Until their development stalls for too long, or until their first substantial stretch of NHL action proves irrefutably rotten, hockey’s top prospects are worth retaining by their respective teams.
The lone exception may be a proposed trade that involves importing an established player of equal or greater value and more immediate, assured impact. Yet even in that event, relinquishing a potential future VIP is not often advisable.
That general outlook applies to each of the following recent draft choices (or undrafted signees) who have yet to see action in 15 or more NHL regular-season or playoff games.
With that pace, he easily could have led all Western League scorers had he played the full schedule. Instead, he interspersed his 2011-12 season with a three-goal, five-game stint in Calgary and a World Junior excursion with his native Swiss team.
Along with the rest of the Flames, with a collection of other new players and a new skipper in Bob Hartley, Baertschi will surely need to brook some growing pains. But he is in a position to constitute a key portion of Calgary’s resurgent nucleus.
As quoted in a Montreal Gazette story, Canadiens director of amateur scouting Trevor Timmins envisioned Beaulieu and fellow-prospect Jarred Tinordi ultimately forming a lethal yin-yang defensive tandem.
Yet even while Timmins characterizes Tinordi as “a big, physical defenseman,” as opposed to Beaulieu, an “offensive, puck-moving defenseman,” other observers have taken note of Beaulieu using his body. Brian Wilde of CTV Montreal tweeted as much over a recent Hamilton Bulldogs intra-squad scrimmage.
Minnesota’s top draft choice last summer has been cited for his two-way talent and advanced maturity from both a physical and leadership standpoint. Indeed, he was the Canadian U-18 team captain in that age group’s last World Championship, and less than two months after turning 18, he assumed the alternate captain’s “A” for the Red Deer Rebels.
His first full season with Red Deer in 2010-11 was spent with the likes of soon-to-be top draft choice Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. The importance of that familiarity with a key member of a divisional rival is not something the Wild would want to discount.
A Southern California native and prolific major-junior scorer who captivated the Medicine Hat Tigers faithful, Etem will be one of the many honing his game and adjusting to a more mature age group in the minors while the NHL is locked out.
Once he is with his hometown Ducks, he will be one of the many young strikers difficult to part with at any point in the foreseeable future. Anaheim might still have Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and even Bobby Ryan for a while, but additional reliable forwards are a requirement, especially for when the 42-year-old Teemu Selanne retires.
With Alexander Semin out of Washington (as Pierre McGuire foretells in the clip above), the Capitals can soon turn to Forsberg for secondary elite scoring to supplement the contributions of Alexander Ovechkin.
At the unripe age of 18, the freshly picked No. 11 overall draft choice is already setting the pace for a breakout year in his native Sweden’s top circuit. After posting 17 points in 43 games for Leksand last season, he has already tallied 10 points in as many outings this young autumn.
Assuming he takes part, the next World Junior Championship could be another indicator as to how soon Forsberg will be ready for The Show.
Nail Yakupov’s departure for the KHL has given Galchenyuk a chance to enhance his resume as he tries to fill Yakupov’s skates on the Sarnia Sting in 2012-13. If he keeps a radiant rate and proves his nearly season-long injury from last season to be a non-issue, the Montreal Canadiens will likely jealously guard his services all the more.
As their depth chart appears right now, the Habs have reliable scoring on the first line and respectably capable producers on the fourth, but they could stand to add a little more in the middle. Galchenyuk could lend a hand in that process, starting in 2013-14 at the earliest.
Like Baertschi with the Flames, Granlund is a presumptive instantaneous impact on a new-look Northwest Division team. Together with prized free-agent imports Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, just to name two colleagues, he can be a part of a contender’s core for the Minnesota Wild in the not-too-distant future.
With Ryane Clowe, Michal Handzus, Martin Havlat, Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton all in their 30s, the San Jose Sharks need to be ready to start phasing in new blood upfront. There is still time for their prospects to refine their skills, but the best of them need to be retained and ready to make a recognizable impact when the aforementioned are on the decline.
As it stands now, the Sharks list of rising strikers is topped by Hertl, whose rookie campaign ought to arrive no later than when Marleau and Thornton are each 35. With each successive season, Hertl should be gradually groomed to accept the torch from the incumbents.
Hamilton was reportedly a part of the proposed return package by the Columbus Blue Jackets when the Bruins were among Rick Nash’s suitors. Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli shrewdly shunned such a deal.
Based on his output in the OHL, Hamilton is the best bet among players in the Boston organization to lend their power play a long-awaited boost. He tallied a league-best 30 helpers with the man advantage in 2011-12, his first season since going ninth overall in the 2011 entry draft.
More time to pad on some pounds on his towering frame before he debuts in the NHL should help Hamilton in his day job on defense as well.
Depending on whether he can hit the NHL ice sprinting, Huberdeau will be the nucleus to the Panthers hopes of fortifying their offense beyond the first line. For the moment, he will be adding extra syrup to his major-junior sundae, highlighted by a 37-32-69 scoring log in 55 games over three long playoff runs.
On the one hand, Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider can only continue to work as an NHL tandem for so long. On the other hand, when one of them―more likely Luongo, based on recent history―leaves Vancouver, the Canucks will want a new backup with a promising track record.
They have one right in their farm system with the undrafted Lack, who is about to embark on his third AHL campaign after two solid seasons with the Manitoba Moose and Chicago Wolves. If the NHL were operating as usual, the Canucks would be serving everyone’s best interest if they sought suitors for Luongo and gave Lack a permanent, hard-earned promotion.
Furthermore, even if the Panthers can land Luongo, a scenario that has garnered substantial speculation, they would be well-advised to make like the Canucks and take advantage of homegrown talent and have Markstrom as a dependable, competitive backup.
Murphy might not be an immediate fixture in Carolina, but once he is ready for substantial NHL ice time, he will, at the very least, be a viable backup plan if more seasoned all-around blueliners sputter.
A month before he was the top blueliner selected in the most recent NHL draft, Murray played with and against established elite professionals in the 2012 World Championship. This was barely four months after he had played an identical six games in the World Junior tournament.
Granted, he only averaged 7:54 of ice time per night on Canada’s big club, but the pond will be much shallower in Columbus. His immediate insertion will be a start to reversing the fortunes of the Blue Jackets, whose defense has allowed three-plus goals per night and dropped exponentially lower in the team-defense rankings each of the last three seasons.
Even if Pouliot cannot be an immediate factor in the Pittsburgh Penguins efforts to revamp their defense, a well-stocked blue-line brigade will always be in order. Otherwise, in the most meaningful phases of the season, the elite scoring of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin will go for naught more often than not.
The Pens were plainly aware of this when they traded up and nabbed the eighth-overall draft pick as part of the Jordan Staal trade and used that pick to claim Pouliot’s rights.
While Ryan Strome, the New York Islanders’ top pick in 2011, figures to be the next big piece on the recharging franchise’s offense, Reinhart, a top-five pick in 2012, has similar prospects on the blue line.
Within three months of his selection, the 18-year-old Reinhart returned to the WHL to assume the Edmonton Oil Kings captaincy. Depending on his long-term development and leadership outlook, he could be a candidate to ultimately succeed the 34-year-old Mark Streit as the Isles captain or at least as their resident letter-wearing defenseman.
A 205-pound point-per-gamer, even after protracted stretches on the sidelines due to injury, Rielly is one of the best blueliners in the major-junior ranks, particularly in terms of converting defense into offense.
His Toronto Maple Leafs, who finished 10th in goals and second-to-worst in goals-against last season, could use a player of his type sooner rather than later. That is somebody who will use his size to clear space and clear the zone in his day job and proceed to help a capable strike force bury chances at the other end.
Rather than utilize his final year of eligibility at the University of Wisconsin, Schultz will spend the lockout with the Oklahoma City Barons, after which he will vie for a roster spot in Edmonton.
Perhaps the top asset Oilers fans and management will be watching for Schultz to translate is his prolific point patrolling on the power play. He tallied 21 man-advantage goals in 121 college games and was one of the Badgers’ top-two point-getters each of the last two seasons.
Because he has yet to play more than 43 games in a given season, Schultz could benefit from a protracted lockout and resultant AHL bridge year. The gradual acclimation to a professional regimen could allow him to impact the Oilers a little sooner than otherwise.
And naturally, anything benefiting his development will make him all the more valuable to the St. Louis Blues.
Following the abrupt end of his sophomore season at Colorado College in the first round of the WCHA playoffs, Schwartz latched on in St. Louis and tallied three points in seven appearances. He will now indefinitely bridge his transition to a fuller NHL campaign in the top development circuit.
Whether or not he is ready for the next level as soon as NHL normalcy is restored, Schwartz ought to emerge from his AHL stint as yet another enticing additive to Ken Hitchcock’s deep, balanced strike force.
Smith is one of the most logical candidates to shed his prospect status in a hurry once the next NHL season is underway. For now, though, he will continue to collect AHL seasoning in preparation to help replenish some of what the Red Wings have lost from Nicklas Lidstrom and Brad Stuart.
Especially after he tallied seven points over 14 periodic appearances in the NHL last year, Smith is the last burgeoning player whose rights Detroit wants to relinquish.
Tarasenko is another budding Blues forward who, like Schwartz, is passing the lockout time in a developmentally beneficial league, his being the KHL, where he has already been for the past four years.
With his transcript, size, scoring touch and leadership qualities (he captained the gold-medal Russian World Junior team in 2011), he can make an immediate impact in St. Louis. That impact could directly translate to a deeper postseason run after the team finished first in the 2012 Central Division only to falter in the second round.
Like the aforementioned Hamilton, his seasoned Niagara Ice Dogs teammate, the crafty Strome does not have much left to prove in the OHL ranks. Meanwhile, the Islanders’ loss of P.A. Parenteau to free agency equals a wider opening for Strome to add more offense to a team still looking to build enough around John Tavares.
Edmonton fans can hope that Yakupov is the last additive in the team’s youth movement. If he is, that will mean the team starts garnering more relevance and moving away from repeat first-overall draft choices.
Once Yakupov convenes with the likes of Jordan Eberle, Sam Gagner, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the beakers should be set for a long-lasting formula of top-nine or top-six firepower.
Zibanejad’s size and versatility have him near or at the very top of the Ottawa Senators prospects leaderboard. With such current key contributors as Daniel Alfredsson and Sergei Gonchar tinkering on their 40s, fostering and phasing in Zibanejad and his fruitful physicality is all the more vital to the Sens’ long-term plans.