AHL grads set to battle for Stanley Cup

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … The 2014 Stanley Cup Final is set with the Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers preparing to battle for the National Hockey League’s championship, and more than 80 percent of the players involved are graduates of the American Hockey League.

On the Western Conference champion Kings, 19 of the 23 players to be penciled into the lineup so far this postseason are AHL alumni, including 13 former members of the Manchester Monarchs.

Tyler Toffoli won the Dudley "Red" Garrett Award as the AHL’s outstanding rookie in 2012-13, when he compiled 28 goals and 23 assists in 58 games with Manchester. Toffoli spent 18 games with the Monarchs earlier this season as well, lighting up the AHL for 15 goals and eight assists.

Tanner Pearson also spent time in Manchester in 2013-14, recording 17-15-32 in 41 AHL games this year. Pearson has four goals and eight assists in 19 playoff outings for the Kings this postseason.

Alec Martinez, who scored the overtime goal in Game 7 vs. Chicago on Sunday to give the Kings the Western Conference championship, played 147 games with the Monarchs from 2008-11, totaling 20 goals and 49 assists for 69 points.

Slava Voynov was a two-time AHL All-Star during his time with Manchester, Dustin Brown put up 74 points in 79 games with the Monarchs in 2004-05, and goaltenders Jonathan Quick and Martin Jones both developed in Manchester en route to Los Angeles.

Kings forwards Jeff Carter and Mike Richards were teammates on the Philadelphia Phantoms’ 2005 Calder Cup championship team, a club that was coached by current Los Angeles assistant John Stevens. Carter led the AHL in playoff scoring with 23 points that year, while Richards added 15 points in 14 postseason games.

Stevens, who also won three Calder Cups as a player and is a member of the AHL Hall of Fame, is joined behind the Los Angeles bench by assistant coach Davis Payne, who spent a season and a half as head coach of the AHL’s Peoria Rivermen before being promoted to St. Louis in 2009-10.

Kings head coach Darryl Sutter played for the AHL’s New Brunswick Hawks as a 21-year-old in 1979-80, was was named the league’s rookie of the year after notching 35 goals and 66 points in 69 games.

Goaltending coach Bill Ranford played in the AHL with Moncton and Maine, and his nephew Brendan is currently bidding for a Calder Cup championship as a rookie with the Texas Stars.

On the other side, the Eastern Conference champion Rangers boast 19 AHL graduates among their 24 players to have dressed for game action in the playoffs.

Ten Rangers have played for their AHL affiliate in Hartford including defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who played 38 games with the Wolf Pack as a rookie in 2010-11. Mats Zuccarello was an AHL All-Star in 2012, Carl Hagelin made his professional debut during the 2011 Calder Cup Playoffs, and Chris Kreider began the 2013-14 season in Hartford before going on to score 17 goals for New York in 66 regular-season games.

Dominic Moore, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal and 2013 AHL All-Star J.T. Miller also came through Hartford, which has served as the Rangers’ top affiliate since 1997.

Martin St. Louis has played more than 1,000 games in the National Hockey League, but he tallied 114 points in 95 games with the Saint John Flames — reaching the Calder Cup Finals in 1998 and playing in the AHL All-Star Classic in 1999 — before breaking into the NHL full-time.

Kevin Klein reached the Calder Cup Finals with the Milwaukee Admirals in 2006, and Brian Boyle was named to the AHL All-Rookie Team in 2007-08 as a Los Angeles prospect with the Manchester Monarchs.

Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault was a member of the Calder Cup champion Maine Mariners in his final season as a player in 1983-84, and later served as head coach of the Manitoba Moose in 2005-06. He was succeeded in Manitoba by current associate coach Scott Arniel, who guided the Moose for four years and reached the Calder Cup Finals in 2009. Assistant coach Ulf Samuelsson made his coaching debut as an assistant with the Hartford Wolf Pack in 2005-06, working under current Rangers assistant general manager Jim Schoenfeld.

The 2014 Stanley Cup Final gets underway on Wednesday night at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

In operation since 1936, the AHL continues to serve as the top development league for all 30 National Hockey League teams. More than 88 percent of all of today’s NHL players are American Hockey League graduates, and nearly 350 players skated in both the AHL and the NHL during the 2013-14 season alone.