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Pre-season AHL rankings become all the more difficult with the NHL lockout increasing the leagues' talent.
Assessing potential outcomes in the AHL is always a daunting task, more-so than it is for NHL teams. I have only one year worth of experience with it, but I think most would agree that the roster inconsistency in the AHL make gauging a teams' talent at this level all the more difficult.
For the most part, an NHL teams' top six forward spots are locked up. We know who the stars are. Over the span of a season, most organizations won't see much movement except for teams that run in to injury problems or reassess their rosters at the trade deadline. The border between elite talent and role players becomes murkier in the American League, where few stand out. Typically, these players are the ones who are destined to break into the NHL in just a matter of time. The Scheifele's, Kadri's and Etem's are just a few I've seen most recently, and you can tell they're just passing through on their way to bigger and better things.
While call-up situations don't currently pose much of a threat, the opposite has made ranking the IceCaps (or any AHL team outside the Barons, really) extremely difficult this pre-season. For example, the IceCaps' first home game is slated against the Adirondack Phantoms next week, now features Alexander Burmistrov for the IceCaps and Sean Couturier for the Phantoms.
The dynamic of that game alone has changed immensely.
We have no idea how long Ivan Telegin or Burmistrov will be in St. John's, or how large their contributions will be. We can assume Burmistrov will be the best forward on the ice, but as only one of thirty teams making sizeable additions, trying to predict the standings this year is nearly impossible.
St. John's will again ice a deep squad. With a good group of defenders and competent goaltending, they've still got a lot going for them. The glue of the team has remained together. Paul Postma will still log a barrel of minutes on the blueline, Travis Ramsay will still be called upon as a solid shutdown guy, and up front they shouldn't have a whole lot of problems. They'll lack top-end talent outside of Burmistrov -- who could leave at any minute -- but there aren't a lot of teams foaming with major skill anyway.
I think the IceCaps will be a good team. I can't say they'll be as good as last season in the standings, but I think they'll still be competing near the top of the league because they haven't lost key components and have gained about as much as most other clubs not named Oklahoma City thanks to the NHL lockout. If the lockout ends -- a situation that's looking a bit better in recent days -- the IceCaps will go back to looking a lot like they did last season. Luckily for us, that includes being one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference.