The Charlotte Checkers vs. the rest of the AHL

In case you haven’t heard, the Charlotte Checkers have one the best offenses in the American Hockey League. Even after being shutout by the Texas Stars last night, they still have scored more goals than any other team in the league and have been held to three or fewer goals in only five games this season. They are also the only team in the AHL to currently have at least five players with five or more goals, so the scoring has been relatively spread out amongst the forward corps. The NHL and the Hurricanes might be MIA for the time being, but the Checkers are at least doing their job of keeping hockey interesting in the Carolinas.

The start the Checkers are off to has gotten a lot of fans excited about some of the Canes younger prospects, namely Zach Boychuk who has been a point-per-game player for most of the year, but Charlotte isn’t the only team in the league with a high-powered offense. The NHL’s absence has led to there being a massive talent increase across the entire AHL and many teams are enjoying hot starts thanks to that. Among those teams are the Abbotsford Heat, Springfield Falcons, Oklahoma City Barons, Grand Rapids Griffins and many more.

I’ve gone over my concerns about the success of the Checkers offense not being sustainable in the long-run because of inflated shooting percentages, but what’s to say that they are the only team going through this? For all we know, there are just as many players on Abbotsford, Oklahoma City and Springfield with high shooting percentages that can’t be expected to stay where they currently are. Seeing how the Checkers compare to them in that aspect should give us a good idea of how good this team really is.

In addition to that, it would also be nice to know how the Checkers compare to the rest of the AHL in terms of how much of their production is coming from players who have a chance to make the NHL relatively soon. There might be a lot of NHL talent in the AHL right now but there are still quite a number of players who will likely spend the majority of their careers in the minors and gaudy numbers from those players ultimately do not mean much for an organization’s prospect pool and future. Seeing how the Checkers rank in this department will give us a better idea of how much their success means to the Hurricanes organization.

After the jump, we will take a look at where the Checkers stand in both areas.

A few weeks ago, I said that Justin Faulk’s production was easily the most impressive thing about Charlotte’s season thus far because he has been able to be among the AHL’s leading point-getters despite playing fewer games than the rest of the league. Faulk is still clicking at above a point-per-game rate with 15 points over 13 games which may not sound like much because it’s still very early in the year, but those numbers are very good for a defensemen. Justin Schultz and Chad Billins are the only other blue-liners who have been able to score at point-per-game rate and the former is currently leading the AHL in scoring.

We know that Faulk’s success thus far is legitimate but what about the rest of the Checkers? To see where Charlotte’s top-scorers stand, I examined the top 100 scorers in the AHL and took note of their age, shooting percentage, shot rate and NHL equivalency value. This is a lot of info to take in all at once, so I’m going to break it down into different pieces to make things easier on the eyes. To start things off, let’s take a look at the Top 20 scorers and where Charlotte’s top dogs stand overall.

AHL Top 20 Scorers

Player Team Age GP G A PTS SOG SH% S/G NHLE
Justin Schultz Oklahoma City Barons 22 15 8 13 21 45 17.8% 3.00 9
Jordan Eberle Oklahoma City Barons 22 15 6 13 19 39 15.4% 2.60 9
Gustav Nyquist Grand Rapids Griffins 23 14 8 9 17 42 19.0% 3.00 8
Cory Conacher Syracuse Crunch 22 13 8 9 17 35 22.9% 2.69 8
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins Oklahoma City Barons 19 14 7 10 17 37 18.9% 2.64 8
T.J. Hensick Peoria Rivermen 26 15 5 12 17 26 19.2% 1.73 8
Brayden Schenn Adirondack Phantoms 19 14 8 8 16 55 14.5% 3.93 7
Jonathan Audy-Marchessault Springfield Falcons 21 14 5 10 15 50 10.0% 3.57 7
Nino Niederreiter Bridgeport Sound Tigers 19 13 8 7 15 42 19.0% 3.23 7
Justin Faulk Charlotte Checkers 20 13 3 12 15 35 8.6% 2.69 7
Marcus Foligno Rochester Americans 21 14 6 9 15 36 16.7% 2.57 7
Cam Atkinson Springfield Falcons 23 14 6 8 14 54 11.1% 3.86 6
T.J. Brennan Rochester Americans 23 15 7 7 14 55 12.7% 3.67 6
Zach Boychuk Charlotte Checkers 22 15 9 5 14 47 19.1% 3.13 6
Tyler Johnson Syracuse Crunch 22 13 9 5 14 40 22.5% 3.08 6
Kyle Palmieri Norfolk Admirals 21 14 6 8 14 43 14.0% 3.07 6
Alexandre Bolduc Portland Pirates 27 14 9 5 14 38 23.7% 2.71 6
Kris Newbury Connecticut Whale 30 12 5 9 14 31 16.1% 2.58 6
Sven Baertschi Abbotsford Heat 19 14 6 8 14 36 16.7% 2.57 6
Peter Holland Norfolk Admirals 21 14 7 7 14 34 20.6% 2.43 6

The Checkers have two players in the Top 20 in Justin Faulk and Zach Boychuk and while both are still very young, Boychuk is about the same age as the majority of players on this list (22-23). Boychuk’s shooting percentage is also pretty high overall, but if you look at the other players in the AHL who have the same amount of goals as him, Boychuk’s 19.1% shooting percentage is actually somewhat low in comparison. It’s still fairly high overall and will probably come down sooner or later, but it isn’t as ridiculous as some may have previously thought. Boychuk’s shot rate is also very strong as only five players on this list are posting a higher rate than him. It’s also worth pointing out that Faulk and Schultz are the only two defensemen on the entire list.

Faulk & Boychuk’s production in the AHL thus far would still equate to some modest point totals in the NHL going by the standard equivalency value because the AHL is still a minor league in the grand scheme of things. The NHLE values aren’t always perfect, but they do a good job of showing the difficulty of certain leagues and the AHL is considered less difficult to play in than other leagues around the world. This is why a lot of people do not project high-scorers in the AHL to carry over their production to the big leagues unless they are blowing away their competition. The only players who seem to be doing that right now are those at the top of the list with Justin Schultz leading the way. I’m not sure how different things would be this year since there is a higher level of talent playing there, but I would assume that the AHL’s equivalency value would be similar with most of the NHL talent opting to play overseas during the lockout instead.

While point totals are generally what the NHL equivalency values are based on, they can be misleading because goals and points are largely driven by luck. This is why you have to look beyond those two stats to determine who is successful at any level of hockey. Unfortunately, the amount of stats available on the AHL’s site are limited, but shots on goal and shooting percentage are available, so one thing we can do is look at which players are producing the most offense and who is been on the receiving end of good/bad luck so far this year. I’ve mentioned that Jerome Samson of the Checkers hasn’t gotten much luck despite being Charlotte’s best player in terms of getting shots on net. Are there any players who are in a similar boat to Samson? Let’s take a look at the Top-20 shot rates in the AHL to find out. 

AHL Top 20 Shots per Game Rate

Player Team Age GP G A PTS SOG SH% S/G
Brayden Schenn Adirondack Phantoms 19 14 8 8 16 55 14.5% 3.93
Cam Atkinson Springfield Falcons 23 14 6 8 14 54 11.1% 3.86
T.J. Brennan Rochester Americans 23 15 7 7 14 55 12.7% 3.67
Eric Tangradi Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 23 15 9 1 10 54 16.7% 3.60
Jonathan Audy-Marchessault Springfield Falcons 21 14 5 10 15 50 10.0% 3.57
Ben Street Abbotsford Heat 25 14 4 9 13 50 8.0% 3.57
Jason Zucker Houston Aeros 20 11 7 5 12 38 18.4% 3.45
Paul Thompson Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 23 15 6 3 9 51 11.8% 3.40
Jake Gardiner Toronto Marlies 22 14 5 6 11 47 10.6% 3.36
Mark Mancari Rochester Americans 27 15 3 7 10 50 6.0% 3.33
Jeremy Morin Rockford IceHogs 21 14 5 4 9 46 10.9% 3.29
Nino Niederreiter Bridgeport Sound Tigers 19 13 8 7 15 42 19.0% 3.23
Derek Nesbitt Peoria Rivermen 30 14 5 5 10 45 11.1% 3.21
Drayson Bowman Charlotte Checkers 23 15 10 1 11 48 20.8% 3.20
Jerome Samson Charlotte Checkers 24 15 3 6 9 48 6.3% 3.20
Zach Boychuk Charlotte Checkers 22 15 9 5 14 47 19.1% 3.13
Tyler Johnson Syracuse Crunch 22 13 9 5 14 40 22.5% 3.08
Kyle Palmieri Norfolk Admirals 21 14 6 8 14 43 14.0% 3.07
Roman Horak Abbotsford Heat 21 14 10 2 12 43 23.3% 3.07
Justin Schultz Oklahoma City Barons 22 15 8 13 21 45 17.8% 3.00

Bowman, Samson and Boychuk are all in the Top 20 in shot rates and the one difference with Samson is that he has received little shooting luck this season. I don’t have enough footage or data on Samson to determine whether or not the reason for his low goal total relates to where he shoots the puck, but it’s a safe bet to assume that he will not continue to shoot at only 6.3% if he continues to get at least three shots on goal per game. Mark Mancari and Ben Street appear to be in a similar boat as him. Cam Atkinson could also be placed in this group since he has only six goals despite recording nearly four shots per game.

The funny thing about Drayson Bowman’s goal total and shooting percentage is that he has actually cooled off a bit compared to a few weeks ago when he scored in eight or nine consecutive games. Yet he is still tied for the AHL lead in goals with Roman Horak and recording at least three shots on goal per game. His shooting percentage is still very, very high and will likely continue to regress to the league average as the season goes on. He may end the season with at least 25 goals if he stays on the Checkers and continues produce this much offense, though. That is the one major saving grace for Bowman this year even if he shooting percentage regresses.

On the subject of shooting percentage, let’s see who has been getting the most shooting luck among the AHL’s Top 100 scorers.

Top 20 AHL Shooting Percentages

Player Team Age GP G A PTS SOG SH% S/G
Charlie Coyle Houston Aeros 20 15 7 3 10 20 35.0% 1.33
Mike Sgarbossa Lake Erie Monsters 20 16 6 7 13 21 28.6% 1.31
Alexandre Bolduc Portland Pirates 27 14 9 5 14 38 23.7% 2.71
Roman Horak Abbotsford Heat 21 14 10 2 12 43 23.3% 3.07
Ben Walter Abbotsford Heat 28 13 3 10 13 13 23.1% 1.00
Cory Conacher Syracuse Crunch 22 13 8 9 17 35 22.9% 2.69
Andy Miele Portland Pirates 24 14 5 6 11 22 22.7% 1.57
Tim Kennedy Worcester Sharks 26 15 5 7 12 22 22.7% 1.47
Tyler Johnson Syracuse Crunch 22 13 9 5 14 40 22.5% 3.08
Nick Drazenovic Springfield Falcons 25 14 6 6 12 27 22.2% 1.93
Chris Terry Charlotte Checkers 23 12 7 4 11 32 21.9% 2.67
Andrew Agozzino Lake Erie Monsters 21 16 7 6 13 32 21.9% 2.00
Mark Arcobello Oklahoma City Barons 24 13 5 4 9 23 21.7% 1.77
Brett Sutter Charlotte Checkers 25 15 5 5 10 23 21.7% 1.53
Bryan Lerg Lake Erie Monsters 26 16 8 4 12 37 21.6% 2.31
Drayson Bowman Charlotte Checkers 23 15 10 1 11 48 20.8% 3.20
Chris Conner Portland Pirates 28 11 5 8 13 24 20.8% 2.18
Kevin Porter Rochester Americans 26 15 5 6 11 24 20.8% 1.60
Peter Holland Norfolk Admirals 21 14 7 7 14 34 20.6% 2.43
Brian Flynn Rochester Americans 24 14 5 6 11 25 20.0% 1.79

Bowman makes another appearance here, but I mentioned that his overall goal total will probably end up being fine by the end of the year thanks to his high shot-rate. Brett Sutter, on the other hand, may not be so lucky. His goal total is inflated thanks to a hat trick against Peoria a few weeks ago and he is recording less than two shots per game. Sutter is a third-liner and isn’t exactly the most offensive-minded player on the team, so his shooting percentage declining is to be expected. His career high in goals in the AHL is 13 and I wouldn’t expect that to change based on what we’re seeing here. As for Chris Terry, he is producing a decent amount of offense but I would expect him to cool down at some point this year.

Age

We now know that a few of the Checkers players are getting the benefit of high shooting percentages, but the same can be said for most of the AHL’s leading scorers right now. I’m interesting to see how things shake out there at the end of the season, but another area that should be addressed is how much of the Checkers production is coming from young talent or players that we would expect to be in the NHL relatively soon. This will give us a slightly better idea of what the Checkers season means for the Hurricanes organization in the long run.

First, let’s take note of how Charlotte has seven players in the Top 100 of AHL scoring. This puts them tied for first with Lake Erie, Grand Rapids and Rochester but how many of these players are ones that have a legit chance of making the NHL? Going by their age, the outlook is promising.

Team 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33
Charlotte Checkers 1 2 2 1 1
Grand Rapids Griffins 2 4 1
Lake Erie Monsters 1 2 1 1 1 1
Rochester Americans 1 1 1 1 2 1
Portland Pirates 2 1 1 1 1
Oklahoma City Barons 1 3 1
Springfield Falcons 1 1 1 1 1
Syracuse Crunch 2 3
Houston Aeros 3 1 1
Abbotsford Heat 1 1 1 1
Rockford IceHogs 2 1 1
Toronto Marlies 1 1 1 1
Norfolk Admirals 3
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 1 2
Milwaukee Admirals 2 1
Connecticut Whale 1 1 1
Hershey Bears 1 1 1
Worcester Sharks 1 1 1
Adirondack Phantoms 1 1
Bridgeport Sound Tigers 1 1
Manchester Monarchs 2
Texas Stars 2
Providence Bruins 1 1
San Antonio Rampage 1 1
Peoria Rivermen 1 1
Albany Devils 1
Chicago Wolves 1

This table shows the number of players each team has in the AHL’s Top 100 scoring leaders and how many players of a certain age each team has. All seven Charlotte players in the Top 100 are either 25 years old are younger and five of the seven are younger than 24. This could lead you to believe that the Hurricanes prospect pool is in good shape and the best years have yet to come for most of the Checkers top players. While this may be true, it doesn’t tell you that these players will go on to become NHL-ers because, as I have often restated before, success in the AHL doesn’t always translate to the next level. You really have to take a look at the players themselves to get a better idea of that. 

The Charlotte players in question here are Justin Faulk, Zach Boychuk, Zac Dalpe, Chris Terry, Brett Sutter, Jerome Samson and Drayson Bowman. Out of those, I think the Checkers have 3-4 guys who will go onto to play in the NHL full-time with Terry, Samson and Sutter being the ones I’m not sure about. Still, having a lot of young players in your team’s system is never a bad thing and it’s good to see the Checkers succeeding while getting production from those who are considered some of the Hurricanes best prospects. I don’t know if it will lead to them doing the same at the NHL but Charlotte’s season thus far should give fans a reason to be optimistic.

All stats are from the AHL’s web site

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