It’s almost that time of year again. Rookie tournament’s are in the offing, with the eight-team Traverse City competition set to kick off next week. With that in mind, we’re taking a look at a prospect from each team worth getting excited about this season:
Anaheim Ducks – Sam Steel, C, 21
Anaheim is on the verge of graduating multiple young talents to the NHL this season, but Steel is the name you’re going to hear most. Ryan Kesler’s hip surgery and placement on the long-term injured reserve will allow Steel to earn more ice time. After a superb 22-game stint with the Ducks last year, he’ll be a bigger contributor this season for the rebuilding club.
Arizona Coyotes – Kyle Capobianco, D, 22
A leg injury kept Capobianco out of action for the second half of the season, but he was on track to finish as one of the top-scoring defensemen in the AHL. Expect him to start off with limited minutes, but it won’t take him long to earn some top-four playing time.
Boston Bruins – Trent Frederic, C, 21
No stars heading to Boston this year as they continue with their core group. Frederic may get a few games along the way, but the Bruins are deep at center and Frederic is still another year or two away from a regular role.
Buffalo Sabres – Victor Olofsson, LW, 24
Henrik Jokiharju would have been the best option had he not skated in nearly 40 games last season in Chicago, but Olofsson isn’t a bad choice, either. He had four points in six NHL games alongside Jack Eichel last season and was one of just six U-25 players to score 30 goals in the AHL. He’s not big and his game doesn’t suit the bottom six, but he’ll battle for a spot in camp.
Calgary Flames – Dillon Dube, C, 21
Dube finished right at the 25-game mark last season, but should earn more opportunities in 2019-20. He has the makings of a top-six forward but needs as much ice time as possible to make that happen. If they can’t give him a regular role, he’ll make do in the AHL again.
Carolina Hurricanes – Martin Necas, RW, 20
Necas was one of the AHL’s top rookies en route to Charlotte’s Calder Cup victory last season. He’ll start as a middle-six forward and should be a factor for 30-35 points this season.
Chicago Blackhawks – Alexander Nylander, RW, 21
The Blackhawks had to give up Jokiharju, a top defensive prospect, in order to get Nylander, so the gamble better pay off. A new home and a good group around him should elevate Nylander’s game after a couple of rough seasons in the Sabres organization.
Colorado Avalanche – Cale Makar, D, 20
Makar made an incredible impression with the Avalanche during the playoffs last season and will be a game-changer for the playoff-bound club this season. A future Norris Trophy winner.
Columbus Blue Jackets – Alexandre Texier, LW, 19
Texier did everything right in the Finnish League and was impressive during a limited North American run to end the season. He’s part of the future of Columbus’ offense.
Dallas Stars – Jason Robertson, RW, 20
Robertson is coming off of a season that saw him lead all CHL players with 117 points. He has spent time training with Gary Roberts to improve his fitness and strength and will be looking at a top-six spot before you know it.
Detroit Red Wings – Filip Zadina, RW, 19
Zadina’s AHL numbers didn’t blow anyone away, but he started to show improvements later in the season and had a couple of nice showings in the NHL. He’s not a favorite for the Calder Trophy, but he knows how to score.
Edmonton Oilers – Evan Bouchard, D, 19
A well-rounded defender, Bouchard is the best blueline prospect the Oilers have had since Darnell Nurse. Bouchard was just OK in seven NHL games last year but lit the AHL up and was a point-per-game player in eight playoff contests.
Florida Panthers – Owen Tippett, RW, 20
There may have never been this much optimism in Florida ever. Tippett has found a way to round out his game nicely over the past few years and did everything he possibly could in junior to show he will be a top goal-scorer in the NHL someday. He’ll be a consistent 30-goal guy in the future, and his NHL career is set to start now in Sunrise.
Los Angeles Kings – Carl Grundstrom, LW, 21
Grundstrom had a nice 15-game run with the Kings last season and a weak roster will allow him to play a pivotal role this season. Don’t be surprised if he spends a significant chunk of the season on the second line.
Minnesota Wild – Louie Belpedio, D, 23
Belpedio has an outside shot at making the Wild this season after a head-turning rookie campaign with the AHL’s Iowa Wild last season. He’ll get some chance if injuries arise, but don’t expect him to play more than 20 games at this point.
Montreal Canadiens – Ryan Poehling, C, 20
Last year it was Jesperi Kotkaniemi. Now, it’s Poehling. His debut hat-trick last season may have given fans a bit too much optimism for this season, but if he can fill the third-line center role effectively and contribute 30-plus points, he’ll be a major asset for the club.
Nashville Predators – Eeli Tolvanen, RW, 20
Forget the talk about Tolvanen being a bust. Sure, he didn’t have a strong season in the AHL, but he chipped in two points in four NHL games and his defensive game has greatly improved. Give him something to work with and he’ll do wonders.
New Jersey Devils – Nikita Gusev, LW, 27
Let’s take this opportunity to look at someone other than Jack Hughes, even though, technically, Gusev doesn’t qualify as a rookie. He’s too old. That said, he’s making his first foray into the NHL and coming off of one of the best KHL seasons ever.
New York Islanders – Sebastian Aho, D, 23
After a 23-game run in 2017-18, Aho spent the entire 2018-19 season in Bridgeport. The defense corps is a little crowded this season, but Aho isn’t far off from cracking the lineup as a regular.
New York Rangers – Vitali Kravtsov, RW, 19
Kaapo Kakko isn’t the only European winger the Rangers are excited about this season. Kravtsov, who stands 6-foot-4, is a big, skilled forward who is an absolute headache to play against. He’ll be a top-six forward for the next decade.
Ottawa Senators – Drake Batherson, RW, 21
Erik Brannstrom is going to be a mighty fine defenseman one day, but all eyes are on Batherson this season. He had a solid nine-point run in 20 games with Ottawa last season and time on the top line isn’t out of the question this season. Batherson is further proof that the Senators know what they’re doing when it comes to prospects.
Philadelphia Flyers – Philippe Myers, D, 22
An undrafted gem, Myers is a big defenseman who’ll play a shutdown role for Philadelphia this season. Justin Braun’s acquisition will make staying up full-time challenging for Myers, but he’s a contender.
Pittsburgh Penguins – Justin Almeida, C, 20
He’s a bit of a long shot, but it’s not out of the question to think Almedia gets a chance after two explosive seasons in the WHL. He may be small, but he brings a lot to the table and isn’t afraid to grind things out.
San Jose Sharks – Dylan Gambrell, C, 23
Gambrell is still looking for his first NHL point after 11 games, but he had a great rookie campaign in the AHL last year. Joe Thornton is expected to be back, but Gambrell will battle for a depth role.
St Louis Blues – Jordan Kyrou, C, 21
Kyrou’s 16-game stint was unspectacular in St. Louis but he had no problem lighting up the AHL. There might not be a full-time spot for him this year, but he’ll get called up at some point.
Tampa Bay Lightning – Mitchell Stephens, C, 22
The Lightning could look to trade some expensive contracts this season, depending on what happens with Brayden Point. If so, Stephens may finally get his first shot at the NHL, but ice time won’t come easy.
Toronto Maple Leafs – Ilya Mikheyev, LW, 24
Mikheyev has good size and a shot that terrorized KHL goaltenders for years. He’ll have to fight to get top-six minutes, but he should have solid linemates to work with regardless.
Vancouver Canucks – Thatcher Demko, G, 23
Demko has the size and athleticism needed to thrive in today’s NHL. He’ll use this year to learn under Jacob Markstrom before likely taking the starting role in 2020-21. He has nothing left to prove in the AHL and he’s the goalie of the future in Vancouver.
Vegas Golden Knights – Cody Glass, C, 20
Jonathan Toews 2.0? You bet. Glass is a smart, two-way center who rarely puts his team in a bad situation and handles the defensive game with aplomb. WHL goalies will be thanking their lucky stars that he’s gone now.
Washington Capitals – Lucas Johansen, D, 21
Injuries limited his playing time in 2018-19, but he’s reenergized and ready to go after showing promising signs in his second AHL campaign. He’ll suit up for just a handful of games before being a true NHL fixture in 2020-21.
Winnipeg Jets – Kristian Vesalainen, LW, 20
After ending up in the minors last season, Vesalainen departed for the KHL to continue his development. He’s back now and will fight for a roster spot and possibly even a place in the top six.
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