NHL Predictions: 7 Rookies Ready to Take the League by Storm in 2011-12
Heading into September's NHL Training Camps, there are a handful of rookies on each team with opportunities to make the jump to the next level and earn roster spots for at least the beginning of the season.
From there, the number of rookies in the NHL will decrease by the end of October, but the ones who remain will be given chances to fill big roles for their respective teams.
Just as Taylor Hall, Michael Grabner and Jeff Skinner did in 2010-11, there will be first-year players who emerge as top-line players as the season progresses, as they gradually prove themselves at the NHL level.
The 2011 NHL Draft was not considered to include superstar-caliber players, but it did feature a number of names that could be on rosters when the NHL Season opens in October.
Here are the top seven rookies who appear poised to make an impact in the NHL in 2011-12.
7. Ryan Johansen, Columbus Blue Jackets
The Columbus Blue Jackets believe they have a future franchise center in Ryan Johansen, which is why they selected him fourth overall in 2010.
Last season, Johansen racked up 92 points with Portland in the WHL, and was among Team Canada's best players at the World Juniors, posting nine points in seven games.
Though Columbus brought in Jeff Carter to add skill and size down the middle, there is still very much an opportunity for Johansen to step in and make the team's roster out of training camp.
He has the skills and hockey sense to be an offensive force at the NHL level, and seeing as Columbus is, as usual, starved for offense, Johansen could be among the top-scoring rookies in 2011-12.
6. Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado Avalanche
Widely regarded as the most NHL-ready forward available at the 2011 NHL Draft, Gabriel Landeskog will almost assuredly be a member of the Colorado Avalanche when the 2011-12 NHL season begins.
Landeskog may not end up posting the offensive numbers that other rookies will, but his physical, two-way play will be invaluable to a team that has lacked a true power forward since Chris Stewart was traded away last spring.
With that being said, Landeskog could very well tally 40-50 points as a rookie, while playing responsible hockey at both ends of the rink. Considering the Avalanche's lack of depth on the wings, Landeskog could find himself playing with either Matt Duchene or Paul Stastny, which would likely mean more scoring opportunities for the young Swede.
He may not reach his potential offensively this year, but he'll be an impact player for Colorado night-in and night-out.
5. Jonathon Blum, Nashville Predators
After the Nashville Predators dealt promising young defenseman Cody Franson to Toronto in mid-July, the team is looking for blue-chip prospect Jonathon Blum to fill a role on the Predators' top two defensive pairings.
Blum, a former first-round pick, has steadily developed into a two-way defenseman with Nashville's AHL affiliate in Milwaukee, and appears ready to take his game to the next level.
He's a good skater, and is capable enough offensively that it's not out of the question for him to tally 30 points as a rookie in 2011-12. During a 23-game cameo with the Predators in 2010-11, Blum put up three goals and eight points, and looks poised to build on that performance.
The California native should be ready for the NHL this season, and since he's been in the AHL for two seasons, it seems unlikely the Predators will want him to spent another season there. He could be the best rookie defenseman in this year's class outside of Adam Larsson.
4. Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington Capitals
It may come as a surprise that a rookie has the opportunity to make a big impact on an offensively stacked team like the Capitals, but that's just how good Russian prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov appears to be.
Kuznetsov, the Caps' top selection in the 2010 Draft, has been among the best players outside of the NHL for the past year. He dominated at the World Juniors in January, and posted an impressive 32 points in the KHL as an 18-year-old.
He has the skill, speed and creativity to be a big-time scorer at the NHL level, and has stated he's coming to the Capitals' training camp in September with the intention of making the team.
Washington's general manager George McPhee will have to take into account the fact that Kuznetsov will likely return to Russia if he doesn't make the Capitals out of training camp, so if he performs well, he'll be with the big club for the season.
3. Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida Panthers
It's no secret that the Florida Panthers haven't had a bona fide No. 1 center for a number of years, which is a big reason why the team hasn't made the playoffs since Pavel Bure was in town.
That all appears to have changed now that the team has Jonathan Huberdeau, the third overall pick from June's NHL Draft. Huberdeau has all the tools to be the best pivot in franchise history, and unless he appears to be overwhelmed at training camp, he'll be one of Florida's top three centers in 2011-12.
Huberdeau's size, skill and finesse around the net were a big reason why the Saint John Sea Dogs won the 2011 Memorial Cup, and he has nothing left to prove at the Major Junior level. He could be a 50-60-point scorer as a rookie, especially considering Florida is particularly weak down the middle.
2. Adam Larsson, New Jersey Devils
When the New Jersey Devils waived Colin White last week, many believe it served as a sign that the team believes 2011 first-rounder Adam Larsson is ready to play top-four minutes this upcoming season.
Having spent the last three seasons playing in the Swedish Elite League, Larsson has been playing professional hockey for quite some time, so he's more experienced than your average rookie defenseman.
At 6'3" and over 200 lbs., Larsson has the size to be an impact defenseman right away, which is exactly what the Devils need.
Unless Larsson wildly disappoints at training and in the first ten games of the season, he will be a mainstay on the New Jersey blue line for years to come, starting in 2011-12.
1. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers
For the second year in a row, Edmonton Oilers fans have a rookie forward to be very excited about entering the season.
Last year, Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle electrified the fans of Edmonton with their highlight-reel goals and offensive skill, which couldn't have come at a better time for a team that has been mediocre for the past few seasons.
This fall, Edmonton will unveil their newest prodigy, 2011 first overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who could wind up playing center on a line with Hall. Nugent-Hopkins is a very talented skater and puck-handler, but his vision is what truly sets him apart as a prospect.
The two look to be a great fit together, as Hall is a shoot-first type of player, while Nugent-Hopkins is an extremely gifted playmaker who makes those around him better.
If all goes as planned, Nugent-Hopkins will be centering one of the Oilers' top two lines, and should be a lock for at least 45-55 points as a rookie.
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