The No. 1 reason I follow what's happening in the AHL is to see how up-and-coming prospects are faring. There's basically a direct link between how well players produce and play in the minors to how they'll do in the NHL.
The AHL announced its all-rookie team today, which is a good place to start if you're looking for NHL players of the future. Mattias Karlsson seems a lock to start in Ottawa next year, for one:
2008-09 AHL All-Rookie Team
Goal: Nathan Lawson, Bridgeport Sound Tigers (30gp, 18-9-2, 2.13gaa, .929sv%)
Defence: Mattias Karlsson, Binghamton Senators (67gp, 8+41=49pts.)
Defence: Yannick Weber, Hamilton Bulldogs (66gp, 14+27=41pts.)
Forward: Justin Abdelkader, Grand Rapids Griffins (71gp, 22+27=49pts.)
Forward: Nathan Gerbe, Portland Pirates (50gp, 26+24=50pts.)
Forward: Tim Kennedy, Portland Pirates (66gp, 16+43=59pts.)
A few of these guys saw time in the NHL this season, but none made a major impact.
Lawson's the oldest of the bunch at 25, and one of the more interesting stories. He played in the AJHL in Alberta two years before going undrafted and heading to Alaska-Anchorage of the NCAA for three more. He played exclusively in the ECHL last year, but has sparkling numbers for the Baby Isles after they ran through a bunch of their minor-league goalies.
Abdelkader and Kennedy, meanwhile, starred together for Michigan State. Abdelkader's one of Detroit's latest recruits, while Kennedy's in the Sabres system after originally being drafted by Washington. The Caps traded him for a sixth-rounder a month after drafting him.
Gerbe's the guy I'm rooting for. Anyone that's 5-foot-5 who makes an impact in pro hockey has my respect.