There’s a number of young players trying to stick beyond 9 games in their first season. Some of these kids have got a much better shot than others. Here’s a look at five dark horse (and 1 guy you may have forgotten about) candidates that could stick around and make an impact this season.
Tage Thompson: St Louis Blues
1st round, #26 Overall 2016 draft
Tage Thompson’s game has 1 facet that you notice almost instantly. His size. At 6’5, 200 pounds, Thompson looks as gigantic on NHL ice as he did on NCAA ice for the UConn Huskies. Thompson had a strong pre-season for the Blues. They gave him a lot of looks with 6 games and an average of 15:14 per night. His shooting percentage was lackluster at best(7.7%), but he showed good grit, strength and presence against seasoned NHL vets. He had 1 goal and 3 assist in preseason to show for his efforts and was kept in St Louis for the start of the regular season over more veteran players like Beau Bennett.
Thompson’s staying power is going to rely on his ability to outplay teammates in the Blues bottom 6 until Alex Steen comes back and the roster requires readjusting. He found himself with the most powerplay time among members of the Blues’ second unit and was on ice for a PP goal. This is all based on a 1 game sample, but the Blues’ coaching staff will be using a similarly small 9 game sample to decide if Thompson should stay this season. The bottom line is that St. Louis could use a player of Thompson’s size and drive on their roster this season.
Chance he stays: 50%. St Louis has other depth that could play his role if they sent him back. They probably shouldn’t though, kid looks ready.
Filip Chytil: New York Rangers
1st round, #21 Overall 2017 Draft
It’s rare for players chosen outside the top 10 to see substantial NHL time in their draft year. Filip Chytil has absolutely earned this chance. He absolutely dazzled in preseason with his combination of speed and puck movement. There’s no other way to say it, the kid was dynamic against NHL competition (albeit pre-season)
The bottom line here is the Rangers need Chytil to stick around. The Rangers’ scoring depth is such that the injection of a player with his skillset is too powerful not to have him around. With Jesper Fast starting the season on IR, there really isn’t anyone in the Rangers system that sticks out to you to play that 12th forward spot. Chytil’s speed and ability to create separation mean that if given the minutes he’s likely to out perform Paul Carey and David Desharnais on the score sheet.
Chance he stays: 90%. With how good he’s been, it would be absurd to send him anywhere.
Janne Kuokkanen: Carolina Hurricanes
2nd round, #43 Overall 2016 Draft
Carolina’s young camp standout was 2016 2nd rounder Janne Kuokkanen from Finland. Last season with the London Knights of the OHL, Kuokkanen achieve respectable totals of 26 goals, and 36 assists in 60 regular season games. His 16 playoff points in 14 games where a big contribution to the Knights also. In the 4 preseason games he was utilized in, Kuokkanen acquired a goal and 2 assists while averaging over 15 minutes of ice time.
His utilization in preseason was with top line players. Carolina has a lot of young talent they can play around with looking for line synergy. It’s possible that the smooth skating, hard working Finn finds himself a niche in the Carolina roster that sees him outlasting fellow Rookie Martin Necas. It’s going to be very interesting to see what roster moves Carolina makes when Stempniak comes back off IR. Kuokkanene might have the better toolbox right now and therefore has more staying power.
Chance he stays: 60%. I’m going to say Kuokkanen outplays Necas and sees his first season of NHL action.
Victor Mete: Montreal Canadians
4th round, #100 Overall 2016 Draft
Victor Mete has truly been a bit of a surprise for Montreal. The NHL seems to be moving in the direction of smaller more puck mobile defenders, and Mete fits this bill quite perfectly. He had a stellar camp and an injury to David Schlemko sees Mete get a chance to play opening night.
Unfortunately for Mete, he’s keeping a spot warm right now. The 19 year old has made a good impression for the future. With Mark Streit knocking on 40, and Joe Morrow and Brandon Davidson entering the last year of their current deals, Mete gives Montreal some much needed flexibility going forward.
Chance he stays: 5%. Without a catastrophic season ending injury to one of their defenders, Mete is headed back to London as soon as Schlemko is healthy.
Pierre-Luc Dubois: Columbus Blue Jackets
1st round, #3 Overall 2016 Draft.
In 2016 Jesse Puljujarvi was the consensus 3rd overall pick…
Until Columbus selected Dubois. He had the kind of preseason you would like to see from a former 3rd overall pick. 5 points in 6 games averaging 18:06 per night. He was utilized like a top 6 player during preseason with Dubinsky out.
With Dubinsky back in the lineup it creates a number of potential lineup options for Columbus. Having a player of Dubois’ obvious talent in the mix with their entire corps of young forwards can’t be a bad thing for Columbus. It seems absurd to be calling Dubois a “dark horse candidate” to stick around, but the amount of buzz surrounding the young forward 1 year removed from being a top 5 draft pick is puzzling. Certainly Dubois will move to make himself known as a potential Calder Trophy candidate this season.
Chance he stays: 100%. I really just snuck him in here to remind you all he existed.
Jesper Bratt: New Jersey Devils
6th round, #162 Overall 2016 Draft
While Nico Hischier, and Will Butcher have stolen the rookie spotlight in New Jersey, speedy, cagey, tenacious rookie; Jesper Bratt has also been turning some heads. The 6th round Swedish import was set to make his debut for the London Knights of the OHL this season. A phenomenal rookie camp and preseason has put that debut in jeopardy. Bratt’s ability to get to and win puck battles, while creating odd man rushes and finishing with points, ALL THE WHILE receiving an average of 9 minutes per night was eyebrow raising. Bratt finished with 2 goals, and 3 assists while being +6 through 4 preseason games. The speedy winger also showed poise in the defensive zone and on the backcheck.
New Jersey has themselves a real potential gem here. It’s hard to believe 29 other teams passed on this guy multiple times. He has jumped several more highly touted prospects (Michael Mcleod, Nathan Bastian, Blake Speers, John Quenneville) to get to where he will be on opening day for the Devils. His ability to create offense and be defensively responsible with smaller minute totals could add depth scoring to a franchise that has hurt in that department since the last lockout.
Chance he stays: 50%. This one is so tough. My gut tells me he may end up in London before the year is out, but if he jumps out of the gate scoring goals, it’s going to be hard for the Devils to part with him