With the trade deadline looming, it makes for a good time to evaluate each organization’s top young players and determine just who the most valuable are.
In the final of a four-part series outlining each team’s most valuable player aged 20 or younger by division, the Atlantic Division is front and center. Six of the eight top U-21 players in the Atlantic currently have NHL jobs, while the other two may not be far off.
Here’s the most valuable of the bunch for each respective Atlantic Division team:
Note: * means player turned 21 in February, 2016.
Boston Bruins: David Pastrnak
The Bruins loaded up their prospect pool with 10 draft picks last June, but no player under 21-years-old is more valuable right now than David Pastrnak. The team’s 25th overall pick in 2014 found his way into 46 games in 2014-15 and has been a regular in the Bruins lineup this season, apart from dealing with an injury earlier in the year.
Pastrnak has played largely in a top-six role when healthy this season, and his offensive abilities have made the Czech forward a valuable part of the Bruins unit early on in his career.
Buffalo Sabres: Jack Eichel
There isn’t much to dispute over Jack Eichel’s importance to the Sabres organization right now. Eichel was the second overall draft pick last spring, and likely would be a number-one pick in other years, but the hockey world is well aware of the caliber of player who was chosen before him.
The reigning NCAA Hober Baker Award winner is second on the Sabres team in scoring, and third among all NHL rookies. Eichel has played a huge role this season on a Buffalo team that has taken a major shift toward the future, particularly by getting younger.
Sabres top two lines tonight:
Half of them cannot legally buy beer.
— Jonah Javad (@JonahJavad) February 12, 2016
It’s safe to say Eichel should be an important piece in the Sabres’ fold for a very long time.
Detroit Red Wings: Dylan Larkin
It’s hard to believe Dylan Larkin is only 19-years-old based on the maturity level beyond his years that he shows in his game. Larkin is a strong candidate for the Calder Trophy this season; he’s among the top rookie scorers and leads the entire NHL in plus-minus. He also represented Detroit at this year’s All-Star game.
The 15th overall pick in 2014 has quickly become a huge asset to the Red Wings. Larkin shows an elite skill level and a willingness to play a 200-foot game. Perhaps mentors like Zetterberg and Datsyuk have something to do with that.
Florida Panthers: Aaron Ekblad
Narrowly edging out Aleksander Barkov for this title in Florida, Ekblad is the future of the blue line for the Panthers. The reigning Calder Trophy winner is following up an impressive rookie season with an even better performance this year.
Ekblad shows great poise, hockey sense, and maturity in his game and only turned 20-years-old this month. The 2014 first overall pick looked like a seasoned veteran in his style of play even as a rookie last year, and at 6’4″, 216 pounds, he’s got the size to match it (and the facial hair).
Jaromir Jagr 44th Birthday Trivia:
Aaron Ekblad taught Jagr how to grow a beard when Jagr was a teen.
— Hotline Blinn (@NHLBlinn) February 15, 2016
Montreal Canadiens: Jacob de la Rose
The 20-year-old Jacob de la Rose is the youngest player on a Montreal Canadiens group that was supposed to be one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference.
While de la Rose is no savior like Carey Price for the Canadiens, he brings a lot of great elements in his game to Montreal’s lineup. De la Rose plays a tough, physical checking forward role, and at 6’4″, 214 pounds, he has the size to match his style of play. Along with his hard working, two-way game, de la Rose is also a great leader, most recently captaining Team Sweden at the 2016 World Juniors, his third WJC appearance. De la Rose was even an alternate captain with the AHL’s St. John’s Ice Caps prior to his recent NHL call-up.
Ottawa Senators: Curtis Lazar *
While he’s yet to translate his dominance on the stats sheet to the NHL, Curtis Lazar has filled a valuable role as a utility player with the Senators in what is now his second full season in the league.
Lazar averaged nearly a point-per-game in three full years with the WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings, totaling 99 goals and also posting a plus-83 rating in 199 total games. Lazar is also used to being a leader among his peers, having been an assistant captain on the Oil Kings for two seasons and captaining Team Canada’s perfect 7-0 World Juniors team in 2015, which was his second WJC appearance. The Salmon Arm, BC native had five goals and 15 points in his first 53 games with the Sens this season, but has the confidence of Head Coach Dave Cameron to play in all situations for the team.
The recently-turned 21-year-old is a natural centerman, and with Ottawa’s good depth at the position already there have been few opportunities for Lazar to find a spot he’s been fully comfortable in. But Lazar possesses good maturity for a young player and the willingness to play any role needed, which will only help him excel as he gets more pro-level experience.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Brayden Point
Brayden Point is lighting up the WHL in scoring once again this year with the Moose Jaw Warriors, and he’s a steal of a draft pick for the Lightning as a third rounder in 2014 (79th overall).
The 19-year-old Point missed part of his overage WHL season to captain Team Canada at the 2016 World Juniors, his second straight appearance at the tournament, but is still just outside the top-10 in league scoring. Point’s 1.97 point-per-game average through 34 games with Moose Jaw is far and away the best among top scorers in the league.
300 career points for @MJWARRIORS captain Brayden Point. The guy is good. #WHL
— Kyle Galliver (@KyleGalliver) February 15, 2016
While he’s proven he can produce at will in major junior hockey, Point also brings an exceptional work ethic and has improved his defensive game. At 5’11”, 165 pounds, he still has to grow stronger before making the pro-jump, but Point plays with a good deal of grit which can only help him as he continues to do so.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Mitch Marner
The 18-year-old Mitch Marner is currently enjoying an incredibly successful season in the OHL as the captain of the London Knights, and has drawn attention from the Leafs media all season as a result. While Marner, at 5’11”, 163 pounds, still needs to get stronger before making the jump to the NHL, he’s shown that he has the pure talent and all-around game to be an asset in an NHL lineup in the near future.
Marner has averaged over two points per game in his last two seasons with the Knights, and has a plus-71 rating in that time. He’s also scored a number of highlight reel goals in recent times, with his most recent perhaps being the OHL’s goal of the year.
— London Knights (@GoLondonKnights) February 13, 2016