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2015-16 AHL Pacific Preview

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From San Diego to Stockton to San Antonio, who should you watch out for this year? Also answering burning questions like which Ontario Reign star once had pizza with Chris Bosh?

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Bakersfield Condors (Edmonton Oilers)

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  • What's Ben Scrivens doing here? When the Oilers chose Anders Nilsson over Scrivens for backup, they guessed right that the Professor's 2.3 million cap hit would ward off any waiver claims.
  • The Pacific's richest buried contract  belongs to none other than defender Nikita Nikitin.
  • Almost half the Condors have at least a smattering of NHL experience, including Philip McRae, Tyler Pitlick, David Musil, Ryan Hamilton, Bogdan Yakimov, and Brad Hunt.
  • NHL bloodlines run deep in this group. Basil is McRae's father; Frantisek is Musil's father; Lance is Pitlick's uncle. Bobby Holik is also Musil's uncle.
  • Kings fans may remember Hunt and Pitlick. Hunt was the victim of a truly audacious Tyler Toffoli dipsy doodle, while Pitlick doomed LA's postseason plans. One of the AHL's highest-scoring blueliners last year, Hunt always has to be accounted for.
  • The athletic bloodlines don't end there! Kale Kessy's cousin Jennifer was a 2012 Olympics beach volleyball silver medalist.
  • Finally, Matt Ford is from West Hills. When he was nine, he named his dog after Adam Oates.

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  • Bakersfield boasts some of the league's finest prospects. Chief among them are netminder Laurent Brossoit, defender Darnell Nurse, and center Leon Draisaitl. Both Nurse and Draisaitl were lottery picks; they're thought to just need some more seasoning. Nurse is a "total package" blueliner. You probably already know that his uncle is NFL star Donovan McNabb.
  • And look out for smallish center Andrew Miller, who was the team's leading scorer last season.

Ontario Reign (Los Angeles Kings)

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  • Kris Newbury would be AHL fantasy gold, if such a thing existed: He scored 48 points last season with 171 PIM. A true AHL journeyman (438 points and 1,332 PIM in 599 AHL games), the 33-year-old pivot has also appeared in 76 NHL games. Also, he once had pizza with Chris Bosh.
  • Paul Bissonnette and Jamie McBain should be very familiar to Kings fans. Despite not appearing in an NHL game since April 2014, Bissonnette remains ubiquitous as an outspoken defender of the dying role of the enforcer. However, as Benjamin Wendorf pointed out, @BizNasty2point0 is more skilled than your average fighter.
  • The offensively-minded McBain has actually appeared in far more NHL (301) than AHL games (83), and I'd expect him to dominate at this level.
  • With Patrik Bartosak requiring thumb surgery and J.F. Berube joining the New York Hipsters, the onus is on Peter Budaj to demonstrate that he can still tend with the best of them. He struggled last season in the AHL, after a strong multi-year run as Carey Price's backup in Montreal. Most importantly, will he bring back Ned Flanders to his Ontario mask?

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  • After potting an astonishing 24 goals in his last 33 (including playoffs) last season, Michael Mersch must prove that there is life after the departures of star linemates Jordan Weal and Brian O'Neill.
  • 2013 second-rounder Valentin Zykov and 2014 first-rounder Adrian Kempe have to show that disappointing lower-level production won't continue in the AHL. Speedster Kempe did ring up eight markers during Manchester's Calder Cup-winning turn.
  • Jonny Brodzinski owns an NHL-quality shot, but how will the St. Cloud State sniper handle the AHL's increased pace?
  • While Nic Dowd's professional ceiling isn't as high as the aforementioned forwards, there's a clear path for him to star as a top-six pivot in Ontario.
  • After anchoring Manchester's third-pairing last season, 2010 first-rounder Derek Forbort will be looked upon to finally shed his "project" tag and take on more responsibility.

San Antonio Rampage (Colorado Avalanche)

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  • Kings fans, remember Marc-Andre Cliche and Michael Schumacher? Cliche came from the Rangers in the Sean Avery trade; he also captained the Manchester Monarchs from 2010-13 and has spent the last couple years up with the Avalanche. Schumacher was drafted by Los Angeles in the seventh round in 2011.
  • Unfortunately, Joey Hishon is best known for being on the receiving end of a high Brayden McNabb elbow in the 2011 Memorial Cup. The 2010 first-rounder missed the entirety of the following season because of post-concussion syndrome. He did score his first NHL goal last year.
  • Ben Street, Andrew Agozzino, Colin Smith, Dennis Everberg, Patrick Bordeleau, Zach Redmond, Maxime Noreau, and Mat Clark were all NHLers. Street and Agozzino head the Rampage attack; Agozzino was one of only four 30-goal scorers in the AHL last season. Blueliner Noreau will lug the puck up; the journeyman has been a consistent offensive threat for years. Clark was an Anaheim second-round choice in 2009.
  • That defenseman Redmond is still playing hockey at such a high level is a testament to his perseverance. When Zach was 15, he suffered a stroke, and had to relearn how to walk and talk. In 2013, Antti Miettinen accidentally stepped on his right thigh and severed a femoral artery.

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  • 2010 second-rounder Calvin Pickard registered a sparkling .932 save % in 16 NHL games last season. However, the jury is still out on whether or not he's NHL-starter material. His brother Chet was once a highly-touted goaltending prospect.
  • 2013 second-rounder Chris Bigras plays a solid, intelligent game and looks to take command of the San Antonio rearguard in his first full AHL campaign.
  • Slow-developing defenders Duncan Siemens and Brandon Gormley are both recent lottery picks who have yet to live up to their lofty draft positions.

San Diego Gulls (Anaheim Ducks)

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  • Enforcer Brian McGrattan was once a 1999 fourth-round draft pick of the Kings. Joe Piskula wasn't drafted by Los Angeles, but was signed out of college by the Lombardi regime.
  • Harry Zolnierczyk, Max Friberg, Chris Mueller, Mike Sgarbossa, Stu Bickel, Korbinian Holzer, Shane O'Brien, and Matt Hackett have all enjoyed the big leagues. Zolnierczyk, Friberg, Mueller, and Sgarbossa will provide frontline scoring punch.
  • Center Kyle MacKinnon is from Walnut.

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  • There's a lot for Kings fans to worry about here. The Gulls showcase a deep group of legitimate NHL prospects.
  • 2013 first-rounder Shea Theodore and 2011 second-rounder John Gibson are blue-chip prospects. Of course, we saw an embattled Gibson in the 2014 playoffs, but his ability is unquestioned. Theodore projects to be a top-pairing offensive defenseman in the bigs; this will be his first full year in the AHL. Nurse was his partner at the most recent World Juniors.
  • 2014 lottery pick and AHL neophyte Nick Ritchie is a hulking power forward who plays the "heavy" game Los Angeles itself adores. His brother Brett is a well-regarded Dallas prospect.
  • Like fellow blueliner Theodore, 2014 second-rounder Brandon Montour is pure offense. Montour is from Jonathan Quick's alma mater UMass.
  • 2011 first-rounder Stefan Noesen and 2012 second-rounder Nic Kerdiles from Irvine are both 6'2" scoring wingers. Over the last two years, Noesen has blown out his knee and almost severed his right Achilles; he's still looking to put together a statement AHL campaign. Kerdiles's two-way game still needs refinement; the power forward was Anaheim's first-ever selection from Orange County.

San Jose Barracuda (San Jose Sharks)

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  • Winger Vincent Arseneau actually skated for the ECHL Ontario Reign last season.
  • Bryan Lerg, John McCarthy, Frazer McLaren, Micheal Haley, Scott Timmins, Karl Stollery, Mark Cundari, and Troy Grosenick have all logged NHL minutes. Winger Lerg has been a solid source of offense for years.

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  • 2013 first-rounder Mirco Mueller seeks to rebound from a rough NHL debut last year. Still just 19, look for the 6'3" defensive defenseman to keep things simple.
  • Also embarking on his first full AHL season is raw 2014 second-rounder Julius Bergman. Unlike Mueller, the mobile Bergman has to work more on the defensive side of things.
  • 2014 first-rounder Nikolay Goldobin is the Barracuda's most exciting prospect. He's armed with 30-goal talent, but his 200-foot game must improve.

Stockton Heat (Calgary Flames)

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  • Freddie Hamilton, Kenny Agostino, Drew Shore, Derek Grant, Colton Orr, Bill Arnold, Bryce Van Brabant, and Aaron Johnson have all clocked NHL hours. Hamilton, Agostino, and Shore are the Heat's veteran leaders upfront, while Johnson has been an consistent offensive presence on the AHL blueline for over a decade. Dougie is Hamilton's brother, and of course, we know Drew's brother well.

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  • Winger Émile Poirier is a little ahead of fellow 2013 first-rounder Morgan Klimchuk. The slight, speedy Poirier was this team's top offensive threat last season, while the smallish, tenacious Klimchuk is set to begin his first full AHL campaign.
  • 2011 second-rounders Markus Granlund and Tyler Wotherspoon both appear to be close to NHL-ready. Mikael's brother Markus is a promising playmaker and Wotherspoon has decent two-way potential.
  • Despite his lofty draft position and giant sizehe's 6'7"!2014 second-rounder Hunter Smith looks destined for a bottom-six near you.
  • 2015 second-rounder Oliver Kylington fell in the draft but will have an immediate opportunity to prove his doubters wrong at the professional level. The 18-year-old defender has a world of offensive potential, highlighted by high-end skating. He's also the first Eritrean to ever be selected in the NHL Draft.
  • 2012 third-rounder Jon Gillies will probably be brought along slowly in his AHL debut, but the 6'5" keeper is poised to be Calgary's goalie of the future.

Texas Stars (Dallas Stars)

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  • Curtis McKenzie, Travis Morin, Greg Rallo, Derek Hulak, Brennan Evans, and Jesse Blacker have all spent time in the bigs. Forwards McKenzie, Morin, and Rallo form the foundation of the Texas attack; Morin has been one of the AHL's very best playmakers for years.
  • Defenseman Evans has appeared in just two NHL games, but both were in the playoffs for the Darryl Sutter-led 2004 Stanley Cup finalist Calgary Flames. He's also the AHL's active leader in games played with 834.
  • Bill is Brendan Ranford's uncle. It was a banner summer of 2014 for the Ranford clan, as Kings goalie coach Bill hoisted a Stanley Cup and Stars winger Brendan won a Calder Cup.

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  • 2014 first-rounder Julius Honka is Dallas's top prospect. Impressively, the slick, offensively-minded blueliner notched 31 points as an 18-year-old in his AHL debut.
  • 2013 first-rounder Jason Dickinson and 2013 second-rounder Remi Elie are both about to take on their first full AHL season. Dickinson's production plateaued at the OHL last year, so he has something to prove. Elie is an intriguing grinder with limited offensive upside.
  • Once thought to be the future of American goaltending, Jack Campbell may be nearing the end of the line in Dallas. Entering his final waiver-exempt season, the 2010 first-rounder has yet to show a starter's consistency in the pros.