The Journey takes a closer look at which players could be called up in the second half of the NHL season and how they could potentially impact their teams.
Mikko Rantanen – Colorado Avalanche
Rantanen returned to the San Antonio Rampage lineup one week ago, fresh off captaining Finland’s WJC Team to a gold medal. Safe to say, he hasn’t missed a beat. With five points in his last three games, including a hat trick against Bakersfield on January 23rd, Rantanen continues to dominate in the AHL. Colorado’s season is currently hanging in the balance in the unrelenting Central division, and their playoff picture will become clearer prior to the February 29th trade deadline. Whether Rantanen is a replacement for a traded player, or more firepower for a playoff push, his play has improved to the point that he should see NHL action again this season.
Josh Morrissey – Winnipeg Jets
The Jets will be one of the NHL’s most interesting trade deadline cases. Impending free agents and their current place in the Western Conference standings will force some tough decisions in Winnipeg over the next month. Morrissey has not been as offensively productive as many would have hoped in his first season with Manitoba, but that could be directly linked to the fact that the Moose are the lowest scoring team in the AHL, averaging just over two goals per game. His 11 points in 41 games are second among defensemen on the team. The Jets current defense is a veteran group outside of Jacob Trouba and Tyler Myers, and the decision to get a closer look at their future could come sooner rather than later. If Dustin Byfuglien gets moved, Morrissey’s call up becomes even more likely.
William Nylander – Toronto Maple Leafs
Nylander has been one the best players in the AHL in his 27 games with the Marlies this season. Currently tied for 12th in AHL scoring with 34 points, Nylander sits only nine points back of the league leaders despite playing far less games. His injury at the WJC and a bout with appendicitis certainly has put a damper on his breakout season, but he is back skating in full contact practices symptom free and could return as early as this weekend. If it wasn’t for the Leafs patience in handling their rebuild and the desire to develop their prospects slowly, Nylander would likely have made his NHL debut by now. Likely that debut will occur sometime before the end of the 2015-16 season.
Seth Griffith – Boston Bruins
If it wasn’t for a preseason injury, Griffith may have made the Bruins out of camp this season. His 30 game stint in the NHL last year was successful posting ten points, with four of those coming with the man advantage. In his two games with the B’s this season, he was used in a top six role and received over three minutes of power play time on average per game. A consistent scorer in the AHL, averaging .86 points per game across the last three seasons, Griffith is ready to graduate to the NHL for good. When he does make the jump he will likely battle fellow prospects David Pastrnak and Alexander Khokhlachev for time on the Bruins scoring lines.
Hunter Shinkaruk – Vancouver Canucks
After a decent rookie season with the Utica Comets in 2014-15, Shinkaruk’s has taken a huge step forward towards solidifying his place at the top of Vancouver’s prospect pecking order this year. His solid play in his sophomore AHL season earned the young sniper a one game call-up and his NHL debut in November, where he played just under ten minutes and failed to record his first NHL point. The youth movement in Vancouver has started with Bo Horvat, Jared McCann and Jake Virtanen securing spots in the NHL, and Shinkaruk may get a longer look by the end of the season. If the Canucks fall out of the playoff race they could do worse then calling up Utica’s leading scorer (31 points in 35 games).
Derrick Pouliot – Pittsburgh Penguins
Ok so I’m cheating a bit with this one since Pouliot was called up within the last 10 days and played two games this week, but at least you’ll get some information about the young blueliner. After a disappointing demotion to the AHL following NHL preseason camp, Pouliot has performed admirably for Wilkes-Barre Scranton. His 23 points in 37 games lead the Penguins defensemen, and his plus-15 is good for second on the team. Pittsburgh will benefit from Pouliot’s puck moving ability, not only at even strength but also on the power play where Kris Letang’s minutes more than double any other defenseman on the roster. The Penguins appear to be breaking out of their 40 game funk to start the NHL season and Pouliot’s offensive ability could be key in pushing them towards the playoffs.
Ryan Hartman – Chicago Blackhawks
The Illinois native and former first round pick has performed well in his second full season in the AHL with the Rockford IceHogs. Hartman has received two separate call-ups to the NHL, a five game stint last season and a three game showcase this year. Although he likely doesn’t project to a top-six scorer in the future, Hartman provides the type of multi-category potential that fantasy owner’s love. He leads the IceHogs in penalty minutes with 82, and has chipped in with 22 points in 37 games. The fiery winger is fighting for a spot with fellow prospect, Marko Dano so it will be interesting to see who has the ability to stick with the Stanley Cup Champions.
Ryan Pulock – New York Islanders
Pulock already has NHL level skills on the offensive side of the puck (.50 PPG in 98 AHL games), but has been tasked with improving the defensive aspects of his game this season in Bridgeport. He has been called up to the NHL twice over the past two seasons, but has yet to debut with the Islanders, who have a solid core group of defensemen that has made it easier to allow Pulock to develop in the minors. When he does make his NHL debut, offensive numbers for fantasy owners shouldn’t be far behind. His elite shot from the point should make him a player that is dangerous not only at even strength but also with the man advantage. The 2016 AHL All-Star will likely will be a mainstay on the Isles blueline starting next season, but that time frame could be shifted up if Travis Hamonic or one of their veteran defensemen is moved before the deadline.
Charles Hudon – Montreal Canadiens
Highly doubtful that the Canadiens are sellers at the deadline, but in the rare event that they are, the undersized pivot could get a look for Montreal. After a rookie season where Hudon ranked second among rookie AHL scorers with 57 points in 75 games, the former fifth round selection has proven this season that those numbers were no fluke. He has continued his solid scoring pace in 2015-16 with 29 points in 39 games, while being a plus player and averaging almost two penalty minutes per game. Probably the longest shot on this list to get NHL time, but the Canadiens have been cycling through players, trying to find a formula that will pull the team out of the current funk they are in.
Give Kevin a follow @kleblanchockey for NHL prospect talk and happenings.
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