AHL Preview: Atlantic Division

Inside Hockey previews the 2012-2013 AHL season this year with team by team previews on all 30 teams. Below is the Atlantic Division preview for the American Hockey League.

St. John’s IceCaps

NHL Affiliate: Winnipeg Jets

2011-12 Season Recap: The St. John’s IceCaps had a great inaugural season last year, winning the Atlantic Division in the Eastern Conference and finishing as the number two seed in the Eastern Conference. St. John’s was led by offensively by four talented players who contributed at least forty points in the regular season. Spencer Machacek, Paul Postma, Jason DeSantis and Jason King all reached the forty plus plateau, bringing strong offensive depth to the IceCaps lineup every night. St. John’s IceCaps goalie, Eddie Pasquale led the team in games played in net, appearing in 38 games, posting 23 wins to go with a 2.41 goals against average and a .911 save percentage. The IceCaps could not get past the eventual Calder Cup champion Norfolk Admirals however, falling in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Key Additions: Forward Derick Whitmore, defense-man Dean Arsene and goalie Mark Dekainch.

Players to Watch: Forwards Patrice Cormier, Carl Klingberg and defensemen Paul Postma and Zach Redmond

Lockout Additions: Forward Alexander Burmistrov

Season Prediction: Expect a second straight Atlantic Division title in St. John’s, due to strong offensive depth and steady play in goal from Eddie Pasquale. Without many competitors in the Atlantic Division, the IceCaps won’t have much trouble separating themselves from their division opponents. There is definitely a Calder Cup contender in St. John’s.

Manchester Monarchs

NHL Affiliate: Los Angeles Kings

2011-12 Season Recap: The Kings AHL affiliate, snuck into the AHL playoffs last season, but fell to the eventual Calder Cup champions and number one seed Norfolk Admirals. Manchester was a victim to late season call-ups, losing Dwight King, Jordan Nolan and Slava Voynov all to the NHL playoffs. Martin Jones earned time in the Monarchs goal, recording an 18-7-3-2 record in 41 games played. The 22 year old net minder posted a 2.60 goals against average to go with a .919 save percentage.

Key Additions: Defense-man Andrew Bodnarchuck

Players to Watch: Defense-man Thomas Hickey, Forwards Linden Vey and Brandon Kozun

Lockout Additions: Forwards Andrei Loktionov and Jordan Nolan

Season Prediction: The Monarchs lost two big parts of their team do to free agency, losing goalie Jeff Zatkoff to Wilkes-Barre Scranton and leading scorer Justin Azevedo who bolted to play overseas. Manchester will have a tough time competing with the IceCaps and Worcester Sharks, but could squeeze in as the eighth seed for the second straight year.

Portland Pirates

NHL Affiliate: Phoenix Coyotes

2011-12 Season Recap: The Pirates finished third in the Atlantic Division last season, failing to reach the Eastern Conference playoffs. Portland didn’t do itself any favors regardless of their additions, losing AHL all-star Brett Sterling to the Chicago Wolves.

Key Additions: Forwards Joel Rechlicz, Chris Conner, Rob Klinkhammer and goalie Chad Johnson.

Players to Watch: Forwards Chris Conner and Andy Miele

Lockout Additions: Oliver Eckman-Larsson

Season Prediction: The Pirates added some good forward depth along with a quality AHL goalie in Chad Johnson, but just don’t have enough to compete in the Eastern Conference. Having Larsson join the Pirates due to the NHL lockout will help the Portland blue line, but don’t expect this club to be playing in late April.

Providence Bruins

NHL Affiliate: Boston Bruins

2011-12 Season Recap: Providence finished fourth in the Atlantic Division, failing to reach the postseason in the Eastern Conference. They added forward Chris Bourque to an AHL contract due to NHL lockout, bringing a veteran AHL all-star forward and power play specialist to their lineup.

Key Additions: Forwards Chris Bourque and Christian Hanson

Players to Watch: Forwards Jared Knight, Chris Bourque and defense-man Garnet Exelby

Lockout Additions: Forward Jordan Caron

Season Prediction: Providence fans should expect the same from the Bruins this season. Even though they added some solid AHL talent, the Bruins won’t be able to move up the ranks in the Atlantic Division. They could be a dark horse to make the playoffs, but with uncertainty in goal don’t expect anything special from the black and gold.

Worcester Sharks

NHL Affiliate: San Jose Sharks

2011-12 Season Recap: The Sharks had a dismal year last season in Worcester, finishing with a 31-33-4-8 record and in the last slot of the Atlantic Division in the Eastern Conference. However the AHL affiliate of the San Jose Sharks added some quality AHL talent and could be a playoff contender in the upcoming season. Even though they added marquee talent, a team isn’t built a winner on paper. I don’t believe Worcester will have a spot in the Calder Cup playoffs this season.

Key Additions: Forwards Jon Matsumoto and Bracken Kearns

Players to Watch: Defense-men Danny Groulx, Matt Irwin and forward Jon Matsumoto

Lockout Additions: No key lockout additions

Season Prediction: Worcester added some fine talent, but will have a tough time competing for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Sharks could compete with the Providence Bruins for the third spot in the Atlantic Division, but will come a bit short in reaching the final seed in the Eastern Conference.

You can follow Matthew on twitter @m_speck and email him at mspeck21@yahoo.com with any questions or comments.

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