AHL Weekly Release: Rookies readying for future

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … As the premier development league for the NHL, the American Hockey League is always home to the top young players in the sport. But the best of the youngest – AHL rookies – traditionally turn a successful campaign here into a springboard to National Hockey League stardom.

Brett Sterling is leading the rookie class of 2007 with one of the finest offensive seasons of any rookie in AHL history. The Chicago Wolves winger and AHL All-Star Game MVP has netted a league-leading 43 goals while adding 32 assists for 75 points, good for second in the overall AHL scoring race. Chicago teammate and fellow AHL All-Star Nathan Oystrick is currently tied for first among league defensemen with 40 points and his plus-17 rating is tied for third among blueliners and rookies. Forwards Jordan LaVallee and Alex Bourret give the Wolves four rookies with double-digit goal totals this season.

The Norfolk Admirals, who boast the AHL’s best record at 37-14-4-1, now have two of the league’s top-scoring rookies in Troy Brouwer and Kris Versteeg. Brouwer has 57 points in 48 games for Norfolk while also appearing in 10 NHL contests with the parent Chicago Blackhawks, while Versteeg, acquired from the Boston Bruins earlier this month, has six points in seven games since joining the Admirals and 55 points in 50 AHL contests for the year.

Even without Versteeg, the Providence Bruins have no shortage of talented first-year players; six of their top eight scorers qualify for the Dudley “Red” Garrett Award, presented annually to the AHL’s outstanding rookie. David Krejci (63rd in 2004), Martins Karsums (64th in 2004) and Petr Kalus (39th in 2005) are all recent second-round draft picks by Boston, and Krejci is tops on the P-Bruins with 51 points in 50 games this season. T.J. Trevelyan has scored 18 goals in 37 contests since joining Providence in late November, and defenseman Matt Lashoff, whose breakaway goal in last month’s AHL All-Star Skills Competition made highlight reels across North America, is tied for the team lead with seven power-play markers.

The Atlantic Division-leading Manchester Monarchs have received huge contributions from rookie defensemen Peter Harrold and T.J. Kemp, both 2007 AHL All-Stars, as well as first-year forwards Matt Moulson, John Zeiler and Gabe Gauthier. Rochester likely would not be atop the North Division if not for the play of rookies Drew Stafford, Janis Sprukts, Andrej Sekera, Mike Card and Mike Funk, all of whom have played in the NHL this season also.

Hamilton’s Jaroslav Halak, who earned the victory in his NHL debut with Montreal on Sunday evening, paces the AHL with a 2.00 goals-against average, ranks second with a .932 save percentage and shares the lead with six shutouts for the Bulldogs. With 31 goals, Ryan Callahan has Hartford on track for its 10th consecutive trip to the Calder Cup Playoffs. Cal O’Reilly has 45 points in 56 games for the defending Western Conference champions from Milwaukee, and rookies Andrei Taratukhin, Dustin Boyd and David Van der Gulik are three of Omaha’s top four scorers on the year. (more) The AHL’s elite rookies in 2007 are looking to follow in some big footsteps.

Among the players selected to the league’s All-Rookie Team since the honor’s inception in 1997 are Dan Cloutier, Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Zdeno Chara, Marc Savard, Daniel Briere, Dan Boyle, J.P. Dumont, Jonathan Cheechoo, Ray Emery, Brad Boyes, Jason Spezza, Michel Ouellet, Thomas Vanek and Cam Ward.

halak-mtl_200.jpgHOT ’DOGS … Even with leading goalie Jaroslav Halak and top scorer Duncan Milroy on NHL recall to Montreal, the Hamilton Bulldogs extended their points streak to 12 games with a 5-2 win over the defending Calder Cup champions in Hershey on Sunday evening.

Andrei Kostitsyn extended his personal scoring streak to 10 games (8g, 10a) with an assist as Hamilton got points from 12 of its 17 skaters to improve to 10-0-1-1 since Jan. 19.

The Bulldogs begin the week three points behind Rochester for first place in the North Division.

THREE FOR 30 … Manchester’s Jason LaBarbera became the 14th goaltender in AHL history with at least three career 30-win seasons when he backstopped the Monarchs to a 5-2 victory in Toronto on Saturday.

LaBarbera, who won 34 games in 2003-04 and 31 more the following year with Hartford, joins an exclusive club that includes American Hockey League Hall of Famers Johnny Bower and Gil Mayer, who both have seven 30-win seasons to their credit.

LaBarbera and Corey Hirsch are the only goaltenders to win 30 games three times since the first NHL expansion in 1967.

CLEAR DAY SET … Clear Day for the 2006-07 season is set for Thursday, March 1. Each AHL member club is required to submit its Clear Day list to the league office by 3:00 p.m. ET on that day.

Only those 22 players listed on a team’s Clear Day roster are eligible to compete in the remainder of the AHL regular season and in the 2007 Calder Cup Playoffs, unless emergency conditions arise as a result of recall, injury or suspension.

Teams may also add signed junior players or players on amateur tryout contracts after Clear Day, but only once their respective junior or college seasons are complete.

ETC.Michael Ryan registered his second natural hat trick in less than a week on Saturday, pacing Rochester to a 5-2 win over Syracuse; Ryan was recalled by the Buffalo Sabres the next day… Chris Durno had a natural hat trick in Milwaukee’s 4-3 victory over Peoria on Friday night… Yanick Lehoux has tallied 16 points through 15 games of San Antonio’s month-long road trip, which ends Wednesday in Milwaukee… Corey Locke has eight points in his last three games for Hamilton, matching his offensive output from his previous 24 outings… David Krejci’s 14-game scoring streak ended in Providence’s 3-2 loss at Hartford on Saturday night… Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s Dennis Bonvie is two games away from becoming the 27th player in AHL history to skate in 800 career regular-season games… Jean-Francois Jacques tied a franchise record with four goals in the Penguins’ 7-0 win over Binghamton on Friday… Sunday’s 4-1 decision over Worcester marked Portland’s 500th regular-season win in club history… Grand Rapids scored five shorthanded goals in three games over the weekend, including three in Friday’s 5-2 win over San Antonio… Albany’s 3-1 win in Hershey on Saturday was the River Rats’ first victory over the Bears since Mar. 28, 2004, a span of 20 meetings… After Saturday’s 3-2 triumph, Peoria has won 13 straight meetings with Omaha and is 8-0-0-0 all-time at the Civic Auditorium… Philadelphia Flyers head coach John Stevens, who won Calder Cups in Philadelphia as both player (1998) and coach (2005), was inducted into the Phantoms’ Hall of Fame on Sunday… The Nashville Predators have announced a three-year extension on their affiliation with the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals through 2009-10.