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556 AHL graduates begin season on NHL rosters

As it embarks on its 72nd season of operation, the American Hockey League has 556 graduates on National Hockey League opening-day rosters, making up more than 78 percent of the NHL’s player pool to begin the 2007-08 campaign.

After completing an illustrious junior career last spring, Carey Price joined the Hamilton Bulldogs late in the regular season and propelled them to their first Calder Cup championship. Price went 15-6 with a 2.06 goals-against average and a .936 save percentage in 22 postseason starts, picking up the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy as the most valuable player of the 2007 Calder Cup Playoffs. Price has earned a roster spot with the Montreal Canadiens, who drafted him fifth overall in 2005.

Brett Sterling made the Atlanta Thrashers’ 23-man roster after a memorable 2006-07 season with the AHL’s Chicago Wolves. Sterling won the Dudley “Red” Garrett Award as the AHL’s top rookie and earned a nod as a First Team AHL All-Star after scoring a league-high 55 goals and ranking fourth overall with 97 points in 77 games last year. Sterling, 23, was also named the most valuable player of the 2007 AHL All-Star Game.

Curtis McElhinney was a Second Team AHL All-Star last season after going 35-17-1 in 57 appearances. He tied for the league lead with seven shutouts and ranked second in goals-against average (2.13), third in wins and fourth in minutes played. The 24-year-old McElhinney is beginning his third professional season sharing the Calgary Flames’ goaltending chores with another former AHL All-Star, Miikka Kiprusoff.

Including Sterling and McElhinney, 17 players who skated in the 2007 Rbk Hockey AHL All-Star Classic are beginning the season in the NHL. The others: Nolan Baumgartner (Dallas), Sheldon Brookbank (New Jersey), Ryan Callahan (N.Y. Rangers), Mathieu Darche (Tampa Bay), Wade Dubielewicz (N.Y. Islanders), Tomas Fleischmann (Washington), Andy Greene (New Jersey), Josh Hennessy (Ottawa), Ville Koistinen (Nashville), Andrei Kostitsyn (Montreal), Jason LaBarbera (Los Angeles), Joel Lundqvist (Dallas), Derek Meech (Detroit), Kris Newbury (Toronto) and Drew Stafford (Buffalo).

In operation since 1936, the AHL continues to serve as the top development league for all 30 National Hockey League teams. By season’s end in 2006-07, more than 83 percent of all NHL players were American Hockey League graduates, including more than 330 who appeared in both leagues last season alone.