The right prospect can be an immediate game changer, helping thrust a bubble team into contention, or a lottery team into the post-season. Others take a little longer to develop, but can ultimately have an even greater impact. Figuring out which is which can be more art than science.
I've had the pleasure of working with Corey Pronman since Hockey Prospectus' inception late in the 2008-09 season. Pronman has established an impressive reputation as one of the leading prospect analysts by combining traditional scouting methods with video analysis and non-traditional statistics better than anyone else.
Every year, in our annual Hockey Prospectus guide, Pronman ranks the Top 100 NHL Prospects, almost all of whom also qualify as rookies. His analysis is a must-read for those who follow prospects.
With his kind permission, I'm taking a look at the top prospect he's selected from each team. Based on their play and both the goals and the roster of their respective teams, I'll be providing my own personal take on each player's likely opportunities, and what we can expect from each one.
Hampus Lindholm, D
Pronman's Ranking: 23
Injuries are Hampus Lindholm's best bet for seeing NHL action this season. Sheldon Souray has torn a ligament in his wrist, Francois Beauchemin has just had knee surgery and Luca Sbisa has a sprained ankle, according to NHL.com's Adam Kimelman. With several goals in exhibition, Lindholm might play his way onto a roster that otherwise would have been set.
Even in the absence of injuries, Mark Fistric is only signed to a one-year deal, leaving an opening for Lindholm and/or Sami Vatanen to play their way on to the blue line.
Beyond those two defensemen, Anaheim has a handful of other prospects in their pipeline.
Others: William Karlsson, Rickard Rakell, Stefan Noesen, Sami Vatanen, Kevin Roy, John Gibson
Ryan Spooner, C
Pronman's Ranking: 36
Boston is an elite team and might not have a lot of room up front for Ryan Spooner, no matter how well he played throughout the preseason. But you never know; the Bruins could bring him up to play on the third or fourth line in the unlikely event that they see value in that, and there's always the potential for a top-line injury.
While Spooner may be a better prospect, Torey Krug is the one more likely to be seeing playing time for Boston this season. There are a lot more openings on the blue line.
Others: Alexander Khokhlachev, Torey Krug
Mikhail Grigorenko, C
Pronman's Ranking: 7
In Mikhail Grigorenko, Rasmus Ristolainen and Zemgus Girgensons, the Buffalo Sabres have a trio of strong rookies this year (and several more in the pipeline). Despite not having the strongest stint with the team last year, posting just five points in 25 games, Grigorenko has been identified as the strongest.
With the recent departure of most of their stars, Buffalo is going to need a fresh source of offense. New coach Ron Rolston will likely cobble some offense together from the great Thomas Vanek and whatever the Sabres can manage out of Ville Leino, Cody Hodgson, Drew Stafford, Tyler Ennis and one or more of these youngsters. There will be plenty of opportunities for those who step forward—ideally alongside Vanek himself.
Others: Rasmus Ristolainen, Nikita Zadorov, Joel Armia, Zemgus Girgensons, J.T. Compher
Sean Monahan, C
Pronman's Ranking: 12
Despite their need for centers, the Calgary Flames have no need to rush Monahan along. They are content to focus on their rebuild and will use him wherever he will best develop—either in Calgary or back with the OHL's Ottawa 67s.
He's likely good enough to play in the NHL, but there are other variables in the equation. If he does see NHL action, it's probably not for the whole season and probably not on the top lines.
Sven Baertschi is more likely the one who will be getting those opportunities this year.
Others: Sven Baertschi, Johnny Gaudreau, Corban Knight
Elias Lindholm, C
Pronman's Ranking: 8
The Carolina Hurricanes are not a deep team up front, and there should be some opportunities for Elias Lindholm (once his shoulder is 100 percent).
Coach Kirk Muller would certainly love to build another strong scoring-threat line to complement the highly underrated line of Eric Staal, Alexander Semin and Jiri Tlusty and might even entertain the idea of splitting them up.
If not, Jeff Skinner could be taken off Jordan Staal's two-way second line and joined up with Lindholm and Nathan Gerbe.
On the other hand, if Lindholm's shoulder isn't up to par and/or if he struggles, he could get leapfrogged by one of Carolina's almost countless bubble prospects—at least for one season.
Others: Ryan Murphy
Teuvo Teravainen, LW
Pronman's Ranking: 21
While there may be openings in Chicago with the departure of Dave Bolland, Michael Frolik and Viktor Stalberg, Teuvo Teravainen is likely not the one to fill them this year. Expect him to stay in Finland for most, if not all, of the 2013-14 NHL season.
Chicago has a number of younger players to fill those bottom-six roles instead, many of whom we've already seen last year. Brandon Saad, Jeremy Morin, Jimmy Hayes and Andrew Shaw are all on entry-level deals and are quite suitable for those roles.
It is, however, only a matter of time for Teravainen, who will join Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane in Chicago's top six soon enough.
Others: Brandon Pirri
Nathan MacKinnon, C
Pronman's Ranking: 2
Nathan MacKinnon is incredibly talented. However, Colorado is surprisingly deep up front, with lots of other young players capable of producing offense.
P.A. Parenteau and Matt Duchene can be downright deadly on the first line, and after that, MacKinnon is in competition with Paul Stastny, Ryan O'Reilly and Gabriel Landeskog, all of whom are likely to play on more two-way lines, followed by established NHLers like Alex Tanguay, Steve Downie and Jamie McGinn.
Of course, MacKinnon will make this team and score a lot of points (assuming the hip-flexor injury is minor), but there will be a lot of competition for ice time, especially if he takes time to adjust to the NHL.
Others: Michael Sgarbossa
Ryan Murray, D
Pronman's Ranking: 9
If it weren't for a shoulder injury, Ryan Murray would have likely been on the Columbus blue line last year and, quickly possibly, would have seen some postseason action (the Jackets lost the last spot in a tiebreaker). If healthy, he could most certainly help Columbus' defense this year, which isn't that great.
Fedor Tyutin is solid, and Nikita Nikitin has been great (and is an unrestricted free agent at season's end), but Jack Johnson and James Wisniewski have been inconsistent defensively.
Murray won't solve the team's defensive woes overnight because that side of a player's game can take years to develop. But there is a lot of room on that blue line; the Blue Jackets need him and will give him every opportunity to succeed.
Others: Alexander Wennberg, Boone Jenner
Valeri Nichushkin, RW
Pronman's Ranking: 5
The Dallas Stars are a brand new team, with a brand new coach (Lindy Ruff), making it hard to speculate what Nichushkin's role could be.
Nichushkin certainly has the talent to contend for the Calder this year, but the Stars already have Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Ray Whitney, Erik Cole, Rich Peverley, Shawn Horcoff and Vernon Fiddler.
My gut instinct is that Nichushkin initially gets an early opportunity, possibly even with Benn and Seguin on the top line, but he may get demoted quickly if he struggles.
Others: Brett Ritchie, Jamie Oleksiak
Gustav Nyquist, LW
Pronman's Ranking: 27
Gustav Nyquist is not a rookie, but was included as a rare player who qualifies under Pronman's definition of a prospect, but not the NHL's.
Nyquist has 13 points in 40 games, spread out over the past two seasons, with another five points in 18 postseason games. In that time, he has shown a lot of offensive upside and should be all set to compete as an NHL regular.
Of course, this is Detroit. The Red Wings bring their young players along slowly and are very deep up front with proven (if not always healthy) NHL talent. Nyquist may not get a lot of ice time, and there's even the potential of some stints back in the AHL.
Others: Calle Jamkrok, Danny DeKeyser, Tomas Tatar, Anthony Mantha
Oscar Klefbom, D
Pronman's Ranking: 17
Most of Edmonton's young prospects are already in the lineup, like Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, Justin Schultz and Nail Yakupov (to name just the most prominent few). Their time is going to be awfully soon.
The Oilers' system does have a couple of players left—all of them defensemen. Of them, Oscar Klefbom is probably a small step ahead of young Darnell Nurse, especially if he's healthy. Klefbom injured his shoulder last year and suffered a concussion a few weeks ago.
The Oilers are deep on defense, but in numbers instead of talent. If Klefbom isn't ready, Anton Belov will likely take his spot for the time being.
Others: Darnell Nurse
Aleksander Barkov, C
Pronman's Ranking: 6
When Stephen Weiss and Kris Versteeg were injured last year, it was Florida's two rookies, Jonathan Huberdeau and Drew Shore, who filled the scoring void.
With Weiss now a Red Wing, it could be Aleksander Barkov's turn this year. If Barkov centers any combination of Versteeg, Huberdeau, Shore or Fleischmann, the Calder Trophy might stay in town. Barkov might even see some postseason action.
Nick Bjugstad also stands to fight for those same opportunities.
Others: Nick Bjugstad, Michael Matheson, Rocco Grimaldi, Vincent Trocheck
Tyler Toffoli, RW
Pronman's Ranking: 38
Los Angeles Kings coach Darryl Sutter got a good look at Tyler Toffoli last season. Toffoli scored five points in 10 games and another six points in 12 postseason games, putting him on pace for at least 40 points in a full NHL season.
While Toffoli isn't generally considered one of the league's top prospects, he is definitely capable of providing at least some of the scoring that Los Angeles really needs. Expect Sutter to work him into a secondary scoring line this year.
Others: Valentin Zykov
Mathew Dumba, D
Pronman's Ranking: 39
Here's a new name to know in Minnesota: Mathew Dumba. The Wild have no shortage of young defensemen. Last year, Jonas Brodin made a serious bid for the Calder, while playing alongside Norris finalist Ryan Suter, and is one of six defensemen whose total combined cap hits are less than Suter's.
This year, the eyes will be on Dumba, who may also be paired up with a veteran this year (though it may be Keith Ballard instead of Suter). With the amount of money invested in a small group of elite players, Minnesota's success could very well hinge on whether the team's lower-paid younger players can overachieve.
Others: Jason Zucker, Tyler Graovac
Nathan Beaulieu, D
Pronman's Ranking: 48
Montreal got a big boost last year from a pair of rookies, Brendan Gallagher and Alexander Galchenyuk, both of whom could have had persuasive Calder Trophy cases made for them.
Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of NHL-ready, game-changing talents ready to make the leap this year. The closest is defensemen Nathan Beaulieu, who was solid in six games last year, but who will not be starting the season with the club.
Should Beaulieu be brought up later in the season, there's no reason he couldn't immediately be an effective third-line defenseman.
Others: Artturi Lehkonen, Sebastian Collberg, Jacob De La Rose
Seth Jones, D
Pronman's Ranking: 3
When Nashville's 102.5 the Game's Willy Daunic tweeted me on draft day for an immediate reaction to the Seth Jones selection, I responded that there would be many high fives and pushing into the bushes by Predators management on the way back to the hotel. I guess the guy who brought a "Jones" jersey wasn't such a fool after all.
Jones is good to go right now, and it's hard to imagine a scenario where he doesn't have a long and successful NHL career. That's good, because Nashville needs defensemen so badly that even Roman Josi is getting sewn up long-term for decent money.
That being said, defensemen normally don't make a huge scoring impact in their rookie seasons, so it may take a few years. At least the Predators know, by the time Shea Weber starts slowing down, they'll have a few others starting to reach their peaks.
Others: Filip Forsberg, Mattias Ekholm
Jon Merrill, D
Pronman's Ranking: 45
Despite the small number of New Jersey Devils on Pronman's list, and the relatively low ranking of their top prospect, the Devils actually have quite a few promising youngsters who could see NHL action this year or next.
One of them, if he can avoid more injuries, is defenseman Jon Merrill. Unfortunately, one of the best kept secrets in the NHL is that the New Jersey Devils are actually a good team, and there isn't a lot of room on the blue line for Merrill. On the plus side, it is defensively sound that a young player like Merrill will be guaranteed a great pairing linemate.
Others: Steven Santini
Ryan Strome, C
Pronman's Ranking: 11
Opportunity-wise, things looked grim for some New York Islanders rookies when the team picked up a batch of value-price veteran forwards like Cal Clutterbuck, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Peter Regin.
If he plays well, there is, however, still plenty of room in the lineup for Strome, especially with Clutterbuck's recent injury. With opposing top checkers playing against John Tavares, that might even open up the ice a little bit for Strome's secondary scoring line.
If the Islanders struggle, then their other prospects might not have to wait very long either.
Others: Ryan Pulock, Griffin Reinhart, Brock Nelson, Calvin de Haan
Chris Kreider, LW
Pronman's Ranking: 41
Though considered a stud prospect this time last year, especially after finishing one shy of the team's postseason goal lead in 2011-12, expectations for Chris Kreider have since been tempered. A weak season, and potentially even weaker preseason, will do that.
Kreider had just three points in 23 regular-season games, to go with his nine points in 23 postseason games over the past two seasons, establishing him as a roughly 20-point player over a full NHL season.
New coach Alain Vigneault likes to tilt the ice in favor of his top lines, which means his other lines need to be complete and reliable two-way players. Unless injuries hit New York's considerable forward depth particularly hard, Kreider will need to either develop the defensive skill to make one of the secondary lines or improve his offensive game enough to make the top line. Both are possible, but neither are probable.
Others: Danny Kristo, Pavel Buchnevich
Cody Ceci, D
Pronman's Ranking: 65
For the most part, Ottawa's prospects are already on the ice. Drastic injuries forced the Ottawa Senators to deploy as many as possible last season, one of whom (Jakob Silfverberg) was shipped off to Anaheim for Bobby Ryan.
Cody Ceci is one of the few NHL-ready prospects who remain, and despite the low ranking, will likely fit in quite nicely on Ottawa's blue line, which iced two of those rookies last year (Eric Gryba and Patrick Wiercioch).
Robin Lehner will also be with the team this year, having received the vote of confidence when backup goalie Ben Bishop was traded to Tampa Bay (for yet another rookie, Cory Conacher).
Others: Robin Lehner, Mark Stone
Scott Laughton, C
Pronman's Ranking: 82
Scott Laughton played five games last year, mostly with Wayne Simmonds and Matt Read. Despite his low ranking, Laughton is actually the team's top prospect and will likely get every opportunity to play with the team this year—possibly only on the fourth line, though.
With all the money the Philadelphia Flyers have invested in their high-priced forwards and their expanded roster of defensemen, they'll need to rely on rookies like Laughton, Read and winger Tye McGinn to fill the gaps in an affordable fashion.
While opportunities could present themselves now, results may have to wait a little longer.
Others: Robert Hagg
Max Domi, C
Pronman's Ranking: 16
The biggest knock against Max Domi, who is the son of famous NHL enforcer Tie Domi, is that he's a little small. That might keep him in the OHL a little longer, especially if the Phoenix Coyotes feel his long-term development is more important than any short-term results for the team.
If he is given the NHL opportunity this year instead of next, expect it to be on the left wing with some trusted two-way veterans, like Antoine Vermette and David Moss.
Others: Brandon Gormley, David Rundblad
Olli Maatta, D
Pronman's Ranking: 29
Between the top pairing of Kris Letang and Paul Martin and the newly crafted defensive pairing of Brooks Orpik and Rob Scuderi, Pittsburgh's top four is essentially set. That leaves Olli Maatta competing with Deryk Engelland, Robert Bortuzzo and Simon Despres for the final spot alongside Matt Niskanen.
Maatta probably has the skill to earn that spot, but the Penguins are also without the need to short cut his development to only marginally improve their third pairing. It is only a matter of time for Maatta, who will most likely earn his permanent NHL status in 2014-15.
Others: Brian Dumoulin, Derrick Pouliot
Dmitrij Jaskin, RW
Pronman's Ranking: 51
The St. Louis Blues are actually Stanley Cup contenders, meaning they will likely only use Dmitrij Jaskin if coach Ken Hitchcock believes that he can help them win that Cup.
With only a couple of exceptions, the St. Louis Blues are a deep team of young, fast, two-way puck-possession players. On one hand, that will make Jaskin's transition to the NHL easier, but on the other hand, it may also delay it until he's become a more complete player himself.
Jaskin played two games last year, mostly with Chris Porter and Ryan Reaves on the depth line.
Others: Ty Rattie
Tomas Hertl, C or LW
Pronman's Ranking: 30
A strong pre-season and a recent ACL injury to Raffi Torres have given Tomas Hertl a roster spot at the season's start, but will he still have it at season's end?
Players haven't had a lot of NHL success coming from the Czech league these past few years, an entirely recent and surprising turn of events.
While the San Jose Sharks do have a need for lower-priced players to fill out their depth lines, there appear to be some equally good options which would allow a far superior prospect more time to develop and to get used to the North American game. Expect his NHL action to be brief and limited, at least for this year.
Others: Mirco Mueller
Jonathan Drouin, LW
Pronman's Ranking: 1
I was very surprised when Jonathan Drouin was sent back down to the Canadian Juniors. I had even picked him in the annual Hockey Prospectus predictions on who would win the Calder trophy.
Who else does Tampa Bay have that can score, aside from the Lightnings' top line? And even still, wouldn't Drouin look better on that unit than Teddy Purcell?
Of course, there are more variables to the equation than who can score the most points this season. Tampa Bay is a team on the rebuild, with, perhaps, the strongest and deepest prospect pools in the league. Developed carefully, the Lightning are virtually guaranteed to be among the league's best teams in a few seasons, so why rush it?
Others: Vladislav Namestnikov, Nikita Kucherov, Mark Barberio, Andrej Sustr, Adam Erne, Andrei Vasilevski
Morgan Rielly, D
Pronman's Ranking: 15
Morgan Rielly, the fifth overall selection in the 2012 entry draft, probably lost his roster spot when Cody Franson signed. That being said, five of Toronto's seven defensemen are free agents at the end of this season (two of them restricted), practically paving the way for Rielly in 2014-15.
It's also fairly widely known that my forecast for the Maple Leafs this year is less positive than most other journalists. If they have a disappointing season and start slipping out of contention early, they may trade John-Michael Liles and experiment with players like Rielly a little sooner than expected.
Hunter Shinkaruk, C
Pronman's Ranking: 22
It must have been an absolute shock to see Hunter Shinkaruk still available with the 24th available selection, but Vancouver jumped right on it. The Canucks had to trade away Cory Schneider to get Bo Horvat, but that gives them two prospects with the potential for meaningful rookie-season impact.
New Canucks coach John Tortorella has a completely different style than previous coach Alain Vigneault, so it's hard to speculate where Shinkaruk will fit in this season (if at all). Unless moved to wing, he obviously won't get to play on one of the top two lines, but could probably be highly effective centering line three or four.
Others: Bo Horvat, Frank Corrado
Evgeny Kuznetsov, C
Pronman's Ranking: 4
Evgeny Kuznetsov will not be on an NHL roster this year, choosing instead to remain in the KHL. If he plays for the Washington Capitals next year, it's really hard to imagine any scenario where he won't be highly successful, even in year one. It will be exciting to watch him on the power play with Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green.
While Pronman didn't mention any other Capitals prospects in his Top 100, keep your eyes on Connor Carrick this year. There's a good chance he'll be used on their blue line.
Jacob Trouba, D
Pronman's Ranking: 10
Jacob Trouba is one of two prospects to watch in Winnipeg this year, Mark Scheifele being the other. It's no secret that the Winnipeg Jets are looking for results this year and will do whatever it takes to make the postseason. Having Trouba on the blue line, instead of someone like Adam Pardy or Paul Postma, could quite definitely make the difference.
Drafted ninth in the 2012 entry draft and earning a spot on Pronman's Top 10 list of prospects, Trouba is a mature, two-way defenseman.
The Jets have the great one-two punch of Tobias Enstrom and Dustin Byfuglien, while Zach Bogosian provides shutdown defensive play, and Trouba should round out that top four by next season at the latest. That would certainly have the makings of a playoff-caliber blue line long-term.
Others: Mark Scheifele, Josh Morrissey
All advanced statistics are via writer's own original research, unless otherwise noted.