Part 4: Pacific 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
Anaheim Ducks: Nick Ritchie (LW) the 10th overall pick in the 2014 draft has always maintained an adequate point production (about 1 point per game at all levels) throughout his hockey career. One difference this year is that reports say he had a strict offseason training and he came into camp leaner, faster and showing more determination. Given his skill set coupled with a chance he lands minutes on the top line with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, he could see mid 40's possibly into 50's with points (largely contingent on how long he stays on the top line).
Other prospect: Joseph Cramarossa is likely still a year or two from showing any meaningful point production but given his size and raw skills, he's a back pocket player to look into from time to time.
Arizona Coyotes: Dylan Strome (C ). I will say it here and now, he is probably the prospect I am MOST excited to see play this year. Granted this is in the OHL but the last three years he has scored 92 goals, 187 assists for 279 points across 184 games. His talent is legitimate and the Coyotes can't wait to put him out on the ice. Their actions with Max Domi and Anthony Duclair last year shows they have no trepidation about putting a rookie out there and giving them big minutes in hopes they will succeed. Ryan Strome is currently projected to be the second line center with Tobias Rieder and Radim Vrbata as his line mates. On the off chance he sees top PP unit minutes with Max Domi and Anthony Duclair, I think Dylan Strome is going to score 60 points and make a compelling case to compete for the Calder Trophy.
Other prospect: Clayton Keller, taken 7th in the 2016 draft is at least 1 year out from playing but he has a skill set similar to Patrick Kane with great vision and a quick shot.
Calgary Flames: Matthew Tkachuk (LW). I love the raw skill that he possesses. He's gritty with talent and a known ability to score. He is fighting doggedly to make a spot on the team - this was cemented by an overtime shootout goal he had against the Coyotes the other night. Even if he doesn't make the cut, I have a hunch they will be bringing him up sooner rather than later given everything he has shown in preseason so far. He can make a difference in the NHL now, there is little doubt on that, it's a question of whether the Flames want to go with that.
Other prospect: Hunter Shinkrauk has been fighting hard to make the team, I can't tell just yet if his game is ready for the NHL but he has shown success at the WHL and AHL levels. Wait and watch with him.
Edmonton Oilers: Jesse Puljujarvi (RW). An obvious choice but there could be a wide discrepancy here. Preliminary rumors had him on a line with Connor McDavid and Milan Lucic but it looks like Jordan Eberle's spot. Currently he's playing on the third line with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Patrick Maroon which isn't bad per say, but I would put a solid 15 point reduction dropping down to that line. If he had played on the top line I could have seen him netting in the mid to high 60's in points but on the third line I think he'll be lucky to reach 50 points.
Other prospect to watch: Griffin Reinhart is a tall defensemen who has played on the Bakersfield Condors (AHL) he has a strong shot but likely won't be on the team until mid-way through the season.
LA Kings: Nick Shore (C ). He will be embarking on his third year with the Kings, they are a solid team and as such the prospects and young guys are limited. The top 6 is pretty solid leaving the only opportunity around for some uptick in production. Nick scored 10 points last year over 68 games but here is the difference this year. Nick is currently slotted on heading up the second power play unit with Teddy Purcell and Dustin Brown. The complement of Browns grittiness with Teddy's passing skills opens up chances for Nick to increase his production. I think he will land in the high 20's in points this year, it probably only helps real deep leagues but the opportunity isn't abundant here.
Other prospect: Adrian Kempe was the 29th overall pick in 2014. The 20 year old Swede has been working his way up the various leagues scoring along the way. He's not elite but he's solid. The downside is I don't see him with the Kings until the very end of the season.
San Jose Sharks: Timo Meier (LW). I'll preface two things with the Timo and the Sharks. 1. Much like the Kings they are set in their top two lines with great producers. 2. Timo is out the first 3 weeks of the season with mono. With that behind me, he'll be on a great third line of Joel Ward and Thomas Hertl, he is a proven goal scorer, he has size and strength which he uses to create space to make plays and he's on a point rich team: the Sharks.
Other prospect: Marcus Sorenson - the Swede is lightning quick and has fast hands but his size limits him. He probably won't be up until midseason and even then he will hold a 3rd-4th line shut down role.
Vancouver Canucks: Anton Rodin (LW). The Swede has been lights out in preseason with 2 goals and 3 assists. With that said, it's a small sample and even in the AHL he didn't that kind of point production. I will say the team has been very impressed with him but I would also put about 5 asteriks next to this concept given the very short sample coupled with his historical production. To top it all off, he has been mentioning knee soreness through preseason which is not a good omen. On the plus side, he's been showing good competitive fight for each puck which will always lend itself to point production and he's on a point deprived team so if he DOES produce early, there is no reason to see why he wouldn't land in a top 6 spot.
Other prospect: Brock Boesner (RW). He was just rated the top returning forward (by USCHO) in the country to North Dakota's team. I don't see him jumping up to the bigs until year end.
That's it for the Tomorrow's Talent series.
As always - Prost!