AHL alumni ready to battle for Stanley Cup

Jonathan Marchessault, Brandon Montour

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … The Vegas Golden Knights and Florida Panthers are ready to face off for the Stanley Cup, and the finalists’ rosters are stocked with graduates of the American Hockey League.

Vegas, the parent club of the AHL’s Henderson Silver Knights, reached the Stanley Cup Final for the second time in the franchise’s six-year history with key contributions from several AHL alumni — 24 of the 25 players to appear in a playoff game for Vegas developed in the AHL.

Jonathan Marchessault, who has nine goals and eight assists in 17 playoff games for the Golden Knights this postseason, began his professional career on an AHL contract with the Connecticut Whale in 2011 and played 306 games in the American Hockey League with Connecticut, Springfield and Syracuse, totaling 263 points and appearing in three AHL All-Star Classics before graduating full-time to the NHL. William Karlsson, who leads Vegas with 10 playoff goals, skated in the AHL with Norfolk and Springfield, and Brayden McNabb was twice an AHL All-Star as a member of the Rochester Americans (2013, 2014).

Nicolas Roy won a Calder Cup championship with the Charlotte Checkers in 2019, defeating the Chicago Wolves in the Finals series. The Wolves were Vegas’s AHL affiliate that season, and included current Golden Knights Zach Whitecloud, Nicolas Hague and Keegan Kolesar. Chandler Stephenson is also a former Calder Cup finalist, reaching the AHL’s championship series with the Hershey Bears in 2016.

In goal, Adin Hill has had a standout postseason for Vegas after making 140 appearances in the AHL with Henderson, San Jose, Tucson and Springfield, going 68-51-14 with a 2.70 goals-against average, a .909 save percentage and 10 shutouts.

And behind the Vegas bench, head coach Bruce Cassidy won the Louis A.R. Pieri Memorial Award as the AHL’s coach of the year in 2001-02 with the Grand Rapids Griffins. Cassidy also spent five seasons as head coach of the Providence Bruins (2011-16), leading them to the best record in the AHL in 2012-13. Assistant coach John Stevens is a member of the AHL Hall of Fame who won three Calder Cups as a player and one more as a head coach, and assistant Ryan Craig captained the Lake Erie Monsters to a Calder Cup championship in 2016.

Other notable AHL alums on Vegas’s roster include Mark Stone, Shea Theodore, Alec Martinez, Ivan Barbashev and Reilly Smith.

Florida’s improbable run to the Stanley Cup Final, their first since 1996, has been boosted by AHL alumni including Carter Verhaeghe, who won the AHL’s scoring title in 2018-19. Verhaeghe played 211 games in the AHL with Syracuse, Bridgeport and Toronto before making his NHL debut in 2019, and set a career high with 42 goals for the Panthers this season.

Florida’s roster also includes former AHL All-Stars Nick Cousins, Brandon Montour, Radko Gudas and Eric Staal. Gudas is also a Calder Cup champion, winning with the Norfolk Admirals in 2012 before returning to the Finals with Syracuse in 2013.

Alex Lyon, who started the first three games of the Panthers’ opening-round series against Boston after playing 23 games with Florida’s AHL affiliate, the Charlotte Checkers, this season, is heading to a championship series for the second straight spring. He won a Calder Cup title with the Chicago Wolves in 2022, recording a shutout in the Cup-clinching game.

Other AHL alumni with the Panthers include Josh Mahura, Gustav Forsling, Anthony Duclair, Eetu Luostarinen, Colin White, Marc Staal and Zac Dalpe, who also serves as team captain in Charlotte. Paul Maurice coached the Toronto Marlies in 2005-06, and general manager Bill Zito won a Calder Cup as GM of the Lake Erie Monsters in 2016.

The 2023 Stanley Cup Final begins tonight at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

In operation since 1936, the AHL serves as the top development league for all 32 National Hockey League teams. Nearly 90 percent of today’s NHL players are American Hockey League graduates, and more than 100 honored members of the Hockey Hall of Fame spent time in the AHL in their careers.