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AHL: BELL – Stock Up, Stock Down – 10 Early Impressions

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 09: Cleveland Monsters right wing Kirill Marchenko (86) on the ice during the first period of the American Hockey League game between Grand Rapids Griffins and Cleveland Monsters on November 9, 2022, at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland, OH. (Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire)

Stock Up, Stock Down: Early Impressions on AHL Prospects

With the puck dropping on the AHL season just over a month ago, it’s the perfect time to take an early look at how some of the prospects in the league are performing.

Some surprising names have been lighting up the league and received early call-ups to the NHL, while others came in with high hopes and haven’t exactly reached those expectations. It’s a point in the season where players can still come back down to earth or find their stride and turn their season around.

While many more are off to hot or cold starts, here are 10 prospects in the AHL that have already seen their stock rise or fall this season.

Stock Down: John Beecher, C, Providence Bruins

Boston Bruins prospect John Beecher wrapped up his NCAA career last season, jumping to the AHL at the end of the year for a taste of the next level. He played well, with five points (three goals, two assists) in nine games, followed by one assist in two playoff games.

After starting the season looking like a contender for an NHL role, he started in the AHL and just hasn’t taken that step forward in his development. It was expected that he would take on a big role in Providence, but his struggles have led to him sliding down the lineup into the bottom six and collecting just four points (two goals, two assists) in his first 15 games.

The biggest issue for Beecher right now is his processing. There seems to be a delay in his thinking and reacting. This is resulting in bad passes, trouble receiving passes, being caught out of position, and bad giveaways. He just looks to be missing a step in his game. He’s not pushing the pace or driving play. He’s not making it hard for the other team to play against him. The season is still young, and Beecher can still turn it around, but right now there is reason to be worried about the young prospect.

Stock Up: Samuel Bolduc, D, Bridgeport Islanders

The 2021-22 season was rough for Samuel Bolduc, his second in the AHL. After putting up 14 points in 24 games in his rookie season, he started the season injured and just could bounce back, collecting just seven in 57 games.

So far this season, Bolduc has taken a big step forward, already recording 13 points (two goals, 11 assists) in 14 games. This is largely thanks to a seven-game point streak he had, including one three-assist performance. He’s been playing significant power-play minutes and has been given increasing time on the penalty kill.

This step forward began last season when Bolduc really started taking strides in the back half, showing improvement in his reading of the play and his ability to utilize his body to control opponents. His defensive game has continued to impress this season, while his offensive game appears to continuously trend upwards. He’s making quick decisions with the puck, showing off great passing, and getting pucks on net at the right moments. Expect the 6-foot-4, 220-pound defender to make the jump to New York at some point this season for his first NHL game.

Stock Up: Matej Blumel, W, Texas Stars

Arguably the AHL prospect that has raised their draft stock most this season, Matej Blumel came back to North America after three seasons playing in the top professional league in Czechia. Originally drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in 2019 (100th overall), the team opted not to sign him and lost his rights on June 1, 2021.

Just over a year later, the Dallas Stars signed the former USHL player to a two-year, entry-level contract, a decision that’s looking like a brilliant one at this point. He started his season with a seven-game point streak, with 11 points (five goals, six assists) in that time. He was called up to the NHL, where he had one goal through four games, before being sent back to Texas.

When Blumel’s on the ice, you need to be worried. He’s averaging 0.44 expected goals per game and a 62% Corsi for percentage. He’s driving the net, hunting down rebounds, moving the puck around well, utilizing a big one-timer, and showing off impressive patience. He’s creating offense in a number of different ways and is a dangerous player every time he hits the ice. It looks like the Oilers will be regretting the decision not to sign the winger. 

Stock Down: Grigori Denisenko, LW, Charlotte Checkers

When the Florida Panthers drafted Grigori Denisenko 15th overall in the 2018 NHL Draft, they were hoping they were drafting a future top-six offensive talent. It looked promising to start, spending the majority of the next two seasons in the KHL, leading the 2019 World Juniors in points, and captaining Russia at the 2020 World Juniors.

Since over from Russia in the 2020-21 season, the winger just hasn’t been able to find his groove. This has been further complicated by the pandemic and a broken kneecap, but this season, he’s healthy and still struggling to put up points. Through 15 games, he has just four points (one goal, three assists).

The forward looks to lack confidence in his game. Looking at his shot maps from his draft year to this season, his shots are coming from further and further out. This season, he rarely shoots from inside the house, navigating the perimeter instead. He’s rushing his decisions, throwing the puck away into traffic. He needs to take a step back, slow his game down, and start to regain confidence. He’s playing on the power play regularly, so it could come. Don’t completely write him off yet, but he’s going to need to turn it around fast. 

Stock Up: Ruslan Iskhakov, C, Bridgeport Islanders

Right there with Blumel as one of the most impressive AHL prospects to start the season, Ruslan Iskhakov is taking the league by storm. When we talk about interesting paths to the NHL, Iskhakov might just take the cake. He’s played in the MHL, Slovakia U18, NCAA, Liiga, and the DEL before coming to the AHL this season.

Entering his rookie season, expectations weren’t overly high for the 2018 draft pick. Yet, he exploded out of the gate, collecting 14 points (four goals, 10 assists) in his first nine games. He was named AHL Rookie of the Month for his efforts. He’s playing on the top line and the top power-play unit, and it looks like the sky is the limit for the forward.

Iskhakov is showing off his talent in a number of ways. He’s forcing turnovers in the offensive zone, he’s making some pinpoint-accurate passes, and just as accurate shots. He’s remarkably quick on loose pucks and he’s showing off great vision. If he keeps this up, it won’t be long before he hits the NHL ice.

Stock Up: Kole Lind, RW, Coachella Valley Firebirds

Drafted all the way back in 2017 by the Vancouver Canucks, it’s been a long ride for Kole Lind. Now with the Seattle Kraken organization, he has had a taste of NHL action, playing 23 games last season, and now it looks like he wants to get back there as soon as he can.

In the Coachella Valley Firebirds’ first season in the AHL, Lind collected the first goal and later the first hattrick in franchise history. He’s collected 14 points (six goals, eight assists) through 13 games so far, second on the team behind 2021-22 league points leader Andrew Poturalski.

Lind has been showing off a hard, accurate shot this season, and a powerful one-timer on the power play. He drives the net hard, with or without the puck, battling for position and getting his stick on pucks. He moves the puck around well, both in assisting transition and around the offensive zone. Don’t be surprised to see him called up soon.

Stock Up: Kirill Marchenko, RW/LW, Cleveland Monsters

The wait for Kirill Marchenko is just about over for Columbus Blue Jackets fans. Drafted back in 2018, 49th overall, the Russian forward is finally spending his first season in North America - and it’s been going very well.

The 22-year-old has already racked up 14 points (eight goals, six assists) in 12 games. While he didn’t exactly pop in the pre-season, it looks like this was his time to get settled as he hasn’t slowed down since the AHL season started, recording a point in all but two games.

His offensive awareness is sky-high and with his impressive start to the season, he’s oozing confidence. He shows a great deal of patience with the puck, drawing defenders in and creating space for his teammates. He has a full arsenal of ways to put the puck in the net from a net-front tip, a quick wrist shot, or a pass to a teammate. He’s not far off from breaking into the NHL.

Stock Down: Jan Mysak, LW, Laval Rocket

There were a lot of expectations coming into the season for Jan Mysak. After a 64-point season in the OHL, helping the Hamilton Bulldogs to an OHL Championship, a strong performance at the World Juniors where he was named to the All-Star Team, and a strong NHL pre-season, he was expected to pop. That hasn’t happened.

Adding to these expectations, Mysak actually already spent time in the AHL in the 2020-21 season when the OHL season was shut down, playing in 22 games and potting two goals. That’s more than he has this season, with just one goal in 15 games.

He’s averaging just 12:21 minutes per game, among the lowest on the team. He’s playing on the fourth line, has even been scratched, and he hasn’t seen significant power play time. While he hasn’t been in a position to succeed, he’s also not knocking down the door for a bigger role. He can get caught out of position, losing his mark and giving up opportunities, and he just hasn’t produced offensively yet, granted there are flashes of chances. Mysak needs more opportunity, but he needs to take advantage of the ice he does have, which hasn’t happened yet.

Stock Down: Victor Soderstrom, D, Tucson Roadrunners 

When the Arizona Coyotes drafted up in the 2019 NHL Draft to the 11th overall pick and selected Victor Soderstrom, expectations were set. Trading up, especially at that point in the draft, these expectations are unavoidable to justify the transaction. For Soderstrom, those expectations have yet to be met.

Now in his third season in North America, the hope was that the defender could take the step forward and make the jump to the NHL. Not only has that not been the case, but even within the AHL, he seems to have taken a step back. After collecting 19 points in 32 games last season (0.59 points per game) he’s recorded just five assists in 13 games this year (0.38 points per game).

On top of not producing (despite significant power play time), the defender’s possession and defensive game has struggled throughout the season. The most glaring concern is the turnovers that he produces, especially in his own zone. The defender tends to panic when under pressure, throwing the puck away. He’s been burned this season with turnovers leading to goals against, but his teammates have bailed him out on other occasions. The ceiling of Soderstrom is very much in question at this point in his development.

SAN JOSE, CA - MARCH 12: Los Angeles Kings defenseman Jordan Spence (53) carries the puck during the NHL game between the San Jose Sharks and the Los Angeles Kings on March 12, 2022 at SAP Center in San Jose, CA. (Photo by Matt Cohen/Icon Sportswire)

Stock Up: Jordan Spence, D, Ontario Reign

The resumes that Jordan Spence has built through his young career is truly impressive, from QMJHL Rookie of the Year to QMJHL Defender of the Year, to AHL All-Star and All-Rookie Team nods last season, it’s safe to say that the bar was high for the defender. And he hasn’t disappointed.

Spence started his season going a point-per-game, with 12 assists through 12 games. He sits second on the Ontario Reign in points and second in the league for assists from a defender. Both Spence and Brandt Clarke look ready for the NHL, but there just aren’t any spots for them to fill right now.

The defender’s passing has definitely stood out throughout his time in the AHL from his outlet passes to his puck movement in the offensive zone. He’s getting pucks through traffic and on net, creating rebounds that his forwards can bury. He’s not afraid to step up to get a closer shot or to pull defenders out of position. He’s ready for the NHL.