WNY to NHL: A guide to local players in the pros - The Buffalo News

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WNY to NHL: A guide to local players in the pros

There are many routes to the NHL. For Alex Iafallo, professional hockey came after four years of college hockey via the undrafted college free agency route.

It looks as if patience has paid off for Iafallo as the Eden native stuck around the Los Angeles Kings training camp until the final day and reportedly has earned himself an NHL roster spot.

Iafallo signed a two-year deal with the Kings in August after playing out his NCAA eligibility, finishing his Minnesota-Duluth career with 48 goals and 73 assists.

“I feel like I just got older,” Iafallo told the Los Angeles Times this week about staying for four years of college hockey. “I just found a right way to work and improve my game. An extra year definitely helped myself as a player. I just think it’s a good opportunity to get better and prove to myself that I can do this.”

"He's a special kid, and since he signed with us, we've felt he was a kid who gives us another swing in the skill and speed area," Kings Assistant General Manager Michael Futa told reporters in early September.

"He clearly bought into what we were selling with regards to opportunity and development. He's had an amazing summer, and every chance our development group has had to spend time with him, he just continued to impress."

Iafallo is the latest in a strong line of NHL players with Western New York connections. Here's a look at those players who are in the NHL or on the cusp in the American Hockey League:

Justin Bailey (Buffalo, Rochester Americans): One of the last cuts from Sabres camp, Bailey begins his third season of professional hockey in the AHL with the Amerks. He played 32 games with the Sabres last year, notching two goals and two assists.

Adam Clendening (Niagara Falls, Arizona Coyotes): The 24-year-old defenseman played in 31 games for the New York Rangers last year. After signing as a free agent with Arizona in the summer, Clendening is now on his seventh NHL team in his six-year career.

Cory Conacher (Canisius College, Syracuse Crunch): The all-time Division I scoring leader at Canisius College was one of the last cuts from Tampa Bay Lightning training camp. After a season overseas, Conacher returned to North American hockey last year, playing 11 games for the Lightning while anchoring the Syracuse Crunch in its run to the Calder Cup Finals. He had 17 goals and 43 assists in the AHL regular season and 12 goals, 16 assists in the playoffs.

Shane Conacher (Canisius College, Syracuse Crunch): Looks like the Conacher brothers will play together for the first time as the youngest of the Conacher clan signed a deal with the Crunch after a stint in Tampa Bay camp on a professional tryout. Conacher left Canisius after his junior season to sign with the Toronto Marlies but an injury last summer kept him sidelined most of the season. He ended up playing 25 games for the Orlando Solar Bears in the ECHL and three games for the Marlies.

Nick DeSimone (East Amherst, San Jose Barracuda): The defenseman turned pro after three seasons with Union College. He was assigned to the AHL for his first full pro season.

Marcus Foligno (Buffalo, Minnesota Wild): The son of former Sabres forward Mike Foligno was born in Buffalo and began his pro hockey career in the same city as his dad. The offseason dealt him to Minnesota where he signed a four-year deal worth a reported $11.5 million. Last season with the Sabres, he had a career high 13 goals and 10 assists. Foligno is expected to provide depth in the bottom six forward positions for the Wild while adding size to their lineup.

Patrick Kane (Buffalo, Chicago Blackhawks): The South Buffalo native continues to carve out a career as one of the best American-born scorers in the NHL. Last season, Kane was tied with Sidney Crosby with 89 points ranking second in the NHL to Connor McDavid. In his 740 career NHL games he has 285 goals and 467 assists. He is a six-time NHL All-Star, including the last three straight seasons, and has won Stanley Cups with the Blackhawks in 2010, 2013 and 2015.

This season will be different for Kane, who lost linemate Artemi Panarin in an off-season trade to the Columbus Blue Jackets.

"Sometimes even the last couple of years, your favorite shifts are going out with the fourth-line guys when a forward is hurt," Kane told the Chicago Tribune. "You can draw off that too. I'm just playing the game I'm accustomed to, try to develop chemistry with your linemates as time goes along and talk about things you can utilize during the game.

"With" Panarin "there was obvious chemistry there. But he's gone now ... and hopefully you can create something here with someone else."

Tim Kennedy (Buffalo, Binghamton Devils): Kennedy was on the training camp roster for the AHL's Devils. The 31-year-old center played 47 games for the Rochester Americans last season after spending the previous year in the Russian KHL league.

Sean Malone (West Seneca, Rochester Americans): Drafted by the Sabres in the sixth round of the 2013 draft, Malone played four years at Harvard before making his NHL debut at the end of last season. A hip injury kept him out of prospects camp and spilled over into main camp. The centerman had 42 goals in his Harvard career.

Thomas McCollum (Amherst, Grand Rapids Griffins): The 27-year-old is back with the organization that drafted him. Detroit selected the goaltender in the first round, 30th overall, in the 2008 draft. He played just three games for Detroit, spending most of his pro hockey career in the American Hockey League. The Red Wings reacquired McCollum in a trade with the Calgary Flames.

Chris Mueller (West Seneca, Toronto Marlies): There are probably plenty of tales the 31-year-old Mueller can tell. A graduate of Nichols who played four seasons at Michigan State, Mueller has played in 578 AHL games while just 53 in the NHL. He was an alternate captain for the Tucson Roadrunners of the AHL last season, scoring 19 goals with 48 assists in 68 games. This summer, the center signed a two-year, two-way contract with Toronto.

Brooks Orpik (Amherst, Washington Capitals): Now a veteran of 901 NHL games, Orpik, who was born in San Francisco but grew up in Amherst, is entering his fourth season with the Caps after spending the first 11 seasons of his pro hockey career with Pittsburgh. The 37-year-old defenseman had 14 assists in the regular season last year and two assists in Washington's playoff run.

Andrew Poturalski (Williamsville, Charlotte Checkers): A graduate of Nichols, Poturalski played two seasons with the University of New Hampshire before turning pro in 2016. Last season, he played in two NHL games for the Carolina Hurricanes, spending 74 games with their AHL affiliate, the Charlotte Checkers, where he scored 19 goals with 33 assists. The 23-year-old center was a late cut from Carolina camp and will start the season in the AHL.

Lee Stempniak (West Seneca, Carolina Hurricanes): The 34-year-old veteran of 872 NHL games gives experiences to a young Carolina team. He scored his 200th career goal last season but has missed most of training camp with an injury. The News & Observer reported that Stempniak had soreness in his back, then in his hip and groin area. Coach Bill Peters said Stempniak underwent an MRI.

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