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The Coming Thing: Prospects Making NHL Debuts

Andrew Fiorentino

Managing hockey editor, talent wrangler, football columnist, FSWA's 2015 fantasy hockey writer of the year. Twitter: @akfiorentino

It's a brand-new hockey season, and everyone is underway now. The NHL, AHL, college, juniors - it's all happening. Another year, another chance to either grow into a legend, or bust out and end up selling insurance. (There may be some middle ground there.) With another training camp in the books and the season just getting going, there haven't been many call-ups or send-downs, so let's go right ahead and take a look at the most intriguing prospects who've found their way onto NHL rosters. Well done, kids. Now all you have to do is stay there.

Craig Smith, C, NAS - Perhaps the most exciting (and, to most casual fans, surprising) rookie right now, Smith made the Preds' roster early in camp and has broken out with a goal in each of the season's first two games - and two assists to boot. A fourth-round pick in 2009, Smith made major strides in his two college seasons at the University of Wisconsin, culminating in last season's 43 points in 41 games. Wisconsin is starting to gain a reputation for producing polished hockey players - like fellow Badger Derek Stepan, Smith has skipped over the AHL entirely. Think of him as a chippier version of Stepan - he's got the potential for 50 points and 80 or so PIM as a rookie, and things will only get better from there.

Brendan Smith, D, DET - That's right, you get double-Smith action this week. This particular Smith is stuck with a five-game suspension thanks to a dirty hit in the preseason, which he'll serve at the expense of the injured Mike Commodore's roster spot. It's questionable whether Smith will actually see NHL action once his suspension's over - could be the Wings will send him back to the AHL to gain experience. If he does stay in the NHL, Smith instantly becomes an actionable pickup in deeper yearly leagues, as his college and AHL resumes say he has little to prove - 15 goals and 52 points in 42 games in his final year at (you guessed it) Wisconsin, and 12 goals and 32 points in 63 AHL games last season. And who better to teach him the fine art of becoming a dominating two-way defenseman than Niklas Lidstrom?

Adam Larsson, D, NJD - A second consecutive kid on this list who's earned (okay, maybe not earned) Lidstrom comparisons, the 18-year-old Larsson (he'll be 19 in a month) was taken fourth overall in this year's draft and made the Devils' roster right out of camp - a questionable decision for a young fellow who, though very talented, certainly could refine some aspects of his game on both ends of the ice. Not exactly a major scorer in Sweden - he put up a combined 28 points in 86 games over the last two seasons - it's hard to see Larsson having much fantasy impact to speak of this year. In truth, Larsson's place on the roster smacks of desperation on the part of a Devils organization that knows the golden era of Martin Brodeur in goal is coming to an end.

Adam Henrique, C, NJD - We've got two Smiths, so we may as well go with two Adams. Henrique put up 50 points in 73 AHL games at the tender age of 20 last year, and now here he is in the NHL on this young Devils team. There's real potential here for Henrique, who balances that nice offensive ability with responsibility in his own zone, to play major minutes and produce deep-league-relevant point totals, but he was limited to only 12:42 of ice time in the season-opening loss to Philadelphia and didn't show up in the box score with anything but a 1-0 faceoff record. At the same time, the Flyers didn't score when he was on the ice.

Luke Adam, C, BUF - Make that three Adams. Did I just blow your mind? This one is one of the very best prospects in the NHL, and should have made my impact rookies list after a dominating season in the AHL last year - 62 points in 57 games at just 20 years old. Adam has equaled Craig Smith's huge start, potting two assists in the opener against Anaheim and following it with two goals the next day against the Kings. Go get the kid in almost any fantasy format. He's coming hard for the Calder this year.

Roman Horak, LW, CGY - Horak was a surprise addition to the Flames' roster out of camp, seeing as he's a 20-year-old Czech with no experience above juniors who didn't blow the doors off the WHL last year - 26 goals and 78 points in 64 games is nice, but nothing to get excited about. He was all over the place in the preseason, though, impressing enough to earn a spot on the roster. A fifth-round pick by the Rangers in '09, Horak was acquired in the offseason for fellow prospect Tim Erixon, who's now starting on New York's blue line. He and Alex Tanguay teamed up to assist on Rene Bourque's goal in the season opener, and Horak and Bourque could give the Flames some much-needed scoring punch from the third line. He has time to cement himself a spot with top prospect Mikael Backlund out six weeks with a broken finger.

Zac Dalpe, C, CAR - I feel like I've plugged Dalpe a thousand times in this space before, but it's probably just one or two. With nothing left to prove in the AHL after a 57-point effort in 61 games, Dalpe's got another shot with the big club, but once again, he finds himself playing minimal minutes on Carolina's depth lines - less than 19 minutes combined in the first two games of the year. The fact that he's stuck on the fourth line while luminaries like Alexei Ponikarovsky skate on the top six is just a shame.

Gabriel Landeskog, LW, COL - Everyone's favorite rookie coming into the season, Landeskog did nothing to dispel that in his first NHL game. Although he didn't pick up any points (just like the entire rest of his team, which was shut out by Ty Conklin), he was very active on the ice, recording five shots on goal and laying three hits. This year's second overall pick should continue to see a lot of minutes for a Colorado team that has little else in the way of scoring punch after Matt Duchene, Paul Stastny and Milan Hejduk. Don't come in expecting too much, points-wise, but he looks good for deeper leagues that count hits.

David Savard, D, CLM - Savard has racked up points the past two years, first ripping off 77 in his final year of juniors, then collecting a very impressive 43 in 72 games as a rookie in the AHL last year. Now he finds himself playing with the big boys, and thus far he hasn't looked out of place. The Jackets aren't exactly bringing him along slowly, as they're showing a willingness to give him some power-play time in the short term and he's playing solid minutes despite being on Columbus's third defensive pairing. He's got major long-term upside and could certainly chip in 30 points this year.

Marco Scandella, D, MIN - The Wild have shown major confidence in Scandella, who has just 21 games of NHL experience, but received the second-most ice time on the team in the season opener and answered with a power-play goal. Minnesota will be counting on Scandella to produce from the point with the man advantage, and the relatively unheralded former second-round pick (2008) certainly has the talent and the size to run with the job. Perhaps as importantly, he doesn't have much competition, either.

Tim Erixon, D, NYR - With Brendan Bell sent down, it appears that Erixon has secured himself a spot, at least until Marc Staal gets healthy. The son of old-time Ranger Jan Erixon, he put up 24 points in 48 games in Sweden last year, no small feat for a 19-year-old defenseman in a league dominated by veteran forwards. If all goes according to plan, Staal will return soon and Erixon will get some AHL time, then come back later in the year, when injuries inevitably strike again. His short-term upside is limited by his place on the third defensive pairing and not much power-play time.

Stephane Da Costa, C, OTT - How many things can Da Costa have against him? He's French - not a nation known for its hockey prowess (he's just the sixth French-born player in NHL history). He's undrafted - never helps. He's a smaller guy at 5-11, 180. But there's so much to like here - his consecutive 45-point (in 34 and 33 games) college seasons at Merrimack the last two years, his production in the USHL before that, and in general, the pure offensive skill that Da Costa brings to the table. He scored a power-play goal in Saturday's loss to Toronto and he's a major plus-minus risk on an Ottawa team that could very well be roundly outscored this year, but there's a lot of offensive upside here. Even if he is French, which I'm pretty sure means he hates freedom.

Mika Zibanejad, C, OTT - Just to be clear, that thing about French people hating freedom is a joke. But Zibanejad, the sixth overall pick this year, is no joke, making the Sens' roster out of camp at the tender age of 18. He's packed on some mass since last year, but he's still inexperienced (he has just 33 games of experience in the SEL, including the playoffs, with only 11 points to show for it, and no North American experience at all outside of the first two games of this season), meaning he's like as not to get sent back to Sweden for further development after nine games. He did register an assist on the power play in his NHL debut, though, and it's possible that the Sens, who are rolling with a full-swing youth movement, could hold onto him. So he makes it into the column.

Mark Scheifele, C, WPG - Everyone in Winnipeg is so excited about Scheifele, he makes it into the column as well in spite of the fact that he's probably yet another young kid headed back to juniors. Just 18 years old, he made a huge impact in the preseason, putting up eight points - enough to get himself rostered at least for nine games. He skated a respectable 13:44 in his NHL debut, recording a shot on goal and winning only three of 10 faceoffs. On the bright side, he did break even in plus-minus despite the Jets being blown away, 5-1, by the Habs.

Likely short-timers headed back to juniors after no more than nine games: Brandon Saad, LW, CHI; Ryan Murphy, D, CAR; very possibly Ryan Johansen, C, CLM; Erik Gudbranson, D, FLA; Brett Bulmer, LW, MIN; Ryan Strome, C, NYI; Sean Couturier, C, PHI; Brett Connolly, RW, TAM;

Next week, I'll be back with "The Future to Come" spotlight and the rest of the regular format. Questions? Comments? Favorite prospects you'd like me to discuss? You can contact me here or just post in the comments.