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Springfield Thunderbirds

Highmore Highlights Springfield’s Start

Highmore Highlights Springfield’s Start

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – It’s safe to say it hasn’t been the start that the defending Eastern Conference Champions have been looking for. The Springfield Thunderbirds have struggled out of the gate this season, sitting below .500 and out of a playoff spot if the postseason began today. Despite their current footing in the league standings, it’d be foolish to expect the team’s struggles to be permanent, as a number of Thunderbirds skaters have been contributing at an impressive rate this season, with one of the St. Louis Blues’ summer acquisitions paying dividends for the team.

Leading scorer Matthew Highmore has proven to be dominant in his return to the American Hockey League as the brightest spot on his team and the Atlantic Division as a whole. Highmore joined the Blues organization this summer after spending the last two seasons at the National Hockey League level, most recently with the Vancouver Canucks after he was acquired in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks. Highmore, an undrafted forward who played for the Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League prior to turning pro, was signed to a three-year entry-level contract by the Blackhawks, playing part of four seasons at the NHL level or with their AHL affiliate, the Rockford IceHogs.

Highmore has bounced back and forth over his career to the NHL and AHL levels, not really getting a chance to settle into a consistent role over his career despite having a fantastic rookie season in 2017-18 with the IceHogs, scoring a goal in his debut and being selected to the 2018 AHL All-Star Classic in Utica. He tallied 43 points (24 goals, 19 assists) in 64 games in Rockford. He’d play half that number of games at the AHL level over the course of the next two seasons as he dealt with injuries and spent time in Chicago, and he’s never had the chance to match the numbers of that initial season, with injuries hampering him up to last season with the Canucks.

The forward has skated in all 22 of Springfield’s games this season, and in a distinctly difficult division to excel in on an individual basis, Highmore has made a name for himself by tallying 23 points (five goals, 18 assists) in that span. The mark is good for a three-way tie for tenth place in scoring in the AHL, with Highmore the only player from an Atlantic Division team to crack the top twenty. Highmore is on pace to eclipse his previous AHL best by a pretty wide margin, as he’s already within 20 points of his previous best of 43 set during the 2017-18 season. It stands to reason that Highmore should expand his game even further, as that season saw him tally eight power play goals, a shorthanded goal, and three game-winners. He’s one assist away from matching his previous best, and that’s not mentioning he only has five goals compared to 24 that season. If he’s able to continue that pace, he could be in contention for the league’s scoring leader by the season’s end.

Highmore has had help with the likes of Martin Frk (17 points in 17 games played) and Nathan Todd (eight goals, 14 points). It’s helped Springfield move on from the bevy of talent that departed in free agency over the summer from a group that was three wins away from a championship. It’s easy to forget that Highmore wasn’t a part of that team as he’s fit seamlessly into this new group.

The Thunderbirds have been without plenty of talent over the course of the season, including last season’s 60-point scorer in Matthew Peca, incoming rookie Tanner Dickinson (who was placed on season-opening injured reserve), and Scott Perunovich, all of whom would either be playing for the Thunderbirds or creating important depth. Instead, it’s been a revolving door of players getting recalled by the Blues, with players like Highmore providing some stability in Springfield. As the Thunderbirds continue to improve and hone their game this season, it won’t be surprising to see Highmore leading the way and helping Springfield push their way to a playoff berth in the spring.

 

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