Looking at some of the major prospect storylines heading into the 2016-17 season.
The NHL season starts in just five short days, and teams are finalizing their rosters with their last cuts of training camp. There have been some surprises as well as disappointments among prospects in camp this season, so lets take a closer look at who is still battling out for a final roster spot.
Which Carolina defenseman steps up and grabs the sixth spot on Opening night?
Haydn Fleury, Roland McKeown and Trevor Carrick are still in camp fighting for one (potentially two) spots on the opening night roster. News today came down Friday that bottom pairing defenseman Ryan Murphy would be sidelined three to four weeks due to a lower body injury. Murphy was no lock to be in the starting line up against Winnipeg on opening night either way after a tumultuous camp where he was suffering from the flu and inconsistent play. With this latest setback, there are will be couple holes to fill on the Canes roster.
The team will keep at least seven defensemen for its six game road trip to start the season. Justin Faulk*, Noah Hanifin, Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce and Ron Hainsey are locked in, leaving potentially two to three spots to fill.
McKeown has the leg up here. Coach Bill Peters prefers balanced defensive pairs, and the former Kingston Frontenacs captain is a right-handed shot, easily slotting in to replace Murphy. Keep an eye out on opening night to see who earns Murphy’s second power-play unit minutes.
*Update: Justin Faulk left last night’s game with a lower-body injury, it is not believed to be serious.
Philadelphia will be very fun to watch this season and beyond.
At this point I’d say you can write Ivan Provorov’s name down on the roster in ink. He’s more than ready to play a significant role on the Flyers blueline this season. The fact that Philly has Shayne Gostisbehere and Provorov for the next decade has to make Flyers fans sleep better at night.
On to the next superstar prospect coming up through the Flyers system. Travis Konecny has arguably been the best Flyers player in camp, and is still hanging around forcing the team to keep him in the NHL. He’s earned it, and could be a dynamic piece to Philadelphia’s lineup that should push for a playoff spot this year. Verdict isn’t in for sure, but I have to believe he at least gets the full trial before GM Ron Hextall has to decide to keep him up the whole season or send him back to Sarnia. Scott Laughton going down with an injury certainly can’t hurt his chances.
Olli Juolevi returns to London. Right move?
The Vancouver front office definitely made the correct call here. Selfishly, I’m sure Canucks fans would have loved to see their prized prospect stay in Vancouver this season, but in junior he has the opportunity to play a ton of minutes on a great London team that will contend for a Memorial Cup, and play for Finland at the World Juniors for the second year in a row.
In preseason games and camp, the 6’3” rearguard showed flashes of the potential that is awaiting the Canucks a couple years down the road. He needs to get stronger this season, and will return to camp next year with a better shot of securing a spot on the Vancouver blueline for years to come.
Will Mikhail Sergachev and Jakob Chychrun make their NHL clubs?
At least for nine games. After their trial, it remains to be seen. Unlike fellow lottery picks Juolevi and Carolina’s Jake Bean, Sergachev and Chychrun are both physically closer to being ready for the rigors of the NHL.
One underrated piece of Sergachev getting a shot this early in Montreal is that he would have the ability to be mentored by his fellow countryman Andrei Markov. Sergachev has elite offensive ability and would definitely help the Habs in terms of a power-play presence. With Mark Barberio being sent to the AHL, it appears Zach Redmond has made the Canadiens roster. If the Habs want to get the nine game look at their 2016 first round selection, they will likely carry eight defensemen for the time being.
Chychrun has been playing a ton for Arizona this preseason. On Wednesday, he logged nearly 26 minutes of ice-time against the Flames, which was a team high. It could be that the coaching staff already has a ton of faith in the rookie, or that they are trying to play him as much as possible to see if he is NHL ready. Likely, it’s a mix of both. Arizona has a bit of a logjam on the blueline, but it won’t surprise me to see Chychrun get a trial into the first nine games of the NHL season. If not, he’ll be the last and likely most difficult cut.
Is Mathew Barzal the Islanders second best center?
Got reminded of this one as it was bouncing around Twitter this week: Griffin Reinhart was traded from the Islanders to Edmonton for a 2015 first and second round pick. That first round pick ended up being Mathew Barzal. Ouch. But hey, the Oilers did decent in the 2015 first round regardless of how lopsided this trade looks now. The Islanders then turned second round selection into Anthony Beauvillier, who also has a shot at making the team this fall.
Talent wise, it’s no doubt Barzal has the highest upside of any of the Islanders centers not named John Tavares, but he could be a year off at this point depending on how the roster ends up shaking out. New York could go the super young route, keep Barzal and Beauvillier both and have a dynamic top-nine forward group to pair with one of the best fourth lines in hockey.
Matthew Tkachuk and Thomas Chabot will both start the season in the NHL. Will they stick?
On Thursday, Flames coach Glen Gulutzan and Senators GM Pierre Dorion confirmed that Matthew Tkachuk and Thomas Chabot would start the season with their respectable clubs.
Tkachuk has been solid in camp and preseason games this far, showing some of the tenacity, consistency and net-front presence that has so many scouts raving over his potential. The young wingers versatility makes the decision that much harder for the Flames, as Tkachuk can fit in multiple spots on the teams roster. A line of Tkachuk, Sam Bennett and Troy Brouwer has been tested in preseason and has shown results. Wait and see, but I wouldn’t bet against 2016 sixth overall pick.
The Senators will start the season with eight defensemen with Chabot and Frederik Claesson being the last two kept. Chabot has shown good offensive ability and instincts, but it’s how far along his defensive play has developed that will be the determining factor in how many NHL games he plays this season. My gut says that he gets the nine-game trial and then is returned to Saint John (QMJHL) for the rest of the season. I think Claesson on a two-way deal gives the Sens increased flexibility in the seventh defense spot.
Give Kevin a follow @kleblanchockey for NHL prospect talk and happenings.
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