10 Candidates for AHL Rookie of the Year
A new hockey season is underway. This means a new wave of prospects entering the AHL and a new crop vying for the title of Rookie of the Year.
The Red Garrett Memorial Award is given out annually to the league’s top-performing rookie, most recently handed to Buffalo Sabres’ prospect Jack Quinn after an impressive 61 points (26 goals, 35 assists) in just 45 games.
Who will earn the title this season? This list includes a number of first-rounders, dynamic defenders, a couple of elite goaltenders, and an extremely rare inclusion - a first-overall draft pick.
Here are 10 candidates for the 2022-23 AHL Rookie of the Year:
Yaroslav Askarov, G, Milwaukee Admirals (Nashville Predators)
After years of high expectations and even higher anticipation, Yaroslav Askarov has landed in North America. The netminder is one of the top goaltending prospects in the world - if not the top prospect (we’ll get to the other). Through 16 KHL games in his career, he had a 1.48 goals against average (GAA) and a .937 save percentage (SV%). The 11th-overall pick in 2020 will have his work cut out for him though, as he’ll likely have to battle for the starting role with Connor Ingram, depending on how training camp shakes out. If he can grab the reigns, he could be a strong candidate to earn Rookie of the Year honours.
Mavrik Bourque, C, Texas Stars (Dallas Stars)
Mavrik Bourque might be one of the most underrated prospects out there. He’s a candidate to bounce between the AHL and NHL this season, but even still, the Red Garrett Memorial Award could very well bare his name come season’s end. He’s coming off a stellar season as the captain of the Shawinigan Cataractes, collecting 68 points (20 goals, 48 assists) in 31 QMJHL games, adding another 25 points (nine goals, 16 assists) in 16 playoff games, en route to a Q championship and the Guy Lafleur Trophy as the playoff MVP. He’s already had a taste of the AHL, playing in six games with the Stars last season where he scored once and added four assists. It could be a big year for the French Canadian.
Lukas Cormier, D, Henderson Silver Knights (Vegas Golden Knights)
In the 74 years that the top rookie in the AHL has been honoured, there is only one defender to ever earn the title: Ron Ward all the way back in 1969. Lukas Cormier could change that. The New Brunswick native is coming off an 81-point season (33 goals, 48 assists) for the QMJHL’s Charlottetown Islanders in just 62 games, and back-to-back Emile Bouchard Trophies as the league’s top defender. He looked strong in both the Golden’s Knight rookie camp and the preseason action and has cemented his spot as a top defensive prospect outside of the NHL. He should get every chance with the Silver Knights to succeed.
William Dufour, RW, Bridgeport Islanders (New York Islanders)
There isn’t anything else you could ask for from William Dufour’s 2021-22 season. In his final QMJHL season with the Saint Joh Sea Dogs, he had 116 points (56 goals, 60 assists) in 66 games, with his goal total leading the league, and was named league MVP. He led the Sea Dogs to a Memorial Cup title, leading the tournament in points (eight) and being named MVP again. He capped off his season with a World Junior gold medal. It’s safe to say that expectations are high for the young forward, who could even get his first taste of NHL action this season.
Simon Edvinsson, D, Grand Rapids Griffins (Detroit Red Wings)
At the time of writing, Simon Edvinsson remains in the Detroit Red Wings camp. He could very well be on the opening roster as well. Edvinsson has had a strong camp and looks to improve with every game. However, I believe it’s in the best interest of his development to spend his first season in North America with Grand Rapids. Giving him time to adjust in the AHL and build some confidence will be crucial for his long-term progress. The 6-foot-6 defender is coming off a full season in the SHL, where he collected 19 points (two goals, 17 assists) and was named the top rookie one year after fellow Red Wings prospect Moritz Seider won the award. The future defensive corps in Motown is looking exciting.
Jiri Kulich, C, Rochester Americans (Buffalo Sabres)
The first 2022 NHL Draft pick on this list, Jiri Kulich finished his 2021-22 season extremely strong and could very well carry that momentum into his first season in North America. He led all rookies in points (14) in the Czechia, fitting in extremely well playing against professional men. He then captained the Czechia U18 team at the World Under-18s, leading the tournament in goals (nine), and being named MVP of the tournament. He followed that up with a strong performance at the World Juniors. Kulich and the other Europeans on this list have history working against them though, as a non-North American has only ever won the Red Garrett Award four times.
Aatu Räty, C, Bridgeport Islanders (New York Islanders)
Once regarded as the top prospect in the 2021 NHL Draft, Aatu Räty had a tough draft year and slid. And slid, and slid. All the way down to the New York Islanders with the 52nd selection. He then had a strong bounce-back campaign, putting up 40 points (13 goals, 27 assists) in 41 games with Jukurit in the Liiga. He joined the AHL’s Islanders for the final two games of the season and six playoff games, really settling in in the postseason, collecting four points (one goal, three assists). He then joined the World Juniors squad, after being left off the year before, and helped the team to a silver medal. This season, Räty looks to be a top candidate for call-ups to the NHL, but should still put together a Rookie-of-the-Year-calibre season.
Carter Savoie, RW, Bakersfield Condors (Edmonton Oilers)
In his young career, Carter Savoie has seemed to be an underdog at nearly every step, and always exceeds expectations. From being the CJHL’s top rookie in 2018-19, leading the league in goals (56) the following year, and then being a top player for the University of Denver for the past two seasons, the 100th-overall pick in 2020 knows what it takes to stand out. In the NCAA, he had 65 points (36 goals, 29 assists) in 63 games. He capped off his NCAA career with an NCAA National Title and was named to the All-Tournament Team. He played his first two AHL games last season and I expect him to really find his stride this season.
Juraj Slafkovsky, Laval Rocket (Montreal Canadiens)
This has been a controversial topic this preseason. Will Juraj Slafkovsky start the season in the NHL? There hasn’t been a first-overall draft pick not starting the season in the NHL since Eric Lindros’ holdout in 1991 and Mats Sundin staying in Sweden the year prior. Slafkovsky might not make that list but could see a nine-game stint at the NHL level and then spend the rest of the season in the AHL. He’s had an up-and-down preseason and looks like a year in Laval could be extremely beneficial. If he does end up spending significant time in the AHL, he should absolutely be a top contender for the Red Garrett Award.
Jesper Wallstedt, G, Iowa Wild (Minnesota Wild)
Finally, we come to the second goaltender on this list. A long conversation in the prospect sphere: Askarov or Jesper Wallstedt - who’s the better goaltender? Well, we’re finally going to have them in the same league. But like Askarov, Wallstedt may very well have to share the crease. Hunter Jones should battle Wallstedt for the starting gig, but Wallstedt has experience with this after his last two seasons in the SHL where he also split the crease. He finished his SHL career with 2.10 GAA and .913 SV%, including leading the league in GAA in 2021-22 with 1.98. This past summer, he helped Sweden to a World Junior silver medal, leading the tournament in GAA (1.62), SV% (.940), and was named the best goaltender in the event. He could very well take the starting reigns in Iowa.
Xavier Bourgault (Bakersfield Condors/Edmonton Oilers), William Cuylle (Hartford Wolf Pack/New York Rangers), Hendrix Lapierre (Hershey Bears/Washington Capitals), Chaz Lucius (Manitoba Moose/Winnipeg Jets)