In the modern day American Hockey League, there is a lot more emphasis on player development. It is a source of pride for a league which saw over 133 AHLers make their NHL debuts during the 2013-14 campaign. Yet in the process of developing and winning, having veteran players to bolster a roster and lead the way, is still important.
This off-season the Albany Devils signed one such veteran AHL free agent. They chose Paul Thompson and they chose wisely. Thus far the shrewd move is paying early dividends for the A-Devils. Following a nice preseason showing, Thompson has started his Albany career with a bang, posting an AHL leading six goals, through four contests. Included in that was an impressive debut in which Thompson tallied four goals at the Adirondack Flames and a two-goal effort in the Devils’ home opener against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, in which Thompson netted the eventual 3-2 winner, potting a shorty with 44 seconds left in the third period.
Along with the early heroics of Thompson, Albany is no stranger to having successful vets lead the charge.
- Bobby Butler (2012-13): Like Thompson, Butler is an alum of the University of New Hampshire. Prior to Thompson’s four-goal outing, Butler was the last player to put away four goals in a game while wearing the “horn-tailed A.” In another twist, that game came against Thompson’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Brought in with a Calder Cup pedigree, from his days with the Binghamton Senators, Butler notched 16 goals in 37 games with Albany, before being claimed off waivers by the Nashville Predators.
- Matt Anderson (2010-2013): As with Butler, Anderson came to Albany with a successful track record, winning a Calder Cup with the Chicago Wolves. In 2010-11, Anderson was an AHL All-Star, scoring 23 goals, while pacing Albany with 55 points. Anderson collected 129 points in 199 games with the Devils.
- Peter Zezel (1997-98): Mind you the late Peter Zezel hardly played any at the AHL level but in the 1997-98 season, Zezel was caught in a numbers crunch in New Jersey. Through it all though, Zezel was a great sport and an invaluable resource in helping the young players out in Albany. Oh and Zezel could produce on the ice as well. Playing in 35 contests, Zezel was named an AHL All-Star for the River Rats, posting 13 goals, 37 assists and 50 points in total. In that All-Star Game at Syracuse, Zezel was named MVP, netting the game winning goal for the Canadian squad, in an 11-10 victory. New Jersey eventually rewarded him with a trade back to the NHL with the Vancouver Canucks and I still maintain to this day that the Rats would’ve won their second Calder Cup in franchise history, had Zezel remained to the finish.
- Robb Conn (1994-95): Oh so clutch was Rob Conn. Acquired in a deal for Dean Malkoc, Conn scored big goal after big goal for the Calder Cup champs. In his 68 games with Albany, Conn lit the lamp 35 times, adding 32 helpers, totaling 67 points, all career highs. Then in 14 Calder Cup playoff contests, Conn scored four goals and registered ten points in all. In addition to helping the Rats lift the Calder, Conn would prove to be a big time contributor to the Rochester Americans title win the following season.
- Bill Armstrong (1993-1996): Making the trip 90 miles east from the Utica Devils, Armstrong had a huge impact on the birth of a new franchise in Albany. Across 160 games, “Army” recorded 168 points, registering a pair of 32-goal seasons. An AHL vet with Utica and the Hershey Bears, Armstrong helped Albany hoist the Calder Cup, during the 1994-95 campaign, scoring six goals in the playoffs, totaling eleven points in all. The master of the “high wrap trick shot.”