1 Prospect from Each NHL Team to Watch in 2012-13
With the NHL lockout in full effect, the only action to watch this year in North America will be AHL, OHL, WHL and QMJHL hockey.
Overseas, the KHL, SEL and other top European leagues will conduct business as usual.
For most hockey fans, eyes will be on the minor leagues, as diehards monitor the future of their favorite hockey teams.
With these leagues set to start soon, here are top prospects from each NHL team to watch this season.
Anaheim Ducks: Emerson Etem
Emerson Etem is one of the Anaheim Ducks' top prospects, and the lockout should actually help his development.
He has lit it up at the WHL level the past three seasons, including a 61-goal campaign in 2011-12.
Though Etem's offensive acumen and skating abilities are up to par, he could stand to become a better defensive player.
The AHL is closer to the NHL in structure and strategy than the WHL. With Etem playing against tougher competition and NHL talent, he should be able to benefit from this learning experience in a huge way.
Boston Bruins: Dougie Hamilton
Dougie Hamilton is a sizable two-way defender who has a booming shot and good hands.
Hamilton excels in both facets of his game and is NHL-ready, so this lockout will allow him to fine-tune his skills for the time being.
Hamilton is a 6'4", 193-pound physical defender whose hands make him able enough to run a power play.
While the NHL is locked out, fans should keep an eye on Hamilton as he patrols the Niagara Ice Dogs blue line.
Buffalo Sabres: Joel Armia
Joel Armia is a very skilled winger who should be in the NHL in a few years. He is currently a member of Porin Ässät in the Finnish SM-liiga.
The young winger is a great two-way player with good vision and a laser-quick wrist shot. Armia loves to dig it out below the hash marks in the trenches, and he can play with skill in both ends.
Armia has a bright future with a ton of upside.
Calgary Flames: Sven Bartschi
Sven Bartschi is a speedy winger standing at 5'11" and 185 pounds, and he has a lot of offensive upside.
He spent a brief part of the end of the 2011-12 season with the Calgary Flames, and his speed and offensive creativity was something that stood out.
If the NHL currently wasn't locked out, Bartschi is a prospect who would have likely made it to the NHL by the end of training camp.
Carolina Hurricanes: Ryan Murphy
Ryan Murphy is a top defenseman prospect for the Carolina Hurricanes. He has a lot of tools that make him a great two-way defenseman.
Those tools include his puck-moving prowess, his ability to quarterback a power play and pinpoint-passing accuracy that makes him a dual threat on both sides of the ice.
Watch out and don't blink, because you just might miss Ryan Murphy.
Chicago Blackhawks: Brandon Saad
Brandon Saad is a big-bodied winger, skating at 6'1", 208 pounds.
He finished the season with 34 goals and 76 points in 44 games for the Saginaw Spirit of the OHL.
Saad is known for his physical play and speed, but he also has the finish of a offensive goal scorer, and that makes him a really solid prospect for the Blackhawks.
Once the lockout ends, this top forward should be skating for the big league Chicago Blackhawks in no time.
Colorado Avalanche: Tyson Barrie
Tyson Barrie is a defender with offensive upside who will spend the lockout in the AHL. Barrie spent 10 games with the Colorado Avalanche in 2011-12, and a return to the AHL during the lockout makes sense.
With the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL, Barrie put up decent offensive numbers. During his first stint in the AHL, Barrie registered 32 points in 49 games.
This time spent in the minors should make Barrie a better all-around player once the league emerges from the lockout.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Tim Erixon
Tim Erixon is the best Columbus Blue Jackets player eligible for the AHL, and there is no reason why he can't build off his success from last season.
Erixon only played 18 games with the New York Rangers last season, and the rest of his year was spent with the Connecticut Whale of the AHL.
In the AHL, he had 33 points in 52 games. Erixon is a talented puck-moving defenseman who should continue to blossom in the minors.
Dallas Stars: Radek Faksa
Radek Faksa is a very talented and determined player. Faksa has tons of offensive skill, and he will make his impact with the Dallas Stars very soon. This season, Faksa will be a member of the OHL's Kitchener Rangers.
The current lockout benefits Faksa because he isn't quite ready for the NHL.
Faksa will take a year to develop, but it will pay off in the long run because he has the skills required to succeed at the NHL level.
Detroit Red Wings: Brendan Smith
This 6'2" defenseman is a promising work in progress who may see his last AHL action during the NHL lockout.
Brendan Smith had 34 points for the Grand Rapids Griffins of the AHL in 2011-12, and he showed signs of improvement that earned him an NHL call-up.
Smith also has great vision and hands that complement his overall skating abilities. He joined the Wings for a brief stretch last year and, after the lockout, he should be ready to play in the NHL for a long time.
Edmonton Oilers: Justin Schultz
Justin Schultz is a defenseman who appears to have the complete package. He is an offensive defenseman who could be a solid power-play quarterback for the Edmonton Oilers.
With the NHL locked out, Schultz will skate for the Oklahoma City Barons to make his professional debut.
This AHL experience could really benefit Schultz and help him polish his skills so he is ready when the NHL is ready to begin the season.
Florida Panthers: Jonathan Huberdeau
Jonathan Huberdeau is one of hockey's top prospects, and he was slated to make his NHL debut this season.
During the lockout, Huberdeau will continue to play for the Saint John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL, where he should continue to dominate.
Huberdeau is a force to be reckoned with on the ice because he is gifted with a great skill set, which is complemented by his agile hands and size.
Fans of the Florida Panthers will be in for a real treat once Huberdeau can pull on an NHL sweater.
Los Angeles Kings: Tyler Toffoli
Tyler Toffoli is an offensive-minded player who has posted multiple 100-point seasons for the Ottawa 67's of the OHL.
He was selected by the Los Angles Kings during the 2010 draft, and he will look to continue developing his all-around game.
Toffoli is a player who has solid skills, but he is about one year away from hitting the NHL level, so the NHL lockout benefits the young forward.
The Los Angeles Kings are coming off a Stanley Cup title, so it will be good for rookies like Toffoli to be a part of a winning culture.
Minnesota Wild: Mikael Granlund
Mikael Granlund is another top-prospect center who was scheduled to make his NHL debut this season.
Granlund had been playing in Finland during the past two seasons, but he will suit up for the Houston Aeros in 2012-13 to make his North American professional debut.
The AHL will allow him to develop his game on a North American ice surface, and he should adjust to what the NHL will be like.
Granlund has worked hard and has illustrated that he has the tools to be one of the NHL's next top playmakers. He has the speed, skill and finesse to be successful, so expect him to tear it up in the AHL during the 2012-13 season.
Montreal Canadiens: Alex Galchenyuk
Alex Galchenyuk is a Montreal Canadiens prospect who has tons of potential. A knee injury limited his regular-season action, but Galchenyuk is a solid goal scorer with speed and offensive skill.
The injury didn't scare the Canadiens from drafting him early, and this season is going to be key for the American forward.
He is going to be a piece the Canadiens will continue to build around, and the franchise is in for some better days when he hits the NHL level.
Galchenyuk is dying to prove that he is a healthy player. Look for him to be a future Calder Trophy candidate.
Galchenyuk will remain with the Sarnia Sting for the 2012-13 season regardless of what happens with the NHL lockout.
Nashville Predators: Ryan Ellis
Ryan Ellis is one of the Nashville Predators' top defensive prospects, and he is a player who can use the lockout to his advantage.
After the departure of Ryan Suter, the Predators lost defensive depth. Kids like Ellis were going to be looked upon to step up.
Ellis had 18 points with the Milwaukee Admirals of the AHL last season and 11 points with the Predators once he was called up.
With Ellis headed back to the Admirals, he should be able to gain some more experience and confidence to embrace a larger role in the NHL.
New Jersey Devils: Jon Merrill
Jon Merrill is a two-way defender who is going to spend another year in the NCAA, so he likely will crack the roster in 2013-14.
He has the size to flatten opponents that infringe on Martin Brodeur's crease space, and he will benefit from spending another year at Michigan.
Merrill will instantly make the New Jersey Devils defense better when he steps on the ice because of how he reads plays on the ice.
At 6'3", he will become a force to be reckoned with. He is the future of the New Jersey Devils defense along with Adam Larsson.
New York Islanders: Ryan Strome
Ryan Strome is a talented player who is going to have a sizable NHL impact once he makes the jump.
What Ryan Strome may lack in size and stature, he compensates for with his talent and speed. It also helps that Strome has great hands and a true scorer's touch.
Strome will make an impact on the New York Islanders very soon, and he represents the future and what the Islanders could become in a few years with an infusion of high-end talent.
New York Rangers: Chris Kreider
Chris Kreider is a speedy forward who made his debut during the New York Rangers' 2011-12 Stanley Cup run.
During his NHL stint, he scored five goals and seven points overall.
Kreider is a sizable 6'3'', 230-pound power forward who has a bevy of skills. He is probably the fastest player in the NHL, and he knows how to use his size.
As long as the NHL is locked out, Kreider will be a top attraction for the Connecticut Whale of the AHL.
Ottawa Senators: Mika Zibanejad
Mika Zibanejad is skilled center who has the potential to become an above-average power forward because of his soft hands and his great scoring touch.
Zibanejad was a player already slated to start in the AHL, but the lockout presents a prime opportunity for the young Swede.
Now that Zibanejad will start off the season with the Binghamton Senators of the AHL, he should have enough time to prove that he belongs in the NHL.
Philadelphia Flyers: Scott Laughton
Scott Laughton was the Philadelphia Flyers' first-round draft pick in the 2012 NHL draft. Laughton is a feisty and physical forward who can still produce offensively.
Last season with the Oshawa Generals of the OHL, Laughton scored 21 goals and added 32 assists for a total of 53 points in 61 games.
Laughton is a player who will fit like a glove within the Flyers organization, and he is a prospect to monitor during the upcoming OHL season.
Phoenix Coyotes: Brandon Gormley
Brandon Gormley is one of the NHL's top defensive prospects, and this lockout will likely be the last of his minor league career.
Gormley is a midsized defenseman whose strengths include his shot, poise and puck play. Gormley is an offensive-minded defenseman, but he is also very sound in his own zone.
He is a player who will make the jump to the NHL soon, but he will continue to play in the QMJHL as long as the lockout is in effect.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Joe Morrow
Joe Morrow is a solid puck-moving defender who will start the year with the WB-Scranton Penguins of the AHL. Last season in the WHL, he had 64 points, 47 of which were assists.
This will be a great experience for Morrow when you consider that top-end forwards like Adam Henrique, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, among others, will be spending the lockout in the AHL.
Morrow's strengths are his passing and skating abilities, which make him a dual threat on both sides of the ice.
This should be a great test and an opportunity that will help Morrow evolve as a defender.
St. Louis Blues: Vladimir Tarasenko
Vladimir Tarasenko is a St. Louis Blues prospect who was scheduled to be a member of Peoria Rivermen for the start of the 2012-13 AHL season.
However, Tarasenko opted to return to the KHL and that may not be the worst thing for his development.
Tarasenko is a natural goal scorer with a great shot complemented by his quick hands. His volatile, abrupt speed and acceleration allow him to create space and scoring opportunities in open ice.
Tarasenko is a feisty competitor who plays with grit and aggression. He is an average 5'11" and 202 pounds, but he has proven himself against older players during his time in the KHL.
For the time being, he will be teammates with his countryman, the ever-dangerous Ilya Kovalchuk.
Tarasenko will continue to develop, but he will thrive when he has his opportunity with the St. Louis Blues after the lockout ends.
San Jose Sharks: Tomas Hertl
Tomas Hertl is a young and talented playmaking forward who stands to make an impact with the San Jose Sharks when he makes the jump to the NHL level.
He is from the Czech Republic, and he will have to convert to playing a North American style of hockey before he can have a major impact with the Sharks.
Right now, San Jose is a team looking to win a Stanley Cup, as its top stars are not getting any younger. By the time Hertl makes the jump to the NHL, he should become a big part of a nucleus already featuring Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Vladislav Namestnikov
Vladislav Namestnikov had a solid sophomore season in the OHL, and he is headed to the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL for the start of the 2012-13 season.
During the 2011-12 season, Namestnikov was a top offensive contributor for the London Knights. The skilled forward tallied 22 goals and 49 assists for a total of 71 points.
Namestnikov is a solid two-way player with a great wrist shot who will benefit from the NHL lockout as he develops in the AHL.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Nazem Kadri
Nazem Kadri is a player who hasn't been able to stick with the Toronto Maple Leafs for a full season, so he has bounced back and forth between the NHL and AHL.
The lockout presents Kadri with an opportunity to shine and prove why he belongs in the NHL. To date, Kadri has appeared in 92 AHL games, and he has a total of 91 points. He also put up 258 points in 242 OHL games.
This 2012-13 AHL season could be make or break for Kadri, but he has the skills to prove why he belongs in the NHL.
Vancouver Canucks: Eddie Lack
Eddie Lack could easily become the Vancouver Canucks' next backup if Roberto Luongo is ever dealt. Lack has been the go-to guy for the Chicago Wolves of the AHL for the past few seasons.
During his AHL career, Lack has posted a record of 49-41-7 with a 2.29 goals against average. With so many top-flight NHL youngsters taking haven in the AHL this season, Lack can prove why he belongs in the NHL.
Washington Capitals: Braden Holtby
Braden Holtby went on an impressive run with the Washington Capitals during the 2011-12 Stanley Cup playoffs. He was an enigma who appeared to be unbeatable at times, and that gave the Capitals a huge advantage.
It was a surprising run because up until the recent playoff run, Holtby only had 21 games of NHL experience.
During the lockout, Holtby will return to the Hershey Bears, and he is expected to continue having success as he continues to develop into one of the NHL's top young goaltenders.
Winnipeg Jets: Mark Scheifele
Mark Scheifele is quickly becoming a player whom fans can't wait to see full time.
The Winnipeg Jets sent Scheifele back to the Barrie Colts instead of keeping him for an entire season. Though he was impressive early on, there were some areas he needed to improve on.
Scheifele is a playmaker with skilled and agile hands. His speed and legs are essential to his game. He is a smart two-way forward who has the makings of becoming a dominant power forward in the NHL.
The return to Barrie certainly paid off because he recorded 63 points in only 47 games.
Scheifele is currently assigned to the St. John's IceCaps of the AHL, and it is assumed he will make the jump to the NHL once the lockout is over.