I recently listed my top five candidates for the Calder Trophy as well as some honorable mentions. Now, we’re going to take a closer look at one prospect to watch from each of the 32 NHL clubs, focusing on players who could make an impact in the NHL this coming season.
A third-round selection in the 2021 NHL Draft, McTavish looks ready to make the leap to the NHL full-time this season. He was sent back to the OHL after appearing in nine games with the Ducks last season. It was a successful year for McTavish; he won the OHL Championship with the Hamilton Bulldogs and the Gold Medal with Team Canada at the IIHF World Junior Championship in which he was named tournament MVP. He plays a strong and mean game and has a knack for being net-front, which in return allows for him to pounce on loose pucks and bang home rebounds. With the Ducks in a rebuilding stage, McTavish will surely be a player the club molds its future around.
Toronto product McBain was originally chosen in the third round of the 2018 NHL Draft by the Minnesota Wild. McBain spent the last four seasons in the NCAA with Boston College, where he won two Hockey East championships. Last season, he registered 19 goals and 33 points in 24 games with the Eagles and was named to the NCAA Second All-American team. Following his college tenure, McBain requested a trade, and he wound up dealt to the Arizona Coyotes for a second-round pick. He made his NHL debut on April 12 against the New Jersey Devils. He finished the season with two goals and three points in 10 games. The 6-foot-4 power forward has a well-rounded combination of size and skill, and while his developmental path has been a bit of a process, he seems on the right track to having a solid first full season of competition.
One of several former Michigan Wolverines on this list, Beecher was selected 30th overall by the Bruins in the 2019 NHL Draft. The 6-foot-3 Elmira, New York product is a dynamic center who uses his size and balance to play a strong net-front game. Following his NCAA tenure, Beecher joined the Bruins’ AHL farm team, the Providence Bruins, on which he registered five points in nine games. While Beecher will likely start the season in Providence, don’t be surprised to see him at the NHL level this season. Top prospect Fabian Lysell is obviously a name to watch, too, though he’s still eligible to return to major junior.
Power needs no introduction. He is the second Wolverine alumni to appear on the list and quite frankly the favorite to win the Calder Trophy this season. The 6-foot-6 defenseman is coming off an impressive NCAA campaign registering 32 points in 33 games. He even got a taste of the NHL last season, appearing in eight games and totalling three points. As Power sets to embark on his NHL career, it shouldn’t take him long to find his game and excel at the next level as he has continuously done throughout his career.
Pelletier is a former QMJHL superstar who, throughout 210 games, registered 107 goals, and 168 assists for 275 points. Pelletier was also named the QMJHL’s Most Sportsmanlike Player in the 2019-20 season and named to the QMJHL First All-Star team in 2020-21. He made his AHL debut last season with the Stockton Heat – now the rebranded Calgary Wranglers, where he registered 62 points in 66 games. While he has never been the biggest or strongest forward on his team, Pelletier makes up for that with his killer instinct; he’s an opportunistic player who will pounce on any open chance to get his team on the board. He is a natural playmaker who possesses great speed, good vision and a high-end shot. Pelletier has all the right tools to break out as the Flames’ next big young gun.
Jack Drury has had a bit of a journey to get to the NHL. The nephew of former NHLer and current New York Rangers GM Chris Drury was selected in the second round of the 2018 NHL Draft by the Carolina Hurricanes. Following his tenure with the Waterloo Black Hawks of the United States Hockey League, the former captain committed to Harvard University where he played for two seasons. Then in 2020-21, he went to Sweden and played for the Växjö Lakers HC in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) and registered 30 points in 41 games. Last season, he made his captivating NHL debut in December of 2021 and scored his first NHL goal in his first game. Drury would finish the season with the AHL’s Chicago Wolves, scoring 52 points in 68 games. During the Wolves’ magnificent post-season run, Drury totalled 24 points in 18 games and was a key component to the Wolves winning the Calder Cup. Drury brings a combo of offensive flare and strong defensive tendencies that would suit him well for a bottom-six role within the Canes’ system.
German sensation Reichel is coming off a major AHL debut season where he registered 21 goals and 57 points in 56 games with the Rockford IceHogs. Reichel was selected 17th overall in the 2020 NHL Draft. He is an unrelenting forechecker who is a pest to play against. He never gives up on a play and oftentimes will battle through second efforts to retain puck possession. He possesses good speed and puckhandling abilities that allow him to make maneuvers at a high rate of speed. Rating among the best prospects in the Blackhawks’ pipeline along with Frank Nazar and Kevin Korchinski, Reichel should make an impact at the NHL level this season if he can stick with the big club.
The hottest NCAA free agent last season was University of Minnesota Golden Gophers captain Ben Meyers. Meyers registered 41 points in 34 games last season with the Golden Gophers and was named the NCAA B1G Player of the Year. While there was a lot of attraction to the Hobey Baker finalist, Meyers ultimately chose the Colorado Avalanche as his destination. He made his NHL debut on April 16th and scored his first NHL goal in a 7-4 win for the Avalanche. Meyers also represented the United States at both the Olympic Games and the IIHF World Championships this year, registering 12 points in 14 games in total at the international level. He will look to help the defending Stanley Cup champions go back-to-back.
The third Wolverine to end up on this list is the magician himself, Johnson. He is also listed in my top Calder candidates piece. The former fifth overall pick is going to be a player to keep an eye on this season. He registered 29 assists and 37 points in 32 games last season in the NCAA. Johnson also represented Canada at the international level on three different occasions; the Olympic Games, the World Championship, and the World Juniors. He is a gifted player whose creativity is off the charts. In a sport where trick-dekes are becoming more popular, Johnson makes it look effortless. With his combination of creativity, speed, vision, and elite hockey IQ, he is a special playmaker who could find quick success at the pro level.
While I thought about slotting Ty Dellandrea here, I want to believe Johnston is going to play in the NHL this season. The OHL MVP obliterated the competition last season, registering a whopping 46 goals and 78 assists for a CHL-best 124 points in 68 games. Followed up by a stellar post-season run that saw him notch 41 points in 25 games. Johnston was awarded the OHL Most Outstanding Player and OHL Most Sportsmanlike Player. A creative dynamo, Johnston understands how to utilize pockets of space and can get himself in open positions regularly. He is a gifted playmaker who uses his elite hockey IQ and vision to creatively pass or aim shots on the net for teammates to pick up corralling rebounds. Johnston’s brainy game should translate well to the pro level.
Edvinsson was listed in the honorable mentions section of my top five Calder Trophy candidates piece. The monster Swedish defender uses his large and burly frame to knock pucks loose and shut down opposing attackers with ease. He found success at the SHL level last season. As an 18-year-old he registered 19 points in 44 games with Frölunda HC. Despite a shaky World Juniors performance, Edvinsson should have minimal issues adjusting his game to the pro level. He is a technically skilled defenseman who uses his good skating and mobility to play a strong game in his zone. He is poised and smooth on the blueline, utilizing his strong gap control and reach to gain possession from opposing attackers. Look for Edvinsson to become a staple on the Red Wings’ defense.
Calgary product Holloway was the Edmonton Oilers’ 14th overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft. The former University of Wisconsin Badger played two seasons in the NCAA before making the jump to the AHL last season with the Bakersfield Condors. Despite a season riddled with injuries, Holloway registered 22 points in 33 games and four points in five games throughout the AHL playoffs. He made his NHL debut during the 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs. Holloway plays the game at a consistent rate every night which would make him suitable for a bottom-six role this season. Whether it is making timely hits, applying extreme pressure on backchecks or using his incredible offensive instincts to set up plays, he does it all. Holloway will be a key player to keep an eye on this season as to whether he starts the season with the Oilers or the Condors.
To say it’s been a rollercoaster ride for Florida Panthers 2018 first-round pick Denisenko would be an understatement. Denisenko grew up in the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl hockey program in Russia, and before making his NHL debut in 2020-21, he played two seasons in the KHL, registering a total of 18 points in 63 games. Denisenko also captained Russia at the 2020 World Juniors and registered nine points in seven games, taking home a silver medal. He leaped to the pro level in 2020-21, playing in seven games for the Panthers and registering four assists. Last season, he appeared in just one game with the Panthers and primarily spent the season with the Charlotte Checkers in the AHL. He had 18 points in 30 games and it was later revealed he sustained a broken kneecap in January and had been playing with the injury. Denisenko is a high-skill winger who boasts tremendous skating agility and finishing abilities. Once healthy, he should make the transition to the Panthers roster full time. Given how depleted the Panthers’ forward depth is, year over year, they badly need Denisenko to stick.
While the Kings have several great prospects coming through their pipeline, nobody is due for a bigger jump than 2019 fifth overall pick Turcotte. The son of former NHLer Alfie Turcotte, the younger Turcotte is the second Badger alumni to appear on the list following Oilers’ Holloway. Turcotte has spent the last two seasons in the AHL with the Ontario Reign, while also getting in a mix of NHL games last season. In 27 games last season with the Reign, he registered 18 points. Turcotte is an extremely competitive two-way centre with nice hands and vision that complements his ability to read the ice and make high-end plays. His status to open the year is in question because of lingering complications from two concussions he suffered last season, however.
Arguably a dark horse to win the Calder Trophy this season. If the Austrian sensation Rossi can bounce back to pure Rossi form, the Minnesota Wild are in great hands. Rossi possesses exceptional hockey sense and is a master at exploiting an opposing team’s weaknesses. He has great defensive tendencies and forechecking ability that makes him a pest to go up against. The ninth overall pick in the 2020 Draft is shaping up to be a fan favorite in Minnesota. He had a very successful AHL campaign with the Iowa Wild, registering 53 points in 63 games last season. If he can replicate that at the NHL level, the sky is the limit.
2022 first overall pick Slafkovksy should come as no surprise as my pick here. During Montreal Canadiens training camp, the 2022 Olympic MVP and Slovakian player of the year weighed 238 pounds, making him one of the largest players in the NHL. However, he brings more to the table than just size and strength; he has a great sense of awareness that allows him to turn possessions into scoring chances for himself or his linemates. Last season he registered 10 points in 31 games in the Finnish Liiga and seven goals in seven games during the 2022 Olympics. His domination at the international level is ultimately what boosted his draft stock. If he can translate that play to the NHL, Slafkovsky can become a dominating force.
Another prospect who has had quite the journey to get to the NHL, Nashville Predators 2019 second-round pick Afanasyev is no stranger to moving. He played minor hockey with the Little Ceasars Under-16 program before joining the Muskegon Lumberjacks of the USHL. Then, he made the move to the OHL and joined the Windsor Spitfires, scoring 31 goals and 67 points in 62 games in his first year of major junior competition. The 6-foot-4 power forward plays a mean game and possesses a monster shot that he can let go from just about anywhere on the ice. His size and strength allow him to push past defenders and win board battles quickly. Last season he played for the Milwaukee Admirals and registered 33 points in 74 games. Watch for Afanasyev to suit up with the Preds this season.
One of the purest goal scorers from the 2020 Draft, Swedish sniper Alexander Holtz looks to be ready to make the jump to the NHL full time after a dominating rookie season with the Utica Comets. Holtz registered 26 goals and 51 points in 52 games last season in the AHL, making him one of the best players on the Comets. A first-line finisher, Holtz is a true sniper. The 20-year-old has a real chance to crack the Devils’ opening night roster.
2017 second-round pick, Salo looks poised and ready to finally make the full-time leap to the NHL. Last season, Salo appeared in 21 games with the Islanders but primarily spent the season with the Bridgeport Islanders of the AHL. He registered 20 points in 40 games. The 23-year-old, Espoo, Finland native is effective in all three zones and is a defenseman who can be used in all situations. He has strong skating and mobility and is poised on the blueline. Salo has all the right tools to become a top-four defenseman at the pro level.
Kravtsov and the New York Rangers have had a rocky relationship. However, it seems they have rekindled it and made up. Kravtsov is a big, powerful Russian winger who provides grit and scoring and can be used in any role. The ninth overall pick of the 2018 NHL Draft, he has bounced between the KHL, the Rangers, and the Hartford Wolf Pack. Last season he spent the year with Traktor Chelyabinsk in the KHL, registering 13 points in 19 games and 10 points in 15 games during the playoffs. Kravtsov has all the right traits to become a top-six forward in the Rangers system. If he can prove his worth at camp, it will be a big boost for not only Kravtsov but the Rangers organization.
After many huge changes in the capital city, Sanderson looks to cement his name with the Ottawa Senators. Sanderson is one of the honorable mentions I listed in my top-five Calder candidates piece. The former University of North Dakota defenseman registered 26 points in 23 games last season and was named to the NCAA (West) first All-American team. Sanderson is a modern-day two-way defenseman who has a blistering shot and exceptional defensive hockey IQ. He has what it takes to become a superstar defender and is a player who will surely be able to find himself in a top-four role with the Senators early on in his career.
Former University of Minnesota Duluth captain Cates found himself on the Philadelphia Flyers roster last season after the end of his NCAA tenure. The 6-foot-1, 163-pound winger registered 24 points in 37 games last season and helped the Bulldogs win the NCHC Championship. Cates, along with his brother Jackson, also won the NCAA Championship together in 2019. Cates, a fifth-round pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, made his NHL debut on March 29 and scored his first NHL goal on April 5th. He appeared in 16 games and registered nine points. Cates brings a high sense of hockey IQ and tenacity to the table. He should fit in well with the Flyers group and will likely be situated in the bottom six this season.
2019 seventh-round selection Valtteri Puustinen dominated the Liiga in 2020-21, scoring 21 goals and 41 points in 51 games, setting his name in stone as a legitimate prospect for the Pittsburgh Penguins. He has already managed to grasp the pro level after a successful rookie season with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. The 23-year-old registered 20 goals and 42 points in 73 games this past season. He made his NHL debut on March 11 and picked up an assist. Puustinen is a small but powerful and explosive winger who has a great shot and fine playmaking abilities that give him the edge to play up and down the lineup. Puustinen will fight for a final roster spot ahead of the season opener.
The former Swedish Junior Hockey Player of the Year and SHL Rookie of the Year, Eklund appeared in nine games last season with the San Jose Sharks, registering four assists. He went back to Sweden and was on loan to Djurgårdens IF, where he played the SHL season. Eklund finished with 14 points in 29 games. The Swedish playmaker has a never-ending motor and plays at a high pace that allows him to control the tempo of the game. Whether it be finding an open space to get a shot off, or a pass option, Eklund is always working. Eklund will be a major player to keep an eye on as he looks to contend for another rookie trophy, this time the Calder.
The franchise’s first-ever selection was ranked second on my Calder candidates piece and is arguably the favorite forward to win the trophy. Beniers is coming off a monster NCAA season where he scored 20 goals and 43 points with the loaded Wolverines squad. He appeared in 10 NHL games last season with the Seattle Kraken and finished with nine points, making his mark on the NHL quickly. The dynamic center is a high-pace puck transporter who uses his speed and tempo to manoeuvre past defenders with ease. Beniers is also solid defensively, possessing great problem-solving abilities. He will be a key player relied upon for the Kraken this season.
The second University of Minnesota-Duluth alumnus to appear on this list, St.Louis Blues 2018 second-round pick Perunovich had himself a great rookie season in the AHL. He registered 22 points in 17 games with the Springfield Thunderbirds and solidified himself as a top defensive prospect. He played 19 games with the Blues last season, putting up six assists, and even made his Stanley Cup playoff debut, registering four assists in seven games. The offensive defenseman has great passing tendencies and is a player who can quarterback a power play. He has a big chance to emerge and break into the Blues lineup this season.
The Tampa Bay Lightning have been at the top of the NHL ladder for a while now, but their prospect pool has slim pickings as a result. However, former Moncton Wildcats captain Fortier seems to be emerging as a legitimate prospect for the Bolts. Last season, he played out his second AHL season with the Syracuse Crunch, registering 35 points in 72 games. His performance was enough to earn a couple of call-ups, and he appeared in 10 games with the Bolts and scored his first NHL goal against the Vegas Golden Knights. Fortier’s best asset is his defensive ability, as he is a pest to opposing defensemen on the forecheck and has a never quit attitude. He is a player that would fit in great with the Bolts’ current bottom-six regiment.
Robertson was chosen in the second round of the 2019 NHL Draft and has already taken the throne as one of the top-end prospects in the Maple Leafs’ pipeline. He is a shifty offensive dynamo who has a rocket of a shot and high hockey IQ. The former OHL leading goal scorer spent last season with the Toronto Marlies, where he registered 16 goals and 28 points in 28 games. He appeared in 10 games at the NHL level and scored his first NHL goal against the Vancouver Canucks in March. Robertson, the younger brother of Dallas Stars sensation Jason Robertson, looks to solidify himself as a permanent NHLer.
One of the hottest free agents out of Russia and the oldest first-year NHLer on this list will be looking to make a name for himself here in North America. While Kuzmenko is 26 years old, he has yet to play an NHL game. However, he is too old to be eligible for the Calder. Kuzmenko registered 53 points in 45 games last season with SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL and 14 points in the postseason. Kuzmenko was named to the KHL First All-Star team. He is an elite-level skater with incredible playmaking abilities that make him a pure threat whenever he is on the ice. If Kuzmenko can replicate his KHL stats, the Canucks have landed themselves a future NHL star.
Calgary native and undrafted goaltender Thompson has had quite the journey to get to the NHL, which saw stops in the WHL, USports, ECHL and AHL. Thompson was a standout goalie in the WHL with the Brandon Wheat Kings where he won the WHL Championship in 2015-16. After going undrafted, and graduating from the WHL, Thompson opted to play USports and attended Brock University, where he posted a 2.22 goals against average and a .934 save percentage. He was named USports Goaltender of the Year. Following that performance, he was signed by the Vegas Golden Knights. In 2020-21, Thompson starred for the Henderson Silver Knights of the AHL and posted a 1.96 GAA and a 16-6-2 record, Thompson was named the AHL’s Best Goaltender and held the AHL’s best save percentage. He appeared in 19 games last season with the Golden Knights and looked ready to leap back up full-time. Thompson should get another major opportunity to step up once again with the Golden Knights this season since Robin Lehner isn’t expected to play until 2023-24.
The 2020 22nd overall selection Lapierre has been described as a dazzling puck carrier who possesses elite puckhandling skills. Last season, he suited up for six games with the Washington Capitals and scored his first NHL goal against the New York Rangers. After his trial run in the nation’s capital, he was sent back to the QMJHL where he registered 51 points in 40 games with the Acadie-Bathurst Titan. He has a ton of skill, and while there are a lot of questions surrounding his development, which has been slowed by injuries in the past, Lapierre will likely challenge for a roster spot once again.
An offensive stud and the best prospect in the Winnipeg Jets system, Perfetti looks to make himself a household name at the NHL level. A cerebral puck carrier who can problem solve his way through variables at a high rate of speed, he will have his work cut out for him come training camp. Perfetti spent last season in the AHL with the Manitoba Moose, registering 15 points in 17 games. He made his NHL debut on October 13th against the Anaheim Ducks and scored his first NHL goal in January. Perfetti is a favorite amongst Jets fans and has solidified himself as the top prospect for the club. It would certainly come as a shock to see Perfetti start the season in the AHL this year, after all, he is a dark horse to win the Calder Trophy.