clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Training Camp Preview: Position Battles Among AHL Veterans

New, 8 comments

NHL Training Camp is still about six weeks away from beginning and hockey news is rather sparse. So I decided to put together a table that looks at the AHL stats of F, D and G who will fighting it out at camp for NHL jobs. I tried to include everyone who played in the AHL last season or the season before that (Oystrick, Stewart) who is under contract with the Thrashers.

My table does not include Evander Kane or Angelo Esposito who both played junior hockey last year. I did include Rich Peverly and Bryan Little in the table--even though both those guys have locked up a roster spot, I found it interesting to see how their stats compared to other players.

First up we have the Forwards. I have chosen to list them in the order of their age (except for Bryan Little who I added after I listed all the other forwards). Age is extremely important since a 20 or 21 year old player is MUCH more likely to take a dramatic step forward and a guy at age 25 is close to being a physically mature prospect.


Age 08-09 NHL Games 08-09 AHL Games Career NHL Points Per Game Career AHL Points Per Game Career NHL Plus/Minus Career AHL Plus/Minus
Spencer Macheck 20 0 74 .00 .43 0 +8
Riley Holzapfel 20 2 77 N.A. .60 N.A. +10
Jordan LaValle 23 2 64 .50 .48 +1 -15
Anthony Stewart 24 59 0 .11 .51 -4 -19
Brett Sterling 25 6 52 .21 1.04 -5 +17
Joey Crabb 26 29 42 .31 .49 -2 +24
Tim Stapleton 26 4 70 .25 1.06 -3 +15
Josh Gratton 26 19 21 .07 .33 -13 +13
Rich Peverley 27 39 27 .49 .95 +16 +14
Jason Krog 33 4 74 .29
1.19 +5 +41
Bryan Little 21 79 0 .53 .74 -7 +1


A few things jump out at me when I look at these numbers. Peverley was very hot in the 2nd half and that led to his NHL plus/minus being better than his AHL numbers--I expect him to come back down to Earth a little bit next season. Riley Holzapfel is two months older than Spencer Macheck, but the younger player has the better statistical profile. Gratton is a fighter who comes from a tough organization (Flyers). I'm all in favor of signing tough guys rather than using a draft pick on one. In my mind there simply isn't enough difference between a NHL and AHL tough guy to merit using a draft pick that could potentially land an impact player.

LaValle's NHL scoring rate is higher than his career AHL scoring rate--and since the AHL rate has a larger sample size it is probably a better indicator of LaVallee's true NHL offensive skill level. I'll be shocked if Jordan keeps up that half a point per game pace. On average AHL players who make the NHL only keep about 45% of their AHL scoring rate when they move up. Crabb and LaVallee head to camp competing for the same checking line job. The stats suggest that LaVallee has more offensive upside than Crabb, but the plus/minus indicates Crabb has the better two way game. (Plus/minus is not good measure of defensive ability--but it is a good measure of Even Strength Goal Differential which is very important to winning hockey games.)

Anthony Stewart is a mixed bag. On the one hand, his AHL scoring rate suggests he has slightly underachieved offensively in the NHL, but his ugly AHL plus/minus numbers suggest he wasn't much of an impact player in the minors. One year Stewart had a bad plus/minus on a weak team, but the other year he finished nearly dead last in plus/minus on a roster where most players were a slight plus.

Four players (Sterling, Peverley, Stapleton and Krog) have all averaged around a point per game in the AHL. That suggests that they all have sufficient NHL puck skills to play at a high level. Of that group, Peverly and Krog have gotten some real opportunities to make the league. Sterling has never really gotten the long audition he should have received in my opinion (such as last year) and Stapleton might also just need an extended NHL trial to prove himself. Peverley has a NHL job, but the other three might earn one out of camp or have a chance to impress with a mid-season injury call up.


Player Age 08-09 NHL Games 08-09 NHL Games NHL Career Points Per Game AHL Career Points Per Game NHL Career Plus/Minus AHL Career Plus/Minus
Arturs Kulda 21 0 57 N.A. .26 N.A. +10
Chad Denny 22 0 40 N.A. .22 N.A. -2
Boris Valabik 23 50 11 .09 .17 -16 +41
Scott Lehman 23 1 50 .00 .13 0 -8
Grant Lewis 24 1 54 .00 .39 0 +33
Anssi Salmela 26 26 40 .23 .60 +1 -8
Nathan Oystrick 26 53 0 .23 .54 -2 +8
Noah Welch 26 40 7 .12 .48 -4 +25


Kulda was a top defensemen for Chicago all last year. He's the youngest guy on this list. I think he will become a NHL player, it just a question of when. Chad Denny on the other hand struggled to get into the lineup in the AHL and was even tried as a forward--he's yet another example of a string of busted draft picks to come out of the QMJHL (more on that in a future post).

I know some posters on the official boards are down on Valabik--and he is still rather raw in his decision making at times. But he is still just 23 with some time to take another big step forward. Lehman on the other struggled to suit up in the AHL last year is simply not a very good player. Lewis is 24 but injuries have cost him a year of development, I thought he looked fine in his one NHL game last year.

Salmela, Oystrick and Welch are all fighting for the last few defenseman roster spots and none of them can be considered prospects anymore at they are 26 now. All three players averaged roughly half a point per game in the AHL at age 25 or 26. None are considered outstanding defenders but all three fit into Coach Anderson's offensive minded system and have the puck skills necessary to play with NHL level forwards. Whether they have the hockey IQ or the defensive skills to hang with NHL forwards is the big unknown.


Player Age 08-09 NHL Games Played 08-09 AHL Games Played Career NHL Save % Career AHL Save %
Career NHL Goals Against Average
Career AHL Goals Against Average
Ondrej Pavelec 21 12 40 .890 .912 3.42 2.69
Peter Mannino 25 0 50 .885 .900 4.51 2.94
Drew MacIntyre 26 3 34 .864 .918 2.95 2.36


None of the three AHL Veteran goalies have really torn it up at the NHL level. Pavelec has the major advantage of being just 21 at a position where many goalie don't hit their stride until their mid 20s. He has already put up a career AHL SV% close that of MacIntyre who is 5 years older than him.


It is far too early to try and figure out who will win those last roster spots coming out of camp. However, it is August and this is a blog. So let's imagine one of you kidnapped my cat and forced me to make a prediction about the NHL Opening Roster--my guesstimate appears below.

I suspect the competition for the last two forward spots is going to be just brutal. I can imagine LaValle or Crabb sneaking in under the wire too. I'm guessing Evander Kane goes back to the WHL, he might get into a few NHL games. This also assumes no waiver wire pick ups as well. Among the unknowns there is also training camp injuries which often open up a spot.

F1 Kovalchuk-White-Antropov

F2 Kozlov-Peverley-Little

F3 Macheck-Reasoner-Armstrong

F4 Boulton-Slater-Thorburn

D1 Enstrom-Bogosian

D2 Hainsey-Kubina

D3 Valabik-Oystrick

G1 Lehtonen-Pavelec

Bench: Stewart, Hedberg, Salmela