Part 3: Central Division
As we go through preseason, I continue to see players who are electric and showing immense talent across the board. As such, I decided to create a list compiling the player from each team who I'm most excited to watch this season. To be clear, this list is not a list of the best players on the team, it's a list of players who ‘could' end up being amazing by the end of the year. Some of these players are top prospects, some have had great preseasons, some were lower line guys who might be seeing top 6 or 9 minutes this year and some are players who had a great minor league season last year. If you are looking for a deep late round sleeper, some of these names could help out. While they could end up being a sleeper or free agent pickup which could help your team win, they could just as easily:
1. Not make the team
2. Get hurt early on.
3. Prove that while they were a great prospect, they need more time to develop
Chicago Blackhawks: Alexandre Fortin (RW). I will preface this with, there is a more then 50/50 chance he gets sent down within the first 9 games so that the Blackhawks don't lose the first year of his entry level deal. With that said, he has been lights out in preseason so far. Scoring goals, fighting in the corners, showing his speed. He does this as an undrafted player who has played next to no games AHL or above, it's almost unheard of. Maybe it's a small sample anomaly but keep your eyes on him just in case.
Other prospect: Tyler Motte might start the season with a better chance but I'm more bullish on the long term gains from Fortin, the kid continues to prove everyone wrong..
Colorado Avalanche: Mikko Rantanen (RW). It looks like the Finnish 10th overall pick in the 2015 draft is going to get a chance to play the full season with the Aves on the third line alongside Mikhail Grigorenko and Joe Colborne. He had 62 points last year over 50 games in the AHL with the San Antonio Rampage. He has the size and efficiency to play well. He won't be a playmaker but is more than capable of gritting his way to a solid line of low 30's in points as he works to prove his worth this year.
Other player: Andreas Martinsen has made a compelling argument to sit on the 4th line, he is capable of some minimal goal scoring but would provide 4 times that number in PIM.
Dallas Stars: Esa Lindell (D). Fresh off the World Cup, the Finnish prospect is looking to make an impact for the Stars this season. He scored 42 points in 73 games with the Texas Stars last year and can score when given the chance. Esa has tough competition though, the team has a solid group of young defenders in Patrik Nemeth and Jamie Oleksiak, perhaps it's his international experience, but I think Esa is more NHL ready then the other two and can make the more immediate impact this season with Patrik and Jamie coming up late this year, early next year as injuries and moves occur.
Other prospect: Gemel Smith he will be on a tryout through the first 9 games. Those 9 games will decide whether or not he has shown the maturity and on ice presence to stay with the team this season.
Minnesota Wild: Charlie Coyle (RW). I've said this before, if you are in a 12 team league that has Hits as a category, grab this man right now. He has averaged about 125 hits per season over the last three seasons. That puts him in the top 100 there. Add to that he scored 42 points last season and now he's primed to be on the top line with Zach Parise and Eric Staal which to me says he can eclipse 50 points. Add in Bruce Boudreau who is regular season magic in terms of teams success. I'm bullish on a big year from the Wild.
Other prospects: Joel Ericksson Ek should make the team but he hasn't formulated into a pure point producer, it will take time.
Nashville Predators: Kevin Fiala (RW). The 11th overall pick in the 2014 draft netted 78 points last year over 66 games in the AHL. The Swiss native has two very strong attributes: he's very fast and he's creative with the puck. With all of that in mind, here is the issue, the organization would like him to sit in a top 6 spot but it doesn't look like one is available right now so I'd say 60/40 he doesn't make the team but in all likelihood he's the first call up if anyone gets hurt.
Other prospect to watch: Samuel Girard will not be on the team to start the year but really impressed during training camp. He handles the puck very well and has the speed and mobility to play in the NHL now as a defensemen.
St. Louis Blues: Robby Fabbri (LW). The 21st overall pick in the 2014 draft, the Ontario native tore up the OHL before playing with the Blues last year and netting 37 points over 72 games. This year, with the departure of David Backes, Robby gets a chance at the top line with Paul Stastny and Alex Steen. As teams work to shut down the second line of David Perron, Jori Lehtera and Vladimir Tarasenko, the top line should get some quality chance to get some points. He's not the biggest player but he fights hard and does not shy away from contact, the down side to this is he has a history of injuries due to his grit. He is supposed to get some 2nd PP unit time too, I think Robby could eclipse 50 points this year.
Other player to watch: Petteri Lindbohm is a Finnish defender who should get some 2nd line and maybe some PP time this year. He's not the biggest point producer but he does have some natural skill which could build as time progresses.
Winnipeg Jets: Kyle Connor (LW). The 17th overall pick in the 2015 draft has shown the scoring touch in preseason so far (3 goals). A Hobey Baker finalist out of Michigan, he scored 71 points last year with the Wolverines. It's going to be a close call on him making the team but if he can, he could be a 15 goal scorer this year and could crack 40 points. Playing time will be the challenge and that is entirely in the hands of the Jets at this point.
Other prospect: Patrick Laine is obviously a popular player but as of initial showings, he has taken a backseat to the skill of Kyle.
Prost! Up next: Pacific Division