AHL announces inaugural Top Prospects Team for 2022-2023 season

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      The American Hockey League announced its first-ever Top Prospects team on Wednesday.

      The team consists of the AHL’s top 22 and under players. To be considered, skaters must have played at least 36 regular-season games in the AHL and fewer than 30 regular-season contests in the NHL; those numbers were 25 and 20, respectively, for goaltenders.

      Jesper Wallstedt of the Iowa Wild is the netminder for the team after an impressive 2022-2023, during which he went 18-15-5 with a 2.68 GAA and .908 save percentage. 

      The Minnesota Wild picked the 20-year-old Wallstedt 20th overall in 202; he and 25-year-old Filip Gustavsson could form a formidable goaltending tandem for years to come if Minnesota re-signs the latter this summer.

      On the blue line, Simon Nemec of the Utica Comets and David Jiricek of the Cleveland Monsters got the nod.

      Nemec, 19, was drafted 2nd overall in 2022 by the New Jersey Devils, scored 12 goals and 34 points, and was +13 in 65 games for Utica. Nemec and 2021 4th overall pick Luke Hughes could make a Devils defensive corps that already features Dougie Hamilton, Ryan Graves, and John Marino a unit to watch next season.

      David Jiricek was selected 6th overall by the Columbus Blue Jackets in that same 2022 draft and, at just 19, has already made his NHL debut with Columbus. He showed his offensive chops with Cleveland by collecting 6 goals and 38 points in just 55 games. 

      Jiricek could benefit from a partnership with returning Blue Jackets’ stalwart Zach Werenski or new acquisition Ivan Provorov next season on the big team.

      21-year-old Tyson Foerster of the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, 19-year-old Jiri Kulich of the Rochester Americans, and 21-year-old Lukas Reichel of the Rockford IceHogs make up the team’s forward group.

      Foerster scored 20 goals, second on the Phantoms to Eliot Desnoyers, and 48 points to pace the team over 66 games. The 2020 23rd overall pick impressed in an 8-game audition with the Flyers; his big shot will be critical to a rebuilding team next season.

      Kulich looked like a steal as 2022’s 28th selection, leading Rochester in goals with 24 and adding another 7 in 11 postseason games as the Americans advanced to the Eastern Conference Final. The Americans’ parent club, the Buffalo Sabres, will be eager to add Kulich to an attack that scored 296 goals in 2022-2023, good for third in the league.

      Lukas Reichel is perhaps the most intriguing prospect in a Chicago Blackhawks organization primed to select Connor Bedard later this month. The German went 17th in 2020 and was dominant for Rockford, with 20 goals and 51 points in 55 games. He now has 108 points in 111 AHL contests and showed the ability to score in the NHL in 2022-2023 with 7 goals and 15 points in 23 games for Chicago.

      Conspicuous by his absence is Dustin Wolf, the undersized goaltender named AHL Les Cunningham MVP, Baz Bastien Best Goaltender, and First-Team All-Star this season for the Calgary Wranglers. It is unclear why Wolf, who is still only 22 and won 44 games last season, was left out. 

      While NHL swing players like TJ Tynan of the Ontario Reign or Gerald Mayhew of the Charlotte Checkers often dominate the AHL’s scoring charts, the league also serves as a proving ground for top NHL prospects.

      North American prospects especially will often play against grown men and former NHL pros for the first time in the ranks of the AHL, and the new team is sure to be loaded with many of the stars of the future in years to come.

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