Everyone's talking about Ryan Nugent-Hopkins since he accounted for all three of Edmonton's goals (and he even deserved two of them!) in a loss to Vancouver, recording his first career hat trick in just his third NHL game. The No. 1 pick in the draft, Nugent-Hopkins has four goals in three games and is in an amazing situation alongside Tyler Hall, Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi and the rest of the Oilers' absolutely sick young talent - the payoff from five straight years of being totally horrible. Those kids are going to keep on getting better and better, and if Devan Dubnyk can advance his game just a little, we just might have a playoff contender on our hands.
But Nugent-Hopkins isn't the only top pick worth your attention, fantasy players. No. 2 pick Gabriel Landeskog has come out guns hot as well. Two goals and an assist in five games aren't numbers that blow you away, but he's added 11 hits and taken 20 shots on goal while skating ever-increasing minutes. In truth, the greatest asset that any young player can have isn't flashy moves or a big shot or bone-crushing checking power, but the trust of his coach. Landeskog has that and he doesn't look like he wants to relinquish it.
As a total aside, my least-favorite aspect of NHL.com - and I think the other sports leagues do this too, but I notice it the most here - is how when you go to the video page, they make you watch an ad before you can click anything. Then you go back and click on a game, and half the time they make you watch another advertisement. Something about watching those15-second clips over and over makes me die a little inside.
Anyway, let's get down to it.
Vyacheslav Voynov, D, LA - You can just call him Slava, like you did for Slava Kozlov. One of my favorite prospects on the blue line (after Ryan Ellis and David Rundblad), Voynov is getting some short-term run in the Kings' lineup while Drew Doughty is out with an upper-body injury. A crusher in the AHL last year - how does 15 goals and 51 points from a defenseman strike your fancy? - the 21-year-old Voynov picked up a couple assists and a plus-5 rating in two games for Manchester before getting the call. He can pass, he can shoot, and he can play solid defense - for most other teams, he'd have been on the opening-night roster. It's hard to say how much he'll play, as he's projected for the third defensive pairing, but if the Kings are smart, they'll let him take Doughty's point spot on the power play. Voynov is the kind of guy who could conceivably play so well that someone else gets sent down when Doughty gets healthy.
Aaron Palushaj, RW, MON - A repeat offender in this space, Palushaj has already been up and down three or four times despite having all of five NHL games to his credit. He was impressive last year in the AHL, coming on late after some struggles in the middle of the season and finishing with 57 points in 68 games, then going on to the playoffs and putting up a point per game over 19 contests. One of Montreal's stronger prospects, his NHL exposure appears to still be limited to fourth-line duty for the foreseeable future, but the 22-year-old has the potential to become a solid complementary scorer.
Patrick Maroon, LW, ANA - A sixth-round pick back in '07, Maroon's had a long journey to the big leagues, having kicked around the AHL and changed organizations for the last three years. He produced 90 points in 64 games in his one OHL season, but despite that and the decent AHL production that followed (including 56 points in 66 games last year), he hasn't sniffed the NHL until now, getting called up thanks to a Jason Blake injury after putting up five points in two games for Syracuse to start the year. Maroon is a really big, strong guy at 6-4, 225, so he could instantly slot into a depth role for the Ducks - in fact, that seems to be his likely destination - but he's showing that he has the skill and the dedication to rise beyond that. Maroon apparently clashed with the Flyers' organization and had some conditioning issues, but it doesn't seem like he's carried those problems over to his new home.
Keith Kinkaid, G, NJD - Kinkaid got a quick call-up and send-down with Martin Brodeur banged up. An undrafted free agent, the New York native put up a 1.99 GAA and .920 save percentage with Union College last season, enough to earn him a contract and a chance to make a name for himself in the AHL. Timing is everything. It's the twilight of Martin Brodeur's career, and backup Johan Hedberg is only a year younger than Marty. One-time prospect Jeff Frazee has been doing his best to lose that label, so if Kinkaid can make a good showing in the minors this year, he could really raise his stock in the event of a Brodeur/Hedberg injury.
Evgeny Dadonov, RW, FLA - Talented but small, Dadonov has gotten into 40 NHL games, 36 of which came last year. He picked up 17 points in that time and showed flashes of offensive skill, including a quick release on his wrist shot, and if you can somehow ignore the first three miserably failed attempts, he showed you a little something in the All-Star Skills Competition last year. Dadonov will get a chance to refine his game in the AHL for a little while, as the Panthers don't have room for him to play the kind of minutes that he needs to be playing right now. He's scored a goal in two AHL games thus far since being sent down.
Braden Holtby, G, WAS - It's too bad for Holtby that the Caps were able to sign Tomas Vokoun this offseason, putting him out of a job as the backup goalie for a contending team, but he'll be plying his trade in the AHL most of this year, just receiving the occasional call-up/send-down when one of the top two guys is banged up. My love for Holtby is pretty well documented, and at this point, I consider him one of the top few goaltending prospects in all of hockey, and I think he has a very legitimate chance to one day be considered the best netminder in the NHL. For now, he's faced with building on his impossibly good '10-'11 season, which featured a .920 save percentage in the AHL and a .934 (to go with a 1.79 GAA) in 14 NHL games.
Scott Glennie, C, DAL - The eighth overall pick in '09, Glennie never truly achieved the dominance in juniors you'd expect from someone with his draft status, but he was still very good, putting up 180 points in 136 games over the last two seasons (man, it looks so much better when you write it like that). He's been banged up with some concussion-like symptoms and hasn't yet played for AHL Texas, where he was sent after the Stars activated him from IR. There's potential here if he can get healthy and tap into it, and the Stars could certainly use the depth down the middle.
Nikita Filatov, LW, OTT - He's just 21 years old, but it feels like Filatov has been disappointing us forever. Taken sixth overall in 2008, he's shown flashes of spectacular offensive ability, but has been unable to stick in the NHL, and this is no exception. He collected an assist in two games with the Senators, his new team after Columbus gave up on him, but got sent down to the AHL, where he's produced three goals and an assist in three games. So that's good. The Sens aren't exactly rich with talent on the wing, so you've got to figure that if Filatov keeps up the point-per-game production, he'll be back fairly soon.
Cam Atkinson, RW, CLM - The undersized Atkinson put up 61 goals and 105 points in 81 games over his last two seasons at Boston College, so to call him an accomplished scorer in college would be an understatement. Unfortunately, at 5-7, 172, he's awful small to fulfill his defensive responsibilities, and so it was little surprise to see him score a goal, but go minus-4 in his four games against competition in the NHL that's bigger, stronger and faster than what he faced in college. Atkinson is going to need to either put on some muscle or take some classes at the Martin St. Louis School of Avoiding Contact. Or maybe both.
Adam Henrique, C, NJD - Another player discussed in this space last week, Henrique got sent down to the AHL to see some more minutes than the Devils could afford to give him. He'll be a nice two-way player for the Devils when he gets the chance. For now, Albany it is. He's got an assist in two games since being sent down.
Alexander Salak, G, CHI - One of the better goalie prospects around, Salak shut down scorers in the Swedish Elitserien last year, posting a 1.97 GAA and .926 save percentage, and probably would have won the Hawks' backup job over Ray Emery if not for Emery being a veteran - after all, he outplayed Emery handily in the preseason. It likely comes down to Corey Crawford being young and inexperienced, and the Hawks wanting someone with experience to back him up. I guess. Anyway, he got a quick call-up and send-down, so here he is with a reminder that he should be owned in your keeper leagues.
Ryan Strome, C, NYI - This year's fifth overall pick, Strome made the Isles' roster off the bat, but at 18 years old, he's better served back in juniors, and indeed he's been packed off that way without seeing game action. Coming off a 106-point campaign, he's got five points (including four goals) in three games since returning to the OHL.
Ryan Murphy, D, CAR - The 12th overall pick, Murphy also got sent back without sampling the NHL. Coming off a massive season last year with Kitchener of the OHL (26 goals, 79 points in 63 games), he'll have a full junior season to make himself look even better. The early return: four assists in two games.
Brandon Saad, LW, CHI - The second-round selection actually appeared in two games for the Blackhawks, didn't record a point, and had his top-line dreams crushed with a demotion back to Saginaw of the OHL, where he'll look to build on last year's 55-point campaign. Saad is a big, strong kid with some real talent, but he'll need to show a lot more than that before I pronounce him fantasy-friendly.
The Future to Come
Every week in this space, I'll feature one college player and one junior player who are making their mark.
This week's college prospect is goalie Paul Karpowich, a senior at Clarkson University and a 2008 seventh-round pick by the Blues. A native of Thunder Bay, Ontario - home to the Staal brothers, the Pyatt brothers and Patrick Sharp, among others - Karpowich has shown steady improvement after a horrendous sophomore season (.898 save percentage) crushed his prospect status two years ago. Last year, he pulled the ol' save percentage up to .912 and the GAA down to 3.05 - quite an improvement for a Clarkson team that simply hasn't been very good. This year - albeit in a small sample - he's shown that he might be ready to take the next step, posting a .929 save percentage over his first four games of the year. A good season will put him right in the middle of a St. Louis goaltending pipeline that's turned out several good prospects over the past couple seasons.
Our junior prospect of the week is right wing Mark Stone of the Brandon Wheat Kings. A sixth-round draft pick by the Senators in 2010, he paid them off with point production that skyrocketed from 28 two years ago to 106 last year, good for third-best in the WHL. And this year? Well, he's off to the kind of start that you expect only from the top prospects in the league, racking up an eye-popping 21 points (six goals, 15 assists) in just nine games - and before you think he's playing with some other hot prospect to whom he's feeding the puck, well, that's simply not the case. Stone is establishing himself as one of the very most elite playmakers in all of junior hockey, and at 6-3, 196, he's a man among boys, and he's got the shot and the passing skills to get him there. If all he needs to work on is his skating, well, call up Barbara Underhill. Stone could be one of the most interesting guys to make the jump straight from juniors to the big leagues next year, considering Ottawa's aforementioned deficiencies on the wing.
Questions? Comments? Favorite prospects you'd like me to discuss? You can contact me here or just post in the comments.