As the 2020-21 AHL season begins, rosters across the league begin to take their final form. Each roster holds at least one special player who helps you remember why you fell in love with hockey. When the season starts, though, they might not be the best player on the team. However, they are the type of player you should constantly watch because at a moment’s notice they could do something special. Below is a list of six players, one from each team in the Central Division, who might just create a little bit of magic this season..
Joey Keane (Chicago Wolves – Defenseman)
Despite earning All-Rookie team honors last season, defender Joey Keane has been left out of the many conversations as this season gets started. His ability to play both sides of the puck well has led to Keane scoring 37 points in under 60 pro games. Towards the end of season, he was racking up points, scoring seven in his last nine appearances.
Keane is able to make offensive plays with ease because he is fundamentally sound on the defensive side of things. Knowing how to properly prevent goal scoring plays by the opponent from coming to fruition allows Keane to put plays in motion that are beneficial to his own team.
Trey Fix-Wolansky (Cleveland Monsters – Forward)
Trey Fix-Wolansky has an infectious positive energy that surrounds him at all times. Off the ice, he is the Monsters’ biggest hype man. Often you can find Fix-Wolansky cheering on his teammates as they are announced for first star honors or giving high fives after completing a solid play. On the ice, his energy is channeled into attacking the net, laying hits, and stripping pucks from the opposition.
Some young players struggle to hone their “away from the puck” game. Fix-Wolansky is not one of them. He is quick on his skates, embraces proper body positioning, and reads the ice well.
Fix-Wolansky missed almost two months at the beginning of last season due to an injury. While injured, he attended every practice and game in an attempt to learn more about what he needed to do to become a better player.
Even Cleveland Monsters Assistant Coach Steve McCarthy has Fix-Wolansky on his own list of players to watch for this season.
“You can tell Trey Fix-Wolansky has put some time in this summer. His conditioning is phenomenal. The way he’s moving now is tremendous.”
It appears Fix-Wolansky still has a rather high ceiling to hit.
Riley Barber (Grand Rapids Griffins – Forward)
Riley Barber is a bubble player looking to bust through the AHL ceiling and become a regular face on an NHL roster. Due to the Red Wings organization being in rebuilding mode, the Grand Rapids Griffins are the perfect play for him to try and complete that goal.
Look for Barber to play with an insane amount of passion and intensity this season.
Joseph Cramarossa (Iowa Wild – Forward)
Joseph Cramarossa is fairly underrated. He can get under the skin of the calmest opponent and cause a fundamentally sound player to make blunders, completely changing the momentum of a game.
Due to his never give up attitude, Cramarossa excels on special teams. However, the penalty kill is where he shines the brightest.
This year will be his chance to figure out what path lays before him. Will he be on the path to become a consistent face in the NHL? Or will he become a career veteran AHLer who has strong leadership qualities who helps mold other players to get to the NHL?
Neither is a bad path.
Tom Aubrun (Rockford IceHogs – Goaltender)
Rookie goaltender Tom Aubrun is one of the most intriguing players in the Central Division this season. He could either rack up a plethora of awards or he could need a bit more training to become a solid professional netminder. Due to Aubrun’s positive demeanor and consistency, he’ll have no problem creating relationships and communicating well with a new set of teammates.
Oh, and last season, Auburn set the NCAA Division III record for consecutive shutouts with nine. He had 13 for the entire season and ended with a wild .077 goals allowed average.
It will be interesting to see if he can bring the same energy and skill that he had in college to the professional level.
Derek Barach (Texas Stars – Forward)
Teams are constantly looking for a versatile player who can be plugged into any line or role. Derek Barach is that player.
After two seasons with the Monsters, Barach begins the 2020-21 season learning a new system and style of play with the Texas Stars. A new team gives him the opportunity to spread his wings and show the league who he truly is as a player.
Barach doesn’t let the fact he is one of the smaller players on the ice affect his mindset. Not only does he embrace his smaller stature, Barach uses it to elevate his game by getting low in the corners and sneaking into traffic to scoop up rebounds.
His speed makes him a threat on special teams because he is able to speed through the neutral zone to either make or prevent a play from happening.
Another thing of note is how unafraid Barach is to play an aggressive style of game when needed. Not your typical enforcer type of aggressive, though. I’m talking about the type of player who throws themselves in front of slappers, slams someone up against the boards to strip them of the puck, and hustles down the ice to chase after a turn over.