Last season, I decided to write up an article highlighting who I was looking at for the coming year in the rookie department and like many others, I had some pretty high hopes for Steven Stamkos. Well, his early season stumbles really hurt that look and it was Steve Mason, coming out of almost nowhere to win the Calder Trophy and be the best rookie in points. Well, paint me shocked... and pleasantly surprised, as I picked him up in the late rounds of the first waiver draft in the pool last year, helping me jump to the top of the heap by the end of the year. Rookies can be super-clutch to any hockey pool team.
This year, I thought I would try it again and see if I can pick up on some of the key names that will be making appearances in training camps and hopefully some will breakthrough as big players in the season.
Starting at the top, the Thrashers will have a pair of names to look at this summer in Angelo Esposito and Evander Kane, both first round picks of the past couple summers and both have some upside to them, which can be translated into some fantasy success. Both players really got to shine for the Team Canada at the World Juniors, equating to some confidence boosts. Esposito has grown into his frame a little bit more and may be physically able to join the Thrashers this season, but I have a feeling he may see more time in the AHL.
The Bruins will likely need to see a lot from their young talent coming up the pipe, since they have some salary cap issues this summer, but that will be okay, because they are seemingly deep in talent. I am looking forward to seeing Jamie Arniel, Zach Hamill and Brad Marchand in camp reports and hopefully some video, as they have all got plenty of potential to reach. It's hard to say which of the three (or combination thereof) will be on the opening night roster, but keep these names in mind.
It will be hard to hold Mikael Backlund out of the Flames line-up this Fall, as his offensive talents have been highlighted in several places and his rookie salary may be just enough to fit underneath the cap and keep the Flames well within their boundaries. The Flames have stocked up on young defenders, but they will have a hard time poking through that wall of huge veteran talent that they already have on there. Look for Backlund to make a move.
The Hurricanes have some room to spare for young talent to emerge this year and Drayson Bowman comes immediately to mind. He's a bit smaller, but what he lacks in size, he does make up in quickness. The young American forward has done some pretty big things in the WHL and could be an impact player at Canes camp. The Hurricanes also have some quality talent coming from Zach Boychuk, who played well for the Canadians at the World Juniors and should make some noise with his good hockey sense this Fall.
I don't think there are many people who believe that Nikita Filatov will be seeing much time in the AHL this coming season. Filatov had himself an awesome World Junior Tournament around Christmas and New Year's. Filatov did play eight games with the Jackets last season, just below the 10-game maximum for 19-year old rookies and their entry-level deals. Filatov scored four goals in those eight games and showed some serious flashes with the team, leading many to believe that he'll be a scoring machine in 2010.
The Stars are looking forward to having Jamie Benn join their line-up full-time this season, as they have given him a prime jersey number over the summer. Benn will don the number 14 on his back and he'll try to crack the team as a top six forward. Benn scored 46 goals in 56 games with the Kelowna Rockets and also spent some time with the Canadian Junior Team, really making a name for himself.
You couldn't go too far into the Red Wings playoff coverage to notice Justin Abdelkader. Even when he wasn't playing as a healthy scratch in the press box, he left an impression on the broadcasting crew, who had to mention him at least once a game. Abdelkader should get a full-time job after that performance and how the Red Wings will need to fill their roster with some cheaper, younger talent. I might be a good idea to have him in a reasonable spot on your list.
The Oilers don't look to have a lot of room for new and fresh faces on their forward lines, but if there was one that was going to make it out of camp, it would likely be Jordan Eberle. Eberle fits the mould in Edmonton, as he is a smaller, quick and skilled forward that shows a lot of flash and dash, much like the other top notch forwards that are already on the team. On this alone, he should have a good shot at making the team and if he does, he should be worthy of a look for your fantasy team.
The Kings will be coming out of the gates with a bit of a different look and there will be some room to maneuver for Thomas Hickey on the blueline to make his presence known. Hickey, easily the bluest chip among prospects in the Kings organization, will get that look in training camp to surpass some of the veterans that are vying for those starting spots. If Hickey can make the move, he'll be out to quarterback the second power play unit, as he is a good puck mover and fluid skater.
When I'm going over the Predators current roster, I think there is plenty of room for Colin Wilson to jump in and make that team his this season. Wilson's big size and hands should almost make him a lock for the Predators line-up and his generalized style of play should work well in the league. Wilson is definitely one of my favourite picks for the Calder Trophy in 2010, barring a full-season disaster.
The great big hype machine that we call John Tavares will likely take the ice for the Islanders in the coming season, especially since he's being touted as the saviour of that tradition-laden franchise. Tavares, the number one overall pick this summer, does bring some of the most natural goal-scoring hands to the table, so he'll be up there as one to beat in the Calder Trophy race.
The Rangers are going to have to slip some young talent into their line-up this year, as they have really done a number on their salary cap number with their forwards. This being said, they'll be looking to a younger blueline, which could easily include both Matt Gilroy & Michael Del Zotto this Fall. Both defenders have some offensive upside, which could spark some unexpected goals from the blueline, if not good point shots that can be tipped in front.
The Flyers should be ready to finally insert their 2nd overall pick from the 2007 draft, James Van Riemsdyk. The 6'3" forward signed his first pro deal at the end of his college season, making him eligible to finally don the black and orange, which should make a lot of Flyers fans happy. Van Riemsdyk should bring that Philly-loved size and strength to the line-up this year, making him a key rookie.
One of the big coups that Brian Burke accomplished before the NHL season had ended in April, was that of the signings of both Tyler Bozak and Christian Hanson from the NCAA system. Both are forwards that are thought to be NHL-ready after their NCAA careers had ended and since were both free agents, they were eligible to sign anywhere. Hanson did manage to play in five games for the Leafs before the season ended, scoring a goal and adding an assist. They will have a magnifying glass over their pre-season, I'm sure.
Finally, it's World Junior standout, Cody Hodgson, in Vancouver, who is expected to take a top six spot in the line-up this Fall, as the second-line centre. Hodgson was paired up with Tavares at the World Juniors and displayed not only some good hockey sense for playmaking, but also some sharp hands for natural goal scoring. He'll be a keeper of all keepers in pools like that.