Now more than ever, youth is served in the NHL.
A look at the top 40 scorers so far this 2017-18 season sees 10 very young players doing big things with a puck.
Butcher, a defenceman drafted 123rd overall in 2013, has stepped right out of collegiate hockey at Denver to score nine points (all assists) in his first eight NHL games.
Bratt, a left winger, was drafted even further down in 2016 at no. 162 and in his first eight NHL games (none in the AHL), he has three goals and three assists.
The minor leagues have future NHLers among their ranks, that is certain. Identifying those who can stick is the hard part.
We have combed each NHL team’s prospects list in the minors and come up with prospects we believe may be ready for prime time this year.
20. C Daniel Audette – Montreal Canadiens
The way the Montreal Canadiens are scoring in this early NHL season, it’s a wonder they haven’t placed a call to Guy Lafleur. With just 13 goals in their first eight games — and only one win — the Habs may be getting desperate. Would they be desperate enough to call up former QMJHL scoring wiz and Quebec born playmaker Daniel Audette? We’ll have to wait and see what GM Marc Bergevin does, should the sinking Habs ship continue to list. Audette, son of former NHLer Donald, had three goals and an assist in his first seven games with the AHL’s Laval Rocket. A natural playmaker, Audette had 10 goals and 20 assists in his first full season in the minors last year with St. John’s.
19. LW Max McCormick – Ottawa Senators
As of Monday, Belleville Senators winger Max McCormick was summoned to the big club. The former sixth round draft pick (2011), has had a taste of NHL action, skating in 27 games with the Senators over the last two seasons. He had two goals and two assists. A native of DE Pere, WI, McCormick was a star at Ohio State University who scored 36 goals and added 52 assists in 104 NCAA games. He’s been a steady presence in Ottawa’s farm system, collecting 47 goals and 42 assists in 191 games, the last six with Belleville after the team relocated from Binghamton. He’s an injury replacement at this point, so it’s not known how long he’ll stick.
18. D Ryan Graves – New York Rangers
Like the Montreal Canadiens, the New York Rangers are hurting in the standings. However, the Rangers have been scoring, but unable to keep the puck out of their net with any regularity (NHL worst 36 goals against, in 10 games so far). Sooner or later, they may have to reach over to Hartford and pluck a young defender from the ranks of the Hartford Wolf Pack. Ryan Graves, from Yarmouth, NS, has steadily improved his game since being taken 110th overall in the 2013 draft out of the QMJHL. A skilled puck mover, Graves just has to fine tune his defensive game to suit the rigors of the NHL. He certainly has the size at 6’4″, 220 lbs. to withstand the punishment.
17. LW Dryden Hunt – Florida Panthers
Way up yonder in Springfield, Massachusetts toil the young guns waiting for a shot at playing in South Beach with the Florida Panthers. One guy who has flown under the radar since signing a free agent contract out of junior is sniper Dryden Hunt. A five-year veteran of the Western Hockey League, Hunt scored 58 goals and 58 assists with the Moose Jaw Warriors in 2015-16, earning him the pact with Florida. Since then, he has honed his scoring touch, following up a 31 point (13 goals) season in 2016-17 with Springfield by firing four goals in his first six games this season. The Cats may need that scoring ability down the wing in the near future.
16. RW Jesse Puljujarvi – Edmonton Oilers
When the Edmonton Oilers selected Swedish-born, Finnish bred Jesse Puljujarvi fourth overall in the same 2016 draft that produced Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine, it was thought they got a steal at that position. They gave the big right winger a good taste of big league hockey, getting him into 28 games, where he scored a goal and seven assists and was +5. Otherwise, he spent the rest of the 2016-17 campaign with the AHL’s Bakersfield Condors. Puljujarvi recorded 12 goals and 16 assists in 39 games with “the Bake” and look poised to make the big club in training camp this year. However, he was returned to the AHL, even though he outplayed a couple of right wingers. Look for him in Edmonton orange again soon, since the Oilers are surprisingly last in offence so far this year.
15. G Linus Ullmark – Buffalo Sabres
Big Swedish goalie Linus Ullmark has shown that he belongs at the NHL level, now he just has to earn it. The Sabres have gone with veterans Robin Lehner and Chad Johnson this season, leaving Ullmark again to bide his time with the Rochester Americans. A product of the high profile MODO Ornskoldsvik squad in Sweden, Ullmark has played 21 total NHL games, compiling a 8-11-2 mark with a 9.13 save percentage and 2.62 goals against average. He was MVP of the Amerks last year, starting 55 games and winning 26, along with a .909 save percentage and 2.87 GAA. Buffalo back-up Johnson hasn’t been great in five games, logging a .881 save percentage and 3.84 GAA. It may not be long before Ullmark is called up.
14. D Carson Soucy – Minnesota Wild
Even though the Minnesota Wild are struggling early on (2-3-2 as of Wednesday), there is no room on the blue line, yet, for another young stud. The Wild have four good 20-somethings on the back end, including Jared Spurgeon, Mike Reilly, Jonas Brodin and Matt Dumba. However, third pair man and free agent pick-up Kyle Quincey is 32 and has seen his ice time diminish over the last two seasons. He isn’t ready for the scrap heap, however, fresh legs and some size on the back end may be needed later. Enter Carson Soucy, who was a fifth round (137th overall) pick from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He is 6’4″, 210 lbs. and is a stay-at-home type. He has played just nine games in the AHL since graduating from UMD earlier this year, but has a goal, an assist and is +6.
13. D Andrei Mironov – Colorado Avalanche
The Avs aren’t doing to badly early in the 2017-18 season, carrying a 5-4 mark into Wednesday’s action. What they aren’t blessed with, though, is playmaking from the blue line. Tyson Barrie carries much of that load, recording eight points in those nine games. After that, the team falls off considerably in offence from their rearguards (just two goals from the remaining crew). Andrei Mironov, who has been brought up and sent back down to San Antonio of the AHL, should be a candidate to stick (he was officially recalled again on Monday). The Moscow native apprenticed with Moscow Dynamo of the KHL, starting as an 18-year-old, before being drafted 101st overall by Colorado in 2015. The 6’3″, 194 lb. defender got better year over year with Dynamo and has shown some touch this year, his first in North America (a goal and an assists in three games for San Antonio).
12. C Emil Pettersson – Nashville Predators
The Preds made it all the way to the Stanley Cup finals last year, getting solid contributions from a lot of players, such as unheralded Swede Pontus Aberg (five points in 16 playoff games after two points in 15 regular season contests). The team’s depth down the middle isn’t bad, however, they have only two goals from their pivots (both by third line center Colton Sissons). Currently percolating on the farm in Milwaukee is C Emil Pettersson, who is in his first pro season in North America, after five seasons in Sweden. Drafted 155th overall by the Preds in 2013, Pettersson had a great year split between Skelleftea and Vaxjo of the Swedish Elite League in 2016-17, tallying 15 goals and 23 assists in 51 games. He added another seven points (four goals) in six playoff contests for Vaxjo too. With the Admirals, he leads the team with two goals and six assists in five games.
11. C Danton Heinen – Boston Bruins
The Bruins have aging legs down the middle, so it is surprising that young centerman Danton Heinen got sent back down to Providence after a good three-game stint earlier this month. In three games, the fourth round (116th overall) pick of the Bruins registered three assists and was +1. A University of Denver product, Heinen has played very well in the pros since debuting with Providence in 2016. He has eight points in four games so far for the Baby B’s and overall has logged 54 points in 70 total contests over three seasons. With both Patrice Bergeron and David Backes being over 30 and combating injuries early in the year, Heinen’s name should be top of the list for injury replacement down the road.
10. C Jason Dickinson – Dallas Stars
Former first round (29th overall) pick Jason Dickinson can flat out score. Makes us wonder, then, how he is still with the Texas Stars of the AHL and not in a Dallas uniform. He is a center, but as a left shot, would be a boon down a left wing in Big D that has produced zero goals and five points from three guys not named Jamie Benn. Dickinson has five goals and an assist in seven games with Texas and since turning pro late in the 2014-15 season, he has registered 36 goals and 56 assists in 140 AHL games. In 11 games with the Stars over the last two seasons, he had three goals. The Stars are everyone’s pick to rebound this year, but they aren’t scoring in bunches yet, so guys like Dickinson may be in demand soon.
9. C Dominic Turgeon – Detroit Red Wings
If bloodlines mean anything at all, Dominic Turgeon’s run very red. The son of former NHL star Pierre, Dominic’s got the hockey chops of his own, honed through four solid seasons of junior hockey with the Portland Winterhawks and an evolving game in Grand Rapids with the AHL’s Griffins. The 6’2″ pivot was a great two-way pivot in the WHL and has proven to be just as reliable in the pros. In his rookie season with Grand Rapids last year, he had 18 points and was +7 in 71 games. This season, he has found better scoring touch, notching six points in six games, along with a +5. His dad, now an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Kings, must be very proud.
8. RW Kasperi Kapanen – Toronto Maple Leafs
Another kid with a former NHLer as a father (Sami Kapanen), Kasperi is biding his time in the minors, hoping for an extended stay with the big club soon. Kapanen, taken 22nd overall by Pittsburgh in 2014, is a smooth skating right winger with outstanding playmaking ability. Only thing is, the parent Maple Leafs are chock full of good to great youngsters up front. Therefore, he may be better off with the Marlies, for now. Still just 21, Kapanen already has 97 games of AHL experience (31 goals, 42 assists) and 17 games in the NHL (one goal). He has proven to be a good playoff skater, having scored eight goals and added 13 assists in 30 AHL post-season games. After firing a goal in eight games with the Leafs late last season, Kapanen was a surprise scorer in the first round loss to Washington, scoring twice.
7. G Jon Gillies – Calgary Flames
Sooner or later, the Flames may not get the kind of goaltending they expect out of back-up Eddie Lack — or starter and longtime veteran Mike Smith, for that matter. For the time being, Smith, 35 is doing a pretty good job of it, while Lack, 29, hasn’t played enough to warrant analysis. But, Lack was just OK in a second banana role in Carolina last year, so giving a big dude like Gillies (6’6″, 223 lbs.) a shot may not hurt. Drafted 75th overall by the Flames in 2012, Gillies was a superstar at Providence College and transitioned smoothly to the pros. With the Stockton Heat, the Concord, NH native has played in 50 games, with a record of 23-18-2 and three shutouts. He had one start with Calgary last year and was really good in a 4-1 victory over Los Angeles, stopping 27 of 28 shots.
6. LW Nikolay Goldobin – Vancouver Canucks
They may not need him right now, but the Vancouver Canucks will only be able to ignore Nikolay Goldobin’s potential for so long. A first round pick of the San Jose Sharks in 2014 (27th overall), the Canucks obtained the Moscow sniper at the trade deadline last year for Jannik Hansen. At the AHL level last year (Utica and San Jose), Goldobin had 19 goals and 26 assists in 49 games. In 14 NHL games with the Sharks and Canucks, he had three goals. So far this year, the 22-year-old winger has three goals and four assists in five games for the Comets. He has “potential” in spades and just needs an extended stay to prove it.
5. RW Nick Merkley – Arizona Coyotes
The ‘Yotes have pretty much picked up where they left off in 2016-17, that is, near the bottom of the NHL standings. Only this year, their start is much, much worse. As of Wednesday, they were the only team not to have one a game yet, sporting a dismal 0-8-1 record. They haven’t scored a lot (21 goals) and haven’t defended well at all (a league worst 39 goals against). So, there could be several candidates from the Tucscon Roadrunners who could warrant a call-up, but for now we’ll pick right winger Nick Merkley. The team does have some firepower down the right side, but could use more from the left, which means Merkley could shift over. A 30th overall pick in 2015, the Calgary native has so far been just as productive a scorer in pro (four points in four games) as he was in junior with Kelowna (258 points in 245 games).
4. C Jack Roslovic – Winnipeg Jets
After Mark Scheifele and Bryan Little, the Winnipeg Jets have precious little playmaking talent at center ice this season. Also, 36-year-old journeyman Matt Hendricks just drew back in off the IR, but he is hardly a dynamo (100 points in 521 NHL games). First round pick (25th overall, 2015) Jack Roslovic fits the talent bill, that is certain. In his first year of pro hockey out of Miami (OH) University, the Columbus born winger scored 13 goals and 35 assists in 65 games (with a -17 rating) with the Manitoba Moose. He’s cleaned up his defensive act so far with the Moose, scoring three goals, three assists and logging a +1 through six games.
3. LW Valentin Zykov – Carolina Hurricanes
The Hurricanes, who have been fairly defensively astute this young season (21 goals against in seven games), need more scoring (just 18 for). There are two burgeoning snipers with the Charlotte Checkers, Warren Foegele (21) and Valentin Zykov (22) to pick from. For arguments sake, we believe Zykov warrants a call-up some time, based on the fact he has 118 games AHL experience (and two with Carolina) to Foegele’s seven. Zykov, drafted 37th overall by Los Angeles in 2013 out of the QMJHL, has five goals and three assists in seven games for Charlotte this season and 56 career points overall. In two games with the Hurricanes last year, he found the twine for his first career goal. He’s also got the size to make playing against him tough at 6’1″, 224 lbs.
2. LW Adam Helewka – San Jose Sharks
The Sharks have been diddling for the middle so far this season, sporting a 4-4 record, with 23 goals for and 22 against. Not bad, but not all that good, either. If anything, they have a dearth of scoring down the wings, particularly on their third and fourth lines. It seems that an older squad could use a youth injection, so San Jose Barracuda scoring leader Adam Helewka, 22, could provide them size and playmaking ability. The 6’2″, 205 lb. fourth round draft pick (106th overall, 2015), has brought his offensive game back to his junior hockey level, with seven points in six AHL games for the Barracuda. He’s also defensively responsible, recording a +6 so far. Last season, the Burnaby native had 29 points in 58 games in his first full pro season, as well as being +8.
1. D Samuel Morin – Philadelphia Flyers
It would be very hard to miss Samuel Morin, should he get into game action with the Philadelphia Flyers this season. The Quebecois giant is 6’6″ and possesses equal amounts of grit, playmaking ability and defensive awareness. Drafted 11th overall by the Flyers in 2013, Morin has made steady strides with Lehigh Valley, while producing like he did with the Rimouski Oceanic for four seasons. In five games this year, he has four points and 10 penalty minutes and has logged a +3. Overall with the Phantoms, Morin has 39 points in 155 games, 257 penalty minutes and is -2. Other than the overall plus-minus, those numbers mirror his junior output of 87 points, 363 PIM and +46.