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.