AHL Notebook: Kassian, Hodgson off to strong starts | Hockey | CBC Sports

Hockey Night in CanadaAHL Notebook: Kassian, Hodgson off to strong starts

Posted: Monday, October 22, 2012 | 01:47 PM

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Canucks farmhand Zack Kassian has benefited from an increased attention to fitness. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images) Canucks farmhand Zack Kassian has benefited from an increased attention to fitness. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

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This week's AHL notebook takes a look at the strong starts of Zack Kassian, Cody Hodgson, Tyler Johnson, Calvin Pickard and Justin Schultz, among others.

The Rochester Americans and Chicago Wolves are not scheduled to meet in the regular season. So unless the NHL lockout concludes or the Wolves and Americans clash in the playoffs, we won't get another chapter in the Cody Hodgson-Zack Kassian story. 

The two young pros will be compared the rest of their careers after they were swapped for each other at the trade deadline last February. The Vancouver Canucks sent the skilled Hodgson to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for the brawn of Kassian in a trade that didn't please every Canucks fanatic or critic.

Kassian's inconsistent play over the final six weeks of the regular season and first round of the playoffs did not help his cause in Vancouver. But with the NHL lockout dragging on, Kassian and Hodgson are in the AHL for the time being and both have started strongly with the Wolves and Americans, respectively.

Hodgson has seven assists in five games playing on one of the highest scoring lines in the AHL with Marcus Folgino (five goals, three assists). Kassian has three goals and four points in five games.

The 21-year-old Kassian was especially sound in weekend games in Abbotsford, B.C., not far from Vancouver. He scored in both games, fought and won in each outing, and by all accounts looks to be skating much better after a summer dedicated to his fitness.

Canucks general manager Mike Gillis had plenty to do with Kassian's improved conditioning. He cajoled his 6-foot-3, 214-pound youngster to spend a week training with Henrik and Daniel Sedin in Vancouver, as well as a three-week stint with Canucks skills coach Glenn Carnegie at the THC Centre in Winnipeg, and another 10-day session at Nike's training centre in Beaverton, Ore.

Not just another Johnson

You may have noticed the lad tied with Foligno for the early AHL goal-scoring lead - both have five goals in five games - is 22-year-old Syracuse Crunch forward Tyler Johnson of Spokane, Wash.

Another smallish undrafted player, championships follow around the 5-foot-9, 165-pound centre, signed by the Tampa Bay Lightning in March 2011. 

As a 17-year-old, he helped the hometown Spokane Chiefs to WHL and Memorial Cup titles in 2007-08. He was named the MVP of the WHL final despite his rookie status.

He also struck gold with the 2010 U.S. junior team in Saskatoon. Last year, he scored 37 goals and 82 points in a combined 89 regular-season and playoff games during the Norfolk Admirals' run to a Calder Cup championship.

Justin (the Hammer) Schultz

The record for goals scored by an AHL defenceman in a single season is 30 by John Slaney in 1999-2000. The record for most goals by a rookie AHL defenceman is 20, also set by Slaney in 1992-93.

If the NHL remains dark, Justin Schultz of West Kelowna, B.C. certainly will be on a season-long chase at Slaney's records. The Oklahoma City Barons' 22-year-old rookie has checked in with four goals in four games and has overshadowed his high-profile teammates Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle.

Schultz notched three goals, an assist and a plus-6 rating in two games last week, earning AHL player of the week honours.

"He has a lot of talent," Nugent-Hopkins told the Daily Oklahoman. "He's so dynamic, but he's also smart. In the defensive zone, he's good at taking them out and getting the pucks out quick. It's all really positive. We're happy to have him, to say the least." 

The Oilers outbid the rest of the league to sign the unrestricted free agent Schultz out of the University of Wisconsin last spring.

Another fine freshman

Keep an eye on the progress of Lake Erie Monsters 20-year-old rookie goalie Calvin Pickard.

Of the netminders with more than one start, the 2010 Colorado Avalanche second-round selection (49th overall) from Winnipeg has two shutouts, leads the AHL in goals-against average (1.01) and save percentage (.969) after three games. Last season, Pickard became the all-time WHL saves leader in his fourth year with the Seattle Thunderbirds.

Pickard's 22-year-old older brother, Chet, was the first-round pick (18th overall) of the Nashville Predators. He's spending this season in goal for Djugarden IF in Stockholm.

Attendance report

There has been only a slight increase in AHL attendance through two weeks of play. The AHL has averaged 5,672 fans in 63 games so far, slightly above the average crowd of 5,638 last season.

The two hot spots over the weekend were in St. John's and Abbotsford.

The St. John's IceCaps played their first two home games of the season and housed their 47th and 48th consecutive sellout crowds of 6,287. The Abbotsford Heat saw a rise in attendance because the Vancouver Canucks' farm club, the Chicago Wolves, were in town and played in front of crowds of 7,046 and 6,871.

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