Exciting times are upon us, now that we’re on the eve of the 2017-18 campaign. Many of those training camp surprises have been sent down to the AHL or back to their junior squads.
This week, I will focus on some of those young players still on their respective NHL rosters who have played well enough to potentially snag a significant role this season. Let’s throw some of these names against the wall and see who might stick.
Imagine heading into your rookie NHL campaign and you have a shot to open the season with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron? In his final season of college hockey, Anders Bjork had 52 points in 39 games. He was even invited to play at the World Championship for Team USA last year, but had no points in five contests. Bjork is not a sure thing to stick, but he’s certainly trending in the right direction.
There is another young Bruin, who is in a mighty enviable position right now. In his first professional season, Jake DeBrusk recorded 19 goals and 49 points in 74 AHL contests. The soon-to-be 21-year-old could open his inaugural NHL campaign with David Krejci and David Pastrnak, although I would prefer to see David Backes on that line just to see what the media would nickname the line. I’m not convinced DeBrusk is quite ready for a full season in a top-six role.
Defenseman Victor Mete is breaking camp as part of the top pairing with Shea Weber. A Habs’ 2016 fourth-round selection, Mete upped his game last year, registering 15 goals and 44 points in 50 games for the OHL’s London Knights. This one feels to me like it could be a nine-game audition before returning to dominate junior and play in the World Junior Hockey Championship.
New York Rangers
The Rangers second line sees an 18-year-old rookie Filip Chytil centering veterans Rick Nash and Mats Zuccarello. Chytil (pronounced HEET-UL) was the 21st overall pick in last June’s NHL entry draft. The Czech native has average size, but is an above average skater. He flashed his potential last year at the World Junior Hockey Championship, where he recorded five points in five games. His skating ability might just help him stick with the big club.
New York Islanders
The team couldn’t ignore Mathew Barzal after another outstanding training camp this year. The 20-year-old has wheels and will get a shot at centering the second line between Andrew Ladd and Josh Bailey. Barzal will have to compete for power play ice time, but he will definitely be in the mix. He’s ready.
It looks like Anthony Beauvillier will play on the third line with Brock Nelson and Josh Ho-Ho-Sang, two decent offensive players. He will have an opportunity to build on a decent rookie NHL season, when he scored 24 points in 66 games.
Pavel Zacha was presented with a golden opportunity when Travis Zajac went down for an expected four to six months (torn pectoral muscle). The 20-year-old Czech has earned the right to center the first line between Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri. He will also be in contention for top power-play minutes. Look for a breakout campaign.
The first overall pick from this year’s entry draft, Nico Hischier, will start his rookie campaign between Marcus Johansen and Drew Stafford. Hischier has looked good during the pre-season.
Two other young forwards are still battling it out for a third line role. One of Jesper Bratt or Nick Lappin will play with Adam Henrique and freshly-signed Jimmy Hayes. Bratt has come out of nowhere to stand out all camp. The 19-year-old was drafted by the Devils in the sixth round of the 2016 entry draft. What he lacks in size, he makes up for with effort. Nick Lappin is a 24-year-old undrafted winger who split last season between the NHL (seven points in 43 games) and AHL (29 points in 35 games). I see Bratt getting some NHL games under his belt, but ultimately being sent to the OHL London Knights.
On the backend, defenseman Will Butcher is likely going to start the year manning the top power play, pushing Damon Severson to the second unit. Butcher had 37 points in 43 college games last year. If he struggles at all, it would be very easy to see Severson sliding back into that role.
Jakub Vrana is expected to start the year with Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov. Brett Connolly will be lurking with any scoring drought or when the coach just wants to shake up the lines, which is pretty much every game. Vrana is far from a lock to play the entire season in this prime spot.
I did not expect Owen Tippett to still be on the Panthers roster this close to the start of the season. I think we’ll see him play some NHL games and then be sent back to junior. As we know, lines usually don’t last more than a few games in the NHL these days.
The only guarantee is that lines will change early and often. Best of luck this season.
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