A lifelong dream could be in reach for several members of the Springfield Thunderbirds.
As the American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate of the Florida Panthers, Springfield serves as the proving grounds for not only many of the organization’s top prospects, but also plenty of minor-league journeymen still in search of the right opportunity to catch on with a club.
This past season, eight different players made their NHL debut with the Panthers, with six of them suiting up for at least one game with the Thunderbirds before getting the call. Of those players, forward Maxim Mamin saw the longest look with Florida, competing in 26 games.
Springfield general manager and Panthers assistant general manager Eric Joyce recently told FloridaPanthers.com that the organization has made a strong effort to build a culture over the past several seasons in which “the players playing their best in our system get rewarded.”
In taking a closer look at the last two years, Joyce’s statement certainly holds true, as all three of the Thunderbirds point leaders in 2016-17 earned at least one call-up that season, while two of the top three scorers from last season’s team (Curtis Valk and Dryden Hunt) did the same.
“I consider every guy on our team a prospect of the Florida Panthers,” Joyce said. “The [locker] room knows who should get called up throughout the season. When you have that system in place, it makes life a lot easier. Guys understand where they’re at.”
So, who’s next? One potential T-Birds that could potentially make his NHL debut this season is Anthony Greco.
An undrafted free agent out of Ohio State in 2016, Greco joined the Thunderbirds prior to the start of the 2016-17 season after a brief one-game stint with the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
In his first season with the Thunderbirds, Greco made his presence felt immediately, scoring 16 goals and 31 points as a rookie. This past season, however, he was even better, setting a slew of new career-bests, including scoring a team-high 29 goals – the seventh-most in the AHL.
A high-volume shooter, Greco led the league with 252 shots on goal, which was the most by an AHL player since the 2014-15 season. At 5-foot-10 and 178 pounds, he makes up for his lack of size with incredible speed, making him especially dangerous on the penalty kill. Of Springfield’s 13 shorthanded goals scored this past season, a league-high six came from Greco.
“He was one of our three most valuable players we had down there last year, if not the most valuable” Joyce said. “Great expectations for him this year. He’s excited. He’s been here all summer. He’s really working on the things that we talked to him about. I think he has a real opportunity… He has great speed, great feet, great acceleration, great quickness.”