In the aftermath of a 2013-14 AHL season that saw the Abbotsford Heat make the playoffs, lose in the first round and then move to Glens Falls, there were quite a few obvious bright spots. Max Reinhart continued his progression. Corban Knight translated his two-way NCAA prowess to the AHL (and even had a nice NHL audition). Markus Granlund and Joni Ortio brought Finnish flash to the NHL during their brief recalls. Heck, Michael Ferland was a wrecking ball before he got hurt.
But two AHLers were bright spots for the Heat to the point were I think that Craig Conroy or Brad Treliving, or whoever’s in charge of minor pro players nowadays, should try to retain them for the Adirondack Heat. I’d probably throw NHL two-way deals at these guys.
Without a shadow of a doubt, the man with the best name in professional sports. Originally from Edmonton (boo!), LaFranchise turned 26 yesterday. He played three years at the University of Alaska-Anchorage – Curtis Glencross’ old school – and has spent the bulk of his pro career with the Alaska Aces.
This year, LaFranchise benefited from the Flames development deal with the Aces by spending the bulk of the year with the Heat – James Martin and John Ramage went in the opposite direction. He put up 13 points in 34 games with Abbotsford. His offensive production was behind only Chad Billins and Derek Smith among Heat defenders.
His underlying numbers are better than John Ramage’s, which isn’t a huge complement, but LaFranchise was leaned upon heavily by Troy G. Ward down the stretch. He’s 26, so he wouldn’t be subject to the entry-level system, but a two-way deal at NHL league minimum (or slightly above) wouldn’t be a huge gamble.
And for a Heat club that’ll have a bunch of young players in their first two years of pro hockey (Sieloff, Kulak, Culkin, Wotherspoon, Ramage) and a bunch of veterans heading into free agency (Breen, Smith, Cundari), LaFranchise is a veteran guy with several years of pro experience who can carry water, but you won’t feel crushed if he sits now and then for a kid to play.
Plus, c’mon – LaFranchise is French for “The Franchise.” Folks in Glens Falls will love him.
Quick, without looking, who was fifth in scoring for the Heat this year? You’d probably be shocked to learn that it’s 27-year-old Brett Olson. This University of Wisconsin product has spent both of his pro years with the Heat, playing the bulk of both seasons – including amassing 41 points in 75 games this season. He’s never been sent down to the ECHL, something that can’t be said for a lot of prospects on NHL deals.
If nothing else, Olson’s a model of consistency. He’s not bad at anything, but he’s not great at anything either, which is probably why he’s where he is. But Ward has played him 145 times in the past two seasons, indicating a great deal of trust. And heck, Olson was a difference-maker for the Heat more often than many of the Flames’ draftees (*cough*Sven*cough*).
And as with LaFranchise and the defenders, a lot of veterans are pending free agents (notably Ben Street and Blair Jones). LaFranchise is an older player with consistency and a great deal of familiarity with the team and coaching staff. And he’d probably be more affordable than other veteran options for the AHL team.
Unfortunately, though, Olson’s name doesn’t mean something bad-ass in French. He’s “just” a pretty good AHL player.