Many of those NHL refugees have found AHL life to be a tough go. The AHL's night-in, night-out physical pounding, the four games in five nights, the overnight bus rides, those factors added up to leave a lot skaters who held regular jobs in the NHL last season to find the AHL adjustment to be a difficult one.
Chuck Kobasew, who went 6-11-17 in 70 games last season with Calgary, was not one of those players.
The Calgary farmhand has spent his 2004-05 campaign with the Lowell Lock Monsters, putting up big numbers (37-36-73 in 77 games) on one of the AHL's top lines and earning himself first-team all-star honors along the way.
Kobasew, Calgary's first-round pick in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, skates on the right side of a line centered by Eric Staal (25-51-76 in 76 games), with Forbes (27-35-62 in 74 games) flanking on the left side. Together, that line, which is a combined plus-100 this season, has terrorized AHL goaltenders all season for the Lock Monsters, one of the AHL's most up-tempo and transition-based clubs.
"You know what," Kobasew said "we've been together since about the tenth game of the season, and we've just found some chemistry together on the ice."
The stocky Kobasew (5-11, 195 pounds) and his good wheels fit in well with the size and strength of the wiry Forbes and Staal.
"It's a huge honor," Kobasew said of being named a first-team all-star, "and I'm very excited. With all the great players in this league, it's a little surprising. I wouldn't have been able to do it without my linemates."
At the ripe age of 23, Kobasew captains a Lowell team that boasts solid characters in Mike Commodore, Craig MacDonald and Forbes.
"It's a big honor for me," Kobasew said of being named captain. "We've got three or four veterans on this team. We have a lot of guys with NHL experience. For me to be able to help the younger guys who are coming in from junior is a great experience."
The Flames share Lowell with the Carolina Hurricanes, and Staal and Forbes are Carolina property. Dual affiliations in the AHL are full of potential pitfalls, but head coach Tom Rowe and assistant coach Scott Allen, a Calgary employee, have blended prospects from the two NHL clubs into one cohesive unit.
"It didn't take too much (adjustment)," Kobasew said of the affiliation. "Everyone bought into the system. There is a little mixture of both (NHL clubs') systems in our system. It's good that the two organizations work well together. Everybody works well with everybody."
Cam Ward, named to the AHL's all-rookie team after a stellar WHL career with Red Deer, anchors the Lowell net, giving the Lock Monsters the ability to play a tight-to-the-vest game or to open up play a bit.
The Lock Monsters, who are slated to face the Hartford Wolf Pack in the first round of the Calder Cup playoffs, are considered a dark-horse in many AHL circles. Perhaps only the Binghamton Senators, who boast the likes of Jason Spezza, Antoine Vermette, Denis Hamel and Brandon Bochenski up front, can match the Lock Monsters' offensive firepower.
Some think that the Lock Monsters could knock off Hartford and move on to take some of the other forces of the Eastern Conference. Certainly Kobasew feels that way.
"We've got something good going on down here. We've got good chemistry."
Patrick Williams is a freelance hockey writer and frequent contributor to SLAM! Sports. His work also appears on theahl.com and several news outlets around the American Hockey League. Feedback is welcomed, and he can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.