by PuckStopsHere on 10/27/12 at 07:21 PM ET
If the lockout continues this could be the best season in the history of the AHL. There is more NHL-level talent in the league than ever before because NHL players on entry level contracts have been sent to play in the AHL. This includes some well-established young NHLers including Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Adam Henrique and Brayden Schenn. The AHL scoring race this year is an interesting battle between these NHLers, young prospects and career AHL players.
While it is still early in the season a few players are starting to establish themselves as leaders. Four players are tied for the league lead with 10 points each. They are Alexandre Bolduc of the Portland Pirates, Cory Conacher of the Syracuse Crunch, Justin Schultz of the Oklahoma City Barons and TJ Brennan of the Rochester Americans.
Bolduc is a career AHLer who has attempted to make the jump to the NHL. He has played 48 NHL games over four seasons with the Vancouver Canucks and the Phoenix Coyotes. Phoenix owns his NHL rights. This is Bolduc's eighth AHL season. His most recent are partial seasons due to NHL callups. He has never been among the AHL top scorers in any season but this is likely partly due to the fact he has not had complete AHL seasons recently. At age 27 Bolduc still has NHL possibilities Particularly in Phoenix where they will not be acquiring high priced talent to fill out their roster.
Cory Conacher was the second highest scorer in the AHL last season. He scored 80 points in 75 games last year, his AHL rookie season. There is a good chance that at age 22 the best is yet to come. He is in the Tampa Bay Lightning system and has yet to play an NHL game. He likely will get his first NHL shot when this lockout is complete. He is the kind of player one might expect to win the AHL scoring race if he stays in the league and does not receive an NHL callup.
Justin Schultz is an AHL rookie defenceman who became a high profile free agent lasty summer despite having never played an NHL game. He was drafted by the Anaheim Ducks in 2008 but did not sign with them and as a result became a free agent. He signed with the Edmonton Oilers. This start at the AHL level (previously he played in the NCAA) is remarkable. Leading a league in scoring from defence as a rookie is remarkable. He will be an NHL player as soon as the lockout completes. He has to be considered a Calder Trophy favorite whenever his NHL rookie season begins.
TJ Brennan is also a defenceman. He was a second round pick by the Buffalo Sabres in 2007. He has slowly matured through the Sabres AHL system since 2009 when he joined their AHL affiliates. He played eleven NHL games last season with little success but will likely be given another chance when NHL play begins again. He isn't an established top scorer. 39 points is his AHL best. He did that in 2010/11.
The AHL scoring race will be interesting because of the talent in the league this year. Thus far the established NHLers are not the top scorers in the league. Should there be an NHL season, many of the current top scorers will likely be called up to the NHL. It will be interesting to see if they can maintain their spots atop the AHL scoring race while bigger name players remain behind them.
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