American Hockey League

Final four features top NHL prospects

In the Eastern Conference Final, regular-season champion Charlotte (Carolina Hurricanes) will play defending Calder Cup champion Toronto (Toronto Maple Leafs). 

Chicago (Vegas Golden Knights) will oppose San Diego (Anaheim Ducks) in the Western Conference Final. Each best-of-7 series will start Friday.

These four teams are packed with top NHL prospects. Here is a look at them:

Charlotte vs. Toronto

After winning the 2018 Calder Cup Final by defeating Texas (Dallas Stars) in seven games, Toronto is back for another run. 

Toronto is the lone undefeated playoff team after sweeping Rochester (Buffalo Sabres) in the first round and a second-round sweep of Cleveland (Columbus Blue Jackets). Toronto has reached the conference final in three of the past four seasons.

Goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo (6-foot-2, 204 pounds) had settled into a rotation with veteran Michael Hutchinson in the second half after Toronto struggled to find a solution at the position. When the Maple Leafs recalled Hutchinson late in the regular season, Kaskisuo, 25, took over the No. 1 job and is 7-0 with a 1.56 goals-against average and .949 save percentage in the playoffs.

Defensively, Toronto has a pair of first-round selections. Rasmus Sandin (6-0, 184), the No. 29 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, leads AHL defensemen with seven assists in seven games as a 19-year-old. Timothy Liljegren, 20, chosen No. 17 in the 2017 NHL Draft, has three assists in seven games.

Forward Jeremy Bracco (5-11, 181) continues to excel after finishing second in the AHL with 79 points (22 goals, 57 assists) in 75 regular-season games. The 22-year-old, chosen by the Maple Leafs in the second round (No. 61) of the 2015 NHL Draft, has 11 points (two goals, nine assists) in seven playoff games.

Trevor Moore (5-11, 182), a 23-year-old forward, played seven games for the Maple Leafs in the Stanley Cup Playoffs before returning to the AHL. After blossoming last season during Toronto’s playoff run with 17 points (six goals, 11 assists) in 20 games, he had a dominant performance against Cleveland (six points; four goals, two assists in four games).

Charlotte, which won 51 games and earned 110 points in the regular season, is a significant obstacle to Toronto’s repeat bid after defeating Providence (Boston Bruins) in the first round and sweeping Hershey (Washington Capitals) in the second round. Its success starts with goalie Alex Nedeljkovic (6-0, 189), who was an AHL First All-Star Team member and winner of the Aldege “Baz” Bastien Memorial Award as the AHL’s outstanding goaltender in the regular season. Carolina’s second-round pick (No. 37) in the 2014 NHL Draft, the 23-year-old is 6-1 with a 2.00 GAA and .916 save percentage in the playoffs.

Forward Aleksi Saarela (5-10, 200) has not slowed down after scoring a team-best 30 goals in the regular season. The 22-year-old arrived in a trade with the New York Rangers for forward Eric Staal on Feb. 27, 2016. A third-round pick (No. 89) of the Rangers in the 2015 draft, Saarela has 10 points (six goals, four assists) in seven playoff games, and his hat trick in Game 4 against Hershey finished that series.

Rookie forward Morgan Geekie (6-3, 192) had 46 points (19 goals, 27 assists) in 73 regular-season games and has carried that into the postseason. The 20-year-old has 10 points (five goals, five assists) in eight games, tied for first with San Diego forward Sam Steel among rookie scorers. Carolina selected him in the third round (No. 67) of the 2017 draft. 

Chicago vs. San Diego

Chicago is making a Calder Cup run one season after the Golden Knights reached the Stanley Cup Final. Chicago eliminated Iowa (Minnesota Wild) from the second round in six games. Several Vegas prospects are playing key roles, but there is a deep base of veteran talent to guide them.

Rookies Nic Hague and Zach Whitecloud are tied for third in playoff scoring among defensemen with six points (two goals, four assists) each. Hague (6-6, 215) is 20 years old and was a second-round pick (No. 34) in the 2017 draft. Whitecloud (6-2, 209), 22, was signed by the Golden Knights as a free agent March 8, 2018.

Cody Glass (6-2, 178), a 20-year-old forward, was held to three points (two goals, one assist) in six games against Iowa, but scored a key insurance goal in the 3-1 series-clinching win. He was taken by Vegas with the No. 6 pick in the 2017 draft.

Veteran forward Daniel Carr provided an immediate boost against Iowa following his return from a long-term injury. He had seven points (two goals, five assists) after winning the Les Cunningham Award as the AHL’s most valuable player with 71 points (30 goals, 41 assists) in 52 regular-season games. Forward Curtis McKenzie, who scored 11 goals in 22 playoff games for Texas last season, scored five against Iowa. He has eight points (five goals, three assists) in 11 playoff games.

San Diego eliminated San Jose (San Jose Sharks) in the first round before defeating Bakersfield (Edmonton Oilers), the regular-season Pacific Division champion, in six games.

Max Comtois, a 20-year-old forward, joined San Diego for the second round after playing with Drummondville of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Comtois (6-2, 207), a second-round (No. 50) pick by Anaheim in the 2017 draft, had six points (three goals, three assists) in six games against Bakersfield.

Steel (5-11, 186), a 21-year-old forward, was chosen by the Ducks with the No. 30 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft.

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