American Hockey League North Division prospects

With the hockey world on pause, NHL general managers have additional time to evaluate their American Hockey League prospects.

The top developmental league in hockey has another strong crop of young talent developing. will evaluate some of the prospects who could make an impact in the NHL as early as next season as part of a series that breaks down each of the four divisions in the AHL.

The series started last week with a look at the Atlantic Division. This week, the North Division:

Jonas Johansson, Rochester (Buffalo Sabres)

The Sabres have many issues to consider this offseason, and Johansson’s play may force an additional decision.

Johansson (6-foot-5, 219 pounds) has taken a slow path since being chosen by the Sabres in the third round (No. 61) of the 2014 NHL Draft. The 24-year-old goalie played three seasons in Allsvenskan, the second-division league in Sweden, followed by two seasons with Cincinnati, the Sabres’ ECHL affiliate.

This season, his first full-time in the AHL, Johansson is 14-4-3 in 22 games; his 2.28 goals-against average ranks sixth in the AHL, and his .921 save percentage is seventh. He also represented Rochester at the AHL All-Star Classic in January.

After his All-Star appearance, Johansson earned a recall to the Sabres. He went 1-3-1 in six games with a 2.94 GAA and .894 save percentage.

Video: Johansson stops penalty shot

Timothy Liljegren, Toronto (Toronto Maple Leafs)

Liljegren feels like a fixture among Maple Leafs prospects, though the defenseman does not turn 21 until April 30.

Selected No. 17 by the Maple Leafs in the 2017 NHL Draft, Liljegren (6-0, 198) has already packed a lot into his professional career. He won a Calder Cup with Toronto in 2018 and advanced with the team to the Eastern Conference Final in 2019. Injury slowed his progress last season, but his third North American season has been a major success and included a trip to the 2020 AHL All-Star Classic.

While Toronto (29-27-3-2) has struggled since a quick start to the AHL season, Liljegren has been a bright spot. He has 30 points (five goals, 25 assists) in 40 AHL games. He also played his first 11 NHL games with the Maple Leafs and had an assist while averaging 10:18 in ice-time per game.

Brogan Rafferty, Utica (Vancouver Canucks)

Another AHL All-Star, Rafferty has proven to be a quality free-agent signing by the Canucks in his first season with Utica.

Vancouver signed Rafferty as an undrafted free agent on April 1, 2019 after the defenseman played three seasons with Quinnipiac University.

As a 24-year-old rookie, Rafferty (6-0, 195) has helped drive the Utica offense, which ranks third in the AHL with 3.44 goals per game. He is third among AHL defensemen and first among rookie defensemen with 45 points (seven goals, 38 assists) in 57 games, three points behind Charlotte’s Jake Bean, who leads all AHL defensemen in scoring.

He is also a key part of the Utica power play, which is fourth in the AHL at 22.2 percent.

Video: VAN@EDM: Rafferty beats Koskinen after face-off win

Drake Batherson, Belleville (Ottawa Senators)

A member of the AHL All-Rookie Team last season, Batherson (6-3, 206) is well on his way to a full-time role with Ottawa.

The forward already has had some NHL success with 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in 23 games this season for the Senators, who selected him in the fourth-round (No. 121) of the 2017 draft. 

With Belleville, he has been dominant for a team fighting Hershey (Washington Capitals) and Providence (Boston Bruins) for the Eastern Conference lead. He is sixth in AHL scoring with 54 points (16 goals, 38 assists) in 44 games to help fuel the top offense in the AHL (3.71 goals per game).

He also has shown an ability to make necessary adjustments as a pro, overcoming a midseason slump in 2018-19 to finish with 62 points (22 goals, 40 assists) in 59 regular-season games for Belleville.

Video: BUF@OTT: Batherson cleans up rebound with backhand

Alex Formenton, Belleville

Formenton put his excellent speed on display at the 2020 AHL All-Star Classic, where the forward won the fastest-skater competition with a lap of 13.356 seconds, third best in AHL history.

The 20-year-old rookie (6-2, 165) is a part of the same 2017 draft class as Batherson, selected by Ottawa in the second round (No. 47). Formenton is also right behind Batherson in the AHL scoring race, ranking seventh with 53 points (27 goals, 26 assists) in 61 games. His 27 goals are tied for fifth in the AHL.

Though he has not played in the NHL this season, Formenton has one goal in 10 games with Ottawa the previous two seasons.

Josh Norris, Belleville

Norris was part of the haul Ottawa received when it traded defenseman Erik Karlsson to the San Jose Sharks on Sept. 13, 2018.

He could end being the most valuable acquisition in the trade.

Norris (6-2, 192), a forward chosen by San Jose in the first round (No. 19) of the 2017 draft, played two seasons at the University of Michigan before turning pro this season.

While he has played three games with Ottawa, the Senators have chosen to keep the 20-year-old primarily with Belleville, where he has thrived. Norris is tied for third in the AHL with 61 points (31 goals, 30 assists) in 56 games, nine points behind league leader Sam Anas of Iowa. Norris is third in goals, and his point total leads all rookies in the AHL.

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