1 Rookie Every NHL Team Can Be Excited About Heading into the 2022-2023 Season

Joe YerdonAugust 26, 2022

1 Rookie Every NHL Team Can Be Excited About Heading into the 2022-2023 Season

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    Juraj Slafkovský shows which pick he was in the 2022 NHL Draft (Photo: Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

    We all love rookies, don’t we? The newest guys get a shot to play for their new teams months after or years after being picked up by their teams. Whether it’s via the draft or free agency, fans love to see the newest guys on the team being able to contribute right away and dazzle with wild highlights.

    Not all rookies can pull magic like Trevor Zegras, dominate the blue line like Moritz Seider, or get their big break later like Michael Bunting and that's not everyone’s road to the NHL is the same is part of what makes watching out for new blood that much more interesting.

    What makes it better is that every team will have at least one young player to keep a lookout for during the season. Some of them you could probably guess right away and be right, others you might have to do a little bit of research, but that’s why we’re here–to make it easier for you.

    We’re picking one rookie per team and while some teams might have more than a few players to consider, we’re picking one to talk about. We know, we know, that’s not fair. We get it. Consider this rookie initiation via a slide show. Thirty-two teams, 32 new guys, and away we go.

Anaheim Ducks: Mason McTavish

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    Mason McTavish made more of a name for himself in Canada’s overtime win against Finland in the gold medal game of the World Junior Championship; he saved the game by knocking a loose puck away from the goal line in Edmonton. That play led to the winning goal for Canada and McTavish became a hero.

    The 19-year-old got a brief taste of NHL life last season with two goals and an assist in nine games for the Ducks before he was sent back to junior hockey where he posted 40 points in 24 games with Hamilton in the OHL.

    As if we didn’t know from World Juniors, McTavish thrives in big moments. He had 29 points in 19 playoff games as the Bulldogs made it to the Memorial Cup final losing to Saint John 6-3. McTavish scored twice proving he wouldn’t go quietly.

    Opportunity will be there this season in Anaheim, however. The Ducks need more offense up front, and McTavish can provide that in bunches. The only question is how high up in the lineup he can ascend and how fast he can do it. Seeing how he’s able to consistently live up to the moment, the outlook is good for McTavish and the Ducks.

Arizona Coyotes: Jack McBain

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    Jack McBain is ready to be the big man on campus... again (Photo: Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty Images)

    Life has been hard for the Coyotes the past… well, many years now. But Arizona is working hard on improving their track record of developing players and finding other ways to acquire young talent via draft picks. That’s where Jack McBain comes into play.

    McBain, a 6’4” 212-pound center, was a third-round pick by the Minnesota Wild in 2018 but got buried in the Wild’s depth chart down the middle which made McBain think twice about signing. The Coyotes acquired McBain’s draft rights from Minnesota for a 2022 second-round pick and put pen to paper right away to get the four-year Boston College forward in the fold. At BC, McBain had 86 points (37 goals) in 117 games for the Eagles.

    His introduction to the desert went well, too, as he posted two goals and an assist in 10 games to give Arizona fans a taste of what’s to come. At 22 years old, he’s ready to be a factor in the NHL now and he fits in well with the size upgrade the Coyotes have made up front as well. With Logan Crouse, Nick Ritchie, and Zack Kassian, Arizona is loaded with big guys and McBain will add to that, plus some skill as well.

Boston Bruins: Fabian Lysell

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    Fabian Lysell has the skills to stick around in Boston ASAP (Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

    The Bruins are in an odd place in general when it comes to the team. The key members are aging and have a lot of hard miles on them. They’ve also been a very good team for a long time which means not always having the highest draft pick. It also means that most players who have exceled within the organization climbed the ladder quickly into Boston. Their prospect pool is a bit thin these days, but there is hope, and Fabian Lysell is it.

    Lysell is 19 years old and was Boston’s first-round pick in 2021. Most players fitting that profile with a team as deep as the Bruins have usually been sticking around in juniors or elsewhere a little longer, but Lysell’s talent may force the issue. He had a big year for the Vancouver Giants (WHL) with 62 points in 53 games and another 21 points in 12 games in the WHL playoffs. At 5’10”, 176 pounds he’s not big in size, but his skills speak for themself.

    Boston will be without a handful of players to start the season, Brad Marchand being among them. Fancy enough, Lysell plays the wing like Marchand and if you’re going to have a player like Lysell get NHL games under his belt, playing him up in the lineup would help. It’ll be on Lysell to force the issue in training camp but after his World Junior Championship performance for Sweden, it’ll be tough to send him back to juniors.

Buffalo Sabres: Owen Power

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    Owen Power will shine very soon in Buffalo (Photo: Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)

    The Sabres are turning things around and there are a few players that would’ve fit the bill for this exercise, but none of them come with the profile and the projections defenseman Owen Power does. He has been a man among boys for the past two years at the University of Michigan.

    The 6’6”, 214-pound blue liner from Mississauga, Ontario dominated in each year with the Wolverines posting 48 points in 59 games. He was a force at even strength, the power play, and shorthanded when necessary. He was also invited to play for Canada at the 2021 IIHF World Championships as an 18-year-old and Olympic Games in 2022 at 19.

    Power, who turns 20 in November, got a taste of the NHL last season after he signed with Buffalo and scored two goals and an assist in eight games. What’s more impressive is Power was also a puck-possession monster on top of it.

    Shying away from the big spot is not in his repertoire and he’ll almost certainly be on the second defense pairing this season. The only reason the 2021 No. 1 pick won’t be on the first pair is that the 2018 No. 1 pick, Rasmus Dahlin, is ahead of him. It may not be long before Power usurps Dahlin on the line chart, but with that kind of competition, the Sabres will come away big winners in the end regardless.

Calgary Flames: Jakob Pelletier

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    Jakob Pelletier's time is coming in Calgary (Photo: Devin Manky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

    Although the Flames will have more than a few new faces in their lineup this season, it’s Jakob Pelletier who comes from within the organization and he very well might be able to make a name for himself right away.

    Pelletier was Calgary’s first-round pick in 2019 (26th overall) out of Moncton in the QMJHL, a league known for being high-scoring, and he more than fit that profile. In four seasons in the “Q” with Moncton and Val d’Or he put up 107 goals and 168 assists (275 points) in 210 games. Sometimes those numbers don’t translate to the professional level, but in Pelletier’s first season in the AHL he scored 27 goals, contributing 62 points in 66 games.

    At 5’9”, 161 pounds the one knock on him is obvious, but that can’t really be a reason to hold him back considering how well Johnny Gaudreau did for many years with the Flames. Coincidentally enough, it’s Gaudreau’s departure to Columbus that could help open a position for Pelletier with the big club. Even though the Flames added Jonathan Huberdeau and Nazem Kadri, losing Gaudreau creates a hole in their attack. With Pelletier’s speed and natural scoring ability, he could be an instant help for Calgary.

Carolina Hurricanes: Jack Drury

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    Jack Drury has legacy to guide him to the NHL (Photo: Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)

    Being the son of a former NHL player comes with a lot of expectations and being the son of an NHL player who used to play for the organization you’re drafted by makes it a little more interesting. For Jack Drury, the son of former Hartford Whaler Ted Drury, his road to the NHL has taken him all over the place.

    He left Harvard after two seasons to play in Sweden when Harvard shut down hockey for a season during the pandemic. From Sweden he went to the AHL joining, Carolina’s farm team in Chicago. With the Wolves last season, he put up 52 points in 68 games and earned a call-up by the Hurricanes for a pair of games in which he scored a pair of goals. In the AHL playoffs, he was Chicago’s third leading scorer as the Wolves won the Calder Cup.

    The one thing that could get in the way of Drury helping the Hurricanes is their forward depth and the recent signing of Paul Stastny. Still, if he’s able to keep scoring a goal per game when he does get to the NHL, he’ll stick around just fine.

Chicago Blackhawks: Lukas Reichel

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    Lukas Reichel is part of the first wave of Chicago's rebuild (Photo: Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

    It’s been a long time since the Blackhawks were in the position to rebuild, which means it’s been a long time since they’ve been in a place where they not only have to look forward to prospects getting to the NHL but also need them to get there to compete. Help is on the horizon and Lukas Reichel is part of the first wave.

    Reichel was Chicago’s first-round pick in 2020 (17th overall) out of Germany and after he played one season with Eisbären Berlin came to North America to join Chicago’s AHL team in Rockford last season. With Rockford, Reichel had an impressive first season in North America with 57 points (21 goals) in 56 games. That play earned him a call-up to Chicago for 11 games of action and one assist. Reichel comes from a family full of hockey players. His father played professionally in Germany and his uncle, Robert, played 11 years and 830 games in the NHL.

    That lineage and his already outstanding talent make him a player that should see more time in the NHL than the AHL, particularly for a team that will likely not be very good and may also trade some of the last few players from their Stanley Cup seasons. If Reichel continues to progress like this, he may not have to spend much more time in the AHL at all.

Colorado Avalanche: Ben Meyers

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    Ben Meyers should be an instant contributor for the defending champs (Photo: Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

    Being the new guy on the scene with a team that has designs on, and ultimately wins, the Stanley Cup could make for a difficult transition, but for Ben Meyers coming out of the University of Minnesota he was ready the challenge. That trait should help him fit in just fine this season when he’ll be counted on for more.

    After three years and 102 games with the Golden Gophers, Meyers signed as a free agent with the Avalanche. In those three years, Meyers posted 95 points (39 goals) and made himself an attractive target when it was time for him to go pro. The Avs offered up a team that was ready to win now and one which would have a more rewarding path to the NHL. In five games with Colorado, Meyers had one goal in limited minutes played.

    After Nazem Kadri’s departure in free agency, a spot has opened at center on the depth chart. While he’s not unseating Nathan MacKinnon, JT Compher, or Alex Newhook just yet, he’ll be in the mix to show that his skills from college can translate well to the NHL. It can be difficult to break through on a defending Stanley Cup champion roster, but the time is perfect for Meyers to make an impression right away.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Kent Johnson

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    Kent Johnson will have fun new faces to set up as a rookie in Columbus (Photo: Ben Jackson/NHLI via Getty Images)

    After all the excitement the Blue Jackets had in the offseason bringing in Johnny Gaudreau in free agency, they’ll also look to add to it by getting a longer look at what Kent Johnson can do. Johnson is fresh out of the University of Michigan, and while that could cause some angst in the home of the Buckeyes, Jackets fans would be willing to forgive him if it means filling the score sheet with points.

    After two seasons with Michigan, Johnson had 64 points (17 goals) in 58 games, including 37 in his final season. On a team loaded with NHL first-round picks, playing at more than a point per game was natural. But after a disappointing finish for the Wolverines, Johnson signed with Columbus and in nine games he had three assists. What’s more impressive about his past season is that he suited up for Canada at the World Championships, the 2022 Olympics, and the most recent World Junior Championships. To be 19 years old and that decorated in international play already is an outstanding credit to his abilities.

    With Alexandre Texier set to stay another year in Europe on leave from the Jackets, it loosens up the lineup enough for Johnson to skate right in and take advantage, especially with how weak they are up the middle.

Dallas Stars: Mavrik Bourque

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    Mavrik Bourque has the best name for Texas and the skills to match (Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

    There’s probably no city more appropriate for a guy named Mavrik to play than Dallas, and with the right set of circumstances, he just might be able to do that.

    The Stars roster is going to be a difficult one for any young player to break through. There are many talented veteran players and any of the younger players there currently have done well to make sure they stay in the lineup. That’s not to say someone with Bourque’s credentials can’t pull it off–he assuredly can. After the past four years with Shawinigan in the QMJHL, the last two of which he was captain of the team, Bourque showed he has a deft scoring touch (236 points in 172 games). Last season was even more impressive with 68 points in 31 games in the regular season and another 25 in 16 playoff games.

    The usual progression for players right out of juniors is to spend some time in the AHL before going to the show, but with Bourque’s success throughout his time in Quebec, a big showing early in the season could see him land in Dallas sooner than later.

Detroit Red Wings: Simon Edvinsson

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    A big Swedish defenseman in Detroit? Simon Edvinsson fits the tradition (Photo: Andy Devlin/Getty Images)

    General manager Steve Yzerman has shown he knows a thing or two about drafting, particularly defenseman. After all, when you go seemingly off the board to draft Moritz Seider and he winds up winning the Calder, you get some leeway. That’s why the impending arrival of defenseman Simon Edvinsson has piqued curiosity.

    At 19 years old, Edvinsson is poised to join the Red Wings in his first season in North America. His statistics may not jump off the page when you see how he performed in the SHL with Frölunda (19 points in 44 games) but it’s impressive that he was able to do it at 18-19 years old in a men’s league. They’re also an improvement on how he scored as a junior-level player in Sweden. That gradual progression in his counting stats is like what Seider accomplished in Germany, so it’s understandable if people were to think he might be able to have success immediately.

    At 6’6”, 207 pounds he casts a lean, but imposing, figure on the ice and uses that size to his advantage with his reach. The Red Wings would be tickled if he can jump right in and be a factor and he should get plenty of opportunity to do just that.

Edmonton Oilers: Philip Broberg

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    The time to shine is now for Philip Broberg in Edmonton (Photo: Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

    If ever there was an area the Oilers could use a jolt of youth and improvement it’s on defense and fortunately for them, Philip Broberg is poised to do just that. The 21-year-old out of Sweden got a taste of NHL life last season with three points in 23 games. That’s few enough games to keep him in consideration for the Calder Trophy this season.

    The eighth overall pick from the 2019 Draft is someone Oilers fans have been anticipating making the jump since he was taken and now that he’s arrived, it’s up to him to take the next step. His average ice time made him a third-pairing regular and for the most part, kept him out of the loop on special teams. He was a positive possession player as well which gives hope that he’ll be able to play a bigger role with the Cup-starved, Cup-dreaming Oilers. The fact he only played in one playoff game meant the team didn’t have confidence in him just yet. That should change this season.

    Edmonton could always use more improvement on the backend and if Broberg can take another step and be able to put his puck-possession skills to use in more ice time, they’ll be better off for it. At 6’3” and 198 pounds he’s built like a prototypical puck mover. Having someone that can facilitate Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, even more, would juice up their offense.

Florida Panthers: Grigori Denisenko

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    Once Grigori Denisenko is 100% he can be a factor for Florida (Photo: Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

    There may be a couple of things that could slow up Denisenko’s path to the Panthers lineup. First off, the loaded nature of Florida’s lineup makes it difficult for any young player to crack through unless there are injuries. After all, trying to bust into a team that won the Presidents’ Trophy last season should be difficult. The other roadblock for Denisenko is that he’s bouncing back from his own set of unfortunate circumstances.

    The 22-year-old Russian forward broke his kneecap blocking a shot while in the AHL in January which required surgery and ended his season. In 30 games with Charlotte, he had 18 points (nine goals) and played one game for the Panthers. He played seven the previous season, his first after coming over from Russia. While he may be ready in time for training camp, the skills of the 15th pick from the 2018 Draft are immense. He was a dynamic scorer as a junior player with strong skating skills and offensive instincts.

    He likely needs a bit more time and games under his belt in North America, but after getting a brief taste of the NHL the past two seasons, a healthy Denisenko will be another weapon in the Panthers’ arsenal as they push for the Stanley Cup.

Los Angeles Kings: Jordan Spence

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    Jordan Spence is ready to shine as bright as the Kings' chrome helmets (Photo: Derek Cain/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

    At 21 years old, Spence perhaps wasn’t supposed to make his NHL debut on the blue line last season, but he was able to make his presence felt in the 24 games he played for the Kings. The fourth-round pick in the 2019 Draft scored two goals and added six assists after he put up 42 points in 46 games in the AHL. At 5’10” and 181 pounds, what he lacks in size he makes up for with speed and quickness on his skates as well as excellent offensive instincts and adds another weapon on defense for L.A.

    So, what’s the catch? The Kings have outstanding depth on the right side of their defense. With Drew Doughty, Matt Roy, and Sean Durzi as well as fellow prospect Brandt Clarke, the Kings are swimming in productive players. It’s a nice problem to have, especially when injuries strike. After all, it was an injury to Doughty that made room for Spence to crack the lineup in the first place.

    Barring an outstanding camp, contract disputes, or injuries elsewhere it’ll be tough for Spence to break into the lineup immediately this season. But if he continues to move the puck the way he does and produce the way he has, it won’t take him long to get back to Los Angeles and make his case to stay there.

Minnesota Wild: Marco Rossi

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    After some time in Iowa, Marco Rossi is ready to rock the Wild (Photo: Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

    The Wild have had a plan for the no. 9 pick in the 2020 Draft. While Matt Boldy was pressed into duty in the NHL, the pressure to bring Rossi along with him was high from fans, but Wild management stuck to their guns and let Rossi get plenty of development time in the AHL with Iowa. After he posted 53 points in 63 games, the plan appears to be working. Now he’s poised to be part of the big club and show what he’s all about.

    At 5’9” and 183 pounds, his size is deceptive. On paper that reads small, but he’s a very strong player both on his skates and in general. As a junior player with Ottawa in the OHL, his final season (his draft year) was something to behold. He put up 120 points in 56 games with 39 goals. At 20 years old now, the Austrian center battled back from a wicked bout with COVID-19 during the 2020-2021 season that cost him most of the year. The fact he bounced back with an impressive first season in the AHL and the way he did speak to how strong he is.

    Fortunately for Rossi, the Wild have an opening at center in their lineup and he’ll be the lead candidate to fill it. His skill set differs greatly from those ahead of him on the depth chart which will allow him to find different ways to make his mark on the Wild.

Montreal Canadiens: Juraj Slafkovský

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    The pressure to perform in Montreal won't shake Juraj Slafkovský (Photo: David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

    Being the No. 1 pick in the draft comes with a boatload of expectations as it is, but when you’re the No. 1 pick of the draft by the Montreal Canadiens in Montreal, the bar is set sky-high to impress right away. Fortunately for Montreal, Slafkovský has the personality and confidence to handle it all.

    Most No. 1 picks in recent years wind up going right to the NHL and Slafkovský will be no different. The 6’4” 229-pound Slovak winger already has the build of a seasoned NHL player, somewhat reminiscent of Alexander Ovechkin, but Slafkovský’s skills differ from the Great Eight’s. He’s a power forward and makes use of his body to take advantage of defenders using his reach, skill, and brute force to get to the net. Platitudes and descriptions only tell part of the story.

    Slafkovský was voted the best player at the 2022 Olympics where he scored seven goals and led Slovakia to the bronze medal, their first-ever medal in men’s hockey at the Winter Games. In 31 games for TPS in Finland’s Liiga, he had 10 points and added seven more in 18 playoff games. Those numbers sound meager but a 17-18-year-old playing against veteran men doing that puts a different light on them.

    Slafkovský is ready for prime time and will get ample ice time on what likely will be a poor Canadiens team to show off his skills. Expect him to be in the talk for the Calder Trophy immediately.

Nashville Predators: EGor Afanasyev

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    Yegor Afanasyev has his sights set on the NHL (Photo: Dennis Pajot/Getty Images)

    There will be a lot of attention paid to one of Nashville’s prospects in Milwaukee this season (goalie Yaroslav Askarov) but it’s another Russian player who will have a better shot at making an impact at the NHL level for the Predators. Forward Egor Afanasyev returned to North America last season (he spent his junior career in the USHL and OHL) from Russia and was an every-game player for the Admirals. In 74 games he posted 33 points with 12 goals. As a 20-year-old the AHL is a tough league to deal with, but Afanasyev handled it well and had a steady role on the team.

    Afanasyev was a second-round pick by the Predators in 2019 (45th overall) and he’s a big forward to get a handle on. At 6’4” and 201 pounds, seeing him coming up the wing is intimidating. He attacks with speed and has a remarkably hard shot as well. Getting him to Nashville may require players to falter or get hurt, but Afanasyev has time to develop his game until that opportunity arises. After all, he proved himself to be a very good scorer in both the USHL with Muskegon and Windsor in the OHL.

    If he continues to adjust to the speed and skill of the AHL, he’ll be on the road to the NHL in no time. The Predators will be dominated by veteran talent, but if/when they call for help from the minors, Afanasyev will be in position to contribute.

New Jersey Devils: Alexander Holtz

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    Alexander Holtz is ready to unleash his shot full-time in New Jersey (Photo: Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

    The Devils spent the offseason retooling and finding ways to deepen their roster, but one of their biggest offensive weapons is waiting for them in the AHL. Taken seventh overall in the 2020 draft, winger Alexander Holtz showed in his first North American season that his adjustment period from Sweden didn’t require too much time.

    Holtz had 51 points in 52 games with the Utica Comets and three points in five playoff games. His best weapon is his shot and he used it to rack up 26 goals to lead the team. After being a prolific scorer in Swedish junior hockey, the question around Holtz was how well his abilities would translate to the North American brand of hockey. After playing at nearly a point-per-game pace in his first AHL season, those doubts have dissolved a fair bit.

    New Jersey will have hearty competition when camp breaks and with the addition of Ondrej Palat as well as improved play from Dawson Mercer and Yegor Sharangovich, breaking into the lineup will be a bit more difficult. Still, with Holtz’s ability to wire the puck with a shot reminiscent of Buffalo’s Victor Olofsson, it won’t be long before he gets the call to the NHL to stay.

New York Islanders: Robin Salo

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    Being steady makes Robin Salo valuable on the Island blue line (Photo: Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

    In many situations, making it to the NHL is as much about work ethic and growth as it is about opportunity or raw talent. For Islanders defenseman Robin Salo, it’s an equal mix of both. Salo, soon to be 24 years old, was a second-round pick of the Islanders in 2017 and came to North America last season after pro seasons in both Liiga and the Swedish Hockey League (SHL).

    When injuries ravaged the Islanders defense corps in November, he got the call to Long Island and filled in admirably. Sure, the Islanders struggled overall, but Salo getting a taste of the NHL helped him when he headed back to Bridgeport in the AHL. In 40 games with Bridgeport, Salo had 20 points and was one of their top defenders in general. His play there got him a return call to the NHL and now he’s poised to be there full-time come October.

    Although the Isles top-four on defense would appear spoken for already, Salo figures to be on the third pairing and to be healthily in the mix. If the Islanders can improve overall, Salo’s solid all-around play will be helpful to those ends.

New York Rangers: Vitali Kravtsov

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    Vitali Kravtsov's return to New York promises to go much better. (Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

    Vitali Kravtsov’s Rangers career has already been dramatic, and he’s only played 20 games with the Blueshirts, but his second go-round with them stands to go much better. While that’s in part due to the Rangers being a much-improved team, there’s also the calm that comes with the roster getting their roles sorted out in general.

    Kravtsov returns to the Rangers with the same set of tools and skills. His size (6’2”, 187 pounds) makes him a handful for defenders to contain and his puck-handling ability makes him even more of a challenge to take on one-on-one. He had a strong, albeit abbreviated, season for Traktor Chelyabinsk in the KHL in 2021-2022 and performed well with 10 points in 15 playoff games.

    The key to success for Kravtsov this time means being smart about how best to use his speed and tact to attack the net as well as being a headier teammate. The Rangers will have a chance to be very good again and challenge for a spot in the Stanley Cup Final, and if Kravtsov can take the lessons learned from last year to heart, both he and the team will be all the better for it.

Ottawa Senators: Jake Sanderson

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    Jake Sanderson's arrival in Ottawa is much welcomed (Photo: AP Photo/John Amis)

    Ottawa has been looking for a defenseman to help balance out the blue line with Thomas Chabot for a few years now and Jake Sanderson is destined to be that guy. Sanderson was the fifth pick in the 2020 NHL Draft and after two seasons at the University of North Dakota he’s ready to take on the NHL.

    After two seasons with North Dakota, Sanderson posted 41 points (10 goals) in 45 games. While the scoring is notable, he’s more renowned for his defensive aptitude. At 6’2” and 190 pounds, Sanderson isn’t the stereotypical monster on the backend who shuts down opponents. He’s strong but lean and an excellent skater. What’s more, his hockey intelligence is one of his strongest attributes. Having a defenseman who can act as a general on the ice is as good an asset as a team could ask for.

    The Senators have been more patient with developing their players and Sanderson spending two years in college is an example of that. With that said, he’ll most likely start on the NHL opening night and rarely, if ever, see the AHL. He might not be tasked with the kind of ice time Chabot takes on, but as the season wears on and he adjusts to the NHL, the business will pick up and he’ll be ready for it.

Philadelphia Flyers: Noah Cates

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    Noah Cates can play, but he'll need to crack the Philly lineup to prove it further (Photo: Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

    The Flyers ran into hard times last season real fast, but it offered an opportunity for a host of younger players to get NHL experience, one of which is forward Noah Cates.

    Cates was a fifth-round pick by the Flyers in 2017 and after he completed four years with the University of Minnesota Duluth–where he had 99 points in 139 games–he signed his NHL contract and headed to Philadelphia. He was also an alternate captain for Team USA at the 2022 Olympics where he had one goal in four games. Those are great bullet points for the rèsumè, and ones that the Flyers will hope he can use moving ahead in Philadelphia, but it’s the opportunity he will have to rack up minutes and chances to impress new coach John Tortorella.

    Cates is generally a left winger and while there is some spot up for grabs in Philly, the left wing could be one of the more difficult ones to crack with the contract commitments to veteran players like James van Riemsdyk and Nicolas Deslauriers. Fortunately for Cates, Tortorella doesn’t really give a care about those when it comes to setting a lineup. If Cates can impress with his work ethic and talent, he could wind up not just in Philadelphia, but in the lineup often.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Valtteri Puustinen

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    Cracking the Penguins lineup is tough, but all Valtteri Puustinen needs is a chance (Photo: Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images)

    Over the past few years, particularly during and after Jim Rutherford’s tenure as GM, the Penguins haven’t been known as a team with hot prospects, or any prospects for that matter. Most up-and-coming players wound up in trades for more experienced players ready to help them try for a Stanley Cup right away. With that kind of action within ranks, it opens the door for opportunity among the prospects still in-house. This is where Valtteri Puustinen has seized the day.

    Puustinen was a seventh-round pick of the Penguins in 2019 and made his North American debut with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins last season. There he had 42 points (20 goals) in 73 games and made his NHL debut earning an assist in his one appearance. As a 5’9” 183-pound winger, Puustinen must use his size and elusiveness to his advantage. Getting in and out of trouble in the offensive zone is how he must live and be a forward in the Penguins organization gives him opportunities to get back to the NHL.

    Injuries and a general lack of depth will open the door for Puustinen to get back to the NHL. At 23 years old and with a lot of experience in Finland’s Liiga, it gives him an advantage over some of the other prospects at his level. That he’s a prospect that hasn’t been traded yet means he’s a survivor too.

San Jose Sharks: Thomas Bordeleau

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    Thomas Bordeleau is a star on the rise in San Jose (Photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

    Thomas Bordeleau is another of the recent University of Michigan exports and the impact he can have on the San Jose Sharks in short order is real. The 5’10” 174-pound forward plays with an aggressive nature and a lot of speed to force the issue. He loves to carry the puck and can make a tough pass with ease. With the rebuild the Sharks are currently undergoing, Bordeleau answers a lot of questions about who can help Tomáš Hertl, Logan Couture, and Timo Meier fill the net.

    During Bordeleau’s two seasons at Michigan he racked up 67 points (20 goals) in 61 games and upon signing with San Jose following the Wolverines’ exit from the NCAA Tournament last season, he played eight games with the Sharks and had five assists. How he can fit into the Sharks lineup right away seems apparent. San Jose lacks depth in a big way, particularly at forward. They’ve added some nice depth-type players in the offseason, but you could argue there are a couple openings in the top-six forward group that with a solid camp, Bordeleau could fit right in.

    If they feel he’s not ready, he could play for the Barracuda in the AHL for a bit. But given the success he was able to have in a handful of games last season, chances seem strong for Bordeleau to not just be in the NHL but to have personal success sooner than not.

Seattle Kraken: Matty Beniers

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    There's nothing fishy about saying Matty Beniers will be Seattle's first big star (Photo: Abbie Parr/2022 NHLI via Getty Images)

    It would be easy enough to pick Shane Wright, right? But picking Wright would mean forgetting all about Matty Beniers and how the first draft pick in Kraken history will be their first home-grown star player. When the Kraken picked second at the 2021 Draft, they could’ve picked anyone apart from Owen Power and they didn’t hesitate to select the 6’2” 174-pound forward from the University of Michigan. After all, Beniers’ profile was too tantalizing to resist.

    He's a good size forward with skill, smart hockey instincts and general intelligence on the ice, and he’s outstanding both offensively and defensively. For a brand-new franchise, you couldn’t ask to have a better player to be your first draft pick. Smartly, Beniers stayed in college for one more year with his loaded class of first-round picks to try and win a national championship. They fell short of that goal, but Beniers’ NCAA career came to an end after putting up 67 points (30 goals) in 61 games. He followed that up by putting up three goals and six assists in 10 games with the Kraken after signing his entry-level contract.

    Everything in Beniers’ profile points to him being an impact player for a long time and the Kraken couldn’t be any happier to have him.

St. Louis Blues: Scott Perunovich

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    Scott Perunovich lays in wait for his chance to take over the St. Louis blue line (Photo: Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

    In an era where being a standout defenseman means being at least 6’2” tall, coming in under that bar means a player had better do some special things to stand out. Fortunately for the Blues and Scott Perunovich, that’s precisely what makes him a player to watch this season.

    Perunovich got a taste of NHL life last season with six assists in 19 games early on. He found his way back into the Blues lineup in the playoffs where he had four assists in seven games. He didn’t log big minutes in the playoffs (he averaged 10:49 a game) but his regular season efforts saw him average nearly 15:27 per game. The catch for Perunovich becoming a serious factor in the Blues’ fate this season is the number of veteran defensemen they’ve got presumably locked into roles at the NHL level.

    At 24 years old, Perunovich is by no means a totally young player, but he’s also not-so-green that he could be seen as a liability. He’s caught in between both the Blues being loaded on the backend and is relatively new to professional hockey after he played three seasons at Minnesota-Duluth. As a second-round pick in 2018, Perunovich has been in the Blues long-term plans for a while, but he’s as close to being ready for the NHL as he’ll ever be right now, and he’ll need to make roster decisions for coach Craig Berube very difficult in training camp.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Sean Day

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    It's been a long road for Sean Day to get to the NHL, now he wants to stay there (Photo: Andrew Bershaw/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

    If reading Sean Day’s name gave you a sense of déjà vu, it’s understandable. We’ve been hearing about Day ever since he was granted exceptional status by the OHL as a 15-year-old. Day was meant to be one of the next great star players. After all, the other players who earned that status were John Tavares, Aaron Ekblad, and Connor McDavid. To say he had heavy expectations as a kid is an understatement.

    While his junior career didn’t go as planned and the now 6’3”, 218-pound defenseman was a New York Rangers third-round pick in 2016. After going between the AHL and ECHL while in the Rangers organization, he landed in Tampa Bay and got his game turned around in the AHL with Syracuse. Now he's a player you want to root for to make it to the show and stick.

    Now 24 years old, Day has become a steady point-scoring defender in the AHL. He had 40 points in 69 games with the Crunch and got to make his NHL debut playing in two games with the Lightning. The cap-strapped Lightning will always look for inexpensive options for injury replacements and should the injury bug bite their blue line, Day is now a legitimate option to be recalled. Going from a guy who had trouble dealing with the burden of expectations to one that’s found his way and climbing the ladder the old-fashioned way makes it easy to hope that he can do it.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Nick Robertson

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    If Nick Robertson's health can cooperate, he'll get his day in the sun in Toronto (Photo: Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

    For the past two seasons, the prospect in waiting for the Maple Leafs has been Nick Robertson and that’s no different now. The Leafs have been in win-now mode since Auston Matthews’ rookie season and for good reason, but that also means the organization is highly selective about which young players can fit into the mix. This means it’s been difficult for Robertson to break through because of how many veterans they’ve stocked up the NHL roster with.

    What Robertson needs most is to get and stay healthy and wait for an opportunity. When he’s been in the Toronto Marlies lineup he’s done very well. Over the past two seasons, he’s played 49 games and put up 44 points, 21 of those goals. He’s had tastes of the NHL here and there over the past three years suiting up for 16 games with a goal and an assist. The talent is there, the skill is there, but the health must improve. In the 2020-2021 season, he dealt with knee, abdominal, and concussion problems and last season was interrupted early on by a broken leg.

    If it wasn’t for bad luck, he’d have no luck at all, but this season brings new hope. It also brings a Maple Leafs team that’s added a handful of veterans to fill out the roster. He’s almost 21 years old, so he’s still young, but If he’s going to be a factor in the Leafs' season sooner than later, he’ll have to beat out established players to do it.

Vancouver Canucks: Jack Rathbone

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    Jack Rathbone is ready to kick the door down to the NHL (Photo: Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)

    Canucks fans might be a bit worn out hearing about the 5’11” 190-pound defenseman out of Harvard by now. He’s been on Canucks prospect watch lists since shortly after he was drafted in the fourth round during the 2017 Draft. A lefthanded shot, Rathbone has been on the brink of breaking through for the past couple of years. At 23 years old, Rathbone’s time to make a move on up is coming soon, if not out of camp, then at some point this season. The results have been there on the scoresheet in the AHL to warrant a look.

    Last season with Abbotsford, Rathbone had 40 points (10 goals) in 39 games. Separate injuries as well as COVID-19 conspired to keep him out for a big part of the season, but his performance in the AHL got him a call-up to the Canucks for nine games. In all, he’s played 17 NHL games and has a goal and two assists over two seasons.

    He’s an offensive defenseman and excels with carrying the puck and working the offensive zone. Perhaps the one thing working against him is Quinn Hughes’ role in doing all those things but better. It’s one thing to compete with all defensemen for a spot on the team, it’s another to have the best one doing the same things you do. It doesn’t help they traded for Oliver Ekman-Larsson over a year ago and he also handles similar duties. Still, that puts Rathbone in a position to pounce should injuries pop up or Ekman-Larsson’s game slips up.

Vegas Golden Knights: Logan Thompson

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    Logan Thompson's time is now to be the man in the Vegas net (Photo: Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

    Injuries can provide an open door for someone to walk through, and that’s exactly what’s happening in Vegas when it comes to goaltending. Robin Lehner will miss the season with hip surgery and that means Logan Thompson will get a shot to take the job and run with it. All he’s got to do is pick up where he left off last season.

    At 25 years old, Thompson has been around and through the wringer in pro hockey going from the WHL to Canadian University sports to the ECHL to the AHL and now the NHL because of a host of injuries in Vegas last season. Talk about seizing the day. Thompson went 10-5-3 in 19 games with the Golden Knights with a .914 save percentage. His numbers with Henderson in the AHL were equally strong as he posted a .920 save percentage in 26 games and a 13-9-5 record. While those numbers are good, the previous year in Henderson he was even better going 16-6-2 with an astounding .943 save percentage.

    He’s been good virtually his whole career at every level and has become more well-rounded as he’s gotten older. Sometimes fate smiles upon those who grind their way through the game, and in Thompson’s case, one player’s misfortune provides him with the opportunity of a lifetime. With Vegas existing in a win-now mentality always, he’ll have the pressure to go along with the great story.

Washington Capitals: Garrett Pilon

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    Garrett Pilon has improved year by year in Hershey (Photo: Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images)

    The Capitals could be in for a harsh dose of reality with Nicklas Backstrom’s hip injury casting doubt upon when or if he’ll be able to return to action. His absence creates opportunities for those in the organization to crack through and produce. Who better to single out than the son of a former NHL defenseman that happens to play forward?

    Garrett Pilon is the son of former Islanders defenseman and resident tough guy Rich Pilon. He was a third-round pick by the Capitals in 2016 and at 24 years old he’s become a seasoned veteran in the AHL with Hershey. What he’s also become is a better, more consistent player. At 5’11” and 187 pounds, Pilon sets up as the prototypical solid AHL forward, but his year-to-year improvement shows he’s become a solid performer. He had 17 goals and 42 points in 60 games last season.

    His points-per-game rate improved in each of the past four seasons and this past season he scored his first NHL goal. He has three career NHL games, and his name probably isn’t the first on the lips of Capitals fans when it comes to looking for reinforcements, but then again competing with the star power at the NHL level makes that a bit unfair in the first place.

Winnipeg Jets: Cole Perfetti

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    Cole Perfetti is ready to explode on the scene in Winnipeg (Photo: Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)

    The Jets have been a bit tumultuous of late, what with missing the playoffs and firing a coach and all that, but one reason to believe they’ll be able to bounce back sooner than later is Cole Perfetti.

    One of the many superb players from the 2020 Draft, Perfetti went 10th overall to the Jets. After his 111-point season with Saginaw of the OHL in 2019-2020 and because of the pandemic, Perfetti jumped to the AHL for 20-21 where he posted 26 points in 32 games. Last season he split time between Manitoba and Winnipeg but missed time with the Jets because of an upper-body injury. All told, he had 15 points in 17 games with the Moose and seven points in 18 games with the Jets. This season he’ll be ready for the NHL full-time and likely be an early frontrunner in the Calder discussion.

    Perfetti is dynamite offensively. He’s quick, skilled, and a brilliant decision-maker with the puck. Given the excellent offensive players the Jets have with Pierre-Luc Dubois, Nikolaj Ehlers, Mark Scheifele, and Kyle Connor, Perfetti is a natural to fit in with the group and will help them enhance their scoring as well as filling the net himself. The Jets will be fun to watch as an outsider and potentially frustrating to watch as a fan as defense isn’t their strength. Outscoring opponents is fun, too.


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