The American Hockey League is going west for the 2020 AHL All-Star Classic, and so are some NHL top prospects.
For the first time in the league’s 84 seasons, the AHL all-star showcase will be played on the West Coast. Ontario (Los Angeles Kings) will host the two-day event, which features a skills competition Jan. 26 and the game Jan. 27.
The AHL utilizes a round-robin 3-on-3 tournament with a team representing each of the league’s four divisions, similar to the NHL format.
Among the 48 players named, 12 per division, 12 are first- or second-round NHL draft picks, and 23 players have played in the NHL this season.
Hartford’s Kris Knoblauch (Atlantic Division), Rochester’s Chris Taylor (North Division), Milwaukee’s Karl Taylor (Central Division), and Tucson’s Jay Varady (Pacific Division) are the four all-star coaches.
Here is a look at five of the top Eastern Conference prospects in the game. A breakdown of some of the top Western Conference talent will run next week:
Alex Barre-Boulet, F, Syracuse (Tampa Bay Lightning)
The Lightning have shown a knack for finding overlooked offensive talent. Forwards Tyler Johnson and Yanni Gourde are two prime examples.
Barre-Boulet is not at that level yet, but he is showing promise. The 22-year-old forward (5-foot-9, 172 pounds) signed with the Lightning as a free agent March 1, 2018, shortly before he was named player of the year in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and the Canadian Hockey League for the 2017-18 season after he had 116 points (53 goals, 63 assists) in 65 games with Blainville-Boisbriand.
Last season, as an AHL rookie, he tied with teammate Carter Verhaeghe with a league-leading 34 goals. He also had 34 assists to finish first among rookies with 68 points, won the Dudley “Red” Garrett Memorial Award as the AHL top rookie and was voted a place on the AHL All-Rookie Team.
This season he leads Syracuse with 31 points (14 goals, 17 assists) in 33 games.
Jonas Johansson, G, Rochester (Buffalo Sabres)
Rochester leads with North Division with a 21-9-2-2 record and is three points behind Hartford for the Eastern Conference lead. Much of Rochester’s success has been built on goaltending and Johansson (6-5, 219) has been a significant factor, partnering with NHL veteran Andrew Hammond. Rochester has allowed a league-low 82 goals in 34 games.
The 24-year-old was taken in the third round (No. 61) of the 2014 NHL Draft. He spent most of the past two seasons with Cincinnati, the Sabres’ ECHL affiliate, before sticking with Rochester this season.
He is 11-2-2 with a 2.07 goals-against average, a .930 save percentage and two shutouts in 16 games. He’s third in the AHL in GAA and fourth in save percentage.
Joey Keane, D, Hartford (New York Rangers)
Hartford leads the Eastern Conference and is third in the league, five points behind first-place Milwaukee (Nashville Predators). It is a turnaround fueled by new players and Keane has been at the forefront.
The 20-year-old defenseman was taken by the Rangers in the third round (No. 88) of the 2018 NHL Draft, after going unselected in the 2017 NHL Draft.
Keane (6-0, 187) is handling well what can be a rocky transition to the pro game. He leads Hartford’s defensemen with 21 points (six goals, 15 assists) in 35 games. His six goals tie him for fourth among AHL defensemen, first among rookie defensemen.
Igor Shesterkin, G, Hartford (New York Rangers)
Shesterkin has been so good in his first AHL season that the Rangers recalled the 24-year-old for the first time Monday. And they did so with two healthy goalies already on the roster in New York.
Taken by the Rangers in the fourth round (No. 118) of the 2014 draft, Shesterkin (6-2, 182) has excelled in his adjustment to North America after a standout career in the Kontinental Hockey League. He ranks first in the AHL with a 1.93 GAA and is second in save percentage (.932) to go with a 15-4-3 record. He also has adjusted to an intense workload; his 23 games are the fifth-most in the league. And he made 29 saves to win his NHL debut Tuesday, 5-3 against the Colorado Avalanche.
Owen Tippett, F, Springfield (Florida Panthers)
Tippett will bring a top-10 NHL Draft pedigree to the event.
Florida took the forward (6-1, 207) with the 10th pick of the 2017 NHL Draft, and he has delivered early in his pro career as he works on improving his two-way game in the AHL. The 20-year-old is third among AHL rookies with 30 points (14 goals, 16 assists) in 38 games.
“You look at [Tippett], he has come in and been impactful,” Springfield coach Geordie Kinnear said. “He is learning to play the pro game.”