Five AHL players who deserve an extended NHL audition
We’re getting close to the point where we know the AHL’s standouts a month into the season. Players make a strong case for earning a recall when injuries or trades occur or just by virtue of their own play. Here are five players who are playing well enough to warrant an audition at the NHL level. If you’re looking for Ville Heinola, it was featured last week after his agent said he deserves a chance in the NHL.
(All advanced statistics are from Inst.)
Philip Tomasino, RW, Milwaukee Admirals
After a rookie campaign in which he scored 32 points in 76 games with the Nashville Predators last season, Philip Tomasino, the Preds’ first-round pick in 2019, had an inside track to a top-six role places this season. But after an underwhelming preseason, Tomasino – whose stick handling, deceptive speed and playmaking ability make him one of the most skilled players in the organization – moved up the depth chart and was reassigned to the AHL.
“We think this is the right thing for him right now,” Predators manager John Hynes told the media two days after Tomasino was demoted to the minors on Oct. 10. “Make no mistake, we think he’s a top-six talent and one of the best young players for us, and his future is bright here.”
The 21-year-old right wing recorded eight points and averaged four shots on goal per game through nine games with the Milwaukee Admirals. Five of his points have come at even strength, where he currently has a Corsi For percentage of 57 percent and a team-high 64 percent expected goals. Stats aside, the most encouraging part of Tomasino’s AHL season so far is how he’s been using his strengths to be the a go-to guy as he works to showcase Nashville’s non-minor brass.
“Philip is definitely someone who will be back with us, we’re just trying to make the right decision about when [that will be],” Hynes said Thursday in an interview with ESPN 102.5’s Robby & RexRoe.
With a glaring hole on the Predators’ right second line, Tomasino could return to Smashville sooner rather than later if he continues to play the way he has been.
Jordan Spence, D, Ontario Reign
The fact that Jordan Spence is still in the AHL pretty much sums up everything you need to know about him The Los Angeles Kings’ blocking on defense. During the 2021-22 season, the 21-year-old right-handed defenseman scored 42 points in 46 games with the Ontario Reign and earned a spot on the AHL All-Rookie Team and First All-Star Team. Spence also played in 24 games (eight points) for the Kings and three Stanley Cup playoff games last season.
But when he arrived at training camp, the Kings’ 2019 fourth-round pick didn’t get much of a chance to crack the lineup with right-shots Drew Doughty, Matt Roy and Sean Walker ahead of him, plus Brandt Clarke, the eighth overall selection. in the 2021 draft – send the team off the field.
Depth chart logistics aside, Spence, a solid puck mover who isn’t afraid to join the rush, has shifted into another gear this season. Averaging 25:03 of ice time per game, Spence has been a mainstay for the Reign and one of the main reasons they sit third in the league standings.
The Australian-born blueliner thrives on Ontario’s power play and became a staple on the penalty kill while maintaining a high-end offensive output. His 10 assists tie him for the AHL lead among defensemen, and facing opponents’ top lines. He’s probably the most dangerous defenseman in the AHL, and I don’t think he’s even close.
If he continues to play the way he has, Spence could force the Kings’ hand to call him up. Even if there is no place available.
Matthew Phillips, RW, Calgary Wranglers
Despite establishing himself as one of the most dynamic forwards in the AHL over the past two years, Matthew Phillips has only played one NHL game.
He’s been knocking on the door for a while, or better yet, knocking.
Since the start of the 2019-20 season, Phillips has counted a league-high 66 primary five-on-five points, according to ahltracker.com. He has been fired up to start his 2022-23 campaign, currently tied for the league lead in goals (eight) and fifth in points (14).
It’s fair to wonder what else the 5-foot-7 right wing could do, besides magically grow a couple of inches at age 24, for Calgary to give him a chance as a first round pick.
From the outside looking in, one might be quick to write off Phillips as a dime tweener, a player known as “too good” for the AHL but not good enough for the NHL, like Nic Petan for example. The thing is, the crafty undersized forward doesn’t really fit the cookie cutter descriptions often used for players with similar hockey reference pages.
For example, Phillips does not move away from the middle of the ice. Phillips generated the second-most interior slot chances per 60 minutes last season (4.28). And when you factor in his aforementioned 5-on-5 production, his production is far from empty calories.
The counter, though, is that Phillips has been on waivers for a few years now and no team claimed him. If it was as good as some are advertising it, you’d think someone would have taken a flyer on it. However, it’s still very strange that Calgary hasn’t given him more of a leash, especially when injuries have come up.
Kirill Marchenko, RW, Cleveland Monsters
A month ago, Columbus Blue Jackets coach Brad Larsen said cutting Kirill Marchenko was a tough move to make. And it didn’t take long to understand why.
Marchenko has shown no growing pains in his first season of American professional hockey. The 2018 second-round pick from Columbus has 12 points in his first 10 games with the Cleveland Monsters, tying him for third-most points among U23 skaters. The six-foot-3 right winger has a sneaky agility to go along with soft hands with power. And he has one very good shottoo.
“He’s got one of the best shots I’ve ever seen,” Monsters forward Carson Meyer said. he told Brian Hedger The shipment of Columbus. “Every time you pass him, you just look at him and think, ‘I could get an assist here.’ Every time he shoots, he feels like there’s a chance it’s going in.”
It will be interesting to see if Marchenko stays in the minors much longer, or if he forces Columbus’ hand to recall him. The bottom line is that he has star player written all over him.
Mikey Eyssimont, LW, Manitoba Moose
This is kind of a non-traditional choice, but it’s not without merit.
Eyssimont has 229 career games in the AHL, and it wasn’t until last year that he made his NHL debut, playing in his only career game.
The 26-year-old winger is, in the most complimentary of ways, a pain in the butt. He’s a quick and tenacious foresighter who’s quick on loose pucks and drives opponents crazy mid-battle. Over the years, Eyssimont has become a fixture at the AHL level, carving out a niche for himself in scoring chances, finishing above the 95th percentile in each of the last three seasons, and shots on goal .
A fifth-round pick of the Los Angeles Kings in the 2016 NHL draft, the Colorado native joined the Winnipeg Jets organization after signing a two-year contract before last season. Eyssimont quietly became a valuable piece at the AHL level last season, posting a career-high 42 points in 58 games to go along with good underlying numbers.
After a strong showing in training camp, cut probably much earlier than he should have been, Eyssimont has continued his upward trend to start the year. In addition to being a true driver at even strength (63.8 CF percent and 74 xGF percent), Eyssimont is scoring at a point-per-game pace through nine games. If Winnipeg has another forward injury, it would be shocking if Eyssimont wasn’t called up by the Manitoba Moose down the hall at the Canada Life Centre.
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