32 teams, 32 stories to watch in 23-24

Patrick Williams, TheAHL.com Features Writer

Opening night is here as the AHL’s 88th season gets underway with a 12-game slate. Here is a team-by-team look at storylines to watch across the AHL:

The Abbotsford Canucks finished fourth in the Pacific Division before giving powerhouse Calgary a good fight in the playoffs. They have reigning Eddie Shore Award winner Christian Wolanin back to anchor their blue line along with 461-game NHL veteran Matt Irwin.
Lane Pederson, who ripped up the AHL with 17 goals and 24 points in 18 games last season with Abbotsford, begins the year with the Bakersfield Condors, where he joins Seth Griffith, Brad Malone, Drake Caggiula and Greg McKegg on an experienced front line.
The Belleville Senators put together a strong second half of 2022-23 under interim head coach David Bell, who begins his first full season at the helm. Rookie forward Tyler Boucher, the 10th overall pick in the 2021 NHL Draft, will be watched closely.
The summer brought a rare change behind the Bridgeport Islanders bench as Brent Thompson moved on to Anaheim, but veteran head coach Rick Kowalsky takes over a team with promising young prospects like Arnaud Durandeau, Ruslan Iskhakov, William Dufour and Jakub Skarek all returning.
The regular-season champion Calgary Wranglers lost two-time AHL coach of the year Mitch Love and First Team AHL All-Star Matthew Phillips to the Washington Capitals. But all-everything goaltender Dustin Wolf leads a strong core of returnees that also includes 21-goal scorer Connor Zary and AHL All-Rookie defenseman Jeremie Poirier.
Experienced forwards Rasmus Asplund, Will Lockwood and Alexander True arrive for the Charlotte Checkers, while Spencer Knight begins his road back to the NHL manning the Checkers net after stepping away from hockey in February to focus on his mental health.
The AHL’s first unaffiliated team since 1994-95, the Chicago Wolves will sport a roster of players from all corners of the hockey world with plenty to prove. The leadership group will include former AHL All-Stars Chris Terry, Cole Schneider, Cory Conacher and Matt Donovan.
Along with their brand-new color scheme, the Cleveland Monsters have plenty of promising youngsters. Defenseman David Jiricek earned a spot on the AHL Top Prospects Team a year ago, and is joined on the blue line by two more hopefuls in 2021 Columbus draft picks Corson Ceulemans and Stanislav Svozil.
Only a Calder Cup title could top what the Coachella Valley Firebirds delivered last season as an expansion club. Forward Shane Wright, the fourth overall pick in the 2022 NHL Draft, begins his rookie season with the Firebirds, and defenseman Ryker Evans will look to build on his impressive debut showing in 2022-23.
Along with new head coach Aaron Schneekloth, the Colorado Eagles have plenty of new faces. After being out of hockey for a season, veteran Peter Holland signed on with the club, while forwards Tanner Kero and Joel Kiviranta came over from the Dallas organization.
Detroit has plenty invested in the Grand Rapids Griffins as the organizational rebuild continues. First-round draft picks Sebastian Cossa, Simon Edvinsson and Marco Kasper will create plenty of interest for Red Wings and Griffins fans alike.
A late-season makeover carried the Hartford Wolf Pack to their most successful season in eight years, and now a summer retool gives Hartford plenty of pieces to make another run. New York Rangers prospects Brennan Othmann, Brett Berard and Adam Sykora will complement a strong veteran group and goaltender Dylan Garand will look to build on a breakthrough postseason performance.
With Ryan Craig now in charge of the bench, the Henderson Silver Knights have added veteran forwards Tyler Benson and Adam Cracknell, along with Calder Cup champion Mason Morelli and 2018 first-round draft pick Grigori Denisenko. Among the returning players, 2020 first-rounder Brendan Brisson is back to build on an 18-goal rookie season.
No rebuilding for the defending Calder Cup champion Hershey Bears: It’s a reload. Defenseman Chase Priskie and forward Alex Limoges were among the offseason signees and have arrived hungry to win their own championship rings this season.
Coming off All-Star seasons as a rookie, goaltender Jesper Wallstedt and forward Sammy Walker will look take another big step in their development this season with the Iowa Wild. Brett McLean takes over as head coach after serving as an assistant in Minnesota.
Top Montreal prospects Sean Farrell, Emil Heineman, Riley Kidney, Logan Mailloux and Mattias Norlinder are among the key pieces of the Canadiens’ future who will develop with the Laval Rocket.
There’s a new management regime in Philadelphia, and that has meant plenty of change for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. Goaltender Cal Petersen and defensemen Helge Grans, a second-round draft pick in 2020, came over from Los Angeles in a June trade.
First-round picks Brad Lambert and Chaz Lucius spent time with the Manitoba Moose last season before going back to the Western Hockey League; they return to begin their first full pro seasons with a Moose club that always finds itself in the mix in the demanding Central Division.
Goaltending prospect Yaroslav Askarov returns after helping the Milwaukee Admirals on a run to the Western Conference Finals a year ago. The strong Nashville prospect pool also includes Joakim Kemell, Egor Afanasyev and Zach L’Heureux, while veterans Troy Grosenick and Cal O’Reilly are both back for a second stint in Milwaukee.
The Ontario Reign have sent several regulars off to Los Angeles in recent seasons, and that has already continued with Alex Laferriere making his NHL debut this week. Brandt Clarke, Francesco Pinelli, Samuel Helenius, Alex Turcotte, Arthur Kaliyev, Akil Thomas and Jaret Anderson-Dolan were all recent first- or second-round draft picks by the Kings.
Always active each summer, Boston management has again reconstructed the Providence Bruins roster. And while experience is always valued in Providence, the P-Bruins also boast 2022-23 AHL All-Rookie Team members Brandon Bussi and Georgii Merkulov among their talented core of young prospects.
Already a source of considerable optimism for Buffalo, the Rochester Americans went to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2023 and opened even more eyes. Jiri Kulich, Isak Rosen, Lukas Rousek, Filip Cederqvist and Aleksandr Kisakov lead a young group of returnees, and head coach Seth Appert has established the winning culture that Buffalo hired him to implement back in 2020.
After a standout NCAA career at Boston University, Drew Commesso’s first pro season in net will be a key piece of the Rockford IceHogs storyline. AHL All-Stars David Gust and Brett Seney will provide leadership to a young roster loaded with Blackhawks draft picks.
New head coach Matt McIlvane was in by Anaheim to teach, and there will be plenty of that to do with the San Diego Gulls. 2022 first-rounder Nathan Gaucher and 2021 second-rounder Olen Zellweger are both considered critical parts of the Ducks’ future as they begin their rookie seasons, and Jacob Perreault and Brayden Tracey were recent first-round picks also.
Sharks management is looking to return a winning environment to the San Jose Barracuda, and the organization took several steps this summer to address that. Ryan Carpenter, an original Barracuda (2015-17), returns to San Jose with 330 games of NHL experience, and defenseman Shakir Mukhamadullin is among the exciting prospects on hand.
The Springfield Thunderbirds have another deep group, including Will Bitten, Adam Gaudette, Nathan Walker and Matthew Peca up front and Calle Rosen and Dylan Coghlan (on loan from Carolina) on the blue line. Defenseman Matt Kessel and goaltender Vadim Zherenko are back to build off solid rookie seasons.
New Syracuse Crunch head coach Joel Bouchard always brings a strong personality with him wherever he goes. On loan from Carolina, goaltender Pyotr Kochetkov will be an exciting addition to the Crunch.
The Texas Stars edged Milwaukee for the Central Division title during the regular season last year, but fell to the Admirals in the playoffs. Mavrik Bourque improved as his rookie season went on, and 2021 second-rounder Logan Stankoven is set to begin his pro career with Texas.
Change rippled throughout Toronto during the offseason, affecting both the Toronto Marlies and the parent Maple Leafs. John Gruden takes over behind the bench for the Marlies, who return both leading point-getter Logan Shaw and leading goal-scorer Bobby McMann.
Arizona elected to send 2021 first-round pick Dylan Guenther to the Tucson Roadrunners along with Josh Doan, the son of Coyotes legend Shane Doan. Both are exciting parts of the organization’s future.
After turning heads as a rookie, Simon Nemec will have additional development time with the Utica Comets, who have added a strong collection of experienced AHL’ers including Calder Cup winners Justin Dowling and Kyle Criscuolo.
After a rare playoff miss in 2023, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins have an all-new look, including Marc Johnstone, Andreas Johnsson, Radim Zohorna and Garret Sparks – all of whom played for new Pittsburgh GM Kyle Dubas in Toronto.