Ontario Reign vs Stockton Heat: Ten Questions with Tasha Hudick

Previewing tonight's upcoming match at 7:30 p.m. PT with The Pink Puck AHL West Editor and writer Tasha Hudick, who covers the Stockton Heat and the San Jose Barracuda.

I checked in with Tasha Hudick of The Pink Puck prior to tonight's Pacific Division and asked her some questions about the Heat about the Calgary Flames AHL affiliate, who came over in the western shift.

Jewels from the Crown: Who is Stockton's current leading scorer?

Tasha Hudick: Freddie Hamilton is their leading scorer, all coming on the power play, but Bill Arnold has definitely been an offensive force, getting 3 points over the last 4 games. Arnold is one of the more consistent face-off winners for the Heat, which haven't been their strong point this season, particularly in last night's loss to the Bakersfield Condors

JFTC: Who is Calgary's (Stockton's) best/most prized prospect? How is he doing this year?

TH: Markus Granlund is certainly a chip in the Flames puzzle. He has had flashes of brilliance but is taking his time to warm up. He grabbed a goal last night on the power play that came from an excellent work ethic and good communication from his linemates to get past Condors Brossoit.

Oliver Kylington is a pretty good young dman whom the Flames org has put a lot of stock in. He came over from playing in Europe and is more offensively minded and still needs to work on his game in his own end but he is showing a lot of promise early on, jumping into the rushes and playing fairly solid from the point.

JFTC: Who has been playing well so far but is maybe a little snake bitten and is probably one to keep a close eye on?

TH: I think Drew Shore is a guy to watch. He is young and makes lots of mistakes, particularly with turning the puck over at inopportune moments, but he knows where to put himself to get the puck on his tape, he just needs to hang on to it. I think as he develops, we will see more from him in front of the net.

JFTC: What is Stockton's greatest strength? Weakness?

TH: I'd say that their strength is their defence and their willingness to get in on the play. Nakladal, Kulak and Kylington all create plays up top and keep the puck in the zone. Offensively, the Heat are thin and haven't shown much in front of the net. Most of the scoring has come from up high rather than down in the dirty zones so far, that needs to get sorted out.

JFTC: Stockton has a young-ish team. How are they handling the transition to the new Pacific Division?

TH: In a way they are still playing their old rivals, with Ontario coming over from Manchester, the Gulls from Norfolk and the Barracuda essentially intact from Worcester. Since they are playing all their games on the West Coast the travel is about the same. They haven't seen much of Texas or San Antonio whom they will face this coming weekend. They have faced Texas and shutout the Stars. Gillies made 36 saves.

JFTC: Comparatively, Ontario's roster is slightly older and doesn't feature as many blue chip prospects. What do you think we'll see out of these two teams tonight?

TH: The Heat is going to need to get on the board early, something that they have struggled with. Given the Reign's collapsing defence around the net, the Heat are going to try to take advantage with their D firing from the point. Board battles may go in the Reign's favor as the Heat don't have any super physical players although Stevenson plays a gritty game.

JFTC: Before HIller's injury, how did Ramo on waivers change anything goaltending wise for Stockton?

TH: Stockton had three tenders very briefly. They have been banking on Gillies as their go-to guy and when he has been in net he has been a solid force, I think the offence has just been not doing enough to support him. Most of the games have been 1 goal games... his GAA has been average with 2.31 over 7 games played. I don't think he will struggle and think he is well suited for the pro game, he is very calm and collected in net even when there is serious traffic in front of him. He is critical of his game but not overly so and I think he is aware of his role out in Stockton.

JFTC: Any predictions for tonight?

TH: Ha, Reign have an edge for sure, It will depend how the Heat respond to their loss last night and to Gillies' injury which is still unknown at this point.

Follow Tasha on twitter @3eyeraven for all things Barracuda and Heat.

You can also listen live to the game on Mixlr or watch on AHL Live. Also, check out our game preview here.