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.

Both Lehigh Valley and Wilkes-Barre should be right back on top of the division this season just as they were last year.  Pittsburgh has a very large prospect pool and returns both Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith to the AHL level.  The team’s leading scorer Tom Kostopoulos with 54 points in 74 games is also back and we’ll have a full season look at Hobey Baker finalist Zach Aston-Reese. Lehigh Valley meanwhile returns all five of their 20 goal scorers from last season in addition to 27 game winning goaltender Alex Lyon. In a dogfight, I predict Wilkes-Barre/Scranton will take the Atlantic Divison this season.

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.

If the offense can keep pace, the defense can plug its holes, and Alex Lyon stays health and as sharp as his namesakes’ jungle cat claws, the Phantoms should have a strong season and could possibly end up at the top of the division.
Ultimately, I think Wilkes-barre/Scranton and Hershey will battle it out for the division crown. The experience of both teams and the consistency of the high level they play at will keep the division crown within PA. The Hate Triangle Rivalry between the Pens, Bears, and Phantoms will be the deciding factor, with the victor of the overall head to head series will end up with the Atlantic Division crown, and given their history of success, I think that goes to Hershey.

Matthew Wiernasz
(Springfield Thunderbirds)- Springfield is a young team that will be going through the bumps in the road. Most of the players are in their second year in the league and hope not to hit the sophomore slump. The return of last year’s leading scorer Chase Balisy and the offseason additions of 40 point producers Alexandre Grenier and Curtis Valk should boost scoring. I could see this team being a top-four team in the division.
The Atlantic Division is always a tough division in the AHL. The teams everyone should have an eye on Lehigh Valley, WB-Scranton, and Hershey as those have been the toughest teams to play in the division for years.

AHL hockey returns tonight so be sure to stay tuned to The Sin Bin for the latest on the 2017-2018 regular season.  Be sure to follow our Atlantic division writers on Twitter at @SinBinBears, @SinBinPenguins, @SinBinPhantoms and @SinBinTBirds.

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