The American Hockey League heads into the 2019-20 season on Friday, so contributors from across the SB Nation Hockey community collaborated to create a four-part series to preview each team. As per AHL rules, the top four teams in each division qualify for the playoffs, so this preview aims to explore the competitiveness within the division, while highlighting changes to the team from last season as well as what to expect this season.
The Pacific Division is comprised of seven teams: the Bakersfield Condors (Edmonton Oilers), Colorado Eagles (Colorado Avalanche), Ontario Reign (Los Angeles Kings), San Diego Gulls (Anaheim Ducks), San Jose Barracuda (San Jose Sharks), Stockton Heat (Calgary Flames), and Tucson Roadrunners (Arizona Coyotes). They will be joined in the 2021-22 season by a team located in Palm Springs, California, set to be the affiliate of the still unnamed Seattle NHL team. The division was formed in 2015 as a result of several Western Conference NHL teams relocating their AHL teams to be closer to home. A Pacific Division team is yet to capture the Calder Cup.
Bakersfield Condors (Edmonton Oilers)
Corey Travers, The Copper & Blue
Last season: 42-21-3-2, 89 points, 1st place, Lost in Division finals to San Diego
One player to watch: As long as he stays in Bakersfield, Evan Bouchard is the guy to watch. He was technically called up on Thursday, but it seems like a paper transaction to free up LTIR money for the Adam Larsson injury. Bear is expected to continue to play in Edmonton, and Bouchard is likely to open the season in Bako. He’s a high-end offensive talent on the blueline, and has the pedigree to be the Oilers’ best defenseman down the road. He actually did make a cameo in Bakersfield last year, putting up 8 points in 8 playoff games, after the conclusion of his OHL season. Few players have had better statistical CHL careers from the blueline, in recent years. He would probably already be in the Oilers’ top-4 under recent regimes, but Ken Holland’s trademark is seasoning prospects, and the fans of Bakersfield will be the short term benefactors.
Why people should care/tune in to your team: They were already one of the best teams in the AHL last season, especially in the second half, when they recorded the second longest winning streak in AHL history, 17 games. This year they look even better on paper, thanks to the additions of high-end defensemen Evan Bouchard and Dmitri Samorukov, as well as long-time NHL veteran Sam Gagner, who actually looked pretty good in camp. Gagner’s also the type of high-skill guy who could dominate in a first-line, top powerplay unit role in the AHL. I certainly wouldn’t bet against them to be a very good team.
Colorado Eagles (Colorado Avalanche)
Scott MacDonald, Mile High Hockey
Last season: 36-27-4-1, 77 points, 4th place, Lost in Division semifinals to Bakersfield
One player to watch: D Calle Rosen — No longer considered a “throw-in” player of the Nazem-Kadri-for-Tyson-Barrie/Alex-Kerfoot trade, 25-year-old defenseman Calle Rosen was more than impressive during the preseason, so much so he survived until the final hours of NHL roster deadline on Tuesday before the Avalanche opted to send him to the Eagles to start the season in the AHL. Rosen led all Toronto Marlies defenders in goals (7), assists (39) and points last season and finished top-10 in points among all AHL D-men, while earning a trip to the AHL All-Star Game for his efforts. Rosen figures to be a de facto top-pairing two-way defenseman on an Eagles roster and should have no trouble maintaining last season’s momentum onto a Colorado team that carries quite a bit of offensive firepower.
Why people should care/tune in to your team: The Colorado Avalanche are about as deep as its ever been, and the farm system is bursting at the seams with young talent. Despite losing their top-scorer in Andrew Agozzino and their No. 1 goalie in Pavel Francouz, the Eagles added plenty of very solid replacements. With guys like the 398-game NHL vet Erik Condra leading a cast of Eagles that includes former first-rounders Martin Kaut (2018) and Shane Bowers (2017), and with the aforementioned Rosen inserting himself into the lineup, there’s some excitement building around the youth and talent of this young organization. The Eagles haven’t missed the playoffs since its inception in 2003. I wouldn’t expect them to miss this season, and look for them to go deeper this year, too.
Ontario Reign (Los Angeles Kings)
Sarah Avampato, Jewels from the Crown
Last season: 25-33-6-4, 60 points, 7th place
One player to watch: D Mikey Anderson
Why people should care/tune in to your team: There is every chance that the Ontario Reign will be more interesting to watch than the Kings. The Reign had a dreadful 2018-19 season as they steadily lost many of their key players (Matt Luff, Austin Wagner, Sean Walker, Matt Roy, Cal Petersen for a time, and later Carl Grundstrom) to the Kings. The crop of inexperienced forwards and defensemen weren’t any match for the deeper teams in the division.
While the Reign lost a number of significant experienced players, including Matt Moulson, who served as a mentor for many of the young first and second year players, they are bringing in many players who will likely make up the future of the Kings core. Forwards Jaret Anderson-Dolan and Rasmus Kupari promise to provide speed, skill, and playmaking ability. Mikey Anderson, fresh off of back-to-back Frozen Four wins with the University of Minnesota-Duluth, has been a leader at every level he’s played at, and stood out in many of the rookie and training camp games. And of course, they have their potential goaltender of the future in net with Cal Petersen.
Much like the Kings, the Reign may or may not be good this season. But with an improved defense and some exciting new forwards, they should at least be entertaining.
San Diego Gulls (Anaheim Ducks)
John Broadbent, Anaheim Calling and Defend The Nest
Last season: 36-24-5-3, 80 points, 3rd place, Lost in Conference finals to Chicago
Key additions: F Andrew Poturalski, F Blake Pietila, G Anthony Stolarz, D Jani Hakanpaa (?), F Andreas Martinsen, D Chris Wideman, D Hunter Drew, F Brent Gates Jr., D Steven Ruggiero, F Alex Broadhurst
One player to watch: D Hunter Drew
Why people should care/tune in to your team: The Gulls are coming off a “close but oh so far” Calder Cup run where they lost in the Conference Finals to Vegas Golden Knights affiliate the Chicago Wolves. The offseason saw several key departures and has essentially facilitated an almost complete overhaul of the team to make way for a new vanguard. They have a new coach in Kevin Dineen and some fresh rookie blood in Antoine Morand and Hunter Drew - two prospects that have flown under the radar, some players on their final year of an entry level deal with a career to play for in Alex Dostie and Deven Sideroff and some new faces with experience and pedigree in Andrew Poturalski and Blake Pietila. It should be a very interesting year in San Diego.
San Jose Barracuda (San Jose Sharks)
Bryan Del Fava, Fear the Fin
Last season: 39-22-3-4, 85 points, 2nd place, Lost in Division semifinals to San Diego
Key losses: Kyle Wood, TJ Hensick, Antoine Bibeau, Jon Martin, Cavan Fitzgerald, Rourke Chartier, Francis Perron
One player to watch: F Ivan Chekhovich
Why people should care/tune in to your team: The Barracuda have never missed the playoffs in their four years in San Jose. Through smart late-round picks by Sharks general manager Doug Wilson like Ivan Chekhovich and Sasha Chmelevski, the Sharks have reinvigorated their prospect pool, many of those in this pool who are now on this team. We’ve always talked about the “future of the Sharks” but now that future looks brighter than ever.
Stockton Heat (Calgary Flames)
Milhouse Firehouse, Matchsticks & Gasoline
Last season: 31-31-4-2, 68 points, 6th place
Key losses: Jusso Valimaki, Garnet Hathaway, Curtis Lazar
One player to watch: Matthew Phillips. The former Victoria Royals product is as undersized as his major league club affiliate, Johnny Gaudreau, but also packs the same explosive offensive punch. In his final three seasons with the WHL’s Royals he notched 37, 50, and 48 goal campaigns and broke the century marker with 112 points in his last year. 2018-2019 was his first run with the AHL club as he racked up 38 points in 67 contests a season ago and he’ll look for some upward mobility.
Why people should care/tune in to your team: The Heat as a franchise are entering their fifteenth anniversary season, but they have missed the playoffs three of their four years since relocating to Stockton from Adirondack. Second year Head Coach Cail MacLean will try to right the ship for the Flames affiliate this year, but with a system not as deep as years past and the big club entering a “win now” window, his resources will be limited to do so.
Tucson Roadrunners (Arizona Coyotes)
Rob Leaño, Five for Howling
Last season: 34-26-5-3, 76 points, 5th place
Key additions: Jonathan Martin (F), Kevin Hankock (F), Matt Berry (F), Ryker Killins (D), Vince Pedrie (D), Beau Bennett (F), Andy Miele (F), Keeghan Howdeshell (F), Dane Birks (D), Nate Schnarr (F), Aaron Ness (F), Ivan Prosvetov (G)*, Erik Kallgren (G)*
One player to watch: Kyle Capobianco (D) - After a shot at the big show gave Capobianco a perfect opportunity to shine with an injury laden Arizona Coyotes, the star defensemen incurred a season ending lower body injury himself. Capobianco has had nearly 9 months to recover from the devastating blow and will begin the season back with the Tucson Roadrunners. Expect his recovery process to be similar to that of his teammate Nick Merkley, who had a similar injury just the year before. Said recovery wasn’t immediate when Merkley made it back to the ice last season, but he was back skating full speed in just a matter of weeks. Whether or not Capobianco gets the same bill remains to be seen, but with a potential full recovery, his call back to the NHL may be ringing again soon.
Why people should care/tune in to your team: The Tucson Roadrunners are entering their fourth year in the “Old Pueblo”. Under second-year head coach Jay Varady, this Roadrunners team is looking to make rebound after ending last year with a bitter end, narrowly missing the Calder Cup playoffs. But there’s a lot to look forward to this year: Should the team remain healthy, fans will get to see Coyotes top prospects Micheal Bunting, Nick Merkley, and Kyle Capobianco work some magic alongside their star goaltender Adin Hill. It will also be an opportunity to get fresh glimpse at new prospects the Chayka-led Coyotes prospect pipeline has built up. Buckle up, cause this team will be ready for battle in the AHL’s Pacific Division.