Joel Auerbach - Getty Images
AHL training camps are underway, and with the regular season set to begin next weekend, my predictions on how forward lines will shake out.
While the Panthers rank first on both Hockey Prospectus and Hockey's Future, the Rampage won't be as stocked with young high upside talent as division rival Oklahoma City Barons (affiliate of the Edmonton Oilers) and the Adirondack Phantoms (Philadelphia Flyers). What the Rampage do have is a mix of young talent and AHL veterans; a combination Rampage general manager/Florida assistant GM Mike Santos hopes will eventually bring a Calder Cup championship to San Antonio.
Here's a preview of what I believe the lines will ultimately turn out for the San Antonio Rampage this season:
One of the big additions, and I do mean big, Jean-Francois Jacques brings a 6'3" frame and 215 AHL games of experience to the Rampage. Jacques has scored 143 points over seven seasons, scoring 20+ goals twice (in both his AHL seasons where he played more than 40 games). The Montreal native may not have much of a future in the NHL (17 points in 166 games with 197 penalty minutes), but he is a quality top-six AHL forward, who can play in all situations, much like Wellman, a Brentwood, CA native who is a career 0.83 point per game player in the AHL, and he has his sights on a NHL roster spot. Wellman has experience in the Calder Cup Finals, and is one of the safe bets as the club's leading scorer down the stretch.
Both forwards will help Drew Shore, who has only 17 games of AHL experience, nine of which came in the playoffs. Shore was the captain of the Denver Pioneers and ranked fourth in NCAA scoring (22-31-53) last season. Wherever Shore plays, expect him to get healthy powerplay minutes as well.
Howden cut his teeth in the AHL last season, going scoreless in four playoff games with San Antonio. A 0.98 point per game player with the Moose Jaw Warriors, Howden is one of the best skaters in the organization, and should see plenty of powerplay and shorthanded minutes this season. While I believe he could play on the first line, Rampage head coach Chuck Weber may want an experienced center setting him up. The oldest forward on the roster heading into this year, Greg Rallo was tied for second in goals with the team a season ago, and is a 0.51 point per game player in 322 AHL games, spanning six campaigns.
Veteran Greg Rallo has back-to-back 20+ goal seasons, and three straight with 40+ points. Similar sentiments can be stated about Andre Deveaux (100+ PIM in each of his eight AHL seasons), a 0.43 point per game player in 476 AHL games, the Freeport, BAH native is a very physical power forward who can protect the young prospects, which is something Howden might need after missing time with two concussions last season.
John McFarland looks to build on continued success in the OHL, and shake off the bust label some fans have begun to hang on him. It's been said that McFarland does play better with better teammates, which could work out rather well for James Wright. Acquired mid-season from Tampa Bay, Wright was very solid in 54 appearances with the Rampage, scoring 28 points. While offense may not be his game, the physical forward has a one-way deal next season with the Panthers, and adding to his 0.51 AHL career points per game could help his chances in the NHL.
Jon Rheault has spent the last three seasons with the Abbotsford Heat (Calgary Flames), collecting back-to-back 30+ point seasons. While he doesn't drop the gloves as often as Deveaux or Jacques, he isn't afraid to stand up for his teammates and should help the penalty kill.
Last season's enforcer, Eric Selleck (pictured above with Florida) spent 204 minutes in the penalty box while scoring nine points. It's not unfair to suggest he'll repeat these numbers, as Selleck doesn't offer much in terms of offense, despite being a good skater. Scott Timmins hasn't developed much since his junior days where he participated in three-straight Memorial Cups. He doesn't show much NHL promise, but he should provide some depth scoring for the Rampage.
Francois Bouchard is the only roster player who has won a Calder Cup championship. There's a chance the Sherbrooke, QC native can become the 50 point scorer he once was during his Calder Cup year, helping both Selleck and Timmins rise above their "energy player" roles, but that's a very small chance.
Bound for Cincinnati (ECHL)
- Josh Birkholz led the Everett Silvertips in scoring last season as an over aged junior, but a press-box seat might be the best he can do for now in the AHL, with the talent the Rampage have. He's currently signed to an AHL deal.
- Jonathan Hazen played 48 games for the Cyclones, finishing seventh in team scoring with 31 points. It's safe to say, he'll return.
- The other piece in the AJ Jenks deal, Mattias Lindstrom comes to North America after being loaned to Tingsryds AIF last season. Lindstrom has spent his entire career in Sweden, so adjusting to North American ice in an easier league might be best for him.
- Acquired in the Jack Skille trade, David Pacan helped the Niagara IceDogs as an over aged junior. Like Birkholz, he's signed to an AHL deal.
- Justin Vaive played 40 games with Cincinnati scoring 18 points and zero points in 15 games with the Rampage. One of the tallest players in pro hockey at 6'6", Vaive is a safe bet to return to the ECHL next season.
- Garrett Wilson lead Cincinnati in games played with 63 and was six in scoring with 35 points. The Elmvale, ON native played 11 games with the Rampage, scoring only a goal.
The Rampage play their first preseason game of 2012 this evening on the road vs. the Texas Stars (8 p.m. ET).