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AHL Weekly: Rookies off to quick starts

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SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … Five weeks into the 2010-11 season, the American Hockey League is once again serving as the top development circuit for a talented group of rookies making their cases to be the NHL stars of tomorrow. Numerous first-year pros across the league have raced out of the gate with fast starts to their professional careers.

Portland has been home to the AHL’s last two rookies of the year – Tyler Ennis and 2008-09 winner Nathan Gerbe – and 20-year-old Pirates center Luke Adam is already bidding to follow in their footsteps. A second-round draft pick by Buffalo in 2008, Adam recorded four points (2-2-4) in his very first game of the season on Oct. 9, and he now leads all first-year pros with 10 goals – tied for the overall AHL lead – and 17 points through 13 contests. Adam, who has also appeared in his first two NHL games with the Sabres, is one of six AHL rookies currently atop his team’s scoring list.

A first-round draft pick (26th overall) by Anaheim in 2009, 19-year-old Kyle Palmieri put up seven goals and nine points in nine games for Syracuse before earning a promotion to the Ducks, for whom he scored his first NHL goal on Nov. 3; Crunch teammates Nicolas Deschamps (6-3-9) and Nick Bonino (2-7-9) are also among the league’s top rookie scorers. Binghamton’s Bobby Butler, a Hobey Baker Award finalist last year at the University of New Hampshire, tallied his first pro hat trick against the Crunch on Sunday and now ranks second among AHL rookies in both goals (9) and points (12) for the Senators.

Nazem Kadri, drafted seventh overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2009, shows 5-6-11 through his first 12 games for the Toronto Marlies, including a four-point showing (2-2-4) vs. Oklahoma City on Oct. 23. Kadri’s 11 points are tied for third among AHL rookies with Grand Rapids defenseman Brendan Smith (5-6-11), a first-round draft pick (27th overall) by Detroit in 2007 who led all NCAA Division-I defensemen with 52 points for Wisconsin last year.

Other high draft picks having an early offensive impact as rookies include Providence’s Joe Colborne (5-5-10, +6) and Steven Kampfer (2-8-10), Manchester’s Brandon Kozun (5-5-10), Manitoba’s Cody Hodgson (6-3-9), Peoria’s Phil McRae (4-5-9) and Rochester’s Colby Robak (2-7-9). Of the 166 former first- and second-round NHL draft picks who have skated in the AHL already this season, Rockford has iced a league-high 10, including rookies Jeremy Morin, Brandon Pirri, Nick Leddy and Kyle Beach.

Between the pipes, Bridgeport’s Kevin Poulin has won three of his first four pro decisions while putting up the AHL’s top save percentage (.940) and its second-best goals-against average (1.75) thus far. Edward Pasquale of Chicago, who doesn’t turn 20 years old until Nov. 20, is out to a 5-3-0 start (2.41, .916) for the Wolves, and Manitoba’s Eddie Lack and Syracuse’s Timo Pielmeier have also had notable starts to their rookie seasons.

Many of the AHL’s top rookies from a year ago are making waves in the National Hockey League in 2010-11, headlined by AHL All-Rookie selections Tyler Ennis (Buffalo), Lars Eller (Montreal), Logan Couture (San Jose), P.K. Subban (Montreal) and John Carlson (Washington).

The AHL annually presents the Dudley “Red” Garrett Award to the player voted to be the league’s outstanding rookie. Previous winners include Terry Sawchuk, Bill Sweeney, Roger Crozier, Rick Middleton, Darryl Sutter, Steve Thomas, Ron Hextall, Brett Hull, Darcy Tucker, Daniel Briere, Rene Bourque and Teddy Purcell.

CHECKERS SURGE UP STANDINGS … The Charlotte Checkers began their inaugural AHL season by dropping six of eight games and landing in the East Division’s cellar by the morning of Oct. 25. But in the two weeks since, the Checkers have rattled off a seven-game points streak (4-0-1-2) to climb back to .500 overall and into second place in the division with 15 points.

Second-year pro Chris Terry has caught fire with a five-game scoring streak (4-3-7), including a pair of game-winning goals over that span, and former first-round draft pick Zach Boychuk has found the scoresheet in eight of his last nine outings (4-7-11). Additionally, the Checkers’ power play is 7-for-26 (26.9 percent) in its last five contests after going just 8-for-54 (14.8 percent) in 10 games to begin the year.

After playing eight of their first 10 games on the road, the Checkers are in the midst of a stretch of 10 home contests in an 11-game span through Nov. 22. Charlotte doubled up Hershey 4-2 on Sunday in its first-ever meeting with the defending Calder Cup champions and will host the Bears again on Tuesday night.

HAT TRICK SUNDAY … Sunday’s nine-game AHL schedule featured four hat tricks, headlined by Oklahoma City forward Linus Omark’s remarkable five-goal effort in a come-from-behind 7-6 shootout win over Toronto. Omark, who scored each of the Barons’ final five goals in regulation before adding a shootout conversion, is now tied with Portland rookie Luke Adam for the AHL lead with 10 goals (10-7-17) in 15 games.

Omark became the first AHL player to score five goals in a game since Toronto’s Jiri Tlusty did so vs. Syracuse on Feb. 18, 2009, and the first to record five consecutive goals for his team in the same game since current Calgary Flames forward Brendan Morrison accomplished that feat on Apr. 1, 1998, at Hartford as a member of the Albany River Rats.

Providence’s Jordan Knackstedt and rookies Bobby Butler of Binghamton and Mats Zuccarello of Hartford also nabbed hat tricks on Sunday. Knackstedt helped the Bruins rally for a 6-4 win in Albany to finish off a 3-0-0-0 weekend; Butler paced the Senators’ 5-0 blanking of Syracuse; and Zuccarello was the catalyst as the Wolf Pack ended a franchise-record nine-game losing skid (0-7-2-0) with a 7-1 rout of Bridgeport.

ETC. … In addition to the four hat tricks, seven other players had two-goal games on Sunday… Through Sunday’s action, scoring in the AHL is up nearly 7 percent from last season over the same number of games (5.97 goals per game in 2010-11, up from 5.58 through 188 games in 2009-10)… AHL Hall of Famer John Paddock was named interim head coach of the Adirondack Phantoms on Monday, replacing Greg Gilbert; Paddock ranks third in AHL history with 585 career coaching victories… David Desharnais has points in all 11 games for Hamilton on the year (4-11-15)… Grand Rapids rookie goaltender Jordan Pearce denied Lake Erie’s Brandon Rogers on Sunday in the AHL’s first overtime penalty shot attempt since Rockford’s Joe Fallon turned aside a bid by Texas’ Raymond Sawada on Nov. 21, 2009… Rochester’s Michal Repik has used a seven-game scoring streak (2-9-11) to move atop the AHL’s overall leaderboard in both assists (16) and points (19)… Eight-time 20-goal scorer Denis Hamel netted three goals in his first two games for Adirondack last weekend, including a pair of markers on Saturday at Binghamton; Hamel played for the Senators from 2003-06 and again from 2007-10… Saturday’s 4-3 loss to Syracuse snapped Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s winning streak at nine games, which tied a team record but fell two victories shy of the AHL mark for consecutive wins to start a season; the Penguins have won nine in a row five times in franchise history, but never 10… Lake Erie entered Friday’s game vs. Chicago with one power-play goal all season, then scored three times during a five-minute advantage in the first period; former Monster Darren Haydar scored the final three goals to give the Wolves a come-from-behind 6-5 overtime win in that game… Hartford was 3-for-28 on the power play in eight home games this season before going 4-for-7 vs. Bridgeport on Sunday… In two games vs. Rockford this season – both wins – Peoria has outscored the IceHogs 11-3 and gone 6-for-12 on the power play… Binghamton has scored 12 power-play goals (12-for-63; 19.0 percent), and Corey Locke has been involved in 10 of them (2-8-10)… Worcester enters the new week ranked second in the AHL in both power play (27.8 percent) and penalty killing (91.2 percent)… Syracuse is 4-0-0-0 on Saturdays thus far but 1-4-1-2 on all other days of the week… Rochester is 6-1-1-0 on the road but just 1-5-0-0 at Blue Cross Arena… Chicago has allowed the game’s first goal in 11 of its first 13 contests… Adirondack and Rochester are the only clubs yet to participate in a shootout this season.