After 142 total games of service in the minor leagues, Toronto’s Andreas Johnsson might finally get his chance to shine on ACC ice.
The Leafs leading minor league scorer with the Toronto Marlies (54 points in 54 games; fourth in the American Hockey League) got called up Tuesday and could be in the line-up when the Leafs host Dallas on Wednesday night.
A former seventh round selection in 2013, (202nd overall) Johnsson has developed well in the Leafs’ system, after several seasons with the Frolunda Indians of the Swedish Elite League.
In 129 AHL regular season games, the stocky left winger has 46 goals and 55 assists, along with a +24 rating. He has another six goals in 13 AHL playoff games, too. Of his 52 total goals in a Marlies uniform, Johnsson has 20 power play goals, too.
While call-ups are hardly earth-shattering, Johnsson’s is significant, as he hasn’t had a sniff of big league action yet, despite lofty numbers. There are 15 others biding their time in the ‘A’ this year, who we believe deserve a promotion, sooner, than later.
15. C Mason Appleton – Manitoba Moose (Winnipeg Jets)
If Mason Appleton needs inspiration while he puts in the perspiration required at the minor league level, he need only watch the exploits of another former fellow NCAA product with the Jets, Kyle Connor. Appleton, a Michigan State product who was drafted 168th overall by Winnipeg in 2015, is the fifth leading scorer in the AHL for the Moose, scoring 18 goals and adding 34 assists in 61 games. Now Connor’s path was a little more gilded, in that he was taken 17th overall by the Jets in the same draft and played for rival Michigan, so the two should be familiar with one another. Appleton, a 22-year-old from Green Bay, WI, has actually become a better two-way forward in pro, logging a +14 with Manitoba, after a collective -45 (with 69 points) in 72 NCAA games.
14. G Alex Nedeljkovic – Charlotte Checkers (Carolina Hurricanes)
If Scott Darling wasn’t on a four-year contract, worth $4.15 million annually, Alex Nedeljkovic might be a Hurricane already. Darling, a giant at 6’6″, was supposed to be the starter of the future in front of Cam Ward, especially after how well he played in Chicago. But, that success hasn’t translated and he’s struggling, with a 11-17-7 record, 0.888 save percentage and 3.08 goals against. Meanwhile, 2014 second rounder (37th overall) Nedeljkovic is quietly having a pretty good season in Charlotte. The former junior star, in his first full season of AHL action, has a 27-11-2 mark, a 2.53 goals against and .904 save percentage. Just turned 22, the Parma, OH native does have one half game of NHL experience to his credit, stopping all 17 shots he faced in relief of Cam Ward during a 4-1 loss to Columbus on Jan. 17, 2017.
13. D Andy Welinski – San Diego Gulls (Anaheim Ducks)
Right shooting defencemen, particularly those who can quarterback a powerplay, are at a premium in the NHL. Duluth native Andy Welinski fits the bill and in just two full seasons in the minors is showing that maybe he belongs with the Ducks in the near future. Anaheim is currently chasing a wild card playoff berth, so his imminent call-up isn’t required. Yet, he wasn’t too bad in a four-game promotion this season, registering two assists, just over 16:30 of ice time and a +1 in four games with the Ducks. With the Gulls, Welinski is seventh among defenceman in scoring, with 10 goals (seven powerplay) and 24 assists in 48 games. A third round, 83rd overall selection by the Ducks in 2011, Welinski finished his four full years at hometown University of Minnesota-Duluth and was a steady producer there. Now 24, the time is now for him to get back to the NHL and stick.
12. C Justin Kloos – Iowa Wild (Minnesota Wild)
Little guys seldom get a lot of love from the NHL, especially if they are undrafted free agents plugging away in the ‘A.’ Lakeville, MN born Justin Kloos is one of those height challenged, but immensely talented, players putting up great numbers in his first year of pro hockey. A star for four years with his home state Minnesota Golden Gophers, Kloos translated that knack for scoring (150 points in 155 NCAA games) into a free agent deal with the Wild. Upon completion of his senior year at Minnesota, he played in nine games for Iowa, scoring one goal. With the Wild pretty much set up front and likely playoff-bound, roster spots are scarce. Kloos, who has 42 points in 59 games this year, got a one-game call-up in November, skating on the fourth line. Already 24, he’s no greenhorn, and with good work, especially on the powerplay (where he has seven goals), and attention to defensive duties, he may just earn a prolonged promotion to the Wild in the near future.
11. G Ville Husso – San Antonio Rampage (St. Louis Blues)
With Jake Allen and Carter Hutton in front of him in St. Louis, AHL rookie goalie Ville Husso may have to percolate a while longer with the Rampage. He has been called up on an emergency basis, basically to sit on the bench and watch Allen play while Hutton nurses a neck injury. But, should something happen to Allen, too, Husso is good to go. The 23-year-old Helsinki native has been dynamite in San Antonio, going 14-11 in 34 games, with a 2.31 goals against average, .928 save percentage (fifth in the AHL) and four shutouts (tied for third). Drafted 94th overall by St. Louis in 2014, Husso starred with his hometown pro club, HIFK Helsinki. He played 121 games there, many as a teenager, posting a stellar 1.91 goals against, .927 save percentage and five shutouts his last season with the club in 2015-16.
10. D Rasmus Andersson – Stockton Heat (Calgary Flames)
The Calgary Flames blue line is quite jammed full right now and if minor league star Rasmus Andersson was playing for many other clubs, he’d be called up already. The Flames 53rd overall pick in 2015 draft, Andersson is one of the top scoring defencemen in the ‘A’, compiling 37 points in 50 games and a healthy +21. The 21-year-old from Malmo, Sweden does have two games of NHL experience, but still needs some seasoning. No denying, though, that the hard-working and intelligent rearguard won’t soon get a more permanent shot. He came over from Sweden to put in two years of outstanding defence with the Barrie Colts of the OHL (124 points in 131 games), before being promoted to Stockton. In his first year there, Andersson had 22 points and was +13.
9. C Curtis Valk – Springfield Thunderbirds (Florida Panthers)
Curtis Valk, like Justin Kloos up in Minnesota, may have to wait patiently in the ‘A’ until a more permanent space opens up on the Florida Panthers roster. Another smallish player at 5’9″, 170 lbs., Valk was a star with his hometown Medicine Hat Tigers of the Western Hockey League for four seasons earlier this decade. In his final two seasons, he had 108 goals and 101 assists in 169 regular season and playoff games. Undrafted, he caught on with Kalamazoo of the ECHL, before being promoted to Vancouver’s farm club, the Utica Comets in 2014-15. Last summer, Valk was signed as a free agent by Florida and assigned to the Springfield Thunderbirds, where he has been a stellar playmaker, logging 16 goals and 31 assists in 59 games. He got called up for a game in November with the Panthers and it might not be too long until he sees some regular NHL ice.
8. LW Valentin Zykov – Charlotte Checkers (Carolina Hurricanes)
Carolina is bottom third in powerplay scoring, clicking on 41 of 211 opportunities for a 19.4 percent efficiency rating, or 21st in the league. Little wonder then, that they, like most of the teams below them, aren’t in a playoff position right now. They could solve some of their woes by calling up offensively gifted, but defensively suspect sniper Valentin Zykov from Charlotte. The third-year AHLer from St. Petersburg is first in the American league with 16 of his 30 goals coming via the man advantage. With 18 assists, Zykov’s 48 points are 15th in the AHL, too. The only drawback to his game is an ugly -15, which means there is still plenty of work for him to do away from the puck. But, given his immense scoring gifts, the solid (6’1″, 224 lbs.) 22-year-old winger should merit a longer promotion than the two games he got in 2016-17.
7. G Cal Petersen – Ontario Reign (Los Angeles Kings)
For a good chunk of this season, the Ontario Reign had an outstanding duo in net. With rookie Cal Petersen and longtime AHL veteran Jack Campbell manning the pipes, the Reign could count on great goaltending to get them by (since they don’t score a lot either). Campbell, 26, is now the back-up in L.A. and deservedly so. Petersen, meanwhile, is making the case for himself to be a future King, posting a 18-10-1 record, .915 save percentage, 2.38 goals against average and three shutouts in his first AHL season. A native of Waterloo, Iowa, Petersen starred at Notre Dame after being drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in the fifth round, 129th overall in 2013. After three seasons and 110 mostly great games with the NCAA’s Fighting Irish (11 shutouts, 55 wins), Petersen found himself with Los Angeles after he couldn’t come to terms with the Sabres. Their loss, we think.
6. C Dylan Strome – Tucson Roadrunners (Arizona Coyotes)
Now is the time for the Arizona Coyotes to fish or cut bait where prospect Dylan Strome is concerned. Picked third overall by the Desert Dogs in 2015, Strome should be with the big club, considering they have scored the fewest goals in the NHL this season with 163. He got in 11 games with the Coyotes earlier this year, scoring one goal in 11 games, but got just over 12 minutes of playing time while there. In his first season in the ‘A’ he is 11th in scoring, firing 22 goals and adding 27 assists in just 44 games, while also registering a +8. Arizona, which is in last place overall, needs to figure out what kind of team it wants to be. By that, we mean that Strome should either be getting better minutes at the NHL level (and thus score more) or be dealt for draft picks. He’s an asset, just misused at this point.
5. G Linus Ullmark – Rochester Americans (Buffalo Sabres)
Should the Sabres part ways with back-up Chad Johnson after this season — and they will, he’s UFA — homegrown Sabre Ullmark should finally get a chance to stick and back-up Robin Lehner in 2018-19. It’s too bad that they couldn’t bury Johnson’s contract in the minors now and promote the big Swede, but we’re sure he can wait a few more months. Ullmark already has 22 games of NHL experience since being drafted 163rd overall by the Sabres in 2012, with another 125 AHL contests to his credit. This season he has been superb for the Amerks, going 20-11-4 in 42 games, with a 2.44 GAA, .923 save percentage and two shutouts. In one game with Buffalo this year, Ullmark was outstanding, stopping 44 of 45 shots as Buffalo beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-1 on Jan. 11. He’s a keeper.
4. D Filip Hronek – Grand Rapids Griffins (Detroit Red Wings)
Filip Hronek is the kind of player that Detroit GM Ken Holland is renowned for taking in the later stages of NHL drafts. Just one season into his pro career in North America, the 20-year-old Czech has established himself as one of the better two-way rearguards in the AHL. He is 14th in scoring among all AHL defencemen with 29 points in 53 games and is a solid +20, which is good enough for 14th overall. Before being drafted 53rd overall in 2016, Hronek was a low scoring defender in the Czech league with Hradec, tallying just four assists in 41 games. But, he was convinced to come across the pond and blossomed offensively with the Saginaw Spirit in 2016-17, recording 61 points and a +15 in 59 games. He will be yet another one of those diamonds that Holland has dug up over the years.
3. C T.J. Tynan – Chicago Wolves (Vegas Golden Knights)
T.J. Tynan may be a victim of a numbers game. That is, he is a smallish guy (5’9″) beating on a NHL door in Vegas that already houses 5’9″ dynamo Jonathan Marchessault. There is room in the new NHL for smaller, quicker guys, just maybe not two of them on the same team. Even still Tynan, who is sixth in AHL scoring with 52 points, seems to have his scoring game NHL ready. Those 52 points represent his highest total in four seasons of ‘A’ hockey, with a number of games yet to play. Drafted 66th overall out of Notre Dame in 2011 by the Columbus Blue Jackets, Tynan did get a cup of coffee in the big league, playing three games in 2016-17, with zero points. The Orland Park, IL native left the Blue Jackets in free agency after his two-year entry level contract ran out.
2. D Sami Niku – Manitoba Moose (Winnipeg Jets)
The Jets are fine on defence, thank you very much. But, they won’t be able to ignore two-way, puck-moving young rearguard Sami Niku of the Manitoba Moose. The Haapavesi, Finland born defenceman is tied for first in scoring among AHL blueliners with 44 points (12 goals) in 61 games and is a healthy +12. The only problem is his size, as in he’s 6’0″ but listed at a feather light 168 lbs. A bonus to him making the team one day is the fact he was drafted way down at 198th overall in the seventh round of the 2015 draft. The 21-year-old’s maturation as a pro could be seen in his final year in the Finnish league with Jyvaskyla in 2016-17, where he had 27 points in 59 games and another six points in 15 playoff tilts. With nagging injuries hampering several Jets defencemen, Niku could see action soon.
1. C Warren Foegele – Charlotte Checkers (Carolina Hurricanes)
Just like teammate Valentin Zykov (see above), AHL freshman pivot Warren Foegele can put the biscuit in the basket. Unlike his Russian confrere, Foegele has been more defensively aware, recording a +17 to Zykov’s -15 with the Checkers. Foegele, a grad of the OHL’s Erie Otters and a former third round, 67th overall pick of the Hurricanes, has scored 25 goals and added 16 assists in 61 games so far. It’s been a fairly smooth transition to pro for the 21-year-old former junior star, who registered 63 points in 61 OHL regular season games split between Kingston and Erie, and then fired 13 goals and 13 assists during Erie’s 22-game playoff run last year. He’s a bit of a late bloomer, but like Zykov, a sniper worthy of a call-up in the near future.