In the second of this four part series ahead of the NHL trade deadline, the spotlight in on the Central Division for the respective most valuable player in each organization who is 20-years old or younger.
The skill set of each respective player on this list in the Central widely varies, with an array of players at very different points in their careers as well.
Here’s the most valuable young players on each Central team that you can bet aren’t going anywhere with the trade deadline approaching:
Chicago Blackhawks: Nick Schmaltz
Forward Nick Schmaltz, who isn’t under contract yet with Chicago, is having a stellar season at the University of North Dakota, the same NCAA stomping grounds of Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews.
The 19-year-old had 29 points and a plus-26 rating in UND’s first 24 games. He’s played this year on a line with Canucks prospect Brock Boeser and free agent Drake Caggiula, which has arguably been the best line in school history. Schmaltz has shown an ability to be a dominant play maker in the NCAA this season, and his game has drawn comparisons to Ryan Getzlaf.
Colorado Avalanche: Nathan MacKinnon
It’s hard to believe Nathan MacKinnon is still only 20-years old. The first overall pick in 2013 is already in his third NHL season with Colorado, and well on his way to being a superstar in the league.
After a slight sophomore-slump last season, coming off a Calder Trophy in his rookie year, MacKinnon has been a stud in the Avs lineup this season. He’s among the team leaders in points and makes up the Avs top line with Gabriel Landeskog and Matt Duchene. And the Cole Harbour, NS native recently surpassed 200 NHL games played – already. He should be a franchise player in Colorado for a long time.
Dallas Stars: Valeri Nichushkin
Despite missing almost all of 2014-15 with hip and groin issues and not yet finding the scoresheet consistently, Valeri Nichushkin is already an important part of the Dallas Stars at 20-years old.
Nichushkin fits in anywhere in the Stars top-nine forwards; he can play a scoring forward role alongside Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and other top scorers, and he has the trust of his coach, Lindy Ruff, to play in defensive-forward situations. That says a lot.
Nichushkin has a great shot and at 6’4″, 205 pounds, he can burn a lot of guys with his great skating. The Stars 10th overall pick in 2014 hasn’t yet found consistent production, but should as he continues to mature. He had 14 goals and plus-20 rating in his rookie season as an 18-year-old, which should be a positive sign of what’s to come in his career.
Minnesota Wild: Alex Tuch
Alex Tuch could shape up to be an ideal power forward with the Minnesota Wild.
At 6’4″, 220 pounds, Tuch is a physical player who overpowers many opponents. The 19-year-old is in his second year at Boston College, where he has put up impressive numbers as he continues to develop. He recently scored the overtime game-winner in the Beanpot to give his team a 1-0 win over Boston University.
For a big forward who plays a hard checking game, Tuch has some pretty good offensive skills as well, and seems to have a flare for the dramatic.
— Sloppy Kuemper (@SloppyKuemper) February 13, 2016
Nashville Predators: Kevin Fiala
At 19-years old, Kevin Fiala is on the fringe of finding a spot in a deep Preds forward group. The team’s 11th overall pick in 2014 needs to improve his game defensively, but his puck skills and smooth skating make him very valuable to the organization.
The Swiss forward has notably stood out at the World Juniors representing his country; as a 17-year-old in 2014, Fiala put up five points in five games, and followed that up with four goals and a plus-six rating in six games at the tournament in 2015. He’s also come a long way in terms of his maturity from even the start of this season.
St. Louis Blues: Robby Fabbri
Despite a rocky start to his rookie year with St. Louis, Robby Fabbri is showing early on already just how valuable he is in the Blues lineup.
Fabbri was a prolific scorer in the OHL with the Guelph Storm, and he’s translating that offensive production more regularly at the NHL level. The 19-year-old is capable of playing up and down the top nine, and thanks to his superb hockey-smarts, Fabbri has been able to find success playing Head Coach Ken Hitchcock’s system.
Fabbri, like many top prospects who manage to find a spot in an NHL lineup at a young age, shows the maturity and willingness to adjust his game and improve in all areas. Despite his smaller frame at 5’10”, 180 pounds, Fabbri is effective thanks to his great skating and willingness to play physical. He probably shouldn’t be relied on to fight, however.
— CBS Sports NHL (@CBSSportsNHL) February 15, 2016
Winnipeg Jets: Nikolaj Ehlers
After two straight 100-plus point seasons in the QMJHL with the Halifax Mooseheads, Nikolaj Ehlers has grown into a top-six forward with the Jets already in his rookie season.
While Ehlers got off to a slow start to the season, as many star junior players tend to do when making the jump to the NHL, he’s seemed to adjust accordingly in the Jets lineup to find success. The 19-year-old’s recent promotion next to Blake Wheeler and Bryan Little on Winnipeg’s top line says a lot about the Dane’s ability to learn quickly and mature his game. The young forward is an incredible skater and can make plays at top speed, and has the pure skill that could make him a premier scorer in the NHL down the road.
Canucks contributor for The Hockey Writers. Maple Ridge, BC native. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or @ColtonnDavies on Twitter.