Predicting Every NHL Team's Top Rookie for the 2015-16 NHL Season

Lyle Richardson@@SpectorsHockeyFeatured ColumnistJuly 16, 2015

Predicting Every NHL Team's Top Rookie for the 2015-16 NHL Season

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    While established NHL players are enjoying the offseason, teams are staging development camps for their top prospects. Out of these camps could come each team's next young star. Among the notables are well-known prospects like Edmonton's Connor McDavid and Buffalo's Jack Eichel.

    As per NHL.com, for a player to be considered a rookie, they "must not have played in more than 25 NHL games in any preceding seasons, nor in six or more NHL games in each of any two preceding seasons." They must also be under 26 years old as of Sept. 15.  

    The following slideshow predicts each NHL's teams top rookie for 2015-16, providing a brief profile and outlook for each player. Feel free to voice your opinion in the comments section below.

Nick Ritchie, Anaheim Ducks

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    Stats: Anaheim Ducks left wing Nick Ritchie scored 29 goals and 62 points in 48 games last season split between the OHL's Peterborough Petes and Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. In 14 playoff games with the Greyhounds, the 19-year-old tallied 13 goals and 26 points. 

    Profile: The 6'3”, 229-pound Ritchie has what Hockey's Future considers the makings of a “prototypical, Eric Lindros-type power forward." In other words, he combines strong scoring ability with solid physical play. Though he had a good camp last fall, the Ducks returned him to the OHL for further seasoning.

    Outlook: The Ducks have experienced depth at left wing in Andrew Cogliano, Patrick Maroon and Carl Hagelin. However, Jiri Sekac's struggles to establish himself creates a golden opportunity for Ritchie. He could provide an additional physical presence for Anaheim's forward lines.

Max Domi, Arizona Coyotes

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    Stats: Arizona Coyotes forward Max Domi scored 32 goals and 102 points in 57 games last season with the OHL's London Knights. The 20-year-old also collected nine points in as many playoff games. 

    Profile: The son of former NHL enforcer Tie Domi, Max has considerably more scoring ability than his father. Though small by NHL standards, the 5'10”, 194-pound Domi is a creative offensive talent. He's learned to make better use of his teammates during his junior career and can play center or on the wing. 

    Outlook: The rebuilding Coyotes need skilled depth at every forward position. Domi has an excellent shot of cracking the roster this season. With his offensive wizardry, he could become one of next season's rookie scoring leaders.

Malcolm Subban, Boston Bruins

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    Stats: Boston Bruins goaltender Malcolm Subban played 35 games for the AHL's Providence Bruins last season. The 21-year-old finished with a record of 16-13-4, with a 2.44 goals-against average, a .921 save percentage and three shutouts. 

    Profile: The younger brother of Montreal Canadiens star P.K. Subban, Malcolm now has two AHL seasons under his belt, plus one game with the Bruins last season. At 6'2” and 200 pounds, he has good size and notable athleticism between the pipes. If he can improve his consistency,Subban has the makings of a future NHL starting goalie. 

    Outlook: With Niklas Svedberg's departure via free agency, Subban will likely back up starter Tuukka Rask next season. To garner more than a handful of starts, he must gain the confidence of head coach Claude Julien.

Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres

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    Stats: Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel scored 26 goals and 71 points in 40 games last season for Boston University. The 18-year-old won the Hobey Baker Memorial Award as the top American college player for 2014-15.

    Profile: Eichel possesses impressive overall skills and on-ice maturity beyond his years. The 6'2”, 194-pound center is considered a potential NHL franchise player. The second overall pick in the 2015 NHL draft, Eichel also played for the United States at the 2015 World Championships. Skating with and against professionals, he tallied seven points in 10 games. 

    Outlook: Having signed his three-year entry-level contract with the Sabres, Eichel will be on their rebuilding roster next season. If he plays up to expectations, he will be among the leading candidates for NHL rookie of the year honors. 

Sam Bennett, Calgary Flames

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    Stats: Calgary Flames center Sam Bennett scored 11 goals and 24 points in 11 games last season with the OHL's Kingston Frontenacs. He also collected an assist in one regular-season game with the Flames, along with three goals and four points in 11 playoff games. 

    Profile: Bennett, who turned 19 on June 20, rebounded well from shoulder surgery, which sidelined him for several months last season. Though the 6'1”, 181-pound Bennett is lean by NHL standards, he proved in last spring's playoffs he can handle the intensity of big league competition.

    Outlook: Given his solid playoff performance and feisty two-way style, Bennett should be a lock to make the Flames' 2015-16 lineup. He has the potential to become one of the league's top rookies.

Haydn Fleury, Carolina Hurricanes

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    Stats: Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Haydn Fleury scored six goals and 28 points in 63 games last season with the WHL's Red Deer Rebels. He also played one game with the Charlotte Checkers, the Hurricanes' AHL affiliate. 

    Profile: Now 19, the 6'3”, 198-pound Fleury is a big, skilled puck-moving defenseman. His offensive numbers were down last season, but Fleury recently told the News & Observer's Chip Alexander he focused on improving his defensive play.  

    Outlook: The Hurricanes are rebuilding, and Fleury could be a worthy addition to their blue line. While the Hurricanes' 2015 first-round pick Noah Hanifin has considerable potential, Fleury's extra year of junior experience and brief taste of minor league play should give him an edge. 

Trevor van Riemsdyk, Chicago Blackhawks

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    Stats: Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk tallied an assist in 18 NHL regular-season games last season. He also played in four games during the 2015 Stanley Cup Final. Though van Riemsdyk saw NHL action last season, the 6'2”, 185-pounder still qualifies as a rookie.

    Profile:  The younger brother of Toronto Maple Leafs winger James van Riemsdyk, Trevor has the skills to become an effective puck-moving rearguard. He began the 2014-15 campaign with the Blackhawks, but knee and wrist injuries sidelined him for most of the season. 

    Outlook: The Blackhawks re-signed Van Riemsdyk to a two-year deal, $1.65 million contract extension. He will likely start the season as a third-pairing blueliner but could challenge for second-pairing minutes as the season progresses. 

Calvin Pickard, Colorado Avalanche

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    Stats: Colorado Avalanche goaltender Calvin Pickard played 50 games last season with the AHL's Lake Erie Monsters, winning 23 games with a 2.61 goals-against average, a .917 save percentage and three shutouts. In 16 NHL games last season, Pickard sported a 6-7-3 record, with a 2.35 GAA and a sparkling .932 SP. 

    Profile: Now 23, the 6'1”, 195-pound Pickard displayed impressive form during his brief call-ups from the AHL last season. He's a skilled, confident netminder who's used to a heavy workload. Over the past three seasons, he appeared in at least 43 games with the Avs' farm team. 

    Outlook: Pickard won't supplant Semyon Varlamov as the Avalanche's starter, but should beat out Reto Berra for the backup job. Given Varlamov's injury history, Pickard will be more dependable than the inconsistent Berra.

Sonny Milano, Columbus Blue Jackets

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    Stats: Columbus Blue Jackets left wing Sonny Milano scored 22 goals and 68 points in 50 games last season with the OHL's Plymouth Whalers. He also collected five assists in 10 games with AHL's Springfield Falcons. 

    Profile: Milano's energy and creativity makes him one of the Blue Jackets' most promising young players. Now 19, the 6,0", 190-pounder is a swift-skating winger with strong playmaking skills. Despite a late-season abdominal strain, he still put up good numbers with the Whalers. 

    Outlook: Given the Blue Jackets' depth at left wing, Milano faces a daunting challenge to secure a roster spot. Still, he could make the cut if Boone Jenner and Nick Foligno are moved to other forward positions. Milano could also be given an opportunity at right wing.

Stephen Johns, Dallas Stars

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    Stats: Dallas Stars defenseman Stephen Johns scored four goals and 21 points in 51 games last season with the AHL's Rockford IceHogs. The 23-year-old also tallied seven points in eight playoff games.

    Profile: The 6'4”, 233- pound Johns is a big, physical shutdown rearguard with some offensive upside. He was acquired by the Stars, along with veteran winger Patrick Sharp, in a trade with Chicago. Stars general manager Jim Nill told Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News the young blueliner was a big part of the deal, praising Johns' size, skating and leadership ability.

    Outlook: Given the overall youth of the Stars defense corps,  Johns has a great opportunity to earn a full-time roster spot with the Stars next season. His size and defensive abilities could make him a formidable addition to their blue line.

Dylan Larkin, Detroit Red Wings

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    Stats: Detroit Red Wings center Dylan Larkin scored 15 goals and 47 points in 35 games last season with the University of Michigan. The 18-year-old also scored three goals and five points in six playoff games with the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins. He also skated for the United States at the 2015 World Championships.

    Profile: Larkin was named 2015 NHL Prospect of the Year by Hockey's Future. He's a strong-skating forward with significant offensive upside. The 6'1”, 192-pounder also possesses a solid work ethic and plays a responsible two-way game. 

    Outlook: The Wings tend to be patient with their promising youngsters. However, Larkin's rapid rise from the college ranks to playing alongside pros at the minor league and international levels suggests he could be NHL-ready now. He has the potential to be a Calder Trophy candidate.

Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers

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    Stats: Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid scored 44 goals and 120 points in only 47 games last season with the OHL's Erie Otters. The 18-year-old also netted a mind-boggling 49 points in 20 playoff games. On May 30, the Canadian Press (via CBC.ca) reported McDavid was named the Canadian junior player of the year.

    Profile: McDavid possesses outstanding offensive skills, speed and on-ice maturity.The 6'1”, 195-pound center was selected first overall at the 2015 NHL draft.  Like former junior greats-turned-NHL superstars Sidney Crosby, Eric Lindros and Mario Lemieux, McDavid is considered a generational talent. He is expected to follow in their footsteps.

    Outlook: It'll be shocking if McDavid fails to crack the Oilers lineup next season. He is expected to center one of their scoring lines. McDavid will be considered the favorite to win the 2016 Calder Trophy as NHL rookie of the year.

Michael Matheson, Florida Panthers

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    Stats: Florida Panthers defenseman Michael Matheson scored three goals and 25 points in 38 games last season with Boston College. He also collected two assists in five games with the AHL's San Antonio Rampage. 

    Profile: Matheson is a smooth-skating puck-handling blueliner. At 6'2”, he possesses good height for an NHL defenseman but should add more muscle to his 189-pound frame. Though Matheson's defensive play needs refinement, he has shown improvement. 

    Outlook: Panthers veterans Willie Mitchell (38) and Brian Campbell (36) are aging and must soon be replaced. Matheson's youth and improved two-way skills gives him a good shot at making the Panthers' lineup next season.

Valentin Zykov, Los Angeles Kings

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    Stats: Los Angeles Kings right wing Valentin Zykov tallied 46 points in 42 games last season split between the Baie-Comeau Drakkar and the Gatineau Olympiques of the QMJHL. He also scored three goals and seven points in 11 playoff games for the Olympiques. 

    Profile: At 6'2” and 215 pounds, Zykov is a very strong winger who's difficult to knock off the puck. He's not afraid to drive to the net or work hard along the boards. Thanks to Zykov's three seasons in Quebec, he's adjusted well to the North American game. 

    Outlook: Kings coach Darryl Sutter prefers hard-working physical players, so Zykov should have a solid shot at earning a roster spot. He could provide the Kings with affordable skilled depth on their checking lines. 

Gustav Olofsson, Minnesota Wild

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    Stats: Minnesota Wild defenseman Gustav Olofsson played only one game for the AHL's Iowa Wild last season. 

    Profile: Olofsson rose quickly from the USHL to the Wild's AHL affiliate in less than two seasons. Shoulder surgery last October sidelined the 20-year-old for almost the entire season. Despite the setback, the 6'3”, 190-pounder remains a promising all-around blueliner.  

    Outlook: While recently signed rearguard prospect Mike Reilly is garnering interest among Wild fans this summer, Olofsson's size and development shouldn't be overlooked. Now fully healthy, the big Swede could challenge for a third-pairing spot on the Wild this fall.

Nikita Scherbak, Montreal Canadiens

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    Stats: Montreal Canadiens right wing Nikita Scherbak scored 27 goals and 82 points in 65 games last season with the WHL's Everett Silvertips. The 19-year-old also collected eight points in 11 playoff games. 

    Profile: A skilled offensive winger, the Russian-born Scherbak experienced little difficulty adjusting to the North American game. He's also filling out his 6'2” frame, weighing in at 195 pounds. Scherbak has also improved his skating and defensive skills. 

    Outlook: The Canadiens lack scoring depth at right wing, as the skill level drops sharply behind Brendan Gallagher. With his offensive talent, Scherbak has a decent shot at making the Habs lineup this fall.

Kevin Fiala, Nashville Predators

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    Stats: Nashville Predators forward Kevin Fiala scored five goals and 14 points in 20 games last season with Sweden's HV71 Jonkoping. The 18-year-old jumped to the AHL's Milwaukee Admirals, scoring 11 goals and 20 points in 39 games. He also saw action in one regular-season and one playoff game with the Predators.

    Profile: The 5'9”, 178-pound Fiala isn't a physical presence, but he has impressive speed, creativity and confidence with the puck. Thanks to his agility and slick offensive skills, he moved quickly through the ranks last season. Fiala is also a versatile forward, capable of playing center or left wing. 

    Outlook: Considering how fast Fiala progressed last season, it wouldn't be surprising to see him on the Predators roster when the 2015-16 campaign begins. If he can add strength and muscle without sacrificing his offensive abilities, Fiala could be a solid addition.

Pavel Zacha, New Jersey Devils

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    Stats: New Jersey Devils center Pavel Zacha scored 34 points in 37 games last season with the OHL's Sarnia Sting. The 18-year-old also netted three points in five playoff games. 

    Profile: Selected sixth overall in the 2015 NHL draft, the 6'3", 210-pound Zacha is a big, skilled offensive center who can also play on the wing. Hockey's Future compares his style of play to that of former Devil Bobby Holik. Though he missed some time last season to injury, he still has considerable upside.

    Outlook: With Steve Santini returning to Boston College next season, Zacha becomes their top prospect with the best chance of making the lineup. He faces a stiff challenge to make the Devils lineup this season. Still, a strong training camp performance could give him a chance.

Michael Dal Colle, New York Islanders

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    Stats: New York Islanders left wing Michael Dal Colle scored 42 goals and 93 points in 56 games last season with the OHL's Oshawa Generals. He also collected 31 points in 21 playoff games.

    Profile: Dal Colle, who turned 19 on June 20, possesses superb offensive skills. His uses his 6'2” body to protect the puck, while his long reach gives him an advantage in creating offensive chances. His physical play could use improvement, but that will come in time. 

    Outlook: The Islanders have considerable depth at left wing, but Dal Colle's offensive skills could help him earn a roster spot. With the right linemates, he could challenge for the rookie scoring lead.

Brady Skjei, New York Rangers

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    Stats: New York Rangers defenseman Brady Skjei scored 10 points in 33 games last season with the University of Minnesota. He also played in eight regular-season games with the AHL's Hartford Wolfpack and tallied three points in 15 playoff games. 

    Profile: The 6'3”, 206-pounder Skjei skates well for a big defenseman. He can log big minutes and plays a strong two-way game. The 21-year-old isn't an overly physical blueliner, but he doesn't make many mistakes in his own zone. 

    Outlook: The Rangers currently have a crowded defense corps. However, the cost of re-signing their key free agents could force them to ship out a veteran blueliner. That might create an opening for an affordable, promising youngster like Skjei. 

Matt Puempel, Ottawa Senators

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    Stats: Ottawa Senators left wing prospect Matt Puempel scored 12 goals and 32 points last season with the Binghamton Senators. The 22-year-old also collected three points in 13 games with Ottawa.

    Profile: Puempel is a good offensive winger. He sees the game well and possesses solid playmaking skills. The 6,0", 196-pounder must improve his defensive play. Still, his development thus far indicates he could be ready to move up to the NHL level. 

    Outlook: On July 3, the Ottawa Citizen's Ken Warren reported Puempel was still recuperating from a late-season high-ankle sprain. If he makes a full recovery by training camp, Warren suggests the young winger has “a legitimate shot at starting the season in the NHL.” 

Samuel Morin, Philadelphia Flyers

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    Stats: Philadelphia Flyers defense prospect Samuel Morin tallied 32 points in 38 games last season with the QMJHL's Rimouski Oceanic. He also collected 11 points in 19 playoff games.

    Profile: At 6'7” and 225 pounds, the hulking Morin provides a significant physical presence to the blue line. He also moves the puck well and possesses a hard shot. Though the 20-year-old's game needs refinement, he has the potential to become an intimidating NHL defenseman. 

    Outlook: The Flyers have been lacking a big, physical rearguard with offensive skills since injuries ended Chris Pronger's career several years ago. While it remains to be seen if Morin will become a Pronger clone, his size and potential could bring a welcome measure of skilled toughness to their defense.

Scott Wilson, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Stats: Pittsburgh Penguins forward Scott Wilson scored 19 goals and 41 points in 55 games last season with the AHL's Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. He briefly saw action with Pittsburgh, playing one regular-season game and three playoff games.

    Profile: Wilson, 23, is a smart playmaker with good hockey sense. A versatile forward, he can play center or left wing. The 6,0", 175-pounder isn't a particularly fast or physical player, but he is strong on his skates. 

    Outlook: The Penguins' depth on left wing drops off beyond Chris Kunitz and David Perron. That could open the door for Wilson to earn a full-time roster spot. His minor league experience and brief call-up last season could give him an edge over the Penguins' other prospects.

Nikolay Goldobin, San Jose Sharks

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    Stats: San Jose Sharks prospect winger Nikolay Goldobin scored 11 goals and 21 points in 38 games last season with Finland's HIFK Helsinki. The 19-year-old also tallied five points in nine regular-season games with the AHL's Worcester Sharks.

    Profile: Goldobin is a creative scoring winger with explosive speed. Playing alongside professionals in Finland and the AHL, he made considerable strides in his development last season. Curtis Pashelka of the San Jose Mercury News reported Goldobin is working hard in hopes of cracking the Sharks' roster. 

    Outlook: Pashelka noted Goldobin must improve his defensive play. The 185-pounder must also add some muscle to his 6,0" frame. If he can reach those goals without sacrificing his offensive skills, he could be skating with the Sharks this fall. 

Ty Rattie, St. Louis Blues

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    Stats: St. Louis Blues right wing Ty Rattie scored 21 goals and 42 points in 59 games last season with the AHL's Chicago Wolves. The 22-year-old also played 11 games with the Blues, collecting two points.

    Profile: A versatile forward who can play either wing, Rattie's been knocking on the Blues' door for the past two seasons. Though undersized at 178 pounds, the 6-footer is a hard worker, particularly on special teams. Rattie also possesses a decent scoring touch. 

    Outlook: The Blues are looking to shake things up for next season. Rattie stands a good chance of making the roster on a full-time basis at left wing. He'll likely be skating on the third or fourth line.

Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Stats: Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy appeared in 25 games last season with the AHL's Syracuse Crunch, winning 14 games while sporting a 2.45 goals-against average and .917 save percentage. The 20-year-old also appeared in 16 regular-season and four postseason games with the Lightning. 

    Profile: At 6'3” and 204 pounds,  Vasilevskiy is a big, agile netminder. He wasted little time moving up from the AHL to the Lightning last season. While still adjusting to the NHL game, Vasilevskiy displayed considerable poise handling the backup duties last season.  

    Outlook: Vasilevskiy won't unseat Ben Bishop as the Lightning's starting goalie next season, but he has the potential to do so down the road. To avoid overworking Bishop, Lightning coach Jon Cooper could give Vasilevskiy more game time in 2015-16. 

William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Stats: Toronto Maple Leafs prospect center William Nylander tallied 20 points in 21 games last season playing for Sweden's MODO Hockey Ornskoldsvik. He then moved on to the AHL's Toronto Marlies, netting 32 points in 37 regular-season games, along with three points in five playoff games.

    Profile: The son of former NHL forward Michael Nylander, William shares his father's playmaking skills. He's a better skater than his dad and can play center or wing. Despite his 5'11”, 174-pound frame, he had little difficulty adjusting to the North American game. 

    Outlook: The Leafs likely prefer keeping the 19-year-old Nylander in the minors for another season, but he could change their minds with a strong performance in training camp. With the Leafs rebuilding, Nylander has a decent shot of making the roster.

Jake Virtanen, Vancouver Canucks

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    Stats: Vancouver Canucks right wing Jake Virtanen scored 21 goals and 52 points in 50 games last season with the WHL's Calgary Hitmen, along with 13 points in 14 playoff games. The 18-year-old also saw action in 10 postseason games with the AHL's Utica Comets. 

    Profile: Virtanen is a natural scorer with terrific speed who plays a power forward's game. At 6'1” and 207 pounds, he has the frame to transfer those skills to the NHL level. Virtanen can also play either wing. Consistency appears to be the only real issue with his game, but that should improve as he matures.

    Outlook: The Canucks are slowly transitioning toward younger players in their roster. Given Virtanen's versatility and skills, he has a good opportunity to earn a regular roster spot with Vancouver next season.

Jakub Vrana, Washington Capitals

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    Stats: Washington Capitals prospect forward Jakub Vrana tallied 24 points in 44 games with Sweden's Linkopings HC, as well as five points in 11 playoff games. The 19-year-old also saw action with the AHL's Hershey Bears, netting six points in 10 postseason games. 

    Profile: Vrana's a superb offensive forward who skates well and is creative with the puck. He can also play center or wing. Vrana made a seamless transition from the European to North American game last season. Like most promising young forwards, he must tighten up his defensive game.  

    Outlook: The Capitals could use some skilled depth beyond their top-six wingers. If Vrana can add more muscle to his 5'11", 185-pound frame and improve his two-way play, he will put himself in contention for a roster spot.

Nikolaj Ehlers, Winnipeg Jets

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    Stats: Winnipeg Jets prospect left wing Nikolaj Ehlers scored 37 goals and 101 points in 51 games with the QMJHL's Halifax Mooseheads. The19-year-old also tallied 31 points in only 14 playoff games. 

    Profile: Ehlers is a dazzling offensive winger, possessing terrific speed, first-rate playmaking skills and an accurate wrist shot. Though he's considered undersized (5'11”, 176 pounds) by NHL standards, Ehlers told the Winnipeg Sun's Ken Wiebe he intends to improve his size and strength. 

    Outlook: On June 22, Ed Tait of the Winnipeg Free Press reported Ehlers could be shifted to right wing if he makes the Jets this fall, possibly on their first line. If that happens, the promising Dane could be a serious Calder Trophy candidate in 2016. 

    Players stats via HockeyDB. Additional prospect info via Hockey' Future

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