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AHL Schedule Breakdown: Cleveland Monsters

Iowa found themselves battling the Monsters (Columbus Blue Jackets) late in the year for that final playoff spot. Both fell short, but it could be a rivalry in the making.

New York Rangers v Columbus Blue Jackets Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

Last season, the Cleveland Monsters were a thorn in the side of Derek Lalonde and the Iowa Wild. They ended their franchise-record-making, six-game winning streak (though they continued their point streak). As Iowa was trying for a late season push for the playoffs, the Monsters took four of five contests while shutting out the Wild three times. Cleveland would end up beating Iowa by five points (86 total) in the final standings, though missed the postseason via tiebreaker to the Charlotte Checkers.

The Monsters joined the Columbus organization in 2015 after eight years of being attached to Colorado and promptly won a Calder Cup. Although the Blue Jackets improved to 108 points in 2016-17 from just 76 the year before, the Monsters only graduated Josh Anderson and Oliver Bjorkstrand to play significant minutes in the NHL last season.

2017-18 marks the third season with the Jackets and second under head coach, and former Stanley Cup champion, John Madden who is looking to give the development players that winning edge as well as return the Monsters to the postseason for only the third time in franchise history.

Cleveland Monsters/AHL

Key Dates

Saturday, November 11th at Iowa (Wells Fargo Arena, 19:00 CST)

Sunday, November 12th at Iowa (Wells Fargo Arena, 17:00 CST)

Monday, December 18th at Cleveland (Quicken Loans Arena, 18:00 CST)

Wednesday, December 20th at Cleveland (Quicken Loans Arena, 18:00 CST)

Sunday, January 7th at Iowa (Wells Fargo Arena, 17:00 CST)

Thursday, January 25th at Cleveland (Quicken Loans Arena, 18:00 CST)

Saturday, January 27th at Cleveland (Quicken Loans Arena, 18:00 CST)

Tuesday, April 3rd at Iowa (Wells Fargo Arena, 19:00 CST)

While Iowa appears to be adding more games to their Central Division opponents, the Wild-Monsters series will be down four games in 2017-18. Starting on Veterans’ Day, the two clubs will split an eight-game series, starting in Iowa.

If this season is anything like the last, Iowa will need to be on top of their game if they hope to reach that elusive playoff spot. The Wild will play Cleveland three times in January and once in the waning days of the season.

Last Season

October 25th: Cleveland 7 - 3 Iowa

December 14th: Iowa 3 - 4 Cleveland (OT)

December 15th: Iowa 2 - 1 Cleveland

February 3rd: Iowa 3 - 0 Cleveland

February 4th: Iowa 1 - 0 Cleveland

February 8th: Cleveland 2 - 1 Iowa (OT)

February 19th: Cleveland 2 - 0 Iowa

February 20th: Cleveland 2 - 4 Iowa

March 24th: Iowa 1 - 5 Cleveland

March 26th: Iowa 0 - 4 Cleveland

April 2nd: Cleveland 4 - 0 Iowa

April 4th: Cleveland 1 - 2 Iowa (OT)

The Monsters took a step back following their Calder Cup-winning run of 2015-16 and the departure of Jared Bednar, who took the Colorado Avalanche job after being passed up in favor of John Tortorella in Columbus. Longtime member of the New Jersey Devils and three-time Cup winner John Madden took over the reigns and led the Columbus prospects to a 39-29-8 (86 pts) record in 2016-17.

Though only four wins less than the Bednar Monsters, Madden’s group dropped 11 points in the standings, scored 16 less goals (196), and gave up 10 more goals (198) with essentially the same roster. Contradictory to this was their number one netminder, Anton Forsberg, improving his SV% to .926 (+.012) and GAA to 2.28 (-0.12) in ten more starts.

Despite only finishing five points apart in the standings, the Cleveland Monsters had their way with the Wild in 2016-17, winning 7 of 12 contests and dominating the goal differential with a +10 (31-21). Each took turns shutting one another out and winning overtime contest and played each other pretty evenly in the remainder.

The 31 goals scored by Cleveland accounted for 15% of their total offensive production in 2016-17, though Iowa conceded four less goals than the eventual league champs in Grand Rapids in the same amount of games played. The Dalpe deal bit Iowa in the ass as he tallied a point in three of four meetings following his trade to Cleveland (2G/1A).

Helsinki, Finland-native Markus Hannikainen had the most success against Lalonde’s group, generating 9 points of offense (4G/5A) with three multi-point games and a hat-trick in their first meeting - a 7-3 blowout in Des Moines. Sonny Milano and Daniel Zaar each had 7 points (1G/6A; 3G/4A) of their own against the Baby Wild.

Iowa scored the majority of their goals in 5-on-5 and no member of the Wildlings performed better than Mike Reilly. The Chicago-native generated six points of offense against the Monsters (2G/4A), including a game-tying goal and an assist on the overtime winner in their last meeting of the season. Of the members of the Iowa Wild expected to return to start 2017, Sam Anas had four points of his own (1G/3A) against the Central Division rival.

Prospects

Of the top five prospects on NHL.com, two are expected to begin the season down in the A with Cleveland: Center, Sam Vigneault (0 NHL GP) and left-winger, Sonny Milano (7 NHL GP). Both have been named to the Blue Jackets’ training camp roster with the opportunity to impress Torts and his staff.

Sam Vigneault (undrafted) singed a two year ELC this March after an impressive three-year stay at Clarkson University (ECAC). In his final year with the Golden Knights, the Québécois was the teams leading scorer with 36 points (12G/24A) was was tied for 10th among leading scorers in the conference. As Clarkson’s season wrapped up, Vigneault took an opportunity to play with the Monsters, scoring a goal and adding four assists (5 points) in 16 games.

He was the fourth ranked prospect by NHL.com and ahead of Cleveland’s leading scorer last season, Sonny Milano. He has imposing size at the center position, standing at 6’5”/202, something that happened over the course of his college career. With Cleveland, he’ll use that size to bang around a physical league with the goal of cracking the Columbus roster sometime this year. With Dubinsky coming into camp with a wrist injury, it’s possible Vigneault could compete with former Iowa center, Jordan Schroeder, for that fifth center role.

Sonny Milano (1st round, #16 - 2014) comes into training camp following a 2016-17 as the Cleveland Monsters leading scorer with 18 goals and 29 assists (47 points) in 63 games under John Madden. He also joins the Blue Jackets regulars with eyes on taking that fourth line, left wing spot as he competes against recently-acquired Tyler Motte (a natural center) and Monsters teammate, Markus Hannikainen.

Depending on which roster projection website you want to use, it’s looking like a coin-flip between Milano and Hannikainen, though Milano has the size, age, scoring, and draft pick status advantages. The Massapequa, New York-native is a graduate of the US National Team Development Program and medaled twice for the Stars and Bars at the junior level.

Milano has had a lot of roles to play down in Cleveland and was a featured member of their power play the last two seasons, scoring 11 goals on the peepers. He’s been a consistent producer at the AHL level. His longest scoring drought is capped at four games, which has only happened twice in two years.

You might remember his stick skills from the 2014 combine:

Snubbed from this list is the aforementioned “Wild killer,” Markus Hannikainen. He has fourteen games under his belt in Columbus in the last two seasons and was a top three scorer for the Monsters last season with 37 points (19G/18A). The biggest knock against him is that he went undrafted in 2014. He played a large part in Cleveland’s 2016 Postseason run, earning ten points (3G/7A) in 16 appearances. According to RotoWorld, he might get a chance with Columbus with a combination of solid AHL play and NHL injuries as he’s ranked as the 6th left winger, behind Sonny Milano.

Next up: Grand Rapids Griffins (Detroit Red Wings)