The Atlantic Division is routinely the toughest and best division in the American Hockey League. We saw a five team battle right to the end which ultimately led to Bridgeport missing the playoffs despite finishing fifth in the conference. The Sin Bin’s AHL Atlantic Division writers; Andrew Gallant (Hershey/AHL Editor), Tommy Hendricks (Lehigh Valley), Brent Baldwin (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton) and Matthew Wiernasz (Springfield) offer some storylines to watch and their picks for who wins this tight division.
Andrew Gallant (Hershey Bears)- The Bears return many key players such as last year’s leading point scorer Travis Boyd, perennial point producer Chris Bourque and goalie Pheonix Copley who led them into the playoffs with a mark of 15-6-3-2 in 25 games. Adds of 6’7″ Mathias Bau and Wayne Simpson will only boost their offensive and physical play within the division. The biggest question mark lies with the defensive unit. With only four returning blueliners and an average of 21 and 1/2 years of age, how will the AHL rookies handle the pressure? Connor Hobbs is a name to watch amidst the young guns due to his physical play, he doesn’t shy away from the big hits. I believe the Bears have all the potential to finish within the top three of the Atlantic despite questions on defense. Goaltending is as good as anybody in the league and the team is consistently in the top ten in special team effectiveness. I predict Hershey will finish third within their division.
Brent Baldwin (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins)- The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins started out hot last season, winning 10 of their first 12 games. They carried that momentum through the season, finishing with the leagues best record before shockingly falling to the Providence Bruins in the Division Final. This year, there are a few key losses from that team, including Oskar Sundqvist at forward and David Warsofsky on Defense. The Goaltending remains in place anchored by Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith.
There is no reason the Penguins can’t repeat as Division Champions, but I’m going to pick Lehigh Valley to win the Division, followed by the Penguins, Providence, Hershey, Charlotte, Bridgeport, and Springfield. Lehigh Valley’s rookie Oskar Lindblom may be too much for the Penguins (Or any other team in that division to overcome.
Tommy Hendricks (Lehigh Valley Phantoms)- Lehigh Valley finished second in the Atlantic Division last year, sandwiched between their two biggest rivals(WBS in 1st, HER 3rd). They had 101 standings points, which was second in the Eastern Conference behind Wilkes-barre/Scranton(107) and tied for second-most points in the league. They were helped by leading the league in goals scored(260) and having a top five power play. A young defensive core and stellar goaltending steadied the way, and the Phantoms barely strayed from the top two spots in the division all year. This year, however, much of that young defense core is starting the season in Philadelphia. Travis Sanheim, Sam Morin, and Robert Hagg are all dawning the flying P logo, leaving spaces to be filled on the blue line. The goaltending situation is a little more steady, but with Anthony Stolarz hurt to start the year, Alex Lyon is going to need to pick up the slack as much, if not more, as he did last year.