The hockey season officially got underway Thursday night with Shawinigan stomping Rimouski 7-2 in the QMJHL. My first road trip of the year is this weekend as well, as I head out to the Traverse City prospects tournament in Michigan. Hosted by the Detroit Red Wings, the shindig involves youngsters and hopefuls for eight NHL teams – Detroit, Dallas, St. Louis, Chicago, Carolina, Minnesota, Columbus and the Rangers. You'll find questions involving a couple of those teams below.
And as always, if you have a question you'd like to see answered, go to my Twitter page (@THNRyanKennedy) and use the hashtag #thnfutures. Let's get to your queries:
Do you think Ty Rattie can make the St. Louis Blues this season?
– Vincent Mongrain (@vincentM10)
This is the make-or-break year for Rattie, a talented scorer coming off a second solid year in the AHL. We all know how deep St. Louis is, but the injury to Patrik Berglund has presented a golden opportunity for a youngster to step up. Rattie has the most experience, so if he can seize the reins in training camp, he'll put himself in a great position.
In terms of peers, I see Robby Fabbri and Ivan Barbashev as his greatest competition. They'll both be in Traverse City, which will make for a nice pre-camp battle (Rattie, who captained the prospects team last year, is too experienced to play in the tourney again).
Fabbri is ultra-skilled and fast, while Barbashev can bring more of a responsible two-way game up front. If Rattie can fend off those two – not to mention any veteran contenders on the bubble – then we'll see him for at least a couple of months in St. Louis.
Which Dallas Stars prospects crack the roster this year?
– Ian Poynter (@PoynterIan)
Another Traverse City team, the Stars won't have a big infusion of youth this year, particularly since Brett Ritchie is laid up right now. The race will be on defense and I suppose it depends on how you define "prospect." Jamie Oleksiak is no longer Calder-eligible, but he is still finding his way. Same goes for Patrik Nemeth, whose biggest impediment last year was a major injury (arm laceration). And finally, there's Jyrki Jokkipakka, who will now be a sophomore NHLer, should he earn the time.
None of these players are rookies, but they are still young. They'll all be fighting for the sixth spot on defense, while we can't forget Stephen Johns, acquired in the Patrick Sharp deal. He'll have to jump those three to make his NHL debut, but the Stars are intrigued by the big guy.
If Nikolaj Ehlers gets three or four more points than Connor McDavid, who wins rookie of the year?
– The Sawch (@thesawch)
We're all ready for an epic Calder Trophy race, right? Ehlers, McDavid, Jack Eichel, Max Domi…it's gonna be big. Barring some sort of incredible two-way performance – which is a lot to expect from a first-year player – points are going to win out this year. The best comparison would be the Sidney Crosby-Alex Ovechkin race in 2005-06. Ovie finished with 106 points, while 'The Kid' posted 102. Ovie got the trophy.
And because there are so many big names this season, I can't see there being much voting bias (the awards are determined by hockey writers such as myself). It's going to be a straight meritocracy and if Ehlers leads the pack, he'll win the Calder.
Last year, the draft had a clear No. 1, a clear No. 2 and a clear 3-5. How do you see the tiers for 2016?
– Jared Gatzemeyer (@the_great_gatz)
Right now, Auston Matthews is my clear No. 1. Then, I see Jakob Chychrun, Jesse Puljujarvi and Matthew Tkachuk together. From there, it becomes a little less clear. In the early going, Finland's Patrik Laine is sounding like an X-factor. He's a big kid with great hands and a lot of scoring power. Skating had been a knock, but it sounds like he's already improved in that category since last season. He could shake up the tiers once we get down to regular season action.
Is defenseman Josh Morrissey worth taking as my only prospect in a deep keeper draft?
– Chris Jennings (@AvesFan101)
I'm no pool expert, but since you know Morrissey is a blueliner, I'm assuming you don't intend on drafting a forward. If you want a defensemen with the potential to put offensive numbers, Morrissey is a good choice. Once he ingrains himself in Winnipeg, he has the chance to be a top power play guy and an even-strength threat. I'd give him a few more years before he puts up big numbers, but the opportunity is there. Noah Hanifin (Carolina) would be the other obvious choice on the back end.