Highly Touted Prospects We Can't Wait to See in the NHL
In the 2013-14 NHL season, the rookies are putting on a show.
Tomas Hertl is starring for the San Jose Sharks and leading the NHL in scoring. We're also seeing strong performances from newcomers Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche, Seth Jones of the Nashville Predators, Sean Monahan of the Calgary Flames, Jacob Trouba of the Winnipeg Jets and Eddie Lack of the Vancouver Canucks.
All of these players have breathed fresh air into the new campaign. Here's a look at the next crop that we can't wait to see. We'll showcase three forwards, two defensemen and one goaltender.
Jonathan Drouin: Forward
Drafted Third Overall in 2013 by the Tampa Bay Lightning
With 2013 top picks Nathan MacKinnon, Aleksander Barkov and Seth Jones slotting right in with their NHL teams, Jonathan Drouin is the highest draft choice from his year to be sent back to his junior team so far.
That just makes us more eager to see how he'll turn out.
Drouin won the Memorial Cup with the Halifax Mooseheads in 2013 and played for Team Canada at the 2013 World Junior Championship as a 17-year-old. He was also named the CHL's player of the year in 2012-13, becoming the first player since Sidney Crosby to win the award in his first year of draft eligibility.
Drouin turned 18 about three months before the 2013 draft, so another year of development at the junior level makes sense. So far, he has five points in four games back with the Mooseheads.
Jonathan Drouin will dazzle as part of Tampa Bay's potent offense once he's ready to make his NHL debut.
Hunter Shinkaruk: Forward
Drafted 24th Overall in 2013 by the Vancouver Canucks
The Vancouver Canucks entered their 2013-14 training camp with the welcome mat extended to their prospects. The team needs to get younger and doesn't have any obvious talent ready at the minor-league level, so spots were available for players who could impress.
18-year-old winger Hunter Shinkaruk came the closest to snagging one of those spots. A natural sniper, Shinkaruk scored two pretty preseason goals before being reassigned to the Medicine Hat Tigers of the WHL.
Shinkaruk showed that he has great hands and fearless enthusiasm. Canucks fans can't wait to see more.
Sam Reinhart: Forward
Eligible for 2014 Draft
Father Paul Reinhart had a commendable NHL career as a defenseman, playing 648 games and posting 559 points for the Vancouver Canucks and the Altanta/Calgary Flames between 1979-90.
Now, it looks like Reinhart's biggest contribution to the game may be his offspring.
Max Reinhart is a 21-year-old center with the Abbotsford Heat who played 11 games with the Calgary Flames last year. Defenseman Griffin Reinhart just got sent back to juniors at age 19 after a solid preseason with the New York Islanders. Most say that 17-year-old center Sam is the best of the Reinhart bunch.
Sam has excelled so far at the national level for under-17 and under-18-year-old players, and at this early stage, is considered the No. 1 prospect in the 2014 NHL entry draft.
Will the youngest child end up showing up his older brothers?
Darnell Nurse: Defense
Drafted Seventh Overall in 2013 by the Edmonton Oilers
The Edmonton Oilers are viewed as a young team with a talented crop of forwards, but one that needs help on defense before it can climb into the group of NHL contenders.
Darnell Nurse could go a long way towards helping to realize those goals.
With a 6'3" frame that he's still filling out, Nurse has a fantastic athletic pedigree. His father is former CFL wide receiver Richard Nurse, and his uncle by marriage is NFL star Donovan McNabb.
Nurse impressed in training camp with his physical play and his hockey sense. Some believed he had a chance to make the team as an 18-year-old, but the Oilers chose to return him to the OHL's Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds for another year of development.
The Oilers made efforts to improve their defense in the offseason with the addition of players like Andrew Ference and Anton Belov, but a bruiser like Nurse will be a real difference-maker when he's finally NHL-ready.
Aaron Ekblad: Defense
Eligible for 2014 Draft
At 17 years old, Aaron Ekblad is already 6'4" and 213 pounds. He was deemed an "exceptional player" at age 15 and granted the right to play in the OHL a year earlier than usual. He's well ahead of the curve and appears to possess all the tools to become an elite defenseman.
Early in the season, Ekblad and Sam Reinhart appear to be the only consensus Top-10 players on scouts' lists for the 2014 draft. So far, the Barrie Colts' blueliner has done a solid job of handling what's been thrown at him and may be the safe choice—even though defensemen tend to get passed over for skilled scorers at the very top of the draft.
Regardless of where he goes, Ekblad is bound to make his drafting team very happy for many years to come.
John Gibson: Goal
Drafted 39th Overall in 2011 by the Anaheim Ducks
At 20 years old, John Gibson has one prize that none of the other prospects on this list possesses: a World Junior Championship gold medal from 2013.
With Jonas Hiller and Victor Fasth entrenched in net in Anaheim, Gibson starts his first pro season with the Norfolk Admirals of the AHL.
Incumbent starter Hiller is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after this season and will likely command good-size money, potentially opening the door for Gibson to grab an NHL foothold.
His unflappable demeanor and zen-like approach to the 2013 World Junior Championship in Ufa, Russia made him a riveting personality in 2013. Once Gibson steps up to the next level, expect him to command the same level of attention.
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