With the hockey world on pause, NHL general managers have additional time to evaluate their American Hockey League prospects.
The top developmental league in hockey has another strong crop of young talent developing. NHL.com will evaluate some of them as part of a series that breaks down each of the four divisions in the AHL.
Starting with the Atlantic Division, here are seven top prospects who could make an NHL impact as soon as next season:
Sebastian Aho, Bridgeport (New York Islanders)
Aho’s moniker as the “other Sebastian Aho” in reference to the Carolina Hurricanes forward of the same name has generated chuckles, but the Bridgeport defenseman is making his own name.
The 24-year-old (5-foot-11, 177 pounds) has emerged as a steal for the Islanders, who chose him in in the fifth round (No. 139) of the 2017 NHL Draft after he went unselected the previous three. He played 22 games for the Islanders in 2017-18 but has since developed at Bridgeport. He was selected to play in the AHL All-Star Classic for three straight seasons.
Aho has 30 points (three goals, 27 assists) in 49 games for Bridgeport this season and 105 points (21 goals, 84 assists) in 156 AHL games.
Jake Bean, Charlotte (Carolina Hurricanes)
An ever-changing Charlotte roster has accelerated the AHL development curve for the 21-year-old defenseman.
Bean was chosen by the Hurricanes with the No. 13 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, and he’s packed a long list of achievements into his pro career. He was named to the AHL All-Rookie Team last season and played a major role in helping Charlotte to a Calder Cup championship.
In his second pro season, Bean (6-1, 186) leads AHL defensemen with 48 points (10 goals, 38 assists) in 59 games. He plays a poised game and is a crucial part of the power play who can also take on penalty-kill responsibilities.
Morgan Frost, Lehigh Valley (Philadelphia Flyers)
The 20-year-old forward has made a strong push for a permanent place in the Flyers lineup.
The No. 27 pick in the 2017 draft has seven points (two goals, five assists) in 20 games as a rookie with the Flyers.
As with so many high-scoring forwards coming out of the Canadian Hockey League, the challenge for Frost (5-11, 170) has been to improve his two-way game. He had 221 points in his final 115 games with Sault Ste. Marie of the Ontario Hockey League before turning pro this season. That process, supervised by Lehigh Valley coach Scott Gordon, is ongoing, and Frost has 29 points (13 goals, 16 assists) in 41 AHL games.
Jack Studnicka, Providence (Boston Bruins)
The Bruins’ long-standing veteran core has afforded them the opportunity to ease prospects into the NHL.
Studnicka (6-1, 171) may soon force their hand. Taken by Boston in the second round (No. 53) of the 2017 draft, Studnicka has had an excellent rookie season in Providence with 49 points (23 goals, 26 assists) in 60 games, third-most among AHL rookies.
The 21-year-old forward has earned the trust of Providence coach Jay Leach to receive ice time on the third-best penalty kill in the AHL (85.9 percent). He’s responded by scoring a league-leading seven shorthanded goals.
Owen Tippett, Springfield (Florida Panthers)
A second-half wrist injury has slowed Tippett’s development, but the forward has made his rookie season a productive one.
Florida chose Tippett with the No. 10 pick in the 2017 draft, and he is emerging as an excellent pick. He is a sturdy 6-1, 207, which has helped his adjustment to the pro game.
Tippett’s main task in Springfield has been to solidify his two-way game, but that hasn’t deterred his offensive production. He has 40 points (19 goals, 21 assists) in 46 games, his 19 goals are tied for sixth among AHL rookies despite missing 15 games.
Vitek Vanecek, Hershey (Washington Capitals)
Like many Capitals prospects through the years, the 24-year-old goalie (6-2, 187) is coming along slowly in Hershey, a goaltending factory that developed Philipp Grubauer, Braden Holtby, Michal Neuvirth, Ilya Samsonov and Semyon Varlamov for work with the Capitals and other NHL teams.
Vanecek, a second-round pick (No. 39) in the 2014 NHL Draft, is making a strong bid to join the group. He’s 19-10-1 with a 2.26 goals-against average and .917 save percentage in 31 games and was named most valuable player of the 2020 AHL All-Star Classic.
Dan Vladar, Providence (Bruins)
The Bruins count Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin among their Providence goaltending alumni. Vladar may become the next goalie product from the longest-running affiliation of an NHL and AHL team (since 1992-93).
Boston’s third-round pick (No. 75) in the 2015 NHL Draft, Vladar (6-5, 185) has taken a slow journey through the farm system. The 22-year-old turned pro at 19 and played most of his first two seasons in the ECHL before advancing to the AHL full time last season.
Bruins veteran Jaroslav Halak could become an unrestricted free agent after the season and Vladar might be a possibility play behind Rask in 2020-21. He is 14-7-1 in 25 games for Providence; his 1.79 GAA and .936 save percentage each lead the AHL.