The Journey digs into twelve prospect storylines heading into training camp and the start of the 2016 NHL season.
1. Can Nick Ritchie grab a top six role in Anaheim?
Outside of Corey Perry and Jakob Silfverberg, the Ducks are quite thin at the wing position heading into this season. Antoine Vermette’s signing should bump Rickard Rakell to the left side where he could thrive alongside Getzlaf and Perry.
Enter: Nick Ritchie. Anaheim’s left wingers that he will be battling for a spot in the top-six forward group are Andrew Cogliano and Mason Raymond. The bottom-six forwards on the right side are Ryan Garbutt and Jared Boll. Not only could Ritchie find himself playing alongside Ryan Kesler at even strength, but Ritchie could walk right into a second-unit power-play role if he starts the season hot.
Although he only played in 38 American Hockey League games last year, he proved his worth in his short stint with 16 goals and 30 points. When the games mattered most in the AHL playoffs, Ritchie was close to a point-per-game player with eight points in nine games.
2. Could Dylan Strome lead the Arizona forwards in scoring this year?
Hear me out. Max Domi is likely the leader in the clubhouse to be the Coyotes top scoring forward this season, but there are a couple reasons I think that Strome could actually top him.
Arizona moving out Antoine Vermette all but guarantees Strome top-two minutes, considering Martin Hanzal (and his injury problems) and Brad Richardson are the only NHL centers on the roster. Strome may not start the season with Domi and Anthony Duclair at even strength, but he will likely center them on the power play. Add Oliver Ekman-Larsson to the mix, and you have a recipe for a ton of points with the man advantage. Arizona spent more time on the power-play then any other team last season, however they finished 20th in power-play percentage. A playmaker of Strome’s stature could surely help that number this season.
Torey Krug’s shoulder surgery in May was rumored as a six-month timetable in terms of recovery. If everything goes according to plan, the B’s are looking at a November return for their top defenseman.
Miller averaged just over a minute of power-play time last year per game, a number that will likely double while Krug is out of the lineup. Despite modest ice time with the man advantage last season, five of Miller’s 16 points were power-play markers. His increased minutes during Krug’s absence from the lineup, should lead to more points, and potentially a role with the first power-play unit for the whole season once Krug is ready to return.
Miller is already a big part of the Bruins blueline for the future, but he could start paying fantasy owners dividends sooner rather than later because of his favorable situation heading into the season.
4. Which young Carolina defenseman do I want to take a closer look at drafting?
Short answer: Depending on your league type, all of them, especially in cap leagues. The Canes appear stacked on the blueline for the foreseeable future after solid first seasons from Noah Hanifin, Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce.
Hanifin started piling up power-play minutes when the calendar turned to December, and finished the season with an average of 2:22 per game with the man advantage. That number should remain steady in his sophomore season. Add in Hanifin’s relevant hits (67) and blocked shot (78) numbers and you have the makings of an all-around fantasy defenseman at the ripe age of 19.
Slavin is the darkhorse. His terrific rookie season was a bit overlooked, but his numbers were terrific. Playing 21 minutes a night, Slavin posted 20 points and was one of only four regulars who was a plus player. He also blocked 119 shots in just 63 games. Stretched out over an 82-game season, you are looking at a player who could approach 30 points, with 60-plus hits and over 150 blocked shots. Look for an uptick in goals this season, as Slavin’s shooting percentage on his 84 shots on goal was just 2.4 percent.
Pesce has the least fantasy upside of the three, but proved that he could hold his own when given the proper opportunity in his rookie season. In deeper formats, he could be looked at as an injury replacement if one of the other Canes defensemen go down for a lengthy amount of time. For a 24-game stretch in December and January, when Pesce received the bulk of his power-play ice time, he responded with eight of his 16 points, taking 24 shots and adding five power-play points.
Outside of these three, keep an eye on Ryan Murphy’s deployment early in the season, as well as Trevor Carrick and Haydn Fleury waiting in the wings in Charlotte.
5. Will Mikko Rantanen thrive under Jared Bednar in the NHL?
Rantanen’s nine-game stint in the NHL did not go as planned last season, but he took his demotion in stride and dominated the AHL. He finished the season with 60 points in 52 games and shared the AHL Rookie of the Year Trophy with Frank Vatrano.
The 6-foot-4 Finn looks bound to succeed at the NHL level no matter who is coaching him, but Bednar seems like a great fit for the Avalanche’s still youthful roster. Fresh off a Calder Cup victory led by top prospects such as Zach Werenski and Oliver Bjorkstrand, Bednar likely will not downplay the impact that youth can have on the lineup.
Outside of Gabriel Landeskog and Jarome Iginla, the Avs are lacking a dynamic scoring presence on the wing, which is a role Rantanen will eventually provide at the NHL level. Rantanen could split time between the AHL and NHL this season, and be ready to hit the ground running in a favorable scoring role when he is given the opportunity.
6. Does Martin Reway missing training camp kill his chances for a role in Montreal to start the season?
I wouldn’t say that his chances are completely gone, but it definitely does not help his cause. Reway, considered by some a sleeper for a top-six role in Montreal this season, is currently hospitalized in Slovakia with a virus that will cause him to miss the Canadiens training camp.
Missing camp means that Reway will likely start the season with St. John in the AHL. The winger has high upside offensively, which the Canadiens desperately need from the left side. With a strong camp, there was an outside chance of the 21 year old finding his way into a favorable role both at even strength and on the power play with the Habs.
If he can recover fully from what seems to be a pretty serious illness, Reway still has the opportunity to make his NHL debut this season. Unfortunately, it looks like it might take a little longer than anticipated.
Be on the lookout for Part Two of this series next week with six more fresh prospect storylines heading into the 2016-17 season!
Give Kevin a follow @kleblanchockey for NHL prospect talk and happenings.
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