Each season brings a crop of young defensemen into the American Hockey League who quickly show they will need minimal seasoning time before they advance to the NHL to stay.
Here is a look at several AHL defensemen who could soon find themselves on an NHL roster and making an impact in the race to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, in alphabetical order:
Ville Heinola, Manitoba (Winnipeg Jets)
Heinola (5-foot-11, 178 pounds) has been given time to develop after he was selected by the Jets with the No. 20 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft.
The 20-year-old has scored 10 points (four goals, six assists) in 16 games for Manitoba, competing for the Canadian Division lead. He is tied for fourth in points with four other players among rookie defensemen.
Heinola played eight games with Winnipeg last season, scoring five points (one goal, four assists). He started this season with Lukko of Liiga, the top professional league in Finland, scoring 14 points (one goal, 13 assists) in 10 games before joining Manitoba. He was scoreless in one NHL game this season.
Wyatt Kalynuk, Rockford (Chicago Blackhawks)
Kalynuk (6-1, 180) has made Rockford coach Derek King a big fan.
“I think he’s an NHL hockey player,” King said. “He’s going to be an NHL player at some point. You can see … he’s ready for the NHL.”
The 23-year-old signed a two-year entry-level contract with the Blackhawks on July 16, 2020 after playing three seasons at the University of Wisconsin (NCAA). He was captain during his junior season and scored 28 points (seven goals, 21 assists) in 36 games and earned All-Big Ten Conference honors.
Known for an ability to make excellent exit passes, Kalynuk plays a polished game and has scored 10 points (two goals, eight assists) in eight games with Rockford. He made his NHL debut March 7 and is scoreless in two games with the Blackhawks.
Otto Leskinen, Laval (Montreal Canadiens)
Leskinen (5-11, 187) was not chosen in the NHL Draft and signed a two-year entry-level contract with the Canadiens on May 7, 2019 as a free agent.
The 24-year-old is tied for second in the AHL among defensemen with 13 points (one goal, 12 assists) in 21 games. He also leads AHL defensemen in shots with 48.
Last season, he scored 22 points (two goals, 20 assists) in 52 games with Laval and had no points in five games with Montreal.
Before joining the Canadiens organization, Leskinen scored 31 points (eight goals, 23 assists) in 57 games with KalPa of Liiga in 2018-19.
Calle Rosen, Toronto (Toronto Maple Leafs)
Rosen (6-1, 186) brings considerable experience to this group in his quest for a role in the NHL.
The 27-year-old did not come to North American until the 2017-18 season, when he began a two-season stint in the Toronto organization. In his first season, he scored 26 points (four goals, 18 assists) in 62 games and added 11 points (five goals, six assists) in 16 playoff games to help Toronto win the Calder Cup.
He played with Colorado (AHL) last season after being traded to the Colorado Avalanche on July 1, 2019 but was reacquired in the trade that brought goalie Michael Hutchinson to the Maple Leafs on Feb. 24, 2020.
This season, Rosen has scored nine points (four goals, five assists) in 16 games, and his 46 shots rank second to Leskinen among AHL defensemen. Rosen has scored five points (one goal, four assists) in 20 NHL games through four seasons with the Maple Leafs and Avalanche.
Victor Soderstrom, Tucson (Arizona Coyotes)
Soderstrom (5-11, 179) has been able to take on a regular role in his first season with Tucson this season, with three points (one goal, two assists) in 18 games.
The 20-year-old, selected with the No. 11 pick in the in the first round (No. 11) in the 2019 draft, has no points in two games with the Coyotes this season.
Soderstrom played in the IIHF World Junior Championship each of the past two seasons, winning a bronze medal with Sweden in 2020. This year, he was an alternate captain, had five assists in five games and was named as one of Sweden’s top three players in the tournament.