SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … The Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights are ready to face off for the Stanley Cup, and the conference champions’ rosters are stocked with AHL All-Stars, Calder Cup winners and other graduates of the American Hockey League.
Vegas’s historic run to the Western Conference championship has been led by a roster filled with AHL alumni. Twenty-three of the 25 players who have dressed for a game so far this postseason developed in the American Hockey League.
Alex Tuch and Shea Theodore both started the 2017-18 season with the AHL’s Chicago Wolves before becoming important contributors to the Golden Knights. Tuch was one of the AHL’s top producing rookies last season, collecting 18 goals and 19 assists with the Iowa Wild and participating in the AHL All-Star Classic. Theodore split his first two pro seasons between the AHL’s San Diego Gulls and Anaheim and tallied 11 points in just eight games with the Wolves this year prior to his recall.
Jonathan Marchessault, the Golden Knights’ leading scorer with eight goals and 18 points in 15 games through three playoff rounds, began his professional career on an AHL contract with the Connecticut Whale in 2011. Marchessault 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 played in the AHL with Norfolk and Springfield while acclimating to the North American game from his native Sweden, and Reilly Smith, who notched his third career 20-goal season in the NHL this year, spent most of his rookie campaign with the Texas Stars in 2012-13.
Brayden McNabb was twice an AHL All-Star as a member of the Rochester Americans (2013, 2014), and 2016 AHL All-Star Ryan Carpenter won the Yanick Dupre Memorial Award as the AHL’s Man of the Year in 2015-16 before leading the San Jose Barracuda in scoring during their run to the Western Conference Finals in 2017.
Colin Miller, an AHL All-Star in 2015, is one of five Calder Cup champions on the Golden Knights roster; Miller won the title with the Manchester Monarchs in 2015.
The Grand Rapids Griffins’ leading postseason scorers during their two championship runs are now teammates in Vegas: Tomas Tatar was MVP of the 2013 Calder Cup Playoffs after posting 16 goals and 21 points in 24 games, and Tomas Nosek led the Griffins with 10 goals and 22 points in 19 games last spring.
Cody Eakin joined the Hershey Bears for their 2010 Calder Cup run, and Deryk Engelland was a member of the Bears when they won the Cup in 2006, then returned to the Finals with Hershey in 2007 and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in 2008.
The Golden Knights have Calder Cup experience behind the bench also. Assistant coach Ryan Craig captained the Lake Erie Monsters to the championship in 2016, defeating a Hershey Bears team that included several members of Vegas’s upcoming Stanley Cup opponent.
On the other side, the Eastern Conference champion Capitals show 19 AHL graduates among their 25 playoff participants, including 12 former members of the Hershey Bears.
The Bears have made five Calder Cup Finals appearances and won three championships since beginning their current affiliation with the Capitals in 2005. John Carlson and Jay Beagle were members of the last AHL team to successfully repeat as champions, helping Hershey to Calder Cup titles in 2009 and 2010.
Braden Holtby was also a member of the Bears’ championship team in 2010 and he would go on to appear in 132 games over parts of four AHL seasons in Hershey, earning a selection to the AHL All-Star Classic in 2011.
Carlson was an AHL All-Star in 2010, where one of his PlanetUSA teammates was Lars Eller. Eller totaled 57 points in 70 games with the Peoria Rivermen in 2009-10, his only AHL campaign.
Several members of the Capitals helped Hershey to its most recent Calder Cup Finals trip in 2016. Jakub Vrana led the Bears with eight goals during that postseason, and Travis Boyd‘s overtime goal in Game 7 gave Hershey a second-round victory over Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Chandler Stephenson, Christian Djoos and Nathan Walker are also heading to the Stanley Cup Final just two years after playing for the AHL title.
Brett Connolly, a 2014 AHL All-Star, reached the Calder Cup Finals with the Syracuse Crunch in 2013, and Brooks Orpik played for the Calder Cup with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in 2004 – where his teammates included current Vegas goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.
Washington’s Barry Trotz is bidding to become just the seventh head coach ever to win both the Stanley Cup and the Calder Cup; Trotz led the Portland Pirates to the title in 1993-94, the same year he earned AHL coach of the year honors.
The 2018 Stanley Cup Final begins Monday night at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
In operation since 1936, the American Hockey League serves as the top development league for the players, coaches, managers, executives and broadcasters of all 31 National Hockey League teams. More than 87 percent of today’s NHL players are American Hockey League graduates, and for the 17th year in a row, more than 6 million fans have attended AHL games in 2017-18.