by Ray Kuhn
What better way to begin an NHL season and a new prospects site than with a nice Top 10 list? There are some obvious answers at the top, but once we move past the first two, it really becomes a tossup. The important thing to remember is that this list will likely fluctuate, at least at some level, throughout the season.
It often takes young hockey players, especially defenseman and goalies, some time to adjust to life in the NHL. We also must remember that the players we are talking about enter our radar at 18 or 19 years old, and they also have a long way to go on a physical level. That is evident when you take a look at the composition of the list, with one defenseman and one goalie included and neither of those players is slated to begin the season in the NHL.
With that in mind let’s take a look at how the rankings shake out:
1) Connor McDavid – F – Edmonton Oilers
Did anyone really expect anything different? McDavid enters the league with the most hype since Sidney Crosby and he appears primed to deliver. The Oilers have seemingly been accumulating young assets and early round draft picks for the past few seasons, but things have yet to fully click. Working in the favor of McDavid is that he likely will be teamed up Edmonton’s best player (Taylor Hall) on the top line. Last season in juniors McDavid tallied 120 points in just 47 games and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him pick up 75 points in his debut season.
2) Jack Eichel – F – Buffalo Sabres
As far as consolation prizes go, Eichel is pretty good one for Buffalo. Not like they have much of a choice, but they are investing pretty heavily in Eichel and pairing him with Evander Kane shows that. It does help that Eichel gained about 8-10 pounds during the summer, but there will still be an adjustment period. In his one college season he certainly dazzled, with 26 goals and 45 assists in just 40 games.
3) Sam Bennett – F – Calgary Flames
Bennett’s professional career got off to a rough start with a shoulder injury that ultimately required surgery at the draft combine. He returned to score 11 goals and pick up 24 points in 11 games in the OHL before appearing in one regular season game with Calgary. In 11 playoff games Bennett went on to score three goals and now is slated to open this season as the Flames’ second line center with valuable experience under his belt.
4) Dylan Larkin – F – Detroit Red Wings
Sure Larkin has talent, why else would be slated to start the season with the Red Wings, but this is about more than that. He steps into perhaps the best situation as any of the options on this list as he begins the season playing next to Henrik Zetterberg. The fact that Larkin is a complete player who is good on face-offs and in his own zone only helps.
5) Max Domi – F – Arizona Coyotes
Domi has been working up to this for the past four seasons as his point totals in juniors have been increasing (last season in 57 games he scored 32 goals and 102 points. A physical threat and a two way player, Domi has 275 penalty minutes over the past four seasons and he has the chance to be an impact player. However, I would wait another season for greater consistency.
6) Oscar Lindberg – F – New York Rangers
There certainly are far more exciting names, but Lindberg is in a good situation with the Rangers. In 75 games in the AHL last season he put up 56 points and opens up the season on New York’s third line. I wouldn’t expect him to play much more than 15 to 20 minutes a game, but that should be enough for a decent impact.
7) Anthony DuClair – F – Arizona Coyotes
DuClair certainly has the talent, but he needs to put things together on the NHL level. In 18 games with the Rangers last season he scored just one goal and had six assists. As he attempts to re-start his NHL career on the right foot, DuClair will be doing so on the heels of 34 points in 26 games at the junior level last season.
8) Reid Boucher – F – New Jersey Devils
We all know that Devils need offense, and they are hoping to get some of that from Boucher. He has shown flashes of offense and goal scoring ability, but he has yet to produce much at the professional level. In 62 AHL games he put up just 30 points, but has the ability for more. Boucher appears slated to begin on the fourth line, but the chance to elevate is there.
9) Darnell Nurse – D – Edmonton Oilers
The expectation was for Nurse to spend this season with the Oilers, but at least at the start that is not going to happen. He does have offensive ability, but is still incredibly raw. Once Nurse puts it together, he will be an impact defenseman. It just remains to be seen whether that will be this season or not.
10) Matt Murray – G – Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins are expected to contend for the Stanley Cup once again, and of course there are questions about their goaltending. Marc-Andre Fleury has been up and down for quite some time now, but he still appears to be cemented as Pittsburgh’s starter. At some point, waiting in the wings is Murray. Last season the 21-year old took home Rookie of the Year and Goaltender of the Year honors in the AHL and had a 1.58 GAA and .941 save percentage. He is one to watch when he does get a chance.