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Well well well. Look who’s ripping up the American Hockey League.
Shane Wright was sent down to the Coachella Valley Firebirds last week as part of a conditioning stint after sitting out five consecutive games with the Seattle Kraken. Since then, he’s been on an absolute tear, which once again evokes the conversation about the NHL/CHL agreement.
Right now, CHL-aligned players can only play in the AHL if they were with an NHL team and sent down on a conditioning stint. That requires a player to sit out five consecutive NHL games, which allowed Wright to be sent down. He was easily one of the top performers from the weekend, scoring goals in all three games he played – proving no doubt he’d be capable of playing in the AHL that had been a full-season opportunity.
It’s not, and that’s why the discussion continues. Still, Wright is the headliner of this week’s prospect roundup, and there was no shortage of high-end prospects to talk about this week:
– Gee, give Shane Wright ice time and he’ll produce? Who would have thunk it? Wright is currently on loan to the AHL’s Coachella Valley Firebirds on conditioning stint and he’s up to four goals in three games – four goals on five shots, to be exact. He’s also displaying his trademark defensive stylings that made him a more diverse player in Kingston last year. Wright has the talent to excel in the NHL, but a bumpy start with the Seattle Kraken made some people question if he truly was the top prospect most projected him to be. I still say 1,000 per cent yes, because he’s far beyond just a shooter. From a skill perspective, he has everything you look for in a top prospect – he just needed to display it. He has two games left on his conditioning stint and will likely be loaned out to Canada’s World Junior Championship team afterward. Special shoutout to fellow Kraken prospect Jagger Ficuswho’s just punishing the WHL right now.
– Speaking of top prospects that needed a bit of a push, Quinton Byfield had an up-and-down eight-game stint with the Los Angeles Kings before dealing with an illness. He’s back with the Ontario Reign right now where he’s playing his best AHL hockey to date with eight points in eight games. That includes a pair of three-point efforts this week, highlighted by a two-goal run against the Tuscon Roadrunners on Sunday. Byfield looks determined and better than ever – and, at 20, it’s still early in his development. Playing time is so key, and playing under 12 minutes a night in the NHL isn’t going to benefit you similarly. The Kings are lucky to have some extra runway thanks to depth down the middle, but they’ll want Byfield to keep producing before an eventual call-up back to the NHL.
– The Columbus Blue Jackets sent down Emile Bemstrom last week after he spent most of the past two seasons with the big club. The 23-year-old has taken it in stride, putting up three points in his past two games against the Toronto Marlies. He’s up to 17 points in 12 games with the Monsters, which is still good for third in team scoring despite missing five games while up with the Blue Jackets. It hasn’t worked in Ohio, so maybe Columbus GM Jarmo Kekäläinen explores a trade route to give Bemstrom another shot elsewhere.
– St Louis Blues goaltending prospect Joel Hofer has received a ton of praise recently, and for good reason. He has no wins in his last six starts, but he’s allowed more than two goals just once and has made at least 33 saves in three of them. His 40-save effort in a shootout loss to Wilkes-Barre on Saturday was impressive, and he’s doing a lot of the heavy lifting for a Thunderbirds team that isn’t good right now. He has a 4-6-3 record through 13 games, but his .923 save percentage is third among goaltenders with at least 10 games played. The wins aren’t coming, but Hofer – who scored an AHL playoff goal last year – is giving his team a fighting chance every night.
– Hats off to Jorian Donovan, who’s playing at a near point-per-game pace with the Hamilton Bulldogs. Selected in the fifth round by the Ottawa Senators last summer, Donovan had six points in two games over the weekend, including a hat-trick in a 10-6 win over the Soo Greyhounds. Not bad for a defenseman with just three goals and 22 points a year ago. Donovan was once a highly regarded prospect but spent too much of 2021-22 playing catch-up after the lost year to COVID-19 – not to mention he was further down the Bulldogs’ lineup as the team chased a Memorial Cup. Donovan is playing at the level many believed he could, and he’s giving the Senators a bit more depth on the blueline. There’s still a way to go, but it’s good progress.
– Owen Beck had an exciting week for the Mississauga Steelheads, to say the least. He was one of the only standouts in a 6-2 loss against Sarnia before leaving Friday’s game against the Greyhounds briefly with a foot injury. He didn’t miss much time, but he got hit up high midway through the game. Beck got up slowly, but then dropped the gloves with Ethan Montroy, showing a fire we haven’t seen much out of Beck. He finished the weekend with a trademark three-night performance against Kingston, giving him 29 points in 20 games. He’s on pace for just under 100 points this season, but that’ll likely change with a trip to Canada’s World Junior Championship camp. Still, what an eventful weekend for the Montreal Canadiens prospect that has taken the fanbase’s interest by storm since getting selected 33rd overall in 2022.
– Nobody doubted that Carolina Hurricanes fifth rounder Justin Robidas could score, and he’s living up to expectations again this season. The son of former NHLer Stephane Robidas had five points in three games this past weekend, including his fourth three-plus-point night. The Val-d’Or Foreurs captain has 30 points in 19 games, putting him well on his way to surpassing his previous best of 82 points set last year. The offense is there, but his size isn’t at 5-foot-8, and while he’s got the skill to get past defenders, he’s still easily pushed around. Still, if the Hurricanes can find room for him, Robidas does have a solid skillset to work with.
– A third-round selection by the Minnesota Wild in 2021, Caedan banker is coming off a weekend that saw him score two goals in two separate games. He’s been a dangerous shooter with 15 goals through 19 games and has at least three shots in every game except Kamloops’ season opener against Spokane. In the 10 games in which he has scored this year, the Blazers are 8-0-2, which is a testament to his value to the Blazers. Banker is creative and skilled with the puck but was known more for his stout playmaking abilities in the past. His offensive game is looking quite well-rounded and in for a nice bounce from his 60-point output. It’ll be interesting to see how the Wild handle his contract status, because while he is producing right now, he is 19. You expect that from kids that age. But still, banker is looking good this year, and that’s a positive.
– A decision is looming for the Vancouver Canucks other Aidan McDonough, Northeastern’s captain. The 2019 seventh-round pick has an electric 21 points in 14 games this season, including a three-point effort on Friday in a 6-4 loss to Western Michigan. McDonough is in his fourth year in the NCAA and he’s leading all seniors in points, good for third in the NCAA overall. High offensive outputs are expected from fourth-years, but it’s interesting when the player in question is a seventh-round NHL draft prospect. The Canucks pushed hard to get McDonough to sign last summer, but the wait might be worth it.
– St Louis Blues first rounder Jimmy Snuggerud has had a fantastic freshman season, leading the powerhouse University of Minnesota with 10 goals and 20 points in 16 games. He has two points in his past four games, helping his school to a 3-0-1 record in that frame. Snuggerud loves to shoot, as shown by his 11-shot night against North Dakota earlier this month. In fact, he has five shots or more in six of his 16 games. Leading the offense on a team with Matt Knies and Logan Cooley is no small feat, and the Blues should be thrilled about his early development. Next stop, USA World Junior Championship camp.