This past weekend, the PPL Center in Allentown, Pennsylvania was home to the 2017 AHL All-Star Classic. Thankfully, I live 10 minutes from the arena and was able to observe both the Skills Competition and the All-Star Challenge. The Skills Competition itself is simple: 5 rounds of showing off hockey ability. The All-Star Challenge, on the other hand, is a shortened game consisting of 10 minute rounds of 3 on 3 hockey. All in all there are six rounds followed by a championship round consisting of the same format. The championship round, though, is 6 minutes long. The majority of the players in the All-Star Classic are from Canada and the United States, but other countries represented were Denmark, Czech Republic, and Sweden.
Chris Bourque – USA
Bourque is a veteran of the AHL and has been in the league since the Washington Capitals drafted him in 2004. Chris Bourque has also spent some time in the KHL and other European leagues in his earlier career. He is a 3-time Calder Cup champion, all with the Hershey Bears. Bourque also has multiple MVP honors, and is a 5-time AHL All-Star. Bourque is a talented playmaker with speed and skill. He can also be a little feisty despite being only 5’8″. Although he has played in the NHL for a short time, I do not believe he will ever play at that level permanently.
Just like every other one he has played in, the 2017 All-Star Classic was memorable for Bourque. He led all scorers this weekend with 5 points in the All-Star Challenge along with 4 assists. He played at a very high pace and seemed to easily create plays with his partners.
Taylor Leier – Canada
One of the hometown players representing the host team Lehigh Valley Phantoms, this is Leier’s 3rd season in the AHL and his first All-Star appearance. The Saskatoon native was drafted in the 4th round of the 2012 NHL Draft by the Philadelphia Flyers and is arguably their best forward prospect waiting in the wings. He has spent some time on the Flyers during both the 2015-2016 season as well as the 2016-2017 season, but has not found himself with a permanent spot on the NHL roster. As of right now, he seems to be the one chosen when the Flyers have an injured forward.
This was Leier’s first All-Star Classic and one he won’t soon forget. Leier’s Phantoms teammates Jordan Weal and T.J. Brennan were the favorites of the weekend and did some damage against the other divisions. Leier was named MVP of the All-Star Challenge with 3 goals. He was effective in scoring goals for the Atlantic division, and also in play-making. The majority of his passes were accurate and provided for some quality scoring chances.
Linus Ullmark – Sweden
One of two Swedish goaltenders at the All-Star Classic, Ullmark was drafted in the 6th round by the Buffalo Sabres in the 2012 NHL Draft. Ullmark played on the MODO hockey team in the SHL (Swedish Hockey League) until the end of the 2014-15 season. Buffalo used him last season for 20 games until he was sent back to the Rochester Americans. He has some refining to do on his goaltending abilities, being one of the more average goalies in the league, but if he develops well, he definitely has a good chance of earning a permanent spot on the Buffalo roster in coming years.
Ullmark turned out to be the star goalie during the All-Star Classic as he was named CCM Top Goaltender for the Skills Competition. He stopped 15/18 shots in the 3 rounds where goalies were featured. He made 8/10 saves in the Rapid Fire event, saved 2/3 shots in the 3 on 0 Pass and Score event, and saved all 5 shots against Western stars in the breakaway relay.
Oliver Bjorkstrand – Denmark
Bjorkstrand looks like he can be an effective forward for the Columbus Blue Jackets in the future. After he was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2013 NHL Draft, he played in the WHL (Western Hockey League) until it was time for him to move to the AHL. He started the 2015-16 season with the Lake Erie Monsters and was called up to the Blue Jackets for a few games before being sent back down. Bjorkstrand had a very large role in the Calder Cup Finals against the Hershey Bears, as he scored the overtime game winning goal in game 4 to win the Calder Cup for the Monsters. He was named playoff MVP, during which, he had accumulated the most goals during the playoffs as well. He is one of my favorite prospects at the moment not only because of his hockey talent, but also because he has a cool last name.
Bjorkstrand had 3 points in the All-Star Challenge with 2 goals and 1 assist. He had a very nice shot and found the back of the net on some sweet set ups from his linemates. In the breakaway relay during the Skills Competition, Bjorkstrand showed off some nice hands as he scored on Tristan Jarry in the breakaway relay.
Matej Stransky- Czech Republic
The 6th round draft pick selected by the Dallas Stars in 2011 is taking some time to develop. Stransky entered the AHL in 2013, won the Calder Cup that year but has never been called up to Dallas. Although a little on the slow side, he seems to use his 6’3″ body to his advantage in fending off defensemen. Stransky is currently on pace for his highest scoring season. If he is lucky, there might be room for him on the bottom 6 in the future.
Stransky had 2 assists against the dominant Central All-Stars. If anything that was shown during the All-Star Classic sticks with him, he might have a shot at making the NHL eventually.
Andrew Ostrosky is the “Global Puck” columnist for Good Night, Good Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter @HockeyGuyFromSL.