As a result of the Roadrunners’ outstanding performance in the first half of the 2017-18 AHL season, our two best players, Dylan Strome and Nick Merkley are AHL All-Stars. Both players will represent Tucson and the AHL’s Pacific Division at the 2018 AHL All-Star Classic which will be held between January 28th and 29th in Utica, New York.
Merkley with 18 goals and 35 points in 28 games this season is Tucson’s leading scorer, and along with fellow Roadrunner, Strome is a front-runner for AHL rookie of the year honors. The 20-year-old, 2015 first round draft pick is third in the league in goals scored (the two players ahead of him are tied for first with 19 each) and is first in the entire league scoring an average of 0.643 goals per game (among players with at least 15 goals).
Dylan Strome has undoubtedly been Tucson’s best player this season and has arguably been the best player in the AHL this season. Although his 34 points are one less than his linemate, Merkley, Strome has played five fewer games. This gives the 20-year-old former 3rd overall pick a league-best 1.48 points per game, making him an early front-runner for both AHL rookie of the year and league MVP.
Joining Merkley and Strome in Utica is Roadrunners Head Coach, Mike Van Ryn, who will coach the Pacific Division. After a disappointing finsh last season that saw the Roadrunners finish 7th in the 8-team Pacific Division, Mike Van Ryn was brought in as Tucson’s second coach in team history in the offseason. In his first year, the 38-year-old veteran of 358 NHL games has a youthful and inexperienced Roadrunners team playing a skilled, aggressive, fast-paced style and is holding on to first in the Pacific Division with nearly half of the season done. If his success continues in the second half, Van Ryn will be a strong contender for the AHL’s coach of the year award.
If you would like to watch the 2018 AHL All-Star Classic, both the skills competition and the All-Star game will be broadcasted nationwide on NHL Network. The skills competition, where players compete for awards such as hardest shot and fastest skater will air on Sunday, January 28th at 6:00 PM (8:00 EST). The All-Star game itself which features a three-on-three format where each of the AHL’s four divisions battle it out in a head-to-head tournament will air on Monday, January 29th at 5:00 PM (7:00 EST).
Justin Peters makes Team Canada
For the first time since the 1994 Winter Olympic Games, the NHL will not be sending players to compete for their respective national teams in South Korea next month. Without the NHL’s participation the quality of play in what is undoubtedly the most important and prominent international hockey tournament will suffer.
The bright side of the NHL’s unfortunate decision to keep its players in North America this February, is that it will give less prominent players in various minor and European Leagues the opportunity to showcase their skills in front of a global audience. Among these players is former Roadrunners goaltender Justin Peters.
The 31-year-old native of Blyth, Ontario will represent Team Canada. Peters started 12 games in a Roadrunners sweater last season and has split time this season in Europe between the Kontinental Hockey League’s Riga Dynamo (Latvia/Russia) and the Deutsche Eishockey Liga’s Cologne Sharks (Germany).
Laurent Dauphin Returns to Tucson
As part of the deal that sent Coyotes’ winger Anthony Duclair to the Chicago Blackhawks, the Arizona Coyotes reacquired Laurent Dauphin. Dauphin initially went over to Chicago last offseason as part of the deal that brought Nicklas Hjalmarsson to Arizona.
After his reacquisition, the 22-year-old was promptly reassigned to Tucson. Last season, he was an effective player, scoring 28 points in 38 games with Tucson, slotting in primarily as the Roadrunners’ second-line center. This year he has 14 points in 33 games playing with the Blackhawks’ AHL club.
The move benefits Tucson tremendously by making them much stronger up the middle. With Dauphin back on the team, Tucson now has Dylan Strome, Laurent Dauphin, and Mario Kempe as their top three line centers, making an already good team even more difficult to play against.