AHL stars still shining: Jason Spezza

Chosen second overall in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft by the Ottawa Senators, Jason Spezza began his professional career with a short stint in Grand Rapids during the 2002 Calder Cup Playoffs before Ottawa set up their AHL affiliate in Binghamton, N.Y., the following season.

At age 19, the Mississauga, Ont., native tore up the AHL in 2002-03, tallying 22 goals and 54 points in 43 games, earning a trip to the AHL All-Star Classic and garnering a spot on the AHL’s All-Rookie Team at season’s end. Spezza made quite a splash in the NHL also, recording 21 points in 33 games with Ottawa.

After spending the entire 2003-04 season with Ottawa, where he ranked fourth on the team with 55 points (22g, 33a) in 78 games, Spezza returned to Binghamton in 2004-05 to continue his development during the NHL lockout.

Appearing in all 80 games for the B-Sens, Spezza led league with 85 assists and 117 points, the most by any AHL player in a decade. He was named the league’s MVP and a First Team All-Star, and made his second AHL All-Star Classic appearance at the mid-season event in Manchester, N.H.

Since returning to Ottawa in 2005-06, Spezza has established himself as a leading player in the National Hockey League. After pacing Ottawa with 71 assists and finishing third on the team with 90 points in just 68 games in 2005-06, he racked up 34 goals and 87 points in 67 games last season and helped the Sens reach the Stanley Cup Finals, sharing the NHL postseason scoring lead with 22 points.

Already this season, Spezza has 36 points and a plus-15 rating in 24 games, and his 28 assists are one off the NHL lead through Thursday’s action. He has helped Ottawa to the best record in the Eastern Conference at 20-7-3.

Of the 427 players to take part in the AHL All-Star Classic since 1995, more than 93 percent have competed in the National Hockey League, including Patrice Bergeron, Pavol Demitra, Rick DiPietro, Patrik Elias, Ray Emery, Miikka Kiprusoff, Chris Kunitz, Kari Lehtonen, Ryan Miller, Martin St. Louis, Jason Spezza, Eric Staal and Steve Sullivan.

The 2008 AHL All-Star Classic will take place at the Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena in Binghamton, home of the AHL’s Senators. The event features the 2008 AHL All-Star Skills Competition on Sunday, January 27 (7:00 ET) and the 2008 AHL All-Star Game on Monday, January 28 (7:00 ET), and will be televised live in the United States and Canada.

For ticket and event information, visit binghamtonsenators.com.