The hockey-starved masses will get their first chance to satiate their hunger next weekend when the Traverse City Prospect Tournament gets underway in Northern Michigan.
Eight teams from around the NHL will be in attendance, and this year, some of the league’s top prospects will take the ice, too. Let’s take a look at the best prospect from each team in attendance to help you prepare for the festivities.
Detroit Red Wings — Filip Zadina
The hosts of this tournament, the Detroit Red Wings, were thrilled a year ago when Filip Zadina fell to them at the sixth pick of the draft. Scouts viewed him as a potential top-three talent, and the Red Wings felt they had gotten a steal.
Zadina had a turbulent first season, registering 35 points in 59 games with the Grand Rapids Griffins of the AHL between brief stops in the NHL, where he played nine games. He’s still just 19, though, and has plenty of time to develop into the star he should become.
St. Louis Blues — Klim Kostin
The St. Louis Blues drafted Klim Kostin with the 31st pick in the 2017 Draft after he showed a ton of promise in his native Russia. He is now clearly in the Blues’ top-three prospects, and his competition, Jordan Kyrou and Dominik Bokk, will not be playing in Traverse City.
Kostin has struggled to adjust to the North American game in his two seasons in the American Hockey League. But he’s still only 20, just turning the age that most of the youngest players in that league start at. 2019-20 will be a huge year in the Russian’s development, and Traverse City will be his first chance to show that he’s on the right track to make a big jump going forward.
Toronto Maple Leafs — Joseph Woll
Joseph Woll was the first pick of the third round in 2016, when the Toronto Maple Leafs selected him out of the United States National Development Team. He has continued to prove that he may be a future star between the pipes in the NHL.
Woll played 37 games with the Boston College Eagles last season and posted impressive numbers with a .919 save percentage and a 2.41 goals against average. While the Maple Leafs have some impressive skating prospects in Rasmus Sandin and Jeremy Bracco, neither will be in Traverse City, and Woll is every bit as talented and ready to take the next step this season.
Chicago Blackhawks — Kirby Dach
The Chicago Blackhawks arguably surprised some by choosing Kirby Dach over some other top 2019 Draft prospects, including hometown kid Alex Turcotte. But there’s no denying Dach’s talent: he collected 73 points in 62 games with the Saskatoon Blades of the WHL last season.
Dach is poised to show his doubters this season why he deserved to be the number three pick in the draft. And he will get his first opportunity to do so taking the ice with the Blackhawks in Traverse City.
Minnesota Wild — Nico Sturm
The Minnesota Wild have two potentially elite prospects in Matthew Boldy and Kirill Kaprizov. But Boldy is a college player whose season has already begun, and Kaprizov continues to play in the KHL. Of the next two prospects in the Wild’s system, Alexander Khovanov is recovering from surgery, but Nico Sturm will be at Traverse City.
Sturm came to the Wild last season, signing as a hotly-pursued college free agent after going undrafted. While Paul Fenton’s tenure in Minnesota was brutally short, he may have done some lasting good with this signing, as Sturm proved to be a standout at Clarkson University. The German made a brief NHL debut after signing last season and will look to prove he belongs long term starting in Traverse City.
Columbus Blue Jackets — Alexandre Texier
Alexandre Texier came to the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2017 Draft, chosen in the middle of the second round. Since then, the Frenchman Texier has played in the Finnish Liiga, where last year, he collected 41 points in 55 games while on loan to KalPa.
Texier burst into the NHL late last season, scoring his first NHL goal and adding two more in the playoffs. With the Blue Jackets hemorrhaging talent like Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel, and Artemi Panarin, the team will expect Texier to help pick up the slack and carry the team into its next generation.
Dallas Stars — Thomas Harley
The Dallas Stars have two great forward prospects coming to Traverse City, Ty Dellandrea and Jason Robertson. But Thomas Harley may just slightly edge them out in talent and will join Miro Heiskanen as one of the young blueliners the Stars hope to build around.
The Stars drafted Harley with the 18th pick out of the Mississauga Steelheads of the OHL. He often played 25-30 minutes a night and showed the ability to be a top puck-moving defenseman. He’ll be expected to drive the play for the Stars in Traverse City.
New York Rangers — Kaapo Kakko
Now we come to the biggest star of the tournament: Kaapo Kakko, the second overall pick from the 2019 Draft. Up until New Jersey Devils officially selected Jack Hughes, there was considerable debate as to whether Kakko might go first. The New York Rangers were more than happy to take him at number two as the crown jewel of their rebuild.
Kakko was a teenager in a man’s world in Liiga last season, but still showed how special he could be with 38 points in 45 games for TPS. He also represented his country in the World Junior Championship, scoring the golden goal that propelled the Finns past Hughes and the Americans in the championship game.
Kakko may have lost the next head-to-head with Hughes, falling second in the Draft. But no one is doubting the talent of either player. They will continue to go head-to-head throughout their careers, playing for rival franchises, and Kakko will hope to make the Devils wonder what might have been if they’d chosen him first. He’ll get his first chance to do that in Traverse City.
Stephen Ground is an author with The Hockey Writers and is co-host of the Two Guys No Cup Podcast. He enjoys studying the numbers and providing fresh looks at various stories.