbera provided some stability and calmness in net last season for the Admirals. With journeyman Matt Hackett to fill the role of Labarbera, it may not have the same level of wisdom and calm that Labarbera seemed to provide.
What to Watch For: With a new location and the possibility of John Gibson returning to the fold in goal, this could be much better for the Gulls this season. Should Stefan Noesen (7g, 9a in 27 games) stay healthy, his much needed offense could help fast track the Gulls into playoff contenders in the new division. In addition, Shea Theodore will have a full campaign with the Gulls after just nine games following his WHL season. Theodore paid instant dividends by putting up four goals and 11 points in only nine games at the end of last season.