Thursday, February 28, 2013

Another brick in the Wahl 2/28

Mitch Wahl battles for position in front of Cal Heeter at Adirondack Phantoms practice Thursday.

Mitch Wahl, who practiced with the Adirondack Phantoms for the first time Thursday after he was acquired in a trade this week, did not reflect fondly on his tenure in the Calgary Flames organization.

He came into his rookie season with overwhelming potential, fresh off a 96-point junior campaign for the Western Hockey League's Spokane Chiefs. And then, not even two months into his professional career, he suffered a horrific head injury when he was hit in a game against the Manitoba Moose.

Wahl suffered facial fractures and a concussion on the hit, and missed 63 games that season. By the time he returned to the line-up, the general manager that selected him 48th overall in the 2008 NHL draft, Darryl Sutter, had resigned. The Flames were going through an organizational change, Wahl said, and the new brass never really gave him an opportunity to prove his offensive worth to the team.

“To be honest, I didn’t get much of an opportunity (with Calgary),” Wahl said. “They brought in a lot of new players and then all new management. Kind of put me on the back burner, from what I felt.”

He played just 11 games for Calgary's AHL affiliate, Abbotsford Heat, over the past two seasons, spending the majority of his time in the ECHL with the Utah Grizzlies. Last season, when he first showed that he was a point-per-game player at the ECHL level, the Flames sent him to the Hamilton Bulldogs, an affiliate of the Montreal Canadiens, so he would get some playing time in the AHL.

“To be honest with you, it was a disaster,” Wahl said. “That was the word on the street, that I was going to go there and get an opportunity and get some playing time. Being a Calgary player, playing for Montreal’s farm team, I was just a fill-in player and a loan player there. I was either a healthy scratch or I’d play a few minutes a night. That wasn’t much of a good experience for me, at all.”

That's a pretty good reason as to why Wahl's stat line at the AHL has been largely underwhelming — 15 points in 54 career games. He'll play his 55th (and possibly 56th) Friday when the Phantoms visit Springfield, and will center a line including promising rookie Marcel Noebels and winger Matt Ford.

That's a trio constructed for scoring some goals, and the Phantoms have struggled there all season. Their 2.41 goals per game is the sixth-lowest average in the 30-team AHL. And if there's one thing that Wahl's time in the ECHL has provided him, it's the confidence he can be a difference-maker. 

“Hopefully I can help in that area,” Wahl said. “I’ve been able to do that at the (ECHL) level. I feel like if I’m played in a spot kind of like the role I play, I feel like I can do that at this level as well.”

Ford is an interesting choice of a line mate for Wahl. If you think about it, he was also buried on another organization's depth chart -- to a lesser extent -- with AHL Hershey last season. When he was traded to Adirondack and put into a scoring role, he blossomed and scored 31 points in 31 games. 

Phantoms coach Terry Murray's decision to put Wahl on a scoring line is an indicator that they are looking for an immediate contribution from the 23-year-old. They will have some meetings with him in the next day or so to go over the system, and then he will get his chances in the Springfield game.

“His resume shows that he can move the puck around,” Murray said of Wahl. “He’s pretty creative, sees the ice. He’s got some nice numbers through juniors. We’ll get him playing right away.”

Really, all Wahl has wanted was a chance. He didn't say he requested a trade from Calgary, but has sort of been seeking a fresh start ever since his rookie season. When he got the call on Monday and learned he was coming to Philadelphia, he said it was a "really good feeling and a relief, for sure."

Much more on Wahl and his time in Calgary in tomorrow's paper, but here's a stat I found interesting. The Phantoms currently have four players from suburban Los Angeles — Wahl (Seal Beach), Ford (West Hills) Shane Harper (Valencia) and Matt Konan (Tustin) — and four players from Ontario.

Those are the two most common states or provinces to produce a Phantoms player at this moment. Wahl said Thursday he couldn't recall playing on a team where one of the more common places to hail from was southern California since he was a 10-year-old actually playing in southern California.

Go figure. I'll have a blog post up later with comments from Murray on today's news that Michael Leighton and Tom Sestito are on waivers, reportedly for the purpose of being sent to the Phantoms.

Until next time,


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