We’re now several weeks into an NHL postponement and there is still no clear timeline on when professional hockey will return. While fans of the sport have received small tidbits of news over that time, including college signings and contract extensions, the thirst for discussion has rarely been quenched.
With that in mind, we’re happy to continue our new feature: The PHR Panel. Three times a week, our writing staff will give our individual takes on a question many hockey fans have been wondering about. If you’d ever like to submit a subject for us to discuss, be sure to put it in the comments. This series will run each Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
To catch up on the previous edition, click here.
Today, we’ll each give our thoughts on a prospect that made his debut in the AHL this season.
Q: Name a 2019-20 AHL rookie that will have a strong NHL career
Brian La Rose:
Plenty of the top prospects in the AHL got a sniff of NHL action this season but someone who didn’t sits atop my list in Edmonton defenseman Evan Bouchard. While he had a brief recall, he didn’t get into any game action and instead spent the season honing his craft with AHL Bakersfield. That time was certainly well-spent as he worked to hone the defensive side of his game. He may need some more work in that regard but when Bouchard becomes an NHL regular, he’s going to make an impact quickly.
Offensively-skilled defensemen are getting more and more room to try to create offense and that’s Bouchard’s top skill. He was dominant at the junior level and had a solid first pro campaign with the Condors as well. Size and strength won’t be an issue for him either as he checks in at 6’3. These all work in his favor for becoming an impact player quickly.
There’s a case to be made that Bouchard could be Edmonton’s top offensive blueliner as soon as he’s in their lineup. Picture him setting up the likes of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl and complementing them on the power play. That’s a recipe for running up the points right there which will make him a very important part of their core for many years to come. If he’s as productive as I think he can be in that system, it won’t be too long before he’s a highly-paid part of that core either.
While I do like players like Vegas’ Lucas Elvenes and Florida’s Owen Tippett, I have quite a few doubts on whether either player will even be given a real chance to become a top player for their teams. However, when I look at Anaheim Ducks forward Max Comtois, I see a player who could really have a nice NHL career.
The 21-year-old was already highly-touted, being a second-round pick back in 2017 and impressed out of camp quickly one year later, making the roster out of training camp, while the team allowed the forward to burn the first year of his entry-level deal by allowing him to play 10 games (he had seven points that year). When the team eventually sent him to the QMJHL, he dominated there in 2018-19.
This year has been even more successful for Comtois, who split time in both the AHL to develop his skills, while getting some practical time with the Ducks as well. Comtois finished with nine goals and 24 points in 31 AHL games as a rookie, while picking up AHL Rookie of the Month in February. He added another five goals and 11 points in 29 games and with the team in a full rebuild currently, Comtois will get every opportunity to take on a much bigger role next year and can be a constant in their lineup for years with the success he’s had so far in his young career.
If you want to find a prospect who looks like a perfect fit for his club’s style and culture, as well as long-term plans, look no further than Boston’s Jack Studnicka. The 2017 second-round pick is a young clone of Patrice Bergeron and looks like he could become a favorite of Bruins fans.
Studnicka plays a hard-working two-way game with plenty of skill involved as well. He led the AHL in short-handed goals this season by nearly double the next-best mark, while contributing on the power play and of course at even strength as well. Studnicka finished in the top-four in goals, points, and per-game scoring among AHL rookies and that was even while missing some time to play in Boston.
With Bergeron and David Krejci getting up there in age and heading toward the ends of long-term contracts, a changing of the guard could be coming to the Bruins sooner rather than later. While Studnicka may not be considered an elite prospect at this point, neither was Bergeron when he debuted in the NHL and Studnicka could follow in his footseps while replacing him in the lineup down the road. Few players are set up as well to take over for a future Hall of Famer.
You can already read my thoughts on Joe Veleno and the career I believe is waiting for him in the NHL in one of last week’s panels, so I’ll just name another Grand Rapids Griffins rookie instead (apparently I’m a Red Wings fan lately).
Mortiz Seider was a shocking selection by the Red Wings when they took him sixth overall last June, while other more familiar names like Dylan Cozens, Trevor Zegras and Spencer Knight were still on the board. What we all may have overlooked was the teenager’s performance in the World Championship, which showed just how ready Seider was to play against professionals much older than him.
In his first year in the AHL, a league that has a very short history of teenagers, let alone teenaged defensemen, the then-18-year-old Seider recorded 22 points in 49 games and never looked out of place. The 6’4″ 207-lbs, right-handed defenseman turned 19 just a few days ago and likely could have spent time on Detroit’s blue line this year had the team been any more competitive. There’s no doubt that’s where he’ll end up in short order, but it’s his limitless ceiling as a top two-way defenseman that makes him so interesting. Did Steve Yzerman find his next Victor Hedman? (probably not, but boy was that a fun debut)