Is there any question now that the AHL is the top developmental league for the NHL?

No less than 560 players with AHL experience were among the 800-odd NHL players during the 1995-96 season. The Edmonton Oilers and Ottawa Senators led the way, with former AHL players making up 83.9 per cent of each of their rosters, according to the AHL public relations department.

Others in the top five: the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim (80.6 per cent), Calgary Flames (78.9) and New York Islanders (78.6).

This season, the top scorers on many teams are AHL graduates. So far, the Buffalo Sabres have the most with nine in their top 10. Edmonton, Boston and Hartford all have seven former AHL players among their top 10 scorers.

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HISTORICAL TRIP: The Ottawa Senators, making a pitch for their first appearance in the Stanley Cup playoffs, have already guaranteed themselves a berth in the ``finals.''

On March 22, the Senators' Alumni Hockey Club will stage a reenactment of the ``Challenge of the Century,'' when the Dawson City Nuggets traveled thousands of miles from the Yukon to challenge the Senators for the Stanley Cup title in 1905.

Only two games were played, and the Ottawa Silver Seven won both, including a 23-2 rout in Game 2 _ the most goals ever in a Stanley Cup final game.

A team representing Dawson City began what the NHL called ``a trip through history'' last weekend. The travel schedule: Whitehorse to Skagway, Alaska. From Skagway, the Nuggets will board a ferry that will take them to Bellingham, Wash. From Bellingham, it's on to Vancouver. Then a trip by train will take them to stops in Edmonton, Winnipeg and Toronto before arriving in Ottawa.

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FATHER KNOWS BEST: New Jersey's Dave Andreychuk nearly walked away from hockey at one point in his life.

``I didn't have a great year my first junior year,'' he said. ``I was ready to go home. I hadn't played in eight or 10 games.''

Andreychuk's father told him, ``Give it another chance.''

``Thank God he did,'' Andreychuk said.

Now, 15 NHL seasons later, Andreychuk is closing in on the 500-goal mark. Only 24 players in NHL history have reached that plateau.

``It seems like a long time ago that that happened,'' Andreychuk said.

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BREAKING AWAY: The NHL season will finish sometime in June with the end of the Stanley Cup playoffs. But the NHL won't just stop there promoting its game.

For the third straight season, the NHL will be on the road, with NHL Breakout '97 visiting 20 cities in North America. By the time the tour ends in Los Angeles on Oct. 19, some half-million participants and spectators are expected to take part.

NHL Breakout will feature competitive tournament play with interacitve hockey activities, NHL player appearances, instruction and entertainment.

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ON FIRE: Minor leaguer to watch: Brian Wiseman of the AHL's St. John's Maple Leafs. Wiseman recently set a franchise record with a consecutive point streak of 19 games (12 goals, 22 assists for 34 points).

End adv weekend editions March 8-9