Which rookies are going to make the jump to the NHL next year?

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Being a month away from training camp, means we’re one month away from any surprises from players trying to break into the league. Every year there are guys who shock fans and even management within their own organizations as they take the jump from prospect to professional. On the other hand, there will be those who have certain expectations—and fail to live up to said expectations.

For now, we are left to figure out the rookies who are most likely to burst onto the scene next year. Stu Hackel put together a list of “10 rookies worth watching” on Sports Illustrated’s Red Light blog. Within the list are players who were drafted in June, guys who fans thought would already be in the NHL, and a name or two that might be off the radar for casual fans. Here’s Hackel’s list (in no particular order):

1. Brayden Schenn (Philadelphia Flyers)
2. Cody Hodgson (Vancouver Canucks)
3. Nino Niederreiter (New York Islanders)
4. Gabriel Landeskog (Colorado Avalanche)
5. David Rundblad (Ottawa Senators)
6. Jared Cowen (Ottawa Senators)
7. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (Edmonton Oilers)
8. Adam Larsson (New Jersey Devils)
9. Ryan Johansen (Columbus Blue Jackets)
10. Alexei Yemelin (Montreal Canadiens)

Every Swede and WHL fan who just read that list has a smile on their face right now. A few other prospects who should get an opportunity are Florida Panthers defenseman Erik Gudbranson, Nashville Predators defenseman Ryan Ellis, and speedy Minnesota Wild forward Mikael Granlund.

By most eyewitness accounts, Gudbranson was good enough to make the Panthers last season as an 18-year-old rookie. Unfortunately for fans in South Beach, the Panthers and Gudbranson were unable to reach an agreement for an entry-level contract so the defensemen headed back to the Kingston Frontenacs for another season in the OHL. In the long run, it may have been the best move for both the team and the prospect as he had another year to develop his skills and grow into his frame. He’ll have newcomers Brian Campbell and Ed Jovanovski to show him the way on the blueline; if he can impress in training camp, there’s a roster spot with his name on it.

Another defenseman who will have every opportunity to make the NHL roster this year is Ryan Ellis in Nashville. Predators GM David Poile has already publically stated that there will be two newcomers on the blueline next season and Ellis is the most decorated of the potential prospects. He’ll have to fight with fellow rookies Teemu Laakso, Mattias Ekholm, and Roman Josi for one of the third pairing spots (as well as newly acquired Jack Hillen), but Ellis has a special skill set that no other prospect can match. He can run a power play, has a huge shot from the point, and he’s a fantastic skater. If he can minimize mistakes in his own zone, he might be able to help the Predators anemic power play.

In Minnesota, Mikael Granlund is going to open eyes for the Wild next season. The Wild have all but given him a spot on next year’s roster and for a team that is desperate for offense, Granlund is an electric player with the puck. He’ll need to improve his two-way game as soon as possible like any rookie making the jump to the NHL, but he already has enough skill to be in the Minnesota line-up and to make a difference.

There’s no doubt there will be rookies who come out of nowhere to make a name for themselves next season. Who are some first year players that you expect to make some noise next season? Let us know in the comments.

The Buzzer: Thornton moves up all-time scoring list; Kings snap six-game losing skid

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Players of the Night:

Brian Elliott looked solid in Philadelphia’s overtime win over the Capitals, as he turned aside 27 of 28 shots. This was the first time in eight games that the Flyers netminder allowed fewer than three goals in a game, but he’s still been victorious in three of his last four outings.

• How about that goalie duel between Connor Hellebuyck and Anders Nilsson. The Jets won the game, but both goaltenders were fantastic during this all-Canadian matchup.

• Sticking with the goalie theme, Aaron Dell was fantastic between the pipes for in San Jose’s win against Anaheim. Even when starter Martin Jones comes back from a lower-body injury, Dell should continue to be a factor for the Sharks.

• Sharks forward Mikkel Boedker had a solid night at the office, as he racked up two goals and an assist against the Ducks. That’s impressive considering he only had 12 points on the season coming into tonight’s action.

• The Kings’ power play isn’t a player, but it came to play tonight against the Rangers. Los Angeles got three goals on the man-advantage from Jake Muzzin, Michael Amadio and Tanner Pearson. Those three power play markers helped them snap their six-game losing skid.

Highlights:

Poor Markus Granlund never saw Hellebuyck coming:

That’s a pretty sweet shot from Kevin Labanc:

Here are two pretty sweet backhand passes leading up to Pierre-Edouard Bellemare‘s goal:

Alex Ovechkin scored a power play from his favorite spot on the ice:

Non-called Penalty of the Night:

That’s a pretty dangerous hit by Dmitry Orlov on Claude Giroux. No boarding call?

Factoids:

That’s a lot of power play goals for Ovechkin:

Joe Thornton keeps movin’ on up:

The Rangers have received some balanced scoring this season:

The Golden Knights simply can’t be stopped. What a season they’re having:

Scores:

Flyers 2, Capitals 1 (OT)

Golden Knights 5, Hurricanes 1

Jets 1, Canucks 0

Sharks 6, Ducks 2

Kings 4, Rangers 2

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Fight Video: Kempe comes to Lewis’ defense by dropping gloves with Smith

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It’s not every day that you see Los Angeles Kings forward Adrian Kempe drop the gloves, but he did so against the Rangers tonight.

Things got chippy at the end of the first period between the Rangers and Kings. As both teams were mixing it up, New York’s Brendan Smith shoved Trevor Lewis from behind. Kempe wasn’t impressed with Smith’s move, so he decided to take matters into his own hands.

Here’s Smith’s shove on Lewis:

And this is the fight between Smith and Kempe:

(h/t: hayyyshayyy on Twitter)

As you can tell from the above video, Smith is the more experienced fighter. Also, Kempe has great hair, but it’s clearly not practical when dropping the gloves.

Thanks to Smith, the Kings got a power play to start the second period. Defenseman Jake Muzzin cashed in on the man-advantage to cut Los Angeles’ deficit to 2-1.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Expansion Golden Knights are officially in first place (Update)

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Just like we all predicted in September, the Vegas Golden Knights are sitting in first place in the NHL.

The Golden Knights’ 5-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes allowed them to collect their 65th and 66th points of the season, which moved them one point ahead of the Tampa Bay Lightning for top spot in the league (both teams have played 46 games).

PHT’s Adam Gretz wrote a terrific piece about Golden Knights’ amazing first season to date.

It’s only fitting that Vegas got a good amount of production from some of their most pleasant surprises tonight. Jonathan Marchessault, Colin Miller and James Neal also found the back of the net.

As you’d expect, the Golden Knights’ Twitter account is having fun marking this occasion.

“Maybe a little unexpected, right?,” Marc-Andre Fleury said of his team’s success, per NHL.com. “It’s been a lot of fun. We started this team from scratch and chemistry was built very quick between us. Every night, all the guys bring their best effort. I’m proud of our team to be where we’re at right now.”

We’ve had over three months to come to grips with everything the Golden Knights have done, but it’s still amazing to see how some of the players on their roster have produced during Vegas’ inaugural season.

 

43 points in 43 games for Marchessault? 25 goals at the midway point of the season for William Karlsson? Nobody saw those things coming. What makes this even more impressive is that they’ve had to roll four goalies (Fleury, Oscar Dansk, Malcolm Subban and Maxime Lagace).

“Early on in the year, I think we surprised some teams. Now I think every team will get up to play us. It’s just something that will be another test for this group,” Miller told NHL.com.

Now the question is, how far can this pesky expansion team go?

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Struggling Lightning lose Ondrej Palat for indefinite period of time

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The Tampa Bay Lightning have been going through a difficult stretch lately and things got a lot more difficult on Sunday. The team announced that Ondrej Palat is out indefinitely after taking a spear from Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon on Saturday night.

The Bolts, who are on an eight-game road trip, have confirmed that Palat will head back to Tampa on Monday for further testing. He’s accumulated eight goals and 30 points in 46 games this season.

Although the video isn’t the clearest, this is the play that led to the injury:

The injury couldn’t have come at a worse time, as the Lightning have been slumping badly of late. They’ve dropped three games in a row to Calgary, Vegas and Minnesota.

Their once giant lead atop the Atlantic Division has dwindled to three points over the Boston Bruins, who have a game in hand.

“We’re just out of synch, it’s unreal,” head coach Jon Cooper said, per The Tampa Times. “The guys didn’t forget how to play hockey in the last week and a half. We’re just out of synch. One guy zigs, the other guy zags. It’s crazy that in the last week and a half, we kind of lost our swag.”

The Bolts will continue their road trip in Chicago, Nashville and Philadelphia before the All-Star break. On top of their difficult schedule, they’ll also be without number one defenseman Victor Hedman for the next few weeks.

Their spot in the playoffs isn’t in any danger, but the number one seed in the league (Vegas is coming in a hurry) and top spot in the division is in doubt.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.