Not since the 2005-06 season has the NHL braced itself for such a large influx of young, talented players. 2013 draftees such as Nathan MacKinnon and Seth Jones are set to make their impacts, while the likes of Ryan Strome and Tyler Toffoli could finally make their long-awaited debuts as full-time NHL players.
A lot of the top prospects in hockey will be pouring into the league this year as the salary cap dips, forcing teams to use cheaper options throughout their lineups.
One outstanding way to save money is to burn a year off of a young player's entry-level deal. Why pay a No. 2 center $3 million when you could get away with paying him less than $1 million by recruiting from within?
While there are a few top prospects that could be sent back to the AHL or juniors for more seasoning, expect top prospect lists to look very different by this time next year after multiple graduations to the NHL.
All statistics, including heights and weights, appear courtesy of Hockeydb.com.
Drafted: 2012, first round (ninth overall)
Scouting Report: One of the best defensive prospects in all of hockey, Jacob Trouba is as mean as he is talented. He posted 29 points and 88 penalty minutes through 37 games with the University of Michigan last season, showcasing his ability to score from the blue line while maintaining an intimidating presence.
While capable of laying opponents out with catastrophic hits, Trouba is also an excellent skater who is able to move the puck up ice by a variety of means.
Listed at 6'1" and weighing in at 183 pounds, he will probably need at least one more year to add muscle to his frame before landing a full-time gig in the NHL. There are also some questions regarding his ability to react quickly to plays—a trait that won't fly at the professional level.
ETA: 2015-16 season
Drafted: 2010, second round (47th overall)
Scouting Report: Any questions about Tyler Toffoli's ability to produce at a high level were erased in 2013. He scored 51 points in 58 games while making his full-time professional debut with the Manchester Monarchs in the AHL.
Toffoli received a short call-up last March for his outstanding play and managed five points in 10 games while lacing up his skates with the Los Angles Kings.
While scoring depth is never a bad thing, L.A. has one of the strongest top-six groupings in the NHL, and there just may not be room for Toffoli for the upcoming season. The Kings would be wise to allow him to play big minutes in the AHL for one full season, taking the Detroit Red Wing or Chicago Blackhawk route, allowing an overseasoning to occur for their best prospects.
ETA: 2014-15 season
Drafted: 2013, first round (second overall)
Scouting Report: After two seasons in the SM-liiga, there isn't a more NHL-ready prospect coming out of the 2013 draft than Aleksander Barkov. He wasn't playing a secondary role in Finland's top professional league, either—he was an important player for the Tappara Tampere, especially last year when he finished second in team scoring.
You'll have a hard time poking any holes in Barkov's game. His hockey IQ is elite-level, and he rarely makes mistakes with the puck in the offensive zone. Despite only being 17, he's already 6'3" and weighs in at nearly 210 pounds.
While the Florida Panthers will likely be graduating Nick Bjugstad to a full-time roster spot, it'll still be very difficult for the team to send Barkov back to Finland for a year. The Panthers didn't pass on Seth Jones for a project player; they wanted a kid that could jump into the lineup immediately, and that's what Barkov will do.
ETA: 2013-14 season
Drafted: 2011, first round (fifth overall)
Scouting Report: Ryan Strome is the complete package. He's smart, quick and able to do creative things once he hits the offensive zone. There's a chance that he could be converted to a winger to play alongside John Tavares and Matt Moulson, but it could also be tempting to slot him in at the No. 2 center position.
That would give the New York Islanders one of the most dynamic one-two punches down the middle since Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin started tearing it up for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2005.
Regardless of where he ends up, Strome will be a top-six forward for the Isles this season as they try to improve on a surprising 2013 campaign. He's just too good to be in the AHL at this point.
Drafted: 2013, first round (third overall)
Scouting Report: Martin St. Louis isn't getting any younger, and the Tampa Bay Lightning aggressively sought to fill that unavoidable hole in the lineup at the 2013 draft. In selecting Jonathan Drouin, Tampa acquired the second-most dangerous pure offensive talent available.
Drouin is constantly dangerous once he enters the offensive zone, and if he gets his wheels going, you can forget about slowing him down. His shot is elite-level and he's a rare force that can make something out of nothing on every shift.
It'll be very interesting to see what the Lightning do with Drouin for the upcoming season. He ripped off 105 points in the QMJHL last season, so it's clear that level of competition is no longer a challenge for him. Still, he's only 5'11" and weighs 186 pounds, so he may not quite be NHL-ready, either.
Our best guess is that Tampa eases him into regular action in the NHL this year instead of sending him back to the Q.
ETA: 2013-14 season
Drafted: 2011, first round (seventh overall)
Scouting Report: Few prospects have had to battle playing on a poor team like Mark Scheifele has over the last two seasons. He's been the best player on the Barrie Colts—the team's go-to guy in nearly every situation—and has proven capable of providing strong play under dire circumstances.
At this point, there isn't much that the rangy center can't do well. His quickness is underrated and his vision is outstanding. Scheifele has developed the unteachable ability to make players around him better, and the Winnipeg Jets could be the beneficiaries of that trait as soon as this season gets underway.
The team has been remarkably patient with the 6'2", 184-pound Ontario native since drafting him in 2011, and the Jets will have a hard time keeping him off the NHL roster once again this year.
ETA: 2013-14 season
Drafted: 2013, first round (fourth overall)
Scouting Report: Like Ryan Murray in 2012, Seth Jones was considered an NHL-ready defenseman prior to even being drafted. While the Nashville Predators would love to see more aggression out of the 6'4", 205-pound defender, there's little doubt that his positioning and outlet passing are top-notch.
Jones is rarely (if ever) caught on his heels, and he's a very adept skater for such a large kid. There are rumblings that he could end up skating alongside Shea Weber as early as this season, learning the ropes from one of the best defenseman in the NHL.
There's a lot of competition on Nashville's blue line, but Jones has enough natural ability to crack the roster and to be an impact player this year.
ETA: 2013-14 season
Drafted: 2012, first round (fifth overall)
Scouting Report: If Seth Jones is the best all-around defensive prospect in all of hockey, then Morgan Rielly is the most outstanding offensive defenseman not currently playing in the NHL.
His puck-moving skills are top-notch, and few prospects can shoot the puck as well as Rielly. He's a fleet-footed defender who can walk the blue line as well as half the power-play quarterbacks in the NHL already, and he could already be running the Toronto Maple Leaf's second unit based on his skill level.
That said, Rielly is still a liability in his own zone. While that won't ever be his meal ticket in the NHL, he still needs to improve in his own zone lest he be a detriment while out on the ice.
He showed some promise through 14 games in the AHL last season but only posted three points during his professional debut. Perhaps one more year in the WHL will put Rielly over the top and prepare him for a role in the NHL.
ETA: 2014-15 season
Drafted: 2010, first round (26th overall)
Scouting Report: Few players can make headlines before ever playing a single game in North America. Yet every time Evgeny Kuznetsov opens his mouth, he seems to say something mildly controversial and eyebrow-raising.
His flirtation with the Washington Capitals must be maddening at this point, as he's clearly ready for the NHL and could make a huge impact from the first day with the organization. Kuznetsov's current contract in the KHL will expire after this season. While it's been widely believed that he'd be in Washington by this time in 2014 at the latest, recent comments may suggest otherwise.
According to Russianmachineneverbreaks.com, Kuznetsov indicated that he's in talks with his current KHL team and may re-sign with them. For five years. This is a make-or-break season for the electrifying Russian talent who will need to take a serious pay cut for three years upon jumping to the NHL.
ETA: 2014-15 season or never
Drafted: 2013, first round (first overall)
Scouting Report: Once Nathan MacKinnon takes his first NHL shift, he'll become one of the fastest players in the league. His quickness is elite-level, and his ability to skate the puck laterally is outstanding. Tack on a quick release and ability to stick handle at top speed, and MacKinnon could be making highlight reel goals in the NHL sooner rather than later.
The Colorado Avalanche (also) didn't pass on Seth Jones to take a project player. There's nothing left for MacKinnon to accomplish at the junior level, and he's too young to be sent to the AHL.
While he may not end up at center for the Avs, it's a guarantee that MacKinnon will be a part of Colorado's opening-night lineup this year.
ETA: 2013-14 season