No matter where they end up — playing for the team that drafted them, traded to acquire a win-now asset, or left out in the cold because they didn’t work out — prospects represent the future of an NHL organization.
We’re highlighting a prospect to watch during the 2017-18 season for each team, and the first division up is the Metropolitan.
Carolina Hurricanes — Haydn Fleury
The Hurricanes going young on defense? You don’t say.
Of the options, and there are several, Haydn Fleury seems most ready to join Carolina’s young blue line this season. Ron Hainsey’s departure opens up a spot, and Fleury put together a solid season with the Charlotte Checkers last year. He’s not lights-out offensively, but Fleury is solid in his own end, making him an excellent fit to fill Hainsey’s spot — perhaps even a better one than his predecessor.
Columbus Blue Jackets — Pierre-Luc Dubois
The Blue Jackets took a lot of heat for drafting Dubois where they did, and for good reason given players who were left on the board at the time. Since his draft, however, Dubois has developed into a very different player, and even many of his detractors are of the mind he’s ready to snag a spot on an NHL roster.
Dubois making the NHL later than many of his peers from the 2016 draft doesn’t matter. What does matter is the player the Blue Jackets see when Dubois gets there, and after this year’s development camp, all signs point to that player being a strong, two-way power forward who can easily slot into the lineup.
New Jersey Devils — Blake Speers
Everyone knows to watch Nico Hischier — who should make the Devils’ roster—next season. There’s another prospect, however, who’s worth the time investment as well. Blake Speers made New Jersey’s opening-night roster last year, but played only three NHL games last season, and promptly broke his wrist upon returning to his OHL team, the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.
Expect this season to be a different story. Speers knows if he wants to stick in the NHL, he has to contribute offensively, so he made sure to work on that aspect of his game last season. If the impression he made in this summer’s development camp is any indication, he should compete for — and perhaps win — a spot on the Devils’ roster again this season.
New York Islanders — Kieffer Bellows
Kieffer Bellows made a big decision this offseason, choosing to leave Boston University to join the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL. Bellows’s reasoning included that the WHL more closely resembles the pace of an NHL season than does college hockey, and if his goal is to make the Islanders sooner than later, that makes sense.
Still, going from NCAA to major-junior is quite a shift, and it’ll be interesting to see how Bellows adapts his game. Many speculate he’ll play with Vegas Golden Knights first-round pick Cody Glass next season, which should make the transition easier — the two have playing styles that should complement each other well.
New York Rangers — Filip Chytil
Chytil, who recently signed his entry-level contract with the Rangers, was a steal toward the end of the first round. The Rangers selected him with their original first-round pick, and while no offense is meant to Lias Andersson, Chytil may be the smarter pick of the two.
He won’t be 18 until September, and isn’t yet ready to play in the NHL, but was recently selected by the North Bay Battalion of the OHL in the CHL Import Draft. Most sources, however, point to him going to the the Hartford Wolf Pack of the AHL if he doesn’t return to the Czech League. Frankly, early seasoning in the AHL would do Chytil good, and would also make him a call-up option should it become necessary.
Philadelphia Flyers — Nolan Patrick
The mindset for selecting Nolan Patrick here seems obvious — “How will the 2017 second-overall pick fare next season? Will he crack the Flyers roster or be sent back to Brandon?” However, a different and perhaps more pressing question is on the mind of front office staff, and undoubtedly also fans.
Will Patrick play a full, healthy season next year?
There’s no question that Patrick is a quality player. However, his injury record was concerning to some even before his admission of a second sports hernia surgery, done because his condition was initially misdiagnosed. This isn’t to suggest Patrick is fragile; he’s not. But a prospect needs consistent play to develop his game, and whether that’s in the NHL for Patrick this year, or whether it’s in Brandon of the WHL, Patrick playing that full, healthy season is likely priority No. 1 for the Flyers’ development staff.
Pittsburgh Penguins — Daniel Sprong
The Penguins got a taste of what Daniel Sprong is capable of in the NHL at the beginning of the 2015-16 season, at the end of Mike Johnston’s tenure as head coach. Two seasons later, Sprong is older, better, and arguably more suited for Mike Sullivan’s system than he ever was for Johnston’s.
Sprong punched up his scoring when he returned to the Islanders from offseason shoulder surgery, but as an older forward in the QMJHL that was, frankly, to be expected. More exciting is Sprong’s significant improvement in his play away from the puck, which is a better indicator of his NHL readiness.
Washington Capitals — Christian Djoos
One of Washington’s most NHL-ready prospects, Christian Djoos was second on the Hershey Bears in scoring last season and tied for the AHL lead in assists among defensemen. One of the most noteworthy things about his recent development is his shift toward a more offensive style, and thus far he’s done it well.
Washington could benefit greatly if he’s able to replicate that style of play at the NHL level. Whether he cracks the roster this fall seems to depend on what the rest of the blue line looks like, and how willing the Capitals are to put Brooks Orpik out to pasture.
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