Sunday notebook: Riding the NHL-AHL shuttle

Photo: Christopher Mast/NHLI via Getty Images

Patrick Williams, Features Writer

Some of the game’s top prospects have been on the NHL-AHL shuttle this past week.

Start with Calgary Wranglers star Dustin Wolf, a goaltender who has dominated the AHL the past two-plus seasons. With Jacob Markstrom’s status uncertain last Thursday, the parent Calgary Flames put in a call for Wolf just before they departed for a three-game road trip. Wolf, the reigning AHL MVP, made his second career NHL start on Saturday evening at Ottawa.

Coachella Valley Firebirds forward Shane Wright got the call on Wednesday, joining the Seattle Kraken along with rookie forward Ryan Winterton, who made his NHL debut. Wright was off to a hot start with the Firebirds, producing six points (four goals, two assists) in his first seven games.

Returning to the AHL was 19-year-old defenseman David Jiricek, who had stuck with the Columbus Blue Jackets coming out of training camp, going on to play 10 games and contribute a goal and two assists. But he had sat out the past two games, and the Blue Jackets need him to play, so he was assigned to the Cleveland Monsters on Saturday. Jiricek can get plenty of ice time with the Monsters, who have a stretch of seven games in the next 15 days beginning this afternoon at Belleville.

The New Jersey Devils saw enough in Simon Nemec, the second overall pick in the 2022 NHL Draft, to put him in the AHL last season as an 18-year-old with the Utica Comets. He handled that challenge and churned out 34 points (12 goals, 22 assists) in 65 games, and also captained Slovakia at the 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship.

And with a strong blue line established in New Jersey and plenty of time to develop Nemec, the Devils have opted to give him additional seasoning with Utica. Nemec missed time after an injury on opening night, but he returned Oct. 28 and has totaled six points in seven games; Saturday night saw him register an AHL career-high four points (two goals, two assists) as the Comets routed Rochester, 6-0.

Hershey Bears head coach Todd Nelson started November rather unhappy. A sluggish home win against Lehigh Valley was followed by a last-second loss at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, one that particularly irked the four-time Calder Cup champion.

But a 3-1 win at Giant Center against Bridgeport on Nov. 4 left Nelson a little happier, and a 2-0 shutout of the Phantoms last night has the Bears at 9-3-0-0 for the season.

“We had to nip that in the bud,” Nelson told the Hershey media after third-period goals 25 seconds apart put away the visiting Islanders last weekend. “[The game at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton] was a debacle. We had a firm conversation, and the guys responded. If they didn’t respond, there would be an issue.”

After playing 11 games in the first three weeks of the season, the schedule eased up on the Bears this past week. They finish a home-and-home series with Lehigh Valley this afternoon in Hershey.

The Chicago Wolves have had two cracks at Iowa Wild netminder Jesper Wallstedt this season, and they are still looking for their first goal. Wallstedt made 24 saves in a 4-0 win at Allstate Arena last night; he also blanked the Wolves at home back on Oct. 25.

Wallstedt, 21, is the reigning Howies Hockey Tape/AHL Player of the Week. Through eight appearances with Iowa in 2023-24, he is 6-2-0 with a 2.01 GAA and .932 save percentage. In his past four outings – all wins – he has stopped 116 of 121 shots (.959).

San Jose Barracuda forward Thomas Bordeleau got back in the points column in Friday night’s 5-3 home loss to Charlotte. Playing on a line with Jacob Peterson and Nathan Todd, the 21-year-old Bordeleau picked up a goal and an assist for his first AHL points of the season.

Bordeleau opened the season with the parent Sharks and played six NHL games, recording one goal and one assist.


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Texas Stars forward Logan Stankoven continues to dominate offensively. The player of the year in both the Western Hockey League and Canadian Hockey League last season, leads all AHL rookies with eight goals and 15 points in 12 games. Stankoven scored a goal in both of the Stars’ weekend games with Milwaukee.

The 20-year-old went to the Dallas Stars in the second round of the 2021 NHL Draft.

Fellow rookie Chase Wheatcroft scored his first two pro goals in Friday’s 6-4 win over the Admirals. Wheatcroft, 21, did plenty of scoring last season with Prince George of the WHL, finishing second in league scoring with 107 points (47 goals, 60 assists) in 68 games.

The Grand Rapids Griffins have probably seen enough of Dmitry Ovchinnikov for now.

Ovchinnikov picked up his first career AHL hat trick on Friday night as the Marlies opened a two-game visit to Van Andel Arena with a 7-3 win over the Griffins. The goals were his first three points of the season.

The 21-year-old Russian then scored another power-play goal last night and later had an assist as the Marlies completed the sweep with a 4-0 victory that put them into a tie with Rochester for the North Division lead.

Ovchinnikov was a 2020 fifth-round pick by the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Laval Rocket are well-rested, and they will need to be as they kick off a stretch of five games in seven days this afternoon.

Off since a home loss to Toronto on Nov. 4, the Rocket are in Winnipeg for games with the Moose today and Monday morning. The team then flies back home for games Wednesday (vs. Belleville) and Friday (Lehigh Valley) before an overnight trip south to face Utica closes out the week.

Jean-Francois Houle’s club is looking to rebound from a 2-7-1-1 start. They are winless in three tries on the road so far.