The Journey digs into possible prospect storylines heading into training camps and the start of the 2017-18 season. This is part one of the series that will delve into the prospects to keep an eye on as we make our way towards the start of the campaign.
1. What value do Brett Ritchie and Julius Honka have in Dallas?
Ritchie has spent time in the NHL over the last few seasons, but was by far the most successful in 2016-17. His 16 goals and 24 points were a career high, as were his 78 games, 167 shots and 153 hits. After Jamie Benn and the newly-signed Alexander Radulov, the Stars wingers are not overly dynamic, and Ritchie could work his way into playing in the top six and onto the Stars power play this fall. Add that in with his nearly 200 shots and hits per season, and you have a genuine multi-category asset.
On the back end, Honka could find himself in a similar situation. The offseason addition of Marc Methot certainly helps the Stars defensive group, but the former Senator will not be a mainstay with the man advantage. The group of Stephen Johns, Jamie Oleksiak and Patrik Nemeth have by no means jumped off the page for Dallas the last couple seasons, and none of the three have the dynamic ability that Honka does. Although just 21, the Finnish-born defenseman is a veteran of nearly 200 AHL games, where he has posted 80 points. He's certainly primed to take over a bigger role.
2. Could Clayton Keller lead the Arizona forwards in scoring this year?
For those of you who are The Journey regulars, you may have remembered a year ago when I made the same case for Dylan Strome. I believed strongly that he would remain in the NHL with what was an evolving Coyotes team. I was wrong. Strome got sent back to Erie, where he had a huge final junior season, but I stand by the fact that Strome would have been a contributor at the NHL level a year ago just based on usage alone, even if another OHL season was the best for his development.
Keller certainly has the highest points upside of any of his counterparts in the desert, and with Derek Stepan taking over the #1 center responsibilities he could be free to play more of an offensive role in his rookie campaign. The BU product will be featured on the Coyotes power play, and should start the season at even strength in Arizona's upgraded top six with another developmental year from Max Domi, Christian Dvorak, and Brendan Perlini.
3. Jaromir Jagr is out in Florida. Who steps up and claims his nearly 50 points?
Jonathan Huberdeau will get back on the horse after his Achilles injury from a season ago, and I'm among those who expect a bounce back performance from Aleksander Barkov. The signing of Evgeny Dadonov should be fruitful as he will likely get a shot on the Panthers top line from the jump. However, Florida has hung its hat on its balanced scoring for a few seasons now which leads us to believe there will be multiple players who collectively step up to take over Jagr's mantle.
Fantasy prospect draft darling Henrik Haapala, Jayce Hawryluk, and fourth rounder Denis Malgin are the favorites to help replace some of the depth scoring left behind by not only Jagr, but Jussi Jokinen's departure. Haapala should have the leg up in the interim due to age and his service time in Finland, but long term I like Hawryluk as the most influential of the trio with bonus points for the former Brandon star in multi-category leagues.
4. Which Boston youngster do I want to take a closer look at drafting?
The Bruins love to let their young players develop at the AHL level, which tends to lead to a good number of prospects at the same point of their progressions fighting over a limited number of spots in the NHL lineup. Over the past couple seasons, Seth Griffith, Frank Vatrano, Austin Czarnik, Tim Schaller and Noel Acciari, among others, have broken into the lineup but have not played a prominent role to this point.
This season, you can add another name to the list. Anders Bjork joins the B's fresh from the Notre Dame Fighting Irish where he was a finalist for the NCAA's Hobey Baker award given to the top college hockey player in the country. With Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak holding down the Bruins top line for the foreseeable future, there isn't a ton of prime playing time, but there are certainly available spots in the middle six and on the second power play unit. Depending on his deployment, Bjork could be a 40-point producer as soon as this season.
5. Who is the next up and coming goaltender?
In recent seasons, we've witnessed Matt Murray, Andrei Vasilevskiy and Martin Jones among others develop into number one options in their team’s respective net. With Winnipeg signing Steve Mason to block Connor Hellebuyck and Calgary bringing in Mike Smith (and Eddie Lack) to muddle the situation for Jon Gillies, who should we be looking at to be the next goalie to make the jump?
More than any other position, becoming a starter in the NHL has so much to do with the just getting the opportunity to get regular minutes. Jones was moved to San Jose, Cam Talbot got a shot after a trade to Edmonton, and we will follow two similar circumstances into the 2017-18 season in Scott Darling and Antti Raanta. As for prospects, my money would be on Juuse Saros in Nashville or Thatcher Demko in Vancouver. Saros has already started showing what he's capable of with the Predators, and Demko is a grade-A prospect without an entrentched number one in front of him in the Canucks organization. Saros is a valuable handcuff this season, as I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get 30-35 starts in Nashville. Demko likely is at least a year away, but he could be thrust into the spotlight this year if Jacob Markstrom or Anders Nilsson miss time due to injury.
Be on the lookout for Part Two of this series next week with five more fresh prospect storylines heading into the 2017-18 season!
Give Kevin a follow @kleblanchockey for NHL prospect talk and happenings.
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