With the trade deadline nearing, every organization has important players aged 20 or younger that in some way, shape or form are too valuable to be moved.
The third installment of my four-part series highlights the Metropolitan Division. While every other division features at least one U-21 player who could be considered a star, teams in the Metro check off the “prospect” column in this regard more so than any other division.
Here’s my outline of each Metro team’s most valuable player under 21-years-old:
Note: * means player turned 21 in February, 2016.
Carolina Hurricanes: Noah Hanifin
The Hurricanes acquired a gem when they drafted blueliner Noah Hanifin fifth overall last June. Hanifin, who turned 19 last month, is a steady, all-around defenseman who has the makings to be a cornerstone player for a franchise.
It’s no mistake that Hanifin has found a home on the Hurricanes’ blue line so early in his career. He brings a physical presence at 6’3″, 205 pounds, has a maturity level beyond his years and lacks in no areas of his game. He’s coming off a solid year with Boston College in the NCAA, and has transitioned that success smoothly to the Hurricanes’ blue line.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Zach Werenski
Zach Werenski made his name heard at the World Juniors this year; the 18-year-old defenseman captained Team U.S.A. to a bronze medal, putting up two goals and nine points in seven games.
The Blue Jackets eighth overall pick last June is a having a rock solid year with the University of Michigan, with six goals and 21 points in his first 25 games. Werenski is a leader among his peers and a solid puck moving defenseman, who should bolster the Jackets’ blue line considerably once he makes his way to the NHL.
New Jersey Devils: Pavel Zacha
Pavel Zacha is in his second full season of playing hockey in North America with the OHL’s Sarnia Sting, and the Czech forward has the tools of an NHL scorer in the making. The 18-year-old brings a great shot, great playmaking skills and is an excellent skater. Add to that his good size, at 6’3″, 209 pounds, and Zacha has the makings of a wreaking ball power forward.
The sixth overall pick in 2015 will likely be an offensive gem in New Jersey – even if they find a way to turn him into a defensive forward.
New York Islanders: Mathew Barzal
Mathew Barzal narrowly beat out Islander prospects Anthony Beauvillier, Michael Dal Colle and Josh Ho-Sang to top this list. Barzal, the team’s 16th overall pick last June, has always had tremendous skills as a playmaker, and has worked hard to round out his game with the Seattle Thunderbirds in the WHL.
Barzal turned a lot of heads by getting an extended look in Isle’s training camp heading into 2015-16. He’s averaged over 1.4 points per game in the past two years in the WHL, and is a plus-26 in those 88 games.
He’s got the ability to create a good deal of excitement with his knack for offense. Combined with his strong work ethic, Barzal should be able to find a home in the Isle’s lineup in the near future.
New York Rangers: Pavel Buchnevich
Pavel Buchnevich is a highly skilled Russian who the New York Rangers will likely want in their lineup as soon as his contract ends in the KHL.
The 20-year-old Buchnevich is currently playing for SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL, having first played in the pro league when he was 17-years old. He has developed into one of the KHL’s rising stars, and the league has reportedly indicated intentions to try and persuade him to stay in Russia for that reason. Buchnevich projects to be a highly-skilled, top six winger in the future with the Rangers, should he end up making the move to the NHL.
Philadelphia Flyers: Ivan Provorov
Ivan Provorov came close to earning a spot on the Flyers’ blue line in 2015-16 following a strong training camp, but the 19-year-old defenseman has responded with what has been a ridiculous year with the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings.
Through 46 games, Provorov tallied 14 goals and 50 points, as well as a plus-42 rating. He also put up eight points in seven games with the silver-medal winning Russian team at the 2016 World Juniors. He’s a force to be reckoned with defensively at 6’1″, 201 pounds, and while he isn’t afraid to throw his weight around, Provorov also knows when to execute offensively in any situation.
Provorov is an exciting prospect up and coming for the Flyers, who like the Islanders have a number of promising players aged 20 or younger.
Craig Button names Ivan Provorov #4 on Top 50 NHL prospects. Flyers’ Sanheim (#23), Konecny (#29), and Philippe Myers (#38) also make list.
— Muck & Grind (@MuckNGrindShow) February 11, 2016
Pittsburgh Penguins: Daniel Sprong
Daniel Sprong started the season with the big club in Pittsburgh before being sent back to the Charlottetown Islanders of the QMJHL after 18 NHL games. The only other 2015 draft picks besides Sprong to begin 2015-16 in the NHL were Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel and Noah Hanifin, all of whom were drafted in the top-five. Sprong, meanwhile, went 46th overall to the Penguins.
The 18-year-old Sprong brings an exceptional skill set and is a natural scorer. He’s averaged more than a point-per-game in parts of three seasons playing major junior, and has the work ethic that should allow him to round out his game as he matures.
Washington Capitals: Andre Burakovsky *
On a Washington Capitals team that is on pace for a historic regular season, Andre Burakovsky has found a home in the Caps top-six forward group, finding success with veteran wing partner Justin Williams and rising star Evgeny Kuznetsov.
After a slow start to the year, Burakovsky seems to have found his confidence and has shown good signs of why the Caps made him a first round pick a few years ago. Burakovsky has always been regarded as a gifted offensive player, and should improve his defense game as he matures and his physical play as he grows stronger. Nonetheless, “Bura” has shown positive signs lately of a rising star in the Capitals lineup.