Thirty-five players made their NHL debut during the opening days of the NHL season, with many more rookies earning full[time roles after short stints in previous years. The top two picks from the 2019 draft, Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko played in their first big-league contests, and despite joining the Colorado Avalanche for the playoffs last season, Calder Trophy candidate Cale Makar skated in his first regular season game.
Yet, even though the Calder Trophy watch is already in full swing, there's been almost as much focus on the young guys who didn't make opening-night rosters. As teams begin to get a better understanding of their rosters, however, we should see several fresh faces enter into lineups. Here are five of the top prospects who should earn early call-ups to the NHL:
Vitali Kravtsov, LW – New York Rangers
The Rangers know how good Kravtsov will be and he was solid in the pre-season, finishing with the second-highest 5-on-5 expected goals rate on the Rangers with 0.51. But the Rangers are crowded on the left side after adding Artemi Panarin to the fold and that resulted in the rookie hopeful starting the campaign in the AHL. If the Rangers end up moving Chris Kreider or Vladislav Namestnikov, though, Kravstov is a ready replacement in for New York's top six. But for now, there's no sense in rushing him as he continues to adjust to the North American game. He's good enough to play today, but there's no rush just yet.
Filip Zadina, RW – Detroit Red Wings
With five assists in four games largely spent setting up Joe Veleno, Zadina was a standout in Traverse City, but a lone assist in the pre-season didn’t make him a must for opening night. Zadina struggled to really light the AHL up last season, posting 35 points in 59 games, but he started to find his game as the season wore on. He has worked hard at developing his two-way game and his playmaking abilities have made him more than a one-dimensional winger. As Detroit isn’t expected to compete for a playoff spot, Zadina will be called up to learn, make mistakes and further refine his game at some point this season. (Fun fact: Upper Deck put Zadina on the cover of its MVP card set this season, so I bet the company would love to see him in the NHL soon.)
Joe Veleno, C – Detroit Red Wings
The second half of the dominant Wings duo in Traverse City, Veleno had a tournament-leading seven goals after posting 42 goals and 104 points in his final QMJHL season. He had nothing left to prove in junior and will be one of the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins' top forwards for the time being. He also had a tremendous World Junior Summer Showcase showing and few players had as much momentum heading into training camp as Veleno. Was it enough to make Detroit’s opening night roster? Probably, but there isn’t a need to rush him given that the Wings aren’t a playoff contender. Veleno had three assists in the pre-season, but coach Jeff Blashill told reporters he wants to see Veleno improve his two-way play to be a more effective NHL center. Still, look for him to get some opportunities this season with the big club.
Ryan Poehling, C – Montreal Canadiens
A concussion early in the pre-season prevented Poehling from making the Canadiens out of training camp, but don't expect him to spend the entire season in with the Laval Rocket. Poehling caught the attention of Habs fans in April when he scored a hat-trick against Toronto in the final game of the season and he was expected to fill a bottom-six role for the Habs before the injury. Nick Suzuki's emergence in Montreal's top six made Poehling easier to demote, but he should play his way into the lineup despite missing most of training camp.
Eeli Tolvanen, RW – Nashville Predators
Two years ago, Tolvanen was on top of the world: he finished as the KHL's top rookie, made the Olympic all-star team after finishing tied for second in scoring with nine points and was simply among the best players in men's international play throughout the season. Last season, however, he struggled to find his groove in the AHL and had only a four-game stint with Nashville. Tolvanen was cut with a few days left in training camp, but there's still no reason to rush the 20-year-old. Starting the season as the Milwaukee Admirals' top winger could pay dividends as he looks to prove he's capable of producing at a higher level.
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