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Photo: Sam Iannamico

640 AHL grads open season on NHL rosters

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … As the National Hockey League opens its 2017-18 season today, the American Hockey League is proud to have 640 graduates across the NHL’s 31 opening-day rosters, making up more than 82 percent of the NHL’s initial player pool to begin its campaign.

Several of last year’s notable AHL players have made the jump to the NHL as the new season gets underway. Less than four months after scoring the Calder Cup-clinching goal for the Grand Rapids Griffins, Martin Frk has earned a spot on the parent Detroit Red Wings’ opening-night roster. Wade Megan, who captured the Willie Marshall Award after leading the AHL in goal-scoring last season, begins the new year with the St. Louis Blues, and Second Team AHL All-Star defenseman Tim Heed has earned a spot on the San Jose Sharks’ blue line to start 2017-18.

The NHL’s active opening-night rosters also feature 11 players who participated in the 2017 AHL All-Star Classic: Anaheim’s Brandon Montour, Arizona’s Christian Fischer, Chicago’s Anton Forsberg and Jordan Oesterle, Columbus’s Oliver Bjorkstrand, Florida’s Mackenzie Weegar, Los Angeles’s Jonny Brodzinski, Philadelphia’s Taylor Leier and Jordan Weal, St. Louis’s Vince Dunn and Tampa Bay’s Yanni Gourde.

Twenty-three of the NHL’s 31 head coaches are former AHL bench bosses, including Mike Sullivan of the two-time reigning Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins; 2017 Jack Adams Award winner John Tortorella of the Columbus Blue Jackets; and Travis Green, who was promoted by Vancouver in April following four seasons guiding the Canucks’ AHL affiliate, the Utica Comets.

Among the NHL stars who developed their skills in the American Hockey League are reigning Norris Trophy winner Brent Burns of the San Jose Sharks; 2017 Selke Trophy winner Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins; Stanley Cup heroes Jake Guentzel and Matt Murray of the Pittsburgh Penguins; and former AHL All-Stars such as P.K. Subban, Braden Holtby, Tyler Johnson and Bobby Ryan.

Last season, 867 AHL alumni played in the National Hockey League – 88.0 percent of all NHL players – including 353 who skated in both leagues last year alone.

In operation since 1936, the AHL continues to serve as the top development league for the players, coaches, managers, executives and broadcasters of all 31 National Hockey League teams, as well as the NHL’s on-ice officials. The AHL’s 82nd season begins Friday, Oct. 6.