We have already seen spurts of future NHL talent who may be seeing full-time NHL action this coming season. I am of course talking about talent such as Mika Zibanejad (Ottawa), Jaden Schwartz (St. Louis), Jacob Markstrom (Florida) and Sven Baertschi (Calgary).
Who will get their chance this season?
Making the jump from any league to the NHL is no easy task. It takes a lot of skill and determination to get even a few games in with an NHL club. These are the ten players who stand the best chance to play in their first NHL game and stay with the club all season long.
1. Vladimir Tarasenko (RW) – St. Louis Blues
2011-12 Team: St. Petersburg SKA (KHL)
Reason: Tarasenko has been having Blues management, fans and players fantasizing over his possible entrance into the NHL since being drafted in 2010. Now that Tarasenko has reached a deal with the Blues, he will step into a roster that desperately needs help scoring. Finishing the 2011-12 season at 21st in goals-scored-per-game (2.51), the Blues hope that Tarasenko can translate his strong play from the KHL to North-American hockey. The Russian forward finished 9th in scoring in the KHL last season with 47 points.
2. Mikael Granlund (C) – Minnesota Wild
2011-12 Team: HIFK Helsinki
Reason: Minnesota ranked dead-last in goals-scored-per-game last season (2.02). With the addition of free-agent all-star forward Zach Parise, the Wild have begun to build a Stanley Cup contender. Some of this starts with developing the young players at the NHL level sooner rather than later. Granlund is very responsible in his own end and can tap in some goals when needed (20 goals in 45 games last season). Granlund may fit the bill for the type of player that Head Coach Mike Yeo would want on his third or fourth line.
3. Jonathon Huberdeau (C) – Florida Panthers
2011-12 Team: Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)
Reason: Being one of the most watched NHL prospects in the QMJHL, Huberdeau has very skillful hands and can adapt to any defensive coverage thrown at him from the opposing team. The Panthers made a huge step last season, winning their first Southeast Division Title in franchise history. Panthers GM Dale Tallon is the master at getting a good roster to work around young talent; he will have the chance to do this in 2012-13 with Huberdeau in a top-6 role. Huberdeau had 30 goals and 72 points in 37 games with the Sea Dogs last season.
4. Nail Yakupov (RW) – Edmonton Oilers
2011-12 Team: Sarnia Sting (OHL)
Reason: Yakupov, the first overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, is the type of player who is NHL-ready straight from the draft. Oilers GM Steve Tambellini will likely keep him with the NHL club (history gives us no indication that this will not be true). Yakupov will be surrounded by young NHL talent in Edmonton, which may help him learn the game and blossom into a top-talent much sooner. He will be facing a lot of pressure, but it is nothing that teammates Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall can’t coach him through.
5. Beau Bennett – Pittsburgh Penguins
Reason: Bennett was the Penguins’ first selection, 20th overall, in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. He is a skillful right-wing that could eventually be a go-to-guy for centers Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby… terrifying, I know. Bennett was a power-play quarterback and a shooting phenom at the University of Denver. He signed with the Penguins after his sophomore season ended in April. Bennett had 13 goals and 38 points in 47 games in his freshman and sophomore seasons with UD.
6. Emerson Etem (C, RW) – Anaheim Ducks
2011-12 Team: Syracuse Crunch (AHL)
Reason: A native of Long Beach, California, Etem is one of the few who can say a hometown American team took a chance on him in the first round (2010 NHL Draft, 29th overall). Anaheim ranked 26th in average attendance in 2011-12, so the Ducks may be looking for a way to get fans in the building. The speedy California-native may be the key and could see some decent minutes with some talented Anaheim forwards in 2012-13.
7. Matthew Dumba (D) – Minnesota Wild
2011-12 Team: Red Deer Rebels (WHL)
Reason: Drafted 7th overall in this past draft, Dumba could step right into the NHL to help an improved Minnesota team. Like Cam Fowler did with Anaheim two years ago, Dumba could surprise a lot of people and be a top-rookie defenseman. He has a big 6”0 172 lb. frame and delivers a hard shot from the point; something that could help alleviate some of the pressure put on the recently signed Ryan Suter.
8. Justin Schultz (D) – Edmonton Oilers
2011-12 Team: University of Wisconsin (WCHA)
Reason: Schultz is someone who is used to scrutiny. Because of a loophole in the college-to-NHL system, Schultz was able to become an unrestricted free-agent and sign with the Edmonton Oilers. Schultz,22, has the abilities that will make him a top point-man for the Oilers on the power-play. Schultz will be one of the best collegiate players to step right into the NHL in quite some time. The pressures of getting a young Edmonton club out of the cellar may be a large task, but Schultz is used to the media pressure after the past couple of months.
9. Dougie Hamilton (D) – Boston Bruins
2011-12 Team: Niagara IceDogs (OHL)
Reason: Although Boston is bringing back nearly the same roster from last season, Hamilton stands a good chance to sneak into the Bruins’ roster. They are coming off a surprising first round upset to the Washington Capitals, so changes may be made around training camp time. The Bruins are known for having offensive defensemen (4 of the Bruins’ 12 goals in the first round were by defensemen). Hamilton, a converted forward, can be plugged into the Bruins’ lineup and could be a new offensive spark from the blue line that Boston may be seeking.
10. Griffin Reinhart (D) – New York Islanders
2011-12 Team: Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)
Reason: Standing at a big 6’4” 200 lbs, Griffin Reinhart is just what every NHL team would want. Reinhart is a very mobile defenseman with a booming shot that will cause many rebounds on NHL goalies. The Islanders have forwards that know how to drive to the net (Matt Martin, Matt Moulson, Kyle Okposo to name a few), so Reinhart’s shot could be an important piece to the Islanders’ lineup. Reinhart had 12 goals and 36 points in 58 games with the Oil Kings last season.