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AHL Weekly: Rookies out to quick starts

WEEKLY RELEASE #8

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … A quarter of the way through the 2009-10 season, the American Hockey League is once again serving as top development circuit for a talented collection of rookies, as a number of first-year pros are out to quick starts as they make cases to be the NHL stars of tomorrow.

Last season’s rookie class included Portland Pirates teammates Nathan Gerbe and Tim Kennedy; Gerbe led AHL first-year pros with 30 goals en route to capturing the Dudley “Red” Garrett Award as the AHL’s outstanding rookie, while Kennedy paced league rookies with 67 points and has earned a roster spot with his hometown Buffalo Sabres this year. Justin Abdelkader is suiting up for the Detroit Red Wings in 2009-10 after garnering AHL All-Rookie honors for Grand Rapids last year, and Brad Marchand, Mikko Lehtonen, Mathieu Perreault and Yannick Weber have also seen NHL action this season after strong AHL rookie showings in 2008-09.

Following Gerbe and Kennedy last year, Portland’s Tyler Ennis is currently on top of the rookie scoring page with 19 points (7-12-19) in 21 games and is one of four first-year pros currently leading his team in scoring. A first-round draft pick by Buffalo in 2008, Ennis is coming off back-to-back 40-goal junior seasons for Medicine Hat (WHL) and scored a goal in his NHL debut for the Sabres on Nov. 14. Christian Hanson, who appeared in five games for the Toronto Maple Leafs late last season, is averaging a point per game (8-10-18) with the Toronto Marlies to place second among AHL rookie scorers.

Lowell’s league-leading offense features a pair of top rookie scorers in defenseman Matt Taormina (7-10-17) and forward Nathan Perkovich (7-9-16). Manitoba’s Sergei Shirokov began the season with parent-club Vancouver but has recorded 17 points (9-8-17) in 20 games with the Moose, tied with Taormina and 19-year-old Manchester forward Andrei Loktionov (6-11-17) for third-most among AHL rookies.

Logan Couture, a first-round draft pick (9th overall) by the San Jose Sharks in 2007, ranks third on Worcester with 14 points (5-9-14) despite having played just nine AHL games this season. Couture also shows a goal and an assist in 11 games with San Jose. Fellow first-round draft picks Lars Eller (3-10-13) of Peoria, Zach Boychuk (5-7-12) of Albany and John Carlson of Hershey (1-9-10, +14) have also made key AHL contributions this season while also receiving early recalls from their NHL affiliates.

Other notable first-year scoring leaders include Hartford’s Evgeny Grachev (5-9-14), Providence’s Jeff LoVecchio (8-5-13) and Jamie Arniel (6-7-13), Abbotsford’s Mikael Backlund (7-4-11) and Texas’s Colton Sceviour (3-10-13) and Sergei Korostin (9-3-12), who is tied for the rookie lead in goals.

Between the pipes, Rochester’s Alexander Salak has won 11 of his first 12 pro decisions (11-1-0, 1.88, .938) and is one of the primary reasons for the first-place Americans’ resurgence this season. Hartford’s Chad Johnson is tied for the league lead with three shutouts, and Norfolk’s Dustin Tokarski and Worcester’s Alex Stalock have had notable starts to their rookie campaigns.

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, Roger Crozier, Darryl Sutter, Pelle Lindbergh, Steve Thomas, Ron Hextall, Brett Hull, Darcy Tucker, Daniel Briere, Rene Bourque and Teddy Purcell.

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SOUND TIGERS BACK ON TRACK … The Bridgeport Sound Tigers swept a two-game visit to Abbotsford last weekend, extending their overall winning streak to three and moving to 4-0-0-1 since a five-game losing skid earlier this month.

Goaltending was a key factor in the Sound Tigers’ success against the Heat, as 2009 AHL All-Rookie netminder Nathan Lawson turned aside a season-high 47 shots on Friday to preserve a 3-1 victory, and teammate Scott Munroe made 41 stops and was 3-for-4 in the shootout as Bridgeport rallied for a 4-3 win in Saturday’s rematch. The Sound Tigers (11-10-0-1) have now collected seven of their 11 victories this season in either overtime or the shootout while losing only once beyond regulation.

LOCKED IN … Hartford center Corey Locke continued his torrid start to the season last week with six points, including two goals and two assists in the Wolf Pack’s 5-3 win over Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Thursday.

Locke, a three-time AHL All-Star and 2007 Calder Cup champion with the Hamilton Bulldogs, leads all AHL scorers with 30 points (11-19-30) through his first 20 games in a Hartford uniform. The three-time 20-goal scorer has found the scoresheet in four straight games (2-6-8) and nine of his last 10 outings (5-15-20) for the Wolf Pack despite playing much of that time without early-season linemate Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau (10-10-20 in 13 games), currently on NHL recall with the New York Rangers.

MILESTONE TRACKER … Only 75 players in the 74-year history of the American Hockey League have recorded 500 career regular-season points, but that exclusive club could realistically have five new members by the end of the 2009-10 campaign. Providence’s Trent Whitfield, who returned from a month-long stint in Boston last week, has 496 points in 625 career AHL games through Sunday’s action. Hershey’s Alexandre Giroux has 495 points in 582 AHL games, while Bears teammate Bryan Helmer sits with 484 points – the second-most of any defenseman in AHL history – in 924 matches. Chicago’s Jason Krog has racked up 466 points in just 394 games, and Rochester’s Chris Taylor shows 463 points in 482 career AHL contests.

Willie Marshall is the AHL’s all-time leading scorer with 1,375 points during a 20-year career from 1952-72. The AHL’s top active scorer is Lake Erie forward Darren Haydar (550 points).

ETC. … Binghamton’s Ryan Keller has netted a goal in four straight games to take over the league lead with 13 tallies (13-9-22) in 20 contests on the season… Chet Pickard, a first-round draft pick (18th overall) by the Nashville Predators in 2008, earned back-to-back starts for Milwaukee last weekend and stopped 47 of 50 shots (.940) in a pair of wins at Houston… Keaton Ellerby, drafted 10th overall by the Florida Panthers in 2007, tallied a hat trick in Rochester’s 5-2 win over Syracuse on Friday after entering the night without a goal in 16 games this season… Toronto rookie Christian Hanson registered his first pro hat trick that same night in the Marlies’ 7-1 win at Lake Erie… Twenty of Norfolk’s first 21 games have been decided by either one or two goals… The home team has won 21 of 25 all-time regular-season meetings between Chicago and Rockford, most recently a 1-0 IceHogs victory at the MetroCentre on Friday… Springfield forwards Chad Wiseman (5-6-11) and Colton Fretter (4-6-10) are both riding seven-game scoring streaks… Chris Porter is tied for the Peoria team lead with seven goals in 19 games this season, matching his 74-game total with the Rivermen in 2008-09… Texas saw its 12-game points streak (9-0-2-1) end in Friday’s 4-1 loss at Grand Rapids… Lowell has won five straight home games – matching a franchise record – since a 5-2 loss to Hershey on Nov. 4.