HERSHEY, Pa. -- The American Hockey League season is in its infancy and there’s still hope for an NHL season of some kind (although that hope diminishes with every passing moment), but already it’s clear the infusion of young NHL talent at the AHL level is changing the dynamics of the games.
“I think the easiest way for me to explain it is every night, instead of playing against a fourth line, you’ve added a top line of guys that are probably NHL-ready and maybe a pair of D [defensemen] that are NHL-ready,” Hershey Bears co-coach Mark French said.
“There are no easy games, no easy periods. It’s certainly upped the level of competitiveness that we’ve seen.”
One of the ongoing dilemmas for those NHL-ready players is staying focused and not lamenting what might have been, what might be, while they bide their time on the long bus rides that dominate the AHL schedule.
Among the handful of Hershey Bears who might have been on the Washington Capitals’ opening day roster -- and certainly someone who can expect at some point to get a call to ‘the show’ when and if the NHL reconvenes -- is defenseman Cameron Schilling.
An undrafted collegian from Miami (Ohio), Schilling has all the tools that make GMs and coaches salivate: size at 6-foot-2, a heavy shot, good defensive skills and impressive speed.
“He jumps off the rink for you with his speed,” French said.
“I think he’s a little bit more aggressive this year. When he first came in from college last year, understandably so he was probably just trying to fit in and playing a very composed, controlled game. Since coming into training camp, you see a little bit more offense to his game, so he’s trying to branch off a little bit that way.”
Washington GM George McPhee said they have envisioned Schilling as the shutdown element in a pairing with a more offensive defender at the NHL level, but if Schilling keeps evolving, McPhee may have the luxury of pairing him with any style of player.
Schilling was born in Carmel, Ind., but spent much of his youth outside Detroit. He describes himself as a late-bloomer, so not being drafted wasn’t much of a surprise to him.
As for pining for his shot at the NHL, Schilling seems pretty Zen about how this plays out for him.
The time with Hershey will give him time to focus on his defensive game, he said, especially given the competition's jump in skill compared to college.
“The guys are a lot more dynamic,” he said.