📝 by Patrick Williams
The influx is well underway.
All 32 National Hockey League teams are busily shaping rosters, including sending young talent to the American Hockey League to continue their development.
For some players, these decisions have put their NHL hopes on hold, at least for the moment. Perhaps it was an expected move for a player. Or a near-miss for a player on the brink of the NHL. For others, it might be a fresh start with a new NHL organization. Or it could mean 24 hours on the NHL waiver wire, wondering what the next move might be. What also will follow for players is a scramble to hammer out logistical work like finding housing for the winter.
Whatever the case, and whatever happened last season, October represents a clean sheet. The AHL preseason schedule begins today, and the bid to further impress the decision-makers will continue.
Starting with the Eastern Conference, here is a look at some of the AHL’s returning talent.
The Ottawa Senators have delivered an early bounty to their AHL affiliate in Belleville.
A power forward prototype, Egor Sokolov headlines the list of talent returning to the B-Sens. As a 2020 second-round pick, Sokolov impressed quickly with 15 goals in 35 games during the pandemic-shortened 2021-22 season with Belleville, and followed that up by finishing second on the team last season in both goals (19) and points (50) while also earning his first eight NHL games with Ottawa.
Now 22 years old, expect Sokolov to take a headline role in the Belleville attack as he refines his game further.
While Ottawa’s offseason moves attracted considerable attention around the NHL, the organization still possesses a strong young base in Belleville. Also 22 years old, defenseman Lassi Thomson is back for further AHL time. The 19th pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, Thomson had a productive 2021-22 season, his third at the pro level. Along with 16 games with Ottawa (and five assists), he also ranked second on the Belleville blue line with 26 points (10 goals, 16 assists) in just 44 games.
Still another top prospect, 20-year-old forward Roby Jarventie had a busy summer representing Finland at the World Junior Championship. His nine points (four goals, five assists) in seven contests helped Finland to secure a silver medal. He went in the same second round of the 2020 Draft as Sokolov and generated 33 points (11 goals, 22 assists) in 70 games last season with Belleville.
A knee injury last fall ended forward Angus Crookshank’s season before it ever began. But the 2018 fifth-round pick is back and will try to pick up from a successful late-season 2020-21 debut with Belleville in which he churned out 16 points (five goals, 11 assists) in 19 games following three collegiate seasons at the University of New Hampshire.
Having been limited to 53 games between the parent Florida Panthers and the AHL across the past two seasons, the 2018 first-round pick still has shown promise. In the 30 games that he did play with Charlotte last season, he managed 18 points (nine goals, nine assists).
More than anything right now, Denisenko needs ice time, and the AHL definitely can provide plenty of that for the 22-year-old.
What do the Columbus Blue Jackets have in 2019 seventh-round pick Tyler Angle?
A season in Cleveland can provide further information to answer that question, but the early returns have been encouraging. He only turned 22 last week and has not even reached the 100-game mark.
Injuries and NHL recalls sidetracked Cleveland’s season in 2021-22, but Angle finished second in team scoring at 37 points (11 goals, 26 assists) in 71 games. During the 2020-21 season, he attracted plenty of attention by delivering 23 points (11 goals, 13 assists) in his first 24 pro games for the Monsters.
HARTFORD WOLF PACK
With the parent New York Rangers fresh off a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals and precious little room on the NHL roster, the Wolf Pack stand to benefit from the organization’s collection of prospects shuttled to Connecticut’s capital city.
The Rangers won the battle to sign Long Island product Bobby Trivigno following his standout season at the University of Massachusetts. Trivigno was named the Hockey East Player of the Year and College Hockey News Player of the Year, and was a Hobey Baker Award finalist after putting up 49 points (20 goals, 29 assists) in 37 games. From there Trivigno played his first 11 pro games with the Wolf Pack in a late-season role. Now the 23-year-old will experience learning how to handle the grind of his first full AHL campaign.
Defenseman Matthew Robertson is back in Hartford as well for his second pro season. The Rangers made him a second-round pick in 2019, and he responded by leading all Hartford blueliners with 65 games.
A midseason trade to the St. Louis Blues organization revived Will Bitten’s career. Then a run through the Calder Cup Playoffs took the 24-year-old forward’s NHL chances up another notch.
Bitten ended up fifth in postseason scoring with 21 points (eight goals, 13 assists) in helping the Thunderbirds to the Finals. He also showed the sort of player that he could one day be at the NHL level – a rambunctious, all-out presence capable of irritating opponents.
With St. Louis having had a busy summer restocking the Springfield roster, Bitten has positioned himself well to be a top recall option for the Blues this season.
UP NEXT: A look at some of the returning talent that has been assigned to AHL clubs in the Western Conference.
Patrick Williams has been on the American Hockey League beat for nearly two decades for outlets including NHL.com, Sportsnet, TSN, The Hockey News, SiriusXM NHL Network Radio and SLAM! Sports, and is currently the co-host of The Hockey News On The ‘A’ podcast. He was the recipient of the AHL’s James H. Ellery Memorial Award for his outstanding coverage of the league in 2016.