AHL Atlantic Division Outlook
The Atlantic Division’s four playoff teams last season were separated by only nine points. In other words, the margin for error is razor-thin. A few big names either changed teams or cracked the NHL, but plenty of new additions will likely make the postseason race as tight as it’s ever been. Here is a quick look at how the Lehigh Valley Phantoms intend to defend their title and the other teams will try to take it away:
Bridgeport Sound Tigers
Last season: 36-32-5-3 (missed playoffs)
Affiliate: New York Islanders
Games against WBS: 8 Bridgeport has been at the fringe of the playoff picture the last two years and hopes the addition of perennial all-star Chris Bourque, who joins brother Ryan, is the key to making the next leap. Chris Gibson and Jeremy Smith are as good a goaltending tandem as you’ll find. The team still lacks dynamic scorers, but Mike Sislo brings offensive pedigree.
Last season: 46-26-1-3 (third place, lost in division final)
Affiliate: Carolina Hurricanes
Games against WBS: 4 Dynamic offensive talents Warren Foegele and Lucas Wallmark made the Hurricanes out of camp, but Charlotte still boasts Andrew Poturalski and former Penguin Greg McKegg. Alex Nedeljkovic is one of the best goaltenders in the division. Hard to see the Checkers maintaining their pace from the end of last year, but they’ll be good once again.
Hartford Wolf Pack
Last season: 34-33-6-3 (missed playoffs)
Affiliate: New York Rangers
Games against WBS: 6 With goaltender Alexandar Georgiev backing up Henrik Lundqvist in New York, Dustin Tokarski and Marek Mazanec form a pretty solid tandem. First-round pick Lias Andersson, who famously threw his silver medal into the stands at the World Junior Championship, helps form a solid offensive group with players like Peter Holland and Cole Schneider. Will be competitive every night.
Last season: 30-37-4-5 (missed playoffs)
Affiliate: Washington Capitals
Games against WBS: 12 It’s definitely a transitional year for Hershey, which lost Bourque and welcomes new coach Spencer Carbery. Goaltender Pheonix Copley is getting a chance to back up Braden Holtby in Washington, but that opens the door for 2015 first-round draft pick Ilya Samsonov. After giving up at least a point in all 12 games last season, they should be better against the Penguins.
Lehigh Valley Phantoms
Last season: 47-19-5-5 (first place, lost in conference final)
Affiliate: Philadelphia Flyers
Games against WBS: 12 The offensive weapons are there, led by 70-point forward Phil Varone and 30-goal scorer Greg Carey. Carter Hart is one of the top goaltending prospects in hockey at 20 years old. The Phantoms and Penguins play six times over the final month and a half, meaning division positioning could definitely be at stake.
Last season: 45-26-1-3 (fourth place, lost in division semifinal)
Affiliate: Boston Bruins
Games against WBS: 6 As long as they have Penguins nemesis Zane McIntyre in net, the Bruins are a threat. If you’re looking for a breakout offensive player, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson is a good choice in his second season. With other names like Jordan Szwarz and Peter Cehlarik also back, Providence is definitely a contender to win the division.
Last season: 32-37-5-2 (missed playoffs)
Affiliate: Florida Panthers
Games against WBS: 6 All-star winger Alex Grenier is out, but forwards Dryden Hunt and Anthony Greco combined for 52 goals last season. The big addition is goaltender Michael Hutchinson, who had a sparkling 2.08 GAA with Manitoba last season. This is a sleeper team that, if not in the playoff picture, will at least make it tough for everyone else.
— TYLER PICCOTTI