At this point last season, Mitch Wahl was regarded as an indispensable cog in the Abbotsford Heat forward corps.
On Thursday, the 21-year-old centre from Seal Beach, Calif. was loaned to the Hamilton Bulldogs for the balance of the season.
At first glance, it’s an eyebrow-raising transaction, given Wahl’s status as a second-round draft pick by the Calgary Flames in 2008. But it reflects the Heat’s vastly superior depth this season, and the amount of ground Wahl has to cover as he comes back from head injuries which cost him most of the 2010-11 campaign.
Last year, as a rookie on the youngest team in the league, Wahl was Abbotsford’s first-line centre on opening night. This year, with newcomers like Ben Walter and Paul Byron (currently on recall with the Calgary Flames) in the fold and returnee Greg Nemisz seeing a lot more time in the middle, top-six forward minutes have been comparatively difficult to come by.
Heat head coach Troy Ward said that Flames management wanted to ensure Wahl got consistent playing time at the AHL level.
“It’s a new place for the Abbotsford Heat, relative to the last few years,” Ward noted. “Our situation has changed dynamically, with the fact that we’ve had some older players who have come in and complimented the younger players. With all those moves in the off-season, it became tougher for Mitch to get ice time.”
Wahl has been shaking off rust this fall after missing all but 17 games last season. He sustained facial fractures and a concussion in a game against the Manitoba Moose on Nov. 27, 2010, courtesy of a devastating open-ice check from Aaron Volpatti.
Wahl did a stint with the ECHL’s Utah Grizzlies, notching five goals and two assists in five games. In five games with the Heat, he did not register a point while posting a -2 rating.
Ward said the loan to the Bulldogs isn’t intended as a negative statement on Wahl’s stock as a prospect.
“The coaching staff here believes in Mitch, and I think the NHL (management) group believes in Mitch,” he said.
DOWLING RECALLED, MACMILLAN RE-ASSIGNED
The Heat made two other transactions on Thursday, as forward Justin Dowling was recalled from the ECHL’s Utah Grizzlies and Logan MacMillan was re-assigned to take his place in Utah.
MacMillan had one assist and a -2 rating in seven games with the Heat, while Dowling has been a consistent offensive producer in Utah with 11 points (two goals, nine assists) in 12 games.
“We’ve tried to reward the guys who have good attitudes and good work ethics down there,” Ward noted. “We’re still making a lot of decisions as to who’s playing in what situations, and I think the management group has done an outstanding job of shuffling guys around, and letting us look at different guys.”
ROAD WARRIORS KEEP ON TRUCKING
The Heat wrap up a seven-game road trip – their longest of the season – with a three-games-in-three-nights stretch this weekend. They take on the Oklahoma City Barons on Friday and Saturday, then face the Houston Aeros on Sunday.
The Heat are looking to build on a terrific 9-1-0-0 road record.
“We’re really just worried about the process right now, we’re not worried about the outcome,” Ward asserted. “Along the way, we’ve been able to have some success. We’ve found some comfort on the road, traveling together as a group of people, and we’ll just keep plugging along.”
The Heat’s next home games are Nov. 25 and 27, when they host the Rampage at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre.