Ahead of the 2023 Calder Cup Finals, which starts tonight between the Coachella Valley Firebirds and Hershey Bears, the AHL has released a new award that will intrigue hockey fans across the country. The AHL Top Prospects Team is a group of players that may not be in the minor leagues for much longer.
This year’s group includes:
Tyson Foerster, Lehigh Valley Phantoms
The 21-year-old Foerster was selected 23rd overall by the Philadelphia Flyers in 2020 and is one of the OHL players forced into the AHL during the 2020-21 season. Even as a teenager, he showed great scoring ability and returned this year to put up 20 goals and 48 points in 66 games.
Foerster made his NHL debut as well, suiting up eight times with the Flyers and putting up seven points—a taste of what will come next for the young forward.
Jiri Kulich, Rochester Americans
The Rochester club has seen several talented forwards come through in recent years, and Kulich is just the latest after being selected 28th overall in 2022 by the Buffalo Sabres. Coming over from the Czech Republic at just 18, he proved he was ready for North American professional hockey by scoring 24 goals and 46 points in 62 games.
Kulich was even better postseason, where he potted seven goals in 12 games. Only turning 19 in April, he was among the league’s youngest players this season.
Lukas Reichel, Rockford IceHogs
Anyone who has watched Reichel this season can see his time in the minor leagues should be over. The 17th overall selection in 2020 made his NHL debut for the Chicago Blackhawks last season and looked overwhelmed. Not so a year later, when he scored seven goals and 15 points in 23 games in the NHL.
The 21-year-old forward has been a dynamic offensive threat since the moment he joined Rockford, with career totals of 108 points in 111 games to this point.
David Jiricek, Cleveland Monsters
If it were a more important season for the Columbus Blue Jackets, Jiricek might not have played a full season in the minor leagues. The 19-year-old defenseman was a menace at the AHL level, scoring six goals and 38 points in 55 games.
Known more for his size and blistering shot during his draft year, the 2022 sixth-overall pick showed improved poise and vision, leading to some lofty expectations in Columbus. Before long, he’ll be a full-time anchor on the Blue Jackets’ blue line.
Simon Nemec, Utica Comets
The other top defenseman from the 2022 draft class was Nemec, who didn’t disappoint in his rookie season. Selected second overall by the New Jersey Devils, the 19-year-old defenseman put up 12 goals and 34 points in 65 games.
Nemec has a wildly entertaining style that sees him fly all over the ice, making unpredictable plays regularly. While he may still take some unreasonable risks, he has a higher ceiling than almost any defensive prospect in the league, and should add that excitement to the Devils group soon enough.
Jesper Wallstedt, Iowa Wild
It was a pretty solid North American debut for Wallstedt, who posted a .908 save percentage in 38 AHL games. The big Swede was the 20th overall pick in 2021 and could buck the trend of goaltenders taking years to develop.
There was obvious growth in Wallstedt’s game during his first season in the AHL, and despite being just 20, he should already be factoring into the Minnesota Wild’s decision-making in net. They already have a young starter in Filip Gustavsson but may not need a backup for long.