AHL: Springfield Thunderbirds (33-29-9-5, 7th in Atlantic, Did Not Qualify for Playoffs) TEAM LINEAGE: The Thunderbirds moved to Springfield from Portland, where the Panthers had a one-year affiliation with the Panthers. Prior to that, the Panthers were matches with the San Antonio Rampage for five years, after a six year stint with the Rochester Americans. The Louisville Panthers, Kentucky Thoroughblades, New Haven Beast, Carolina Monarchs, and the IHL’s Cincinnati Cyclones also served as primary sponsor of the Panthers. FREQUENT FLYER CANDIDATES: One possible candidate could be a guy who’s coming over for his first North American pro season and that’s Aleksi Heponiemi. After a stellar WHL career with Swift Current, Heponiemi went to Finland to register almost a point-per-game in 50 games, while leading his team in assists with 30. Also look for Anthony Greco and Dryden Hunt to be on the shuttle up and down the east coast as both looked to build on their time with the Panthers from last season, while trying to fit into a tight roster.
ECHL: The Panthers haven’t had a secondary affiliate since 2015 when they left the Cincinnati Cyclones. They had a closer affiliate in the Florida Everblades for four seasons over five years (one year break in the middle), while the Texas Wildcatters, Augusta Lynx, again with Florida, and the Miami Matadors all had one-year stints as the secondary team for the Panthers. The Port Huron Border Cats of the UHL, the Tallahasse Tiger Sharks of the ECHL, the Detroit Falcons of the UHL, and the Birmingham Bulls of the ECHL were at the start of the Panthers franchise.
AHL: Bakersfield Condors (42-21-3-2, 1st in Pacific, lost in second round) TEAM LINEAGE: The Condors sprung through the ashes of the Oklahoma City Barons during the AHL exodus to the west coast. Prior to that, it was an odd time for the Oilers prospects, as they hit up stops with the Springfield Falcons, Iowa Stars, Hamilton Bulldogs, Edmonton and Toronto Roadrunners, and then back with Hamilton. Though they had the IHL’s Kansas City Blades for a season, they had a strong hold on the Maritimes in Canada with the Cape Breton Oilers, Nova Scotia Oilers, and Moncton Alpines from 1982 until 1996. FREQUENT FLYER CANDIDATES: There’s some flux on the wings, which would leave things open of Kailer Yamamoto and Tyler Benson. Yamamoto is a work in progress and his season last year wasn’t the greatest– which gives Benson an edge, as he was just under a point-per-game player last season with 66 points in 68 games. Caleb Jones could be the best shot on the blue line to be a shuttle player, while centerman Cooper Marody put up 64 points in 58 games with the Condors in his rookie season.
ECHL: Wichita Thunder (29-31-9-3, 5th in Mountain, Did Not Qualify for Playoffs) TEAM LINEAGE: The Thunder got the Oilers affiliation after the Oilers left the Norfolk Admirals, the team that was the former ECHL Condors that the Oilers bought and moved to Virginia to make room for the AHL. The Stockton Thunder was prior to all three of those teams, with the Oilers also making stops with the Greenville Grrrowl, Columbus Cottonmouths, Tallahassee Tiger Sharks, New Orleans Brass, and the Winston-Salem/Wheeling Thunderbirds/Nailers. The IHL was the secondary affiliate for the Oilers from 1979 until 1991 with stops with the Dayton Gems, Milwaukee Admirals, Muskegon Lumberjacks, and Phoenix Roadrunners. NOTABLE GRADUATES: There hasn’t been many graduates from the Thunder…in fact, none that I can see that spent significant time in Wichita. However, former NHLers like Dana Tyrell and Theo Peckham have played in Wichita looking to get another shot at the big time; which didn’t appear to happen in either case.
AHL: Grand Rapids Griffins (38-27-7-4, 4th in Central, lost in first round) TEAM LINEAGE: The Griffins have been the Red Wings’ affiliate for 17 years now, which is the second longest in Red Wings history– the first being the Adirondack Red Wings from 1979 until 1999. Oddly enough, between that 1999-2002 time, the Red Wings shared affiliation with other teams in the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks and Manitoba Moose. Prior to that– it was all over the place like the Kansas City Red Wings, Kansas City Blues, Tidewater Wings, Viriginia Wings, Baltimore Clippers, London (UK) Lions, San Diego Gulls, and Cleveland Barons to name a very few. FREQUENT FLYER CANDIDATES: The Red Wings are very cautious with their prospects, but with a new GM in Steve Yzerman and a rebuild happening; maybe some of these guys will get moved up quicker. Filip Zadina could make the team out of camp, but if not– he will be the first call-up for any injury. Though he missed last season due to injury, Evgeny Svechnikov has some high upside to him, which may make him a desirable mark to shuttle to and from Detroit. The dark horse blue liner could be Vili Saarijarvi, who has taken a while to develop through the system and may get some looks this season.
ECHL: Toledo Walleye (40-23-6-3, 2nd in Central, lost in Kelly Cup final) TEAM LINEAGE: It’ll be the 10th season of affiliation for the Walleye and Red Wings, which the Red Wings third time in the Toledo market, as they had the Storm as a secondary affiliate from 1991 until 1999 and then in 2000 until 2007. There were also stops with the Louisiana IceGators, Jacksonville Bullets, Detroit Falcons, Flint Spirits, and Johnstown Wings to name some of their stops. NOTABLE GRADUATES: Among the graduates many would know, Luke Glendening was one of the bigger names to move onward, as is Petr Mrazek. Brian Lashoff and Tom McCollum also toiled through the system to get to the pros from Toledo, while players like TJ Hensick have used Toledo as a place to play at the sunset of their career.
AHL: Texas Stars (37-31-4-4, 6th in Central, Did Not Qualify for Playoffs) TEAM LINEAGE: It’s been ten years since the Dallas Stars moved their AHL team to the Lone Star State to be much closer to the parents. Before then, they went to Iowa for three seasons after a split affiliation with the Hamilton Bulldogs and Houston Aeros. Prior to that, the AHL edition of the Utah Grizzlies were the affiliate after they had their last year in the IHL. The Stars were all about the IHL, as Utah were preceded by Michigan K-Wings/Kalamazoo Wings. FREQUENT FLYER CANDIDATES: The Stars are jam-packed on the blueline, which might give them plenty of flexibility for bringing guys up to show off for trade purposes. That means the sighting of Julius Honka or Gavin Bayreuther to see if they can hang with the big club or maybe show off enough to get dealt out of the system, though the former could be dealt due to the cap number game.
ECHL: Idaho Steelheads (41-25-4-2, 2nd in Mountain, lost in second round) TEAM LINEAGE: The Steelheads have been with the Stars since 2003 (minus the 2004-05 season) and only prior to that, the Dayton Bombers were the secondary affiliate from 1993 until 2000. During the Steelheads tenure, the Stars also went to the CHL for affiliation with the Tulsa Oilers and Allen Americans. NOTABLE GRADUATES: Some graduates include Richard Clune, BJ Crombeen, Justin Dowling, and Jay Beagle– who used his short time with the Steelheads to kick-start his championship run of the Kelly Cup, Calder Cup, and Stanley Cup.
AHL: Cleveland Monsters (37-29-8-2, 4th in North, lost in second round) TEAM LINEAGE: As one of the new kids, the Jackets don’t have much of a lineage for their primary affiliates. While it took forever to get the Monsters on board, it only makes sense to keep the prospect within reasonable distance. Prior to Cleveland, the Springfield Falcons served as the Jackets’ affiliate for five seasons and before that, the Syracuse Crunch were the Jackets first affiliate and lasted 10 years with the Jackets. FREQUENT FLYER CANDIDATES: The Jackets will give Eric Robinson every chance to make the team this season, but his size could be the only real upside, as his offensive output in his first pro season didn’t set the world on fire. Another inconsistent big-man is Kevin Stenlund, who had 15 goals in his first North American season, but couldn’t balance his defense, as well as not finding consistency finding any spark offensively.
ECHL: The Blue Jackets don’t have an ECHL affiliate and having had one since the end of the 2015-16 season when they had the Kalamazoo Wings as their secondary affiliate. The Jackets have been all over the map for secondary affiliates with the Evansville IceMen, Chicago Express, Fort Wayne Komets, Gwinnett Gladiators, Johnstown Chiefs, Elmira Jackals, and Dayton Bombers.
AHL: Colorado Eagles (36-27-4-1, 4th in Pacific, lost in first round) TEAM LINEAGE: In their first year of the AHL, the Eagles will probably stick around as the primary affiliate for a while, especially since– you know– they’re in the same state as their parent club. Previous to the Eagles, the Avalanche had their top prospects with the San Antonio Rampage, Lake Erie Monsters, Albany River Rats, Lowell Lock Monsters, Hershey Bears, and the Cornwall Aces FREQUENT FLYER CANDIDATES: With the number of signings and trades made, the Avs are deep as it is– that’s going to make it harder for someone like AJ Greer to crack the opening night roster, but will make him a candidate for the shuttle. Logan O’Connor will be a dark horse to be a shuttle player down the middle, but he could definitely use a lot more time in the AHL before getting too familiar with the Avalanche line-depth.
ECHL: Utah Grizzlies (37-26-4-5, 3rd in Mountain, lost in first round) TEAM LINEAGE: The Grizzlies were another first-year affiliate for the Avalanche, though it’s only because the Eagles moved up to the AHL after being the Avs’ secondary affiliation for two seasons. The Avs split between the ECHL and CHL when the latter was an option. Prior to the Eagles, the Fort Wayne Komets were the secondary affiliates, with the Denver Cutthroats, Tulsa Oilers, Charlotte Checkers, Johnstown Chiefs, Arizona Sundogs and San Diego Gulls played the role of starting point for future Avs. NOTABLE GRADUATES: A couple of graduates from the ECHL Grizzlies include Mikko Koskinen, Aaron Dell, Micheal Haley– all who started their careers there, while the likes of Brandon Yip and Richard Jackman ended their North American careers there.
AHL: Rockford IceHogs (35-31-4-6, 7th in Central, Did Not Qualify for Playoffs) TEAM LINEAGE: Since 2007, the IceHogs have been serving their in-state parent as their primary affiliate, though the Blackhawks had a tendancy to use other leagues over the AHL for their primary affiliate. Aside from Rockford and previous to them, the Norfolk Admirals; the Hawks used teams in the IHL like the Indianapolis Ice and Saginaw Hawks, as well as teams in the CHL– including the Dallas Black Hawks and St. Louis Braves as their primary affiliates from the 1960s until 2000. They had spot AHL affiliations with the Portland Pirates (1998-99), Nova Scotia Oilers (1985-87), Springfield Indians (1982-84) and New Brunswick Hawks (1978-82). Before that, the Buffalo Bisons were their AHL affiliate from 1954 until 1966. With being an “Original Six” team, the Hawks had many amateur teams in the beginning, as well as teams from the WHL and USHL when they were pro leagues. FREQUENT FLYER CANDIDATES: While a change of scenery could be a good thing, Alex Nylander may be on the shuttle plenty with his new squad, as he did get better in his second AHL season opposed to his first. Nylander will be in a fight with Dylan Sikura, who himself is in a make-or-break season– as he was a shuttler last season during the Hawks rough season of injury. Collin Delia is the obviously choice depending upon Corey Crawford’s health.
ECHL: Indy Fuel (35-32-2-3, 5th in Central, Did Not Qualify for Playoffs) TEAM LINEAGE: While the Fuel have been the secondary affiliate for the Blackhawks for five seasons, the length of their secondary with the Toledo Walleye (2009-2014), the times before that were very one-and-done for the Hawks and secondary affiliates. The Fresno Falcons, Greenville Grrrowl, Pensacola Ice Pilots, Roanoke Express, Jackson Bandits, and Hampton Roads Admirals were their all their secondary affiliates from 1999 until 2009. NOTABLE GRADUATES: Delia has been the standout graduate of this young franchise, making his presence known with the Hawks last season, while the only other notable would be Justin Holl– who started his career in Indy before leaving the Hawks organization to sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
AHL: Charlotte Checkers (51-17-7-1, 1st in Atlantic, Won Calder Cup) TEAM LINEAGE: The defending Calder Cup Champions have been alongside their state-parent for the past decade, which makes sense for call-ups and to make the entire state familiar with the Hurricanes present and future. Prior to the Checkers being moved up to the AHL, the Canes had two affiliates with the best names in minor league hockey with the Albany River Rats and the Lowell Lock Monsters. From 1999 to 2001, the Canes actually went to the IHL for their primary affiliation with the Cincinnati Cyclones, when their previous AHL affiliate– the Beast of New Haven (and their gaudy logo)– were the team’s first affiliate from 1997 until 1999. FREQUENT FLYER CANDIDATES: Newly signed Chase Priskie could very well make a big impact on the blueline in Charlotte that he could be back and from from the Queen City to the Triangle. Martin Necas spent some time in the big leagues last year and could see more frequency, should he continue on his solid campaign from last season. Alex Nedeljkovic is primed for another big year in the AHL after his tremendous season in 2018-19…that is if he doesn’t make the team outright from camp.
ECHL: Greenville Swamp Rabbits (25-41-3-3, 7th in South, Did Not Qualify for Playoffs) TEAM LINEAGE: This will be the first season with the Canes and Rabbits being together. This after a solid 18-year run with the Florida Everblades, who helped bring along the aforementioned Nedeljkovic, though many of those years they split affiliation with Tampa Bay. During the 2001-02 season, the Greensboro Generals were the secondary Canes affiliate, while the Richmond Renegades were the first secondary affiliate in the team’s history. NOTABLE GRADUATES: There hasn’t been many graduates of the Swamp Rabbits/Road Warriors’ tribe when they were with the New York Rangers, though goalies like Cam Talbot and Brandon Halverson have played in Greenville prior to their appearances in the NHL.
AHL: Stockton Heat (31-31-4-2, 6th in Pacific, Did Not Qualify for playoffs) TEAM LINEAGE: One of the five teams that moved to California, previous to this– the Flames have had quite the history of affiliates in the previous 15 years. Stockton was moved from Adirondack, though that was only a one-year stop for the Flames and the Adirondack Flames. Before that, the only Western team in the AHL was the Abbotsford Heat from 2009 until 2014 and previous to that– Quad City, Omaha, and Lowell after the 10 seasons they spent in Saint John, New Brunswick. FREQUENT FLYER CANDIDATES: His prolific scoring in the AHL has Dillon Dube on the radar for the Flames, but with the depth they have in front of him; his better than point-per-game average may not be enough for him to crack the opening night roster, but it’ll be hard to ignore if he can keep that pace. With the injury to Juuso Valimaki, defense got a little more wide open. Should he adjust to the North American game, Alexander Yelesin could see some shuttle time by mid-season to help out with more depth in the show.
ECHL: Kansas City Mavericks (36-30-4-2, 4th in Mountain, lost in first round) TEAM LINEAGE: The Mavericks and Flames marriage happened after the Flames moved on from the Adirondack Thunder– the replacement for the Stockton Thunder. After a long-term secondary affiliation with the Johnstown Chiefs, Las Vegas Wranglers, and Utah Grizzlies; Calgary bounced around the ECHL with Alaska Aces, Colorado Eagles, and Adirondack before hunkering down in Kansas City. NOTABLE GRADUATES: The only two graduates to the NHL the ECHL Mavericks have turned out have been Tanner Fritz and Maxime Lagace. Fritz has been shuttled from Bridgeport to Long Island the past two seasons, but his first half-season with the Mavericks got him the permanent call-up to Bridgeport. Lagace got his start in Kansas City, as well, and has gone on to be the third goalie for the Vegas Golden Knights; including helping out when all the goalies went down during their inaugural season.
AHL: Rochester Americans (46-23-5-2, 2nd in North, lost in first round) TEAM LINEAGE: This is the second go-round for the Sabres and the Rochester Americans. The Sabres returned to Rochester in 2011, but prior to that– they spent 1979 until 2008 with the Americans in one of the longest affiliations in history. In between Rochester stints, the Sabres put their top young players in Portland with the Pirates, while before their first landing in Rochester, the Hershey Bears and Cincinnati Swords were the top affiliate of the Sabres, though the Salt Lake Golden Eagles of the old WHL was the first Sabres affiliate in history. FREQUENT FLYER CANDIDATES: While Viktor Olofsson could make the team out of camp on the mid-six at the left wing (though he could be fighing CJ Smith for that spot), Rasmus Asplund could have trouble trying to break through the center depth of the Sabres– not only the ones they have now, but the ones they have coming up, as well. If all goes well for Arttu Ruotsalainen in his transition to North America, he could see some time on the shuttle back and forth.
ECHL: Cincinnati Cyclones (51-13-5-3, 1st in Central, lost in second round) TEAM LINEAGE: While they started in the ECHL, the Cyclones really made their mark in the IHL before coming back to the ECHL in 2002. However, with the Sabres, they’ve only been around two seasons. Prior to that, the Elmira Jackals, BC Icemen, South Carolina Stingrays, St. Thomas Wildcats, Erie Panthers, and Winston-Salem Thunderbirds were some of the secondary affiliates for the Sabres. NOTABLE GRADUATE: One of the more notable graduates of the Cyclones is David Desharnais, who played his first pro season in Cincinnati and put up 106 points in 68 games, while also potting 33 points in 22 playoff games, helping the Cyclones to the 2008 Kelly Cup. Other alums include Byron Froese and Cory Conacher both got their early career going in Cincinnati.