Evgeny Kuznetsov is arguably the Capitals' top prospect.
Over two months into the NHL lockout, it may seem that everyone loses in this situation. Well, that’s not quite the case, as plenty of the league’s top prospects benefit from the work stoppage.
A year outside the NHL to develop could end up helping a lot of hockey prospects. Those in the AHL and European leagues will benefit from the competition provided by locked-out players.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have some of the best prospects in the league, while other teams, like the Calgary Flames, are slowly growing their organization’s depth.
When the league and the NHL Players Association do finally come to terms on a new collective bargaining agreement, the debut of some of these prospects will be one of the most exciting things to watch for in the NHL.
But in the meantime, these players continue to get better and better. Here are nine NHL prospects that are benefiting from the lockout.
Korbinian Holzer is one of the top defensemen in Toronto's system.
At 24 years old, Korbinian Holzer is a tad older than the average prospect. Even so, he’s only on his third season with the Toronto Marlies.
Already a reliable defensive defenseman, Holzer has evolved his offensive play throughout his time in the AHL. He scored a career-high 20 points in 67 games last season.
There aren’t a lot of things Holzer needs to refine about his game. He’s adjusted well and proved he can be a solid shutdown defenseman.
The Maple Leafs have a strong prospect pool, especially on the defensive side of things. Morgan Rielly, their top pick in the 2012 draft, is one of the top offensive defenseman prospects.
Getting the chance to play and develop chemistry with the newer prospects during the lockout will prove to be extremely beneficial to Holzer. As a strong defensive defenseman, he may find himself being paired with an offensively-oriented blueliner like Rielly somewhere down the line.
Charlie Coyle donning his Minnesota Wild jersey.
Charlie Coyle was looking to make the jump to the NHL this season, but the lockout has prevented that. Instead, he finds himself making his professional debut with the AHL’s Houston Aeros.
He’s developed very well as a prospect. At 6’2” and 202 pounds, he has a big presence on the ice. He’s also fast and smart, making him a formidable playmaking threat.
Even so, a jump from the QMJHL to the NHL might have been a bit much for him to handle. He’ll likely benefit from easing into the professional game by spending a whole season in the NHL.
It seems to be working thus far—Coyle has seven goals and 11 points in his first 17 games with the Aeros. His scoring totals and overall performance should only go up once he develops better chemistry with his linemates.
Ryan Ellis in a January 2012 game against the New York Islanders.
Ryan Ellis, who would have certainly started with the Predators this season, found himself relegated to a third season with the Milwaukee Admirals.
While Ellis must be somewhat disappointed, the experience couldn’t hurt him. Playing in the AHL, especially against fellow locked-out prospects, should help him develop into the best player he can be before his rookie season.
At 5’10” and roughly 180 pounds, Ellis’ size certainly works against him. That said, making sure he excels in every aspect of the game will guarantee his spot high on the Predators roster.
He’s skilled in his own zone, but Ellis’ offensive contributions will be needed for the Predators to fill the void left by Ryan Suter.
Even though he’s only played three games with the Admirals this season, Ellis has proven his ability to both create plays and score goals from the blueline.
The Predators will definitely miss Suter on the power play, so Ellis would be best suited spending the lockout perfecting his performance on the power play.
Victor Rask posing in his new Hurricanes jersey.
The second-round selection of the Hurricanes in 2011, Victor Rask, began his professional hockey career this season.
He has played 10 games with the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers this season, scoring five points in that span.
Rask is coming off a spectacular season with the Calgary Hitmen in 2011-12. He scored 63 points in 64 games before being sidelined with an injury during the playoffs.
His time in the AHL should prove to be very beneficial. There are plenty of experienced players on the roster to help the young center develop.
If Rask can stand out among those with NHL experience playing in the AHL during the lockout, he may impress officials and earn himself a spot on the Hurricanes roster in the not-too-distant future.
Brandon Gormley during a September 2011 game versus the Kings.
Brandon Gormley is an elite defenseman that was drafted 13th overall in 2010. The NHL’s work stoppage means he will almost definitely have an uninterrupted season in the AHL.
Gormley is a great two-way defenseman who has been showing a lot of promise in the offensive zone recently. His keen passing skills and accurate shot have made him a scoring threat from the blueline—especially on the power play.
His tenure with the Portland Pirates has proved beneficial thus far. He’s gained valuable experience in his first 14 games in pro hockey.
More importantly, his pro debut has exposed some weaknesses of his. His minus-five rating in his first 14 games shows he needs some work on his defensive play.
Time to adjust to pro hockey should help him sort out a lot of his deficiencies early on in his professional career. At the same time, playing with other locked-out prospects should help expedite the process.
Jaden Schwartz during a late-season game against the Coyotes in 2012.
Having played seven games with the Blues this past season, Jaden Schwartz has a bit of NHL experience under his belt.
The 20-year-old left winger will play for Peoria Rivermen of the AHL. His time there should give him a good opportunity to address the weaker aspects of his game while still being challenged by other players with NHL experience affected by the lockout.
Without the potential to be called up to the Blues, Schwartz should be more focused on improving some of the offensive facets of the game.
Already a great playmaker, Schwartz can work on his shooting to be a better-rounded player in the offensive zone. In addition, he can put on some strength to help his overall game.
If Schwartz takes advantage of this disguised opportunity, he should become a mainstay forward for the Blues once the lockout ends.
Sven Bartschi celebrating one of his three goals during his brief call up this past season.
Sven Bartschi proved to be one of the NHL’s most captivating prospects. When the Flames were forced to call him up last season, Bartschi scored an impressive three goals in his brief five-game stint.
Because of the lockout, Bartschi can be found on the Abbotsford Heat roster. A season in the AHL should give him ample time to completely adjust to professional hockey.
Any weak characteristics of the winger’s game will surely be ironed out throughout this season.
Whenever the lockout ends and NHL hockey resumes, Sven Bartschi will be ready to have an explosive rookie season.
Jacob Markstrom protecting the goal from the Blackhawks.
With no spot for him on the Florida Panthers, it seems that Jacob Markstrom likely wouldn’t have seen much time in the NHL this season anyway.
A whole season with the San Antonio Rampage will help polish Markstrom’s game in the net and make sure he’s fully recovered from his knee injury from earlier this year.
The lockout will benefit Markstrom, like many other prospects, by challenging him with a plethora of talented, locked-out prospects that would otherwise be playing in the NHL.
This challenge will help Markstrom along in his development as Florida’s goaltender of the future while also making sure he doesn’t get caught going through the motions in the lower-pressure league.
Capitals fans are anxiously awaiting Evgeny Kuznetsov's arrival.
The Capitals drafted Evgeny Kuznetsov in the Round 1 of the 2010 NHL entry draft. With him came high hopes and expectations for his offensive contribution to the club.
Kuznetsov has yet to grace America with his hockey prowess, though. News broke during the offseason that he signed a two-year deal with his KHL team, Traktor Chelyabinsk.
The Washington Post story notes that Kuznetsov believes he’s “not ready to go to the NHL right now.” The current plan is for him to remain in Russia through the 2014 Olympics.
The lockout could end up benefiting Kuznetsov most of any NHL prospect.
Improving his game was the bulk of his decision to stay in the KHL. Getting to play against locked-out stars like Evgeni Malkin and possible future linemate Alexander Ovechkin could give Kuznetsov a valuable preview of NHL competition.
In addition to that, Kuznetsov will have the opportunity to pick the brains of locked-out players such as Andrei Kostitsyn.
Simply put, the NHL lockout could prove to help Kuznetsov quite a bit.