Its never to early to project what will happen in the NHL next season. One of the most interesting and difficult things to do is predict what first year players will make an impact. Will the top rookie be a 18 year old kid, like Jeff Skinner last season, or will it be someone who is highly touted but took some time to get to the show, like Logan Couture last year? Or will it be a shocking surprise, someone who comes out of obscurity to put up great numbers, like Michael Grabner?
In this week’s top 10, SenShot makes a very early toss at the dart board and suggests the top 10 candidates to be the league’s best freshman in 2011-12.
10. Mika Zibanejad, OTT – Zibanejad rocketed up the rankings during the season, and ended up being selected 6th overall by the Senators. He is signed to his entry level deal, and after Gabriel Landeskog, has perhaps the best chance of playing meaningful minutes among all of the top forwards selected this year.
9. Ryan Johansen, CLB - Columbus is not going to rush the 4th overall draft pick from last year, and with the addition of Jeff Carter up the middle they are not in dire need in that area. However, I think with a good camp he will force his way into the lineup and a solid rookie season. He is a pure talent whose offense will give the Blue Jackets even more options.
8. Eric Tangradi – PIT – After a cup of coffee in the NHL last season, Tangradi could be primed to break out this year and could compete for a regular spot on the top two lines. He brings an element of grit and could be a skilled agitator to balance the pure skill Pittsburgh already has.
7. Adam Larsson, NJ – The 4th overall selection in this June’s draft, Larsson is ready to earn a spot on the New Jersey roster right away. Projected to go in the top-2, he fell to the Devils because of a run on forwards early on. The top defenseman selected
6. Jonathan Blum, NAS – Blum got a lengthy audition in Nashville last season, playing 23 regular season games and 12 more in the playoffs. His offensive ability is superior, and he did not look out of place at all in the NHL last season. the 2007 first round pick is now 22 and is ready for an NHL assignment.
5. Eric Gudbranson, FLA – Gudbranson likely would have been in the NHL in 2010-11, but a contract dispute with the Panthers meant a return to Kingston in the OHL. Now signed to his entry level deal, Gudbranson is a key piece of the Panthers future on the blueline, and figures to be the same in the present. He is big, gritty and has a mean streak to go with his impressive offensive instincts.
4. Nino Niederreiter, NYI – The Swiss forward got a taste of the NHL last season, playing 9 games before being sent back to Portland for the season. He scored 41 goals in 55 games, adding 9 in the playoffs. The sniper has matured and is ready to be a solid contributor on the wing of the New York Islanders
3. Gabriel Landeskog, COL – The 3rd overall pick in this year’s draft has the best shot at making an immediate impact in the NHL this season. His size and compete level and the fact that he can play the wing made him the target for Colorado, who got their man at the draft. He should be a nice fit along the wing with either Matt Duchene or Paul Stastny.
2. David Rundblad, OTT – Regarded by many hockey people as the best player outside the NHL last season, Rundblad will be given the opportunity to play prime minutes on a rebuilding Ottawa franchise. The one thing that could hold him back is the fact that defensemen rarely seem to win the Calder, with only 5 defensemen in the last 30 years getting the honour.
1. Brayden Schenn, PHI – The key piece in the surprising Mike Richards trade this summer, Schenn is primed to have a standout rookie season. Surrounded by a talented cast, he will be given the opportunity to be a top 6 forward right out of the gate and will be set up for success. With nothing left to prove in junior, Schenn is ready for NHL work. He played for 5 teams at 3 different levels last season, including the LA Kings, Manchester Monarchs, Team Canada U-20, Brandon Wheat Kings and Saskatoon Blades. At the junior level he was a man among boys, dominating the World Juniors and scoring 53 points in 27 games with the Blades.
So there is my projection, and there is a starting point for debate and argument. I left the first, third, fifth and seventh picks off the list, as I am not sure how much of a chance they will have to play in impact situations this year. This in no way means that they will not have the impact of the players on this list, they will just be a little longer coming along.
Or I might be wrong.
Thanks for reading and as always, comments are welcomed.
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