Anaheim DucksArizona CoyotesBoston BruinsBuffalo SabresCalgary FlamesCarolina HurricanesChicago BlackhawksColorado AvalancheColumbus Blue JacketsDallas StarsDetroit Red WingsEdmonton OilersFlorida PanthersLos Angeles KingsMinnesota WildMontréal CanadiensNashville PredatorsNew Jersey DevilsNew York IslandersNew York RangersOttawa SenatorsPhiladelphia FlyersPittsburgh PenguinsSt Louis BluesSan Jose SharksSeattle KrakenTampa Bay LightningToronto Maple LeafsVancouver CanucksVegas Golden KnightsWashington CapitalsWinnipeg Jets

PROSPECTS: Preliminary Top 10 AHL Rookies for the 2023-2024 Season

Welcome to the start of the AHL season! To kick things off, I have narrowed down my ten candidates to be in the Rookie of the Year conversation. To understand who is eligible to be on this list, I followed the requirements set out by the AHL for eligibility. The rule is as follows: “To be considered a rookie, a player must not have played in a total of twenty-five (25) or more AHL and/or NHL regular-season games in any preceding seasons, nor in six (6) or more AHL and/or NHL regular-season games in each of any two preceding seasons, nor in one hundred (100) regular-season games in any European Elite League.”

MONTREAL, QC - APRIL 04: Sean Farrell (57) of the Montreal Canadiens waits for play to begin during the third period of the NHL game between the Detroit Red Wings and the Montreal Canadiens on April 4, 2023, at the Bell Centre in Montreal, QC(Photo by Vincent Ethier/Icon Sportswire)
  1. F, Sean Farrell, Laval Rocket (Montreal 2020, 4th round, 124th overall)

Farrell is coming off an impressive Sophomore season at Harvard where he earned the Ivy League NCAA Player of the Year before finishing his season with Montreal. He was able to suit in 6 games with the Habs and tallied his first NHL goal in his second game. He’s a very cerebral forward who brings a ton of creativity to his playmaking skillset. He’s worked on not passing up his shooting opportunities (still an area he needs to be more selfish with at times), but he’s a pass-first, playmaker by heart. His offensive acumen stands out in the offensive zone through his ability to keep plays alive and find seams to thread his passes through to set his teammates up. His pace and speed shouldn’t be an issue in the AHL this season as that’s always been a strength to his game. He will benefit most from continuing to add more muscle to improve his forechecking and ability to bump off contact while maintaining the puck. I think a reasonable expectation for Farrell is to play a top-six role with Laval, usage on PP1, and racking up 30-40 assists for the year while being in the rookie scoring race.

  1. D, Brandt Clarke, Ontario Reign (Los Angeles 2021 1st round, 8th overall)

I originally didn’t have Clarke on my list as I assumed he would’ve made the LA Kings opening night roster. However, for now, he’s starting in the AHL, and I fully expect him to be a top-four pairing defender for Ontario who is utilized on their PP1. He’ll earn his call-up opportunities with the Kings throughout the year which may hurt his chance of winning AHL Rookie of the Year. Throughout his development, since he was drafted 4th overall in the OHL, his main area of improvement needed for the pro level has been his defensive positioning and habits. Clarke made good strides last year to become more reliable defensively, but it will still be the main focus of improvement that Clarke needs. His confidence and elite hands for a defenceman make him stand out from others. He can run himself into trouble from time to time with forceful plays showing poor puck management. However, offensively he’s so good that you sometimes will turn a blind eye. Clarke’s ability to delay against defenders to get them out of position is incredible. He can quarterback a powerplay better than most and I don’t think it's outlandish to think he could put up 50 points in his first AHL season.

  1. Joakim Kemell, Milwaukee Admirals (Nashville 2022 1st round, 17th overall)

Kemell did not get off to a great start in his DY+1 season. He struggled offensively out of the gate for JYP in Liiga and was just okay for Finland at the World Juniors. However, he made the jump overseas in mid-March to finish his season with Milwaukee and regained his touch putting up 13 points in 14 games before adding an impressive playoffs performance with eight goals in 14 games. Kemell has an electric release and an arsenal of shot types that make him a dangerous goal scorer. I’d expect him to be a powerplay specialist for the Admirals and rack up a ton of points on the man advantage. Now, with a high-end goal scorer like Kemell comes the negatives of a player who is very shot-heavy and will settle for low-danger attempts rather than looking for a better play. I’d like to see him create more slot chances for his teammates by drawing defenders into him before laying off the pass. I think it’s fair to expect him to be a top-six lock and score 20-25 goals this season. His experience playing against men over in Finland makes me believe he’s ready to be a top producer in the AHL as soon as this season.

  1. F, Logan Stankoven, Texas Stars (Dallas 2021 2nd round, 47th overall)

I know Stankoven is only 5’7”, but seriously, how did he slide into the second round for Dallas to steal in the 2021 draft?! You arguably couldn’t find a better play driver and more productive junior player last season (maybe outside of Bedard of course). Logan had been a dominant force for Kamloops and for Team Canada internationally and it’s hard to see him take a step back even in his first pro season. He has the work ethic, quickness, and offensive skills to succeed at this level. A lot has been made up about his size and how it will impact his ability to get into the interior parts of the ice at the pro level. Time will tell, but he’s a stocky guy who showcases excellent power and strength from the waist down. I don’t think skating will be an issue for Logan as he can supply some quick bursts in his carries through the neutral zone and he’s always been quite shifty in tight spaces. His release is explosive, and I would slot him in for 15-20 goals this season with Texas. His motor and strength in faceoffs provide a ton of defensive value which is a big factor as to why I see him having a high floor to become at minimum a support bottom-six NHLer.

  1. F, Shane Wright, Coachella Valley Firebirds (Seattle 2022 1st round, 4th overall)

By the rule, Wright is still considered a rookie despite playing in 24 playoff games with Coachella last year. There probably isn’t another player on this list who has more to prove than Shane Wright. He’s an excellent well-rounded centre who has shown his maturity through his early pro career. His anticipation, positioning, and off-puck route selections are all at a high level that you would not expect a player his age to already be at. Wright is a player that I think can be utilized in every situation due to how intelligent he is. Where the question lies is in his offensive creation. He looked like a dominant threat early in his junior career, but he’s been struggling to consistently create chances for his linemates at 5v5, and that’s started to have me question his playmaking upside. He’s got an outstanding release and will be a threat to score on the powerplay from the circles and that helps mask some of his play creation woes. I believe the best course of action for Wright is to play the full season in the AHL to let him develop and gain back his offensive confidence instead of forcing him into NHL games unless of course Seattle gets depleted with injuries. There’s talent still there in Wright, now he just needs to go out and show it.

  1. F, Carter Mazur, Grand Rapids Griffins (Detroit 2021 3rd round, 70th overall)

Mazur was projected to push for a roster spot as one of Detroit’s top young prospects in their organization. Unfortunately, he’s starting his first pro season off on the wrong foot with a lower-body injury and missed the Red Wings training camp. Make no mistake though, he’s ready to make an immediate impact in the AHL after impressing with his six-game stint to end last season where he tallied three goals and six points in those games. Mazur plays a pro-style game already which is why I believe his transition to the AHL will be seamless. He plays the role of an agitator to a tee. He makes opposing defenders' lives a nightmare with his tenacious forechecking pressure and relentless motor. His release and shot are his second-best attributes. Mazur is great at sliding into those high-danger areas and battling at the net front to bang home goals. He’s not a poor skater by any means, but he does lack dynamic traits to his puck-carrying skill which limits his ability to generate rush chances. His injury to start the year could see him get off to a slow start, but I do think he could put home 20 goals this season with Grand Rapids and earn himself call-up opportunities with Detroit.

  1. D, Olen Zellweger, San Diego Gulls (Anaheim 2021 2nd round, 34th overall)

Zellweger lost out on an opening night roster spot with Anaheim, but maybe that’s a good thing for him considering the Ducks aren’t in a win-now mode and rebuilding. I would plan for Zellweger to spend the majority of the season in the AHL with San Diego and then make Anaheim’s roster to start the 2024-25 season. He has shown off his offensive prowess to be one of the best defensemen at the junior level for the past couple of seasons. I think there’s no denying his ability to command the attack off the rush and along the offensive blueline. His biggest hurdle for the pro level will be his size and strength for the position he plays. He’s not a poor defender by any means and he utilizes his effortless mobility to close gaps quickly. However, at only 5’10” and 189lbs currently, we’ll see how he handles the physical battles in front of the net and in the corners at the pro level. Handling bigger and stronger players will be the biggest adjustment he’ll need. If Zellweger and Brandt Clarke play the majority of the year in the AHL, they surely will be dueling it out for the most productive rookie defenseman this season.

  1. F, Zachary Bolduc, Springfield Thunderbirds (2021 1st round, 17th overall)

Springfield looks like they’re going to have a strong group of forwards which will benefit Bolduc and his production in his first pro season. He’s riding a high after winning the Memorial Cup with Quebec this past year and back-to-back 50-goal seasons! The tools are there for Bolduc to be the play driver for his line and push for a full-time spot in the Thunderbirds' top six. His skating is a huge asset to him, using smart routes to create space for himself and shifty puck handling to evade defenders. He’s got excellent vision on the puck to attack open pockets in the defensive coverage before activating his goal-scoring instincts. Bolduc is a true sniper who can powder home a juicy one-timer on the powerplay or a quick snapshot in stride. He has shifted to the wing after starting out his junior career as a centre so his defensive play doesn’t need to be as dialed in but I would still like to see him be more aggressive to create more turnovers. Despite his gaudy offensive numbers in junior, some have noted that he can run into inconsistencies and go quiet for a few games from time to time. A reasonable expectation is for Bolduc to be in the 40–50-point range.

  1. F, Chaz Lucius, Manitoba Moose (Winnipeg 2021 1st round, 18th overall)

Lucius has had to get surgery on three different body parts already in his young career. The number of injuries he’s had is concerning, and how that has impacted his development. His most recent injury was a season-ending shoulder surgery so I will be watching to see how he handles contact and if he’s playing scared coming back from that injury to start the season. Chaz has always had the talent to be a top prospect. He’s a pure sniper with a deceptive release, getting his shot through traffic and beating goalies from midrange. He’ll take advantage of open spacing in between the dots in the offensive zone but we’ll see if he can still do that in the AHL where defensive systems and coverages are a lot tighter. He also has some slick handling skills to be a possession-driving forward, hang onto pucks while under duress, and avoid being a play-killer for his team. The most important piece of development this season for Lucius is to get a full healthy season in. As long as health is on his side, I could see him battling his way into a top-six role with Manitoba.

  1. F, Josh Doan, Tucson Roadrunners (Arizona 2021 2nd round, 37th overall)

Doan is a late-blooming prospect who put together two terrific collegiate seasons, racking up 75 points in 74 games at Arizona State University. He earned himself an ELC and turned himself into not just the son of Shane Doan but into a legitimate prospect who has a high floor and the traits of a bottom-six NHLer. He didn’t look out of place in his 14-game stint to end the year with Tucson but there are still some concerns with his skating and his ability to drive the offence. He relies on his linemates to create space for him off the rush as his puck-carrying routes are always in a straight line and predictable. The positives in Doan’s game are that he plays the game like a pro, much like his father. His work ethic is top notch and will consistently battle in the dirty areas to win pucks back for his line. His style is a great complement to a couple of highly skilled players. He’ll win possession back, lay the puck off his stick quickly, and then head to the front of the net to cause havoc. Players coming out of the NCAA and going right into the AHL have shown to have productive rookie seasons and with how great Doan’s development has been, I could see him being a dark horse in the Rookie of the Year running.

Honorable Mentions:

F, Matthew Maggio, Bridgeport Islanders (Islanders 2022 5th round, 142nd overall)

F, Brennan Othmann, Hartford Wolf Pack (Rangers 2021 1st round, 16th overall)

F, James Malatesta, Cleveland Monsters (Columbus 2021 5th round, 133rd overall)

D, Mason Lohrei, Providence Bruins (Boston 2020 2nd round, 58th overall)