By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
The AHL is a tricky beast. As a minor league to the NHL, its supposed to be a breeding ground for NHL stars. Sometimes everything goes according to plan and players develop and succeed in the big leagues. While some just don’t have what it takes to make the leap to the NHL, and instead become cornerstones for an AHL franchise.
This week I’ll rank the top 5 AHLers to not succeed with the Flyers.
Number 5 – Michael Leighton
Leighton played 34 regular season games with the Flyers across four seasons, and even played in the Stanley Cup Final in 2010. That being said, he has never quite succeeded at the NHL level. Bouncing back and forth between the AHL and NHL, he has been a fixture in the minors for almost two decades. Leighton has 465 AHL games under his belt split between seven (soon to be eight once the season starts) different franchises. Leighton’s numbers in the AHL have been fairly consistent over the years, with a save percentage regularly in the .920s, while his goals against sits around 2.20. Through 110 NHL games his numbers are much less impressive, with a 2.98 GAA and .900 SV%.
Number 4 – Peter White
A long-tenured member of the Flyers organization, White spent eight years between the Flyers and Phantoms. 104 of his 220 NHL games came in orange and black, while 431 of his 747 AHL games came as a Phantom. White was above a point-per-game player with the Phantoms over six seasons, recording 472 points in 431 games and even led the AHL in points in three separate seasons. White had short NHL stints with Toronto, Chicago and Edmonton, though never managing to hold a roster spot.
Number 3 – Denis Hamel
Considered one of the classiest guys to ever grace the AHL, he is well-known for his work with the community wherever he played. Winning the 2008 AHL Man of the Year Award, he wasn’t just a good guy, he was a solid hockey player. Hamel suffered a serious knee injury during the 2000 season which affected his skating, ultimately hurting his chances to become a regular in the NHL. The Flyers claimed him off waivers from Atlanta, playing seven games with the big club to end the 2007 season. He returned to the Phantoms in 2010 through 2012 registering 93 points in 140 games. That’s just a sliver of his 651 points in 850 AHL games, though. Hamel did play 192 NHL games in his career, though only managing to record 31 points.
Number 2 – Jason Akeson
With just 15 NHL games under his belt, Akeson has had a problem translating his AHL success to the big leagues. Considered undersized by NHL standards at 5′-10″ and 190 lbs, his size has never held him back in the AHL. He’s recorded 114 goals and 214 assists in 395 AHL games, but has just two points in 15 NHL games. Akeson did not re-sign with the Flyers organization after the 2014-15 season and has bounced between the Buffalo Sabres and Ottawa Senators minor league teams, though not making the NHL for either franchise.
Number 1 – Neil Little
The man who only played two NHL games in his career, both with the Flyers. He did however, spend eight years with the Phantoms. Little had mixed results during his tenure manning the Phantoms crease ranging from spectacular to pedestrian, and both of his NHL games were disasters. His best AHL season came in 2001-02 finishing with a 2.02 GAA and .926 SV% in 35 games. Little’s first NHL start came in 2001 where he gave up four goals and had just a .862 SV% and his second NHL he only managed to play 33 minutes before being yanked when he gave up two goals on eight shots.
Photo credit: Ryan Bayer via bladesofteal.com