10 Prospects We Can't Wait to See in the NHL

Franklin Steele@FranklinSteeleAnalyst IIAugust 16, 2013

10 Prospects We Can't Wait to See in the NHL

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    Few things will invigorate the fan base of an NHL team quite like the arrival of a highly touted prospect.

    There's usually a year or two of development after a player is drafted, giving diehards all the time in the world to watch highlight compilations on YouTube and to read everything they can get their hands on about their favorite team's top prospects.

    By the time the youngster is ready to make their NHL debut, pages upon pages will have been written about him, he will have been drafted into dynasty fantasy hockey systems and already played at least a handful of games within the latest installment of the NHL's video game franchise.

    All of this leads to great expectations, and the prospect of having those expectations met is one of the most exciting feelings one can have as an NHL fan.

    How awesome did the St. Louis Blues faithful feel when Vladimir Tarasenko finally made his NHL debut and scorched the Detroit Red Wings to open the season? How great was it for fans of the Minnesota Wild to see Jonas Brodin end up on the top pairing with Ryan Suter and thrive there?

    And more importantly, who are the kids who have yet to make their debuts that could give fans similar lifts?

    For the sake of this slideshow, a prospect is someone who has played zero games in the NHL. We also limited the number of kids from the 2013 draft to three, as to make some space for guys who are likely much closer to making their NHL debuts.

    All statistical information appears courtosey of Hockeydb.com unless otherwise noted.

Honorable Mentions

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    Mark Scheifele: The Winnipeg Jets have been incredibly patient with Scheifele since making him their first draft selection after relocating. A supreme playmaker, he could make his debut as a full-time NHLer in 2013-14.

    Tomas Hertl: There's a lot to like about Hertl's game, and he'll be a big boost to the San Jose Sharks scoring depth once he arrives as a full-timer.

    Jacob Trouba: For all the press that offensive-defenseman gets, it seems like the hard hitting guys don't get a whole lot of love. Trouba could change that with the Winnipeg Jets.

    Tyler Toffoli: As if the Los Angeles Kings need any more scoring depth, Toffoli could make his full-time NHL debut in 2013-14. He's been a goal-scoring machine over the last two years and already received his cup of coffee in the NHL. (yes, we broke the zero games rule to include him as an honorable mention.)

    Derrick Pouliot: One of the most offensively dynamic defenseman not currently in the NHL, Pouliot's development allowed the Pittsburgh Penguins to deal several of their top defensive prospects for rentals.

    John Gibson: The Anaheim Ducks are already stacked in net and have even more help on the horizon in Gibson. One of the most promising goaltending prospects in all of hockey, he's likely still a few years out but is worth a mention.

Andrey Vasilevskiy

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    The Tampa Bay Lightning have had all kinds of issues in net over the last few seasons, missing out on the playoffs due to a porous defense and inconsistent goaltending. Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis can only score so many goals in a game—eventually someone is going to have to start stopping the puck in Tampa.

    While Anders Lindback and Ben Bishop are two solid young goaltenders, their upside doesn't quite match that of Andrey Vasilevskiy, who will eventually be the man in net for the Lightning.

    He's most well known in North America for his lights-out performance at the 2012 World Junior Championships, where he went 4-1, posting two shutouts and a.953 save percentage. While Russia came up short in the Gold Medal game, it wasn't Vasilevskiy's fault, as he only gave up a single tally against Sweden.

Morgan Rielly

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    Getting his feet wet in the AHL for 14 games in 2013, Morgan Rielly could make the jump to the Toronto Maple Leafs with a strong training camp. Regardless of when he makes his debut, he's widely considered one of the top defensive prospects in the world, and with good reason.

    His passing is elite, and Rielly made quite a name for himself while dishing out pucks for the Moose Jaw Warriors in the WHL before moving on the the Toronto Marlies. He's also an awesome skater, and he projects as a capable puck rusher at the NHL level.

    While he is still raw on the defensive side of the puck, there's little doubt that Rielly is the kind of defenseman that can impact the game from the blue line by utilizing his strong shot and outstanding vision.

Nathan MacKinnon

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    The first overall selection in the 2013 draft, Nathan MacKinnon will make his NHL debut this season for the Colorado Avalanche, according to The Denver Post. He's blown everyone in the organization away with his maturity, and he'll be at the top of Calder favorite lists all year long.

    The first thing that stands out about MacKinnon is his skating. It's elite level, and Adrian Dater of The Denver Post has written that some around the league have compared MacKinnon's speed to that of Pavel Bure.

    That's some high praise for a kid that hasn't played in the NHL yet. MacKinnon is a remarkably smart player that can turn the tides of a game with a single shift. Few players possess that kind of game-breaking ability, and fans of every NHL team should be excited to see this kid play in the near future.

Ryan Strome

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    What's better than one John Tavares? Why, two of him, of course. New York Islanders prospect Ryan Strome has a lot in common with Tavares, and fans on Long Island have been anticipating his debut since we was drafted in 2011.

    They won't have to wait much longer.

    Strome played 10 games in the AHL last season after finishing his final year in the OHL, and he didn't miss a step in transition. He put up seven points while making his professional debut, showing everyone why he's one of the top prospects in hockey.

    Many will be eager to hand MacKinnon the Calder Trophy before the season even starts, but he'll have to get through Strome first to win it.

Jonathan Drouin

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    The Tampa Bay Lightning surprised just about everyone when they passed over Seth Jones to select Jonathan Drouin at the draft this year. The team has massive holes on defense, and Jones would have been a huge step in the right direction for the franchise.

    Drouin's talent level was just too enticing, and general manager Steve Yzerman elected to add the electric scoring talent over the steady defenseman.

    If Drouin has his way, he'll play in the NHL sooner rather than later and show everyone why he was the wiser selection over Jones. Like MacKinnon, Drouin can break a game wide open with his elite skating ability and is dangerous every time he enters the offensive zone with the puck.

    He scored a whopping 105 points in just 49 games with the Halifax Mooseheads in 2013, and has seemingly outgrown that level of competition. Look for him to be in the NHL soon.

Griffin Reinhart

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    Griffin Reinhart is the kind of defenseman a team can build a blue line unit around. Despite only being 19, he already stands at 6'4'' and weighs in at over 200 pounds. As he continues to fill out, he'll only get bigger but he's large enough for the NHL at this point.

    While he's not going to blow you away with any particular aspect of his game, Reinhart doesn't really do anything poorly either. He could be more physical, but that will come with maturity and confidence.

    His point total dipped a bit in 2013, down to 29 points in 59 games (from 36 points in 58 games in 2012) but his plus/minus jumped considerably, showing that he's continuing to iron out his game on the defensive end of things.

    Reinhart is a bit less flashy than players like Nathan MacKinnon and Ryan Strome, but he'll still be an important and steadying influence for the New York Islanders for years to come.

Valeri Nichushkin

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    The Russian factor seemed to scare teams off at the 2013 draft when it came to Valeri Nichushkin.

    Apparently general managers consider it a bad thing when a teenager has already proven that he can play in the best hockey league outside of the NHL, and are threatened by the fact that he's already a star in Russia.

    The Dallas Stars were all too happy to snatch him with the 10th selection, and when we look back at this particular draft, this is the guy that people could end up wondering why he didn't go higher.

    Nichushkin's talent level is through the roof, and he plays an outstanding power game that some have compared to Evgeni Malkin.

    That's a daunting comparison for a kid that hasn't seen any NHL action yet, but the numbers speak for themselves. He's already 6'4" and weighs in at over 200 pounds, so size won't be an issue as he transitions to the North American style of hockey.

    He also played 18 games for Chelyabinsk Traktor of the KHL, posting six points while playing against grown men. Nichushkin is an impressive specimen, and NHL fans can look forward to seeing him in action on this side of the pond very soon.

Jon Merrill

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    What doesn't derail a hockey career only makes it stronger, and Jon Merrill's road to the NHL has been paved with struggles and setbacks. He's 21-years-old now, and after three rough years at the University of Michigan, he appears ready to move on as a professional.

    Breaking into the AHL last year, the ultra-skilled offensive-defenseman posted eight points in 12 games and showed why he should be considered one of the top prospects not currently playing in the NHL. The New Jersey Devils will have a hard time keeping him out of the lineup much longer, and he could make his debut in 2013.

    Merrill is an outstanding puck mover and rarely panics under pressure. His poise is top-notch, and he has the makings of being a top-end power-play quarterback someday.

Ryan Murray

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    Ryan Murray was considered NHL-ready when the Columbus Blue Jackets selected him with the No. 2 pick in 2012. However, he dislocated his shoulder during the lockout, and the subsequent surgery prevented him from making his NHL debut after the work stoppage was over.

    With no real weaknesses in his game, Murray figures to be a defensive anchor on a team that includes offensive-minded defenders such as James Wisniewski and Jack Johnson.

    While he's no slouch in the offensive zone, Murray is as steady as teenagers come in his own zone. His attention to detail is top notch, and you won't see him outsmarted on the ice very often, if ever. Along with his outstanding talent, Murray is also a proven leader and has been a captain at nearly every level of action.

Mathew Dumba

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    As if Minnesota Wild fans didn't have enough to be excited about, this year they get to look forward to the likely addition of Mathew Dumba to the lineup. If his rookie season goes half as well as that of Jonas Brodin, then the Wild will be in remarkably good shape on the blue line.

    Dumba is the kind of player that puts fans in the stands and brings them to their feet. He's a dynamic skater with excellent puck-rushing skills and is outstanding in the offensive zone. The creativity is off the charts, and Dumba has been an elite offensive-defenseman in the WHL over the last two seasons with the Red Deer Rebels.

    Far from being a one-dimensional player, Dumba is also willing to throw his body around and frequently goes out to look for the massive open-ice hit.

    There's nothing to dislike about his game, and he could make his NHL debut as early as this season.