I have a love-hate relationship with Thanksgiving. What's not to love about getting together with family, being thankful for everything you have, and above all, enjoying the most caloric meal of the year? On the other hand, the night before can be a doozy if you're in your mid-20s. The Wednesday night before Thanksgiving usually includes a de facto high school reunion, which leads to copious amounts of alcohol being consumed (often a recipe for disaster). But the kicker in my case is the car ride to my grandmother's house the next morning – a ride highlighted by my father driving like a maniac up the Parkway in an attempt to make me dread existence altogether. This is all without even considering the fact that there isn't any hockey to look forward to Thursday.
Fortunately, NHL Central Scouting was nice enough to release their Players to Watch list for the 2016 Draft, which features plenty of intriguing prospects. Perhaps the most polarizing name not Auston Matthews is Erie Otters forward Alex DeBrincat, who currently leads the OHL in goals with 28 in 22 games this season. He had the pleasure of playing alongside Connor McDavid last season and was fortunate enough to get Dylan Strome back to help him put together the best draft-year season he possibly could. The only knock on DeBrincat is his size, as he's listed at just 5-foot-7, but as we've seen lately, size isn’t the only factor behind NHL success.
You may also be familiar with the name Alexander Nylander – yes, the brother of Maple Leafs prospect William Nylander and another son of former NHL star Michael Nylander. The younger sibling has been given an A grade by Central Scouting, as his 36 points in 25 games for the Mississauga Steelheads are good for seventh in the OHL. Nylander is projected to be a top-10 pick in the 2016 draft and will likely make some organization very thankful someday.
But let's get into what we're really here for: giving thanks for the prospects we have. This week, we take a look at a prospect that each NHL team should be thankful to have in its system.
Anaheim Ducks: John Gibson, G
If you were watching what little hockey went on Tuesday night, you saw Gibson notch his first win of 2015-16 in relief. The Ducks’ goalie situation is pretty abysmal right now, so there's a chance Gibson could be asked to take the reins if he can maintain a high level of play.
Arizona Coyotes: Christian Dvorak, C
Dylan Strome would be the obvious choice here, but Dvorak is at it again for the London Knights with 40 points in 19 games so far. He's familiar with Max Domi, as the two were linemates last season with London, so Dvorak could be reunited with his buddy next season in Arizona.
Boston Bruins: Brandon Carlo, D
Carlo, who comes in at a towering 6-foot-5, should be the Bruins' eventual replacement for Zdeno Chara. Despite his size, Carlo manages to get around the ice fairly well; if he can stay on track he’ll make an impact down the road on Boston's blue line.
Buffalo Sabres: Hudson Fasching, RW
The Sabres are riddled with young, talented forwards, but they’ll love Fasching's tenacity and wide frame alongside guys like Jack Eichel, Ryan O'Reilly and Sam Reinhart. Fasching is in his junior year at Minnesota, but could make the jump to the AHL if Buffalo feels he's ready to contribute prior to 2016-17.
Calgary Flames: Jon Gillies, G
As in Anaheim, the Flames’ goaltending depth is looking pretty bleak until you realize that Gillies is already in the AHL and playing pretty well for a rookie. Jonas Hiller, Karri Ramo and Joni Ortio aren't long-term options for Calgary, leaving Gillies with a great opportunity to help the Flames take the next step in the future.
Carolina Hurricanes: Lucas Wallmark, C
The ‘Canes are pretty bad down the middle of the ice with the aging Staal brothers, and Wallmark could come out of nowhere to fix those problems very soon. He's posted 17 points in 17 games in the Swedish Elite League, and while his skating needs work, he still possesses plenty of playmaking ability. Wallmark would look very nice playing alongside fellow Swede Elias Lindholm.
Chicago Blackhawks: Nick Schmaltz, C
It's hard to find a glaring need for the Blackhawks’ roster, but they could use a second-line center to replace Artem Anisimov down the road. Schmaltz is currently at Jonathan Toews' alma mater, North Dakota, and will provide Chicago with a more youthful option in a couple years.
Colorado Avalanche: Chris Bigras, D
The Avs really can't screw up another defensive prospect, so Bigras' development is crucial. So far, he's played well in the AHL, and while his upside is limited, Colorado could really use a sound blueliner to use on one of the top two pairings.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Sonny Milano, LW
The Jackets have plenty of youngsters on their roster right now, but they could really use some elite skill to pair with Ryan Johansen. Insert Milano, who’s an absolutely wizard with the puck and is on the fast track to the NHL after spurning Boston College. There's a chance he could crack the Jackets’ roster as soon as next season.
Dallas Stars: Denis Gurianov, RW
Right now, the Stars have the most potent offense in the NHL, but they also have a handful of aging wingers who probably won't be around in a couple of seasons. Gurianov comes with some risk, but has upside similar to that of Vladimir Tarasenko. It also doesn't hurt that Tyler Seguin or Jason Spezza could be centering him in two or three years.
Detroit Red Wings: Ryan Sproul, D
The contributions of Dylan Larkin this season can't be overstated, but the Red Wings could really use some more youth along their blue line. Sproul has spent nearly three seasons in the AHL, but defensemen take a while to season. I think the Wings will be thankful they left Sproul down to develop, as the 6-foot-4 puck-mover could break out next season.
Edmonton Oilers: Leon Draisaitl, C
This should be pretty self-explanatory, considering Edmonton would be in even more trouble without Connor McDavid if it weren't for the presence of Draisaitl. He was a top-five pick in the 2014 draft for a reason.
Florida Panthers: Ian McCoshen, D
The Panthers could really use a nice compliment to Aaron Ekblad on their blue line, and McCoshen should be able to provide that when his time at Boston College is up.
Los Angeles Kings: Spencer Watson, RW
The Kings will be in need of some goal scorers with the roster turning over in the next couple of seasons. Watson, who was a seventh-round pick in 2014, can put the puck in the back of the net and will likely make the jump after another impressive campaign for the Kingston Frontenacs of the OHL.
Minnesota Wild: Joel Eriksson-Ek, C
The Wild could desperately use a big center. Mikko Koivu's best days are behind him and Mikael Granlund really isn't a bona fide No. 1 option, so Eriksson-Ek has a great chance to be a difference maker for Minnesota down the road.
Montreal Canadiens: Mike McCarron, C/RW
McCarron is the frontrunner for rookie of the year in the AHL with 17 points in 18 games so far. The Habs are another team in need of a big, strong top-line center; McCarron could fill that void, possibly as soon as this season if injuries strike.
Nashville Predators: Juuse Saros, G
Pekka Rinne isn't going to play at an elite level for his entire career, so it's always good to have an insurance policy, especially when it's a goalie like Saros. He's posted solid numbers with Milwaukee this season and appears poised to move into the backup role and eventually succeed his countryman as the Preds’ starter.
New Jersey Devils: Vojtech Mozik, D
Mozik was signed as a free agent out of the Czech Republic this offseason and has been a pleasant surprise with Albany in the AHL. The Devils’ defense is still very young, but it lacks a truly offensive-minded guy as long as Eric Gelinas is unable to crack the lineup. Mozik’s game is similar to that of former New Jersey blueliner Marek Zidlicky.
New York Islanders: Mathew Barzal, C
It's hard to pick just one guy for the Islanders to be thankful for, but considering their lack of elite talent at center behind John Tavares, Barzal makes a lot of sense. He was probably the steal of last year's draft and shouldn't spend much more time in juniors after this season.
New York Rangers: Pavel Buchnevich, LW
The Rangers don't have much in elite prospects after the departure of Anthony Duclair, so Buchnevich is the obvious choice here. The Russian winger has plenty of size and skill that will look great in the top-six forward group next season.
Ottawa Senators: Colin White, C
I talked up White in last week's column, so having him make an encore appearance shouldn't surprise anyone. He's the elite two-way center the Senators have needed for a while now and is having a huge rookie season for Boston College.
Philadelphia Flyers: Ivan Provorov, D
If you've seen the Flyers play defense, you can understand the need for an elite prospect like Provorov. If you don't have him stashed away on your dynasty team, you'd better get a hold of him while he's a relative unknown.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Daniel Sprong, RW
The cupboard is pretty barren in Pittsburgh, but Sprong has provided some hope while not looking completely lost playing with the Penguins in 14 games this season. The 18-year-old has plenty of room to grow and should eventually have either Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin as his center.
San Jose Sharks: Timo Meier, RW
In Pete DeBoer's system, physicality is pretty important, so having a prospect like Meier is pretty crucial. He'll be able to use his size to keep possession and skill to finish scoring chances. Meier could also offer some much-needed leadership alongside Joe Pavelski.
St. Louis Blues: Robby Fabbri, LW
Speaking of leadership, the Blues could use some of that if David Backes decides to bolt in free agency after this season. Fabbri isn't going to take over as captain right away, but a few years from now, he could be asked to don the ‘C’ on his jersey for St. Louis.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Anthony DeAngelo, D
Outside of Victor Hedman, the Lightning defense really lacks an elite playmaker. DeAngelo is in the mold of Kris Letang – small and speedy with tons of offensive upside. He's looked right at home with AHL Syracuse and doesn't appear to far off from helping Tampa Bay make it to the Stanley Cup Finals again.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Take Your Pick
William Nylander, Mitch Marner, Kasperi Kapanen are the big trio for Toronto, a team that’s going through a big overhaul in the system and overall roster alike. Each of these guys will be crucial to the success of the franchise moving forward, so targeting them in dynasty leagues seems like a no-brainer.
Vancouver Canucks: Hunter Shinkaruk, C
Outside of Jake Virtanen, Shinkaruk is the most important Canucks prospect. He's struggled with injuries and inconsistent play in the AHL, but is finally putting it together this season with Utica, having tallied 11 goals. Shinkaruk’s also ween a cup of coffee with Vancouver, so he's knocking on the door.
Washington Capitals: Madison Bowey, D
The Caps’ defense is pretty old, so Bowey will have an opportunity sooner rather than later. He's playing a sound game for Hershey of the AHL and will likely be a cornerstone next to John Carlson in a few seasons.
Winnipeg Jets: Josh Morrissey, D
I truly believe that Morrissey has a shot to be one of the best defensemen in the NHL one day, and the Jets’ blue-line corps has really regressed this season, so the opportunity will be there. Morrissey’s on schedule to see his first major opportunity next season, but anything can happen this year in Winnipeg, apparently.