Contributed by AJ Cich
Already one month into the year 2010 and fans are foaming at the mouths for all the hockey they can handle. The NHL and AHL seasons have seen some fierce competition, but none of that will compare to how things are going to ramp up for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. In about three weeks’ time, players from all over the world will dawn the colors of their nations in hopes of bringing fame, glory and the elusive gold medal back to their home countries. So in the spirit of the winter games, I decided to focus on some AHL snipers from all over the globe who are doing their clubs and countrymen proud.
Mikael Backlund, C, Abbotsford Heat
Backlund, who originates from Vasteras, Sweden, has been playing very well in his rookie season for the Abbotsford Heat. After winning the silver medal in both the 2008 and 2009 IIHF World Junior Championships with Team Sweden, expectations have been high for Backlund. After being selected 24th overall in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, the Calgary Flames must be happy to see Backlund producing as well as he is. Backlund has 10 goals and 12 assists on the year, and two of those goals were game winners. In terms of statistics, Backlund may not be one of the league leaders in points right now, but the Heat have to believe that this former WHL ‘point a game’ player is working to get to that spot. Backlund was recently called up by the struggling Flames and scored a goal in his second game of the season on Thursday against Phoenix.
Logan Couture, C, Worcester Sharks
Another young gun to be paying attention to, especially if you are a San Jose Sharks fan, is London, Ontario native Couture. He is one of those players that I have had my eye on for quite some time and just waited for the right time to spotlight him. Couture is one of the premiere players in the AHL and he is proving why he was drafted 9th overall in 2007. In his first full year with the Worcester Sharks, Couture has already leads the AHL in points with 18 goals and 26 assists with a +13 rating in the 46 games that the baby Sharks have played this season. He was also named to the 2010 AHL All-Star Classic roster for Team Canada, where he had a goal and an assist. Couture is producing at about a point per game and is only going to improve if he spends more time in the AHL. He is also one of the reasons that the Sharks have been so successful and currently sit in second place in the Atlantic Division. Now the rookie has been called up to play with the big boys in the ‘Shark Tank’. San Jose has already been having an amazing season so far, but adding Couture can only bolster an already All-Star caliber lineup. Even though it may seem far away, I predict that this is Couture’s first and last season with Worcester because he will be a full-time NHL player with San Jose by playoff time this year.
T.J. Hensick, C, Lake Erie Monsters
Last but not least is another center who was named to the 2010 AHL All-Star Classic who also had a goal and an assist in that game. Hensick, an American born sniper who hails from Howell, Michigan, has been Mr. Consistency this year for the Lake Erie Monsters. Despite being drafted 88th overall by the Colorado Avalanche, Hensick has just been sick-nasty in his three years with the Monsters. Like Couture, he is near the top of the AHL leader board in points this season with 10 goals and 27 assists and a +10 rating. The Avs are very lucky to have such depth at their center position because when the injury bug bites, it usually bites hard. Being a former University of Michigan and NCAA First Team All-American, Hensick has the skill to support Colorado during their playoff run this year. He did play in 61 games for the Avs last season, recording 21 points (4g-17a) for a team that struggled immensely. However, Colorado has a long history of developing their young players, which only helps Hensick’s future prospects. Although Hensick has been with the Monsters for three seasons now, expect to see him getting called up a lot more and for longer periods of time in the future.