📝 by Patrick Williams
The American Hockey League-bound talent continues to flow.
Those names are arriving from across the hockey map. First-round National Hockey League picks. Still more talent from the 2020 NHL Draft, one that has already sent several top prospects to the AHL and then onward to the NHL. Up-and-comers from the Canadian Hockey League, U.S. college programs and Europe.
Here is the first wave of new faces who will dot Eastern Conference rosters to begin this season:
Previously Eastern Conference rosters were previewed. Now here is a breakdown of some of the new top prospects who will battle in the Western Conference.
Arshdeep Bains made his Western Hockey League over-age season a memorable one with Red Deer, amassing a league-leading 112 points (43 goals, 69 assists) in 2021-22. That work prompted his hometown Vancouver Canucks to bring the undrafted 21-year-old forward into the organization on an entry-level deal.
GRAND RAPIDS GRIFFINS
The Griffins own one of the most intriguing goaltending pictures in the AHL season.
There is Finnish veteran Jussi Olkinuora, who is back in the AHL for the first time since 2015-16 after a standout season in the Kontinental Hockey League and tournament MVP honors at the 2022 IIHF World Championship. Swedish netminder Victor Brattstrom is still in the fold after making his North American debut with Grand Rapids last season. And there to battle them both for net time is Sebastian Cossa, the 15th overall pick in the 2021 NHL Draft by the parent Detroit Red Wings. The 6-foot-6, 229-pound 19-year-old wrapped up three seasons with Edmonton of the WHL in 2021-22 and took the team to a league title and a berth in the Memorial Cup. His 33-9-3 line with a 2.28 GAA and a .913 save percentage in 46 games landed him a spot on the WHL (Central) First All-Star Team. He also represented gold-medalist Canada at this past summer’s World Junior Championship.
Another new face is WHL product Cross Hanas, who went to the Red Wings in the second round of the 2020 NHL Draft. The forward, 20, had 86 points (26 goals, 60 assists) in 63 appearances with Portland.
HENDERSON SILVER KNIGHTS
An incoming first-round pick is Vegas Golden Knights forward prospect Brendan Brisson, who joined the organization as a 2020 first-round pick. After two NCAA seasons at the University of Michigan, where he was a Big Ten Second Team All-Star last season, the 20-year-old elected to turn pro and signed with the Golden Knights. In a seven-game stint last season with the Silver Knights, Brisson had eight points (three goals, five assists).
Accompanying Brisson from the 2020 class is defenseman Lukas Cormier, a third-rounder that year. Playing for Charlottetown, he paced all Quebec Major Junior Hockey League blueliners with 81 points (33 goals, 48 assists) in only 62 games. Like Cossa, he also was with the Canadian WJC entry and finished that tournament with five points (one four, four assists).
The Golden Knights also brought over steady Finnish pro Sakari Manninen for his first spin in North America. The 30-year-old forward spent the past three seasons in the KHL with Salavat Yulayev Ufa. His 19 goals in 38 games led that team last season. Internationally, his seven points (four goals, three assists) in six games at the 2022 Winter Olympics helped Finland to take a gold medal, and his overtime goal clinched gold in the 2022 World Championship.
Still another first-round face is Brad Lambert, who went to the Winnipeg Jets as the 30th overall pick in this past July’s NHL Draft. At only 18 years old, he already has two seasons of high-level Liiga time on his resume.
In 2021-22, Lambert, the nephew of former AHL player and coach (and current New York Islanders bench boss) Lane Lambert, he picked up 10 points (four goals, six assists) playing 49 games between JYP Jyvaskyla and Lahti Pelicans.
Through the years the Nashville Predators have had good results with products from the Finnish hockey system. This summer they turned to 24-year-old forward Markus Nurmi, a regular for the past five seasons with Liiga club TPS Turku. Nurmi, originally a 2016 pick by the Ottawa Senators, had 39 points (20 goals, 19 assists) in 56 games in 2021-22.
Joining the Admirals late last season out of the University of Connecticut was Czech forward Jachym Kondelik, who had a late two-game taste of the AHL. A 2018 fourth-round selection by Nashville, the 22-year-old Kondelik was named the top defensive forward in Hockey East in his third and final season with UConn. Captaining the team, he also collected 33 points (12 goals, 21 assists) in 36 games and won a spot on the Hockey East Second All-Star Team.
SAN JOSE BARRACUDA
The Barracuda have a heavily reworked roster for their first season at Tech CU Arena.
One of those faces will be Ozzy Wiesblatt, who went 31st overall in the 2020 NHL Draft to the parent San Jose Sharks. An upper-body injury ended his 2021-22 season early with Prince Albert of the WHL, but Wiesblatt, 20, still managed 41 points (10 goals, 31 assists) in the 43 games that he did play.
There is also forward Danil Gushchin. Taken in the third round by the San Jose Sharks in 2020, the 20-year-old made a one-year stop in the Ontario Hockey League last season and rang up 71 points (41 goals, 30 assists) in only 51 games before three late-season appearances with the Barracuda.
In net will be 23-year-old Strauss Mann. Mann turned pro last season and went to Europe, where he had an excellent run in the Swedish Hockey League with Skelleftea. He also represented Team USA at the 2022 Olympics.
Right between Brisson at the 29th pick and Wiesblatt at the 31st spot in the 2020 NHL Draft was forward Mavrik Bourque, selected by Dallas at #30.
An injury interrupted Bourque’s final QMJHL season, limiting the 20-year-old to 31 games. But he still finished third in team scoring at 68 points (20 goals, 48 assists) and then put together an excellent postseason with 25 points (nine goals, 16 assists) in 16 contests. His work helped Shawinigan reach the Memorial Cup, and he added seven more points (two goals, five assists) in four appearances.
Slovak forward Milos Kelemen could be an interesting find for the Arizona Coyotes.
Arizona signed the sturdy Kelemen, 23, to a two-year entry-level contract this past May following a strong season with BK Mlada Boleslav of the Czech Extraliga. Kelemen had 18 points (five goals, 13 assists) in 44 games to earn top rookie honors, but he then broke loose in the playoffs with nine goals and 12 points in 14 games.
Along with his club season, he also was a member of Slovakia’s bronze-medal team at the 2022 Winter Olympics.
UP NEXT: The AHL Season Preview concludes with a breakdown of the top storylines entering the league’s 87th campaign.
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.