Highly Touted NHL Prospects Whose Stocks Will Soar in 2015-16

Allan Mitchell@@Lowetide_Featured ColumnistOctober 6, 2015

Highly Touted NHL Prospects Whose Stocks Will Soar in 2015-16

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    Walter Tychnowicz-USA TODAY Sports

    NHL teams are going young based on what we're seeing across the league in pre-season. There are a significant number of rookies remaining on rosters, and that probably means a large contingent of Calder Trophy candidates in 2015-16. 

    We're also seeing the strength of the 2015 draft this fall. Top picks Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel made the grade—and that was expected since they're generational talents—but No. 46 overall selection Daniel Sprong will break camp with the uber-talented Pittsburgh Penguins, giving some real credence to the thought 2015 is one of the deepest drafts of the century.

    Here are the top 10 prospects—and a bonus addition—who remain on NHL rosters and will thrive in the league this season.  

    Note: Rankings are based on projected point totals and roles this season. 

10. Noah Hanifin, D, Carolina Hurricanes

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    James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

    What's on His Resume? Noah Hanifin was taken No. 5 overall by the Carolina Hurricanes at the 2015 draft. 

    Where Is He Playing? Chris Johnston of Sportsnet reported via Twitter on October 3 that Carolina sent Haydn Fleury back to junior, which effectively ensures Hanifin made the team. 

    Projections for This Season: Hanifin is unlikely to get a major role on the power play, so total points won't be a fair assessment. He could approach 20 points even without substantial power-play minutes. A regular shift on the bottom pairing and progress over the season would be a good result. Teenage defensemen often struggle badly, so if Hanifin (18) can succeed, it will be a major boost in Carolina's rebuild. 

9. Jake Virtanen, RW, Vancouver Canucks

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    Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

    What's on His Resume? Jake Virtanen was chosen No. 6 overall in the 2014 draft by the Vancouver Canucks. 

    Where Is He Playing? Rob Williams of VanCityBuzz.com reports that Virtanen impressed through camp with his scoring and physical play. He set the tone during the Young Stars rookie tournament in Penticton, British Columbia, Canada including laying a hit on No. 1 overall pick Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers. 

    Projections for This Season: Points won't be the only measurement for Virtanen, who is likely to play a physical two-way role for the Canucks. A 30-point season would be a solid year for the young and emerging forward. 

8. Daniel Sprong, RW, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

    What's on His Resume? Daniel Sprong was selected No. 46 overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2015 draft. 

    Where Is He Playing? Sprong was impressive during pre-season, scoring two goals and three points in five appearances. A Canadian Press report via NHL.com has Sprong making the opening-night roster for the Penguins and getting a nine-game look. 

    Projections for This Season: The Penguins are rich in top-flight centers and weak in snipers, with Sprong being a naturally talented goal scorer. It isn't a perfect match—he's very young for the role at age 18—but the exhibition-season audition has him in the NHL and on a fantastic offensive team. He could hit 35 points if he plays the entire year. 

7. Dylan Larkin, C, Detroit Red Wings

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    Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

    What's on His Resume? Dylan Larkin was chosen No. 15 overall by the Detroit Red Wings in 2014's draft. 

    Where Is He Playing? Larkin will be with the Red Wings to start the season. Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press has the story, including word he could be playing opening night on a line with Henrik Zetterberg and Justin Abdelkader. 

    Projections for This Season: He scored 47 points in 35 Big Ten games one year ago, suggesting a 40-point NHL season is inside the realm of expectation. If he can hang with Zetterberg all season, Larkin could exceed that number. He's already unique, as Detroit will employ a teenager in a substantial role for the first time in forever. 

6. Robby Fabbri, C, St. Louis Blues

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    Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

    What's on His Resume? Robby Fabbri was drafted by the St. Louis Blues No. 21 overall in 2014. 

    Where Is He Playing? Ryan Dadoun of Pro Hockey Talk reports Fabbri has been working well on a line with Jori Lehtera and Jaden Schwartz. That's exceptional company for the rookie. 

    Projections for This Season: The Blues have so many options that it's dangerous to project a stat line for Fabbri, who could be back in the OHL by November. If he stays up all season, 40 points as a rookie is a realistic expectation for him on a skill line. 

5. Nikolaj Ehlers, LW, Winnipeg Jets

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    Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports

    What's on His Resume? Nikolaj Ehlers was drafted by the Winnipeg Jets No. 9 overall in the 2014 draft. 

    Where Is He Playing? Ken Wiebe of the Winnipeg Sun reports Ehlers and Nic Petan are on the final roster for NHL action this season. Ehlers scored three points in six games for the Jets during exhibition play.  

    Projections for This Season: Ehlers is a brilliant prospect and could approach 50 points in his rookie NHL season. He exceeded 100 points in his two junior seasons and is one of the best prospects in the game. If Ehlers receives significant power-play time, he could push for a Calder Trophy nomination. 

4. Sam Bennett, C, Calgary Flames

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    What's on His Resume? Sam Bennett was selected No. 4 overall by the Calgary Flames in the 2014 draft. 

    Where Is He Playing? Bennett's future is at center, and the Flames have some real depth at the position. It's probably a moving target, but if he starts the season as the third-line center, he should be in a solid position to succeed. There's a chance he'll get time at wing during the year. 

    Projections for This Season: The young Flames forward has a significant advantage over some of the other prospects. His 11 games in the playoffs last season—including three goals—gives Bennett a head start entering 2015-16. Although his offensive potential may be shy of the best prospects entering the NHL this season, 50 points is a reasonable estimate of his ability. 

3. Teuvo Teravainen, LW, Chicago Blackhawks

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    What's on His Resume? Teuvo Teravainen was selected No. 18 overall in the 2012 draft. He is not eligible for the Calder Trophy—having played 37 NHL games—and he has a Stanley Cup ring to show for a fine playoff performance. 

    Where Is He Playing? Last season he played a secondary role, but this year he'll play a more prominent part in the offense. Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times tweeted that coach Joel Quenneville plans to have him on the top line with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. 

    Projections for This Season: Teravainen is a legit talent and is going to get a significant push with two impact NHL forwards. A 50-point season is possible, and he could be a major piece for the Blackhawks all season long. 

2. Jack Eichel, C, Buffalo Sabres

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    Gary Wiepert/Associated Press

    What's on His Resume? Jack Eichel was chosen No. 2 overall by the Buffalo Sabres in the 2015 draft. 

    Where Is He Playing? Eichel has been among the leading scorers in pre-season, posting six points in four games and exciting Buffalo fans with his range of skills. He has been playing a feature role with veteran wingers, most recently Brian Gionta and Evander Kane. 

    Projections for This Season: Eichel is more mature physically than McDavid, and that could bode well for him as a rookie. It's difficult to compare the two men in terms of offense since this is the first time they'll play in the same league. It's reasonable, however, to suggest Eichel could be in the range of 70 points and push McDavid over a full season based on maturity and the Sabres' summer improvements. The Calder Trophy is in the balance and likely to be awarded to one of the two men who were drafted back-to-back in 2015. 

1. Connor McDavid, C, Edmonton Oilers

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    Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

    What's on His Resume? Connor McDavid was selected No. 1 overall in the 2015 draft by the Edmonton Oilers. 

    Where Is He Playing? McDavid has been a feature player in Edmonton's camp, playing center between veteran winger Taylor Hall and various other forwards. It's a major spot in the lineup, and he also played on the power play and penalty kill during training camp. He scored five points in five pre-season games and was among Edmonton's top producers

    Projections for This Season: McDavid should top 70 points if he plays a complete schedule. He is guaranteed major minutes from opening night, something few other prospects will have greeting them this week. Along with opportunity comes expectation and pressure, but as Chris Westcott writes on the Edmonton Oilers' website, the young man has been preparing a long time for this year.


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