Future Considerations: Taking a look at one top prospect from every NHL team

Calgary Flames' Matt Coronato (27) is congratulated for his goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)

Welcome to the busiest day on the NHL schedule for this season. Every team is in action tonight. Having 16 games on the calendar, on the same day, is an anomaly. It’s a hockey fan’s dream!

With so much to digest Tuesday night, we thought it would be interesting to provide some insight into how one top prospect from each NHL organization is trending early in the season. 

Here’s our list:

Pacific Division

Anaheim Ducks: Forward Leo Carlsson was selected second overall by the Ducks at the most recent draft conducted in Nashville. He was nursing a minor injury at the end of training camp and has suited up for only two games. Incredibly he has averaged over 20 minutes on ice. He’s being deployed at even strength and the power play. He’s playing exactly to his identity. He’s absorbing contact, extending plays, and directing pucks on net (he’s been credited with six shots on goal in two games). He scored his first career goal, in his first game, versus Dallas.

Calgary Flames: Forward Matt Coronato is the least of the Flames’ problems. On the surface, his minus-6 looks concerning, but he was minus-4 in one game versus Pittsburgh. He’s going to go through some peaks and valleys as he matures in the NHL but his compete and enthusiasm stands out. Coronato is being deployed at even strength and the power play, averaging 14 minutes of ice time. He has one goal and one assist in six games.

Edmonton Oilers: Right-shot defenceman Beau Akey was selected 56th overall by the Oilers in Nashville. He earned a contract at training camp before being returned to the Barrie Colts in the OHL. The smooth skating, two-way transitional defenceman is logging big minutes in Barrie, in all situations. He has two goals and five points in eight games.

Los Angeles Kings: Former Barrie Colt Brandt Clarke pushed for a job in L.A. at training camp but has ultimately found a home with the Ontario Reign, the Kings’ AHL affiliate. The “transitional” defenceman has a potential future as a power-play quarterback in the NHL. He’s been credited with an incredible 22 shots on goal, and scored one goal and one assist in four AHL games. His offence is the most attractive element of his game. His defending at the pro level will improve with more miles.

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San Jose Sharks: Forward Kasper Halttunen was selected 36th overall by the Sharks in Nashville. He’s an elite shooter who rips pucks from the weak-side flank on the power play. He’s playing for the London Knights (OHL). It’s not even November and Halttunen has scored nine goals already!

Seattle Kraken: Seattle selected forward Jagger Firkus 35th overall in 2022. He will become a full-time pro after this season. Firkus is playing for Moose Jaw in the Western Hockey League. It’s safe to say Firkus is off to a great start this year. Through 10 games he’s scored a tidy 10 goals to go with 10 assists.

Vancouver Canucks: It says something about a player’s character when he can reset after a down season. Jonathan Lekkerimäki is back to ripping pucks and playing to his goal-scoring identity. Lekkerimäki had a down year last season that ended with injury. He has seven goals and three assists in 12 SHL games this fall. He’s involved, competing harder, and is a plus-3 to start the season.

Vegas Golden Knights: Grigori Denisenko was picked up on waivers from the Florida Panthers. He’s a former first-round pick (2018). Sometimes things just don’t work out for a player with an organization. I’m keeping a close eye on Denisenko. He looks re-energized skating in the AHL for the Henderson Silver Knights. He’s a play-driver when at his best. Denisenko has two goals and five points in four games since being claimed.

Central Division

Arizona Coyotes: Logan Cooley is a dynamic forward who could challenge for the Calder Trophy this year as rookie of the year. He’s playing to his identity out in the desert. Cooley has four assists in his first five games, but he’s still looking for his first professional tuck.

Chicago Blackhawks: Connor Bedard is obviously attracting the bulk of the attention in Chicago, but defenceman Kevin Korchinski doesn’t look out of place at the NHL level. The two-way/transitional defenceman is logging just shy of 20 minutes per night at even strength and the power play. He’s only 19 years old.

Colorado Avalanche: Defenceman Mikhail Gulyaev was selected 31st by the Avs in Nashville. He’s transitioned nicely to Russia’s KHL this season, skating for Avangard Omsk. Gulyaev brings a combination of skill and will. He has a chance to QB a second unit power play at the NHL level in time.

Dallas Stars: Hulking defenceman Lian Bichsel (six-foot-six, 216 pounds) nearly made the Stars’ NHL roster out of training camp. It’s only a matter of time before we see Bichsel in NHL rinks. He doesn’t bring a ton of offence, but he skates very well for his stature and plays with a physical presence. He knows what he is and plays to his strengths. Bichsel is in the AHL with the Texas Stars. He is projecting to be a two-way/Defensive D.

Minnesota Wild: The Wild selected forward Riley Heidt in the second round (64th) in Nashville. His element is offence and he continues to produce at a high level playing in Prince George (WHL). Heidt has to work on his full-time engagement in all three zones, but his offence is what stands out for now. Heidt has scored seven goals and 20 points in 20 games for the Cougars.

Nashville Predators: Matthew Wood projects as a power style, scoring forward at the NHL level. His “catch and release” is very quick and accurate in tight quarters. He scored 11 goals last year, playing for the University of Connecticut in Hockey East. He already has three goals in six games to start the season.

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Winnipeg Jets: The Jets benefit from having their AHL team, the Manitoba Moose, developing players under the watchful eyes of Jets management right in Winnipeg. Brad Lambert had an eventful season last year. He suited up for the Moose before eventually ending up in the WHL with Seattle. He lived up to his play-driving identity with the Thunderbirds. He looks like he is back on track offensively. It will take time, but Lambert is off to a good start with the Moose this season. He has three goals and six points in four AHL games.

Metropolitan Division

Carolina Hurricanes: The ‘Canes selected forward Bradly Nadeau 30th overall in Nashville. He was dynamic playing for Penticton in the BCHL last year (45 goals, 68 assists). His element is clearly offence and he’s off to a nice start playing for the University of Maine in Hockey East. Nadeau has two goals and four points in four games.

Columbus Blue Jackets: One of my favourite prospects for the 2023 draft was Gavin Brindley from the University of Michigan. Adam Fantilli garnered the bulk of the attention, for good reason, last year playing for the Wolverines. But Brindley’s game grew as the season rolled along. He plays a quick, fast, competitive, skilled game. The Jackets selected Brindley in the second round at the Nashville draft (34th). He’s off to a great start at Michigan this year. Brindley’s back playing to his identity. He’s scored four goals and three assists in six games.

New Jersey Devils: The Devils selected right-shot defenceman Šimon Nemec second overall in 2022. After a solid season in the AHL with Utica last year, Nemec is knocking on the door of a full-time NHL role. The Devils, however, are a very deep team and Nemec has been returned to AHL. He’s an elite talent who can be deployed in a variety of roles. He doesn’t just bring offence. His stat line, from last year, tells the story: 12 goals, 22 assists, plus-13 in 65 games.

New York Rangers: High-flying forward Gabe Perrault lit up the score sheet playing for Team USA with the USNTDP last season (53 goals, 79 assists). The Rangers selected Perrault 23rd overall in Nashville. He’s skating for Boston College in Hockey East this fall. It must feel foreign to Perrault to only have one goal and one assist through four games, but he’s competing and providing reliable three-zone detail.

New York Islanders: The Islanders didn’t have a pick until the second round (49th) in Nashville. They selected USNTDP forward Danny Nelson. Nelson won’t move the needle as much offensively as some other prospects, but he plays a responsible three-zone game and takes key faceoffs. He’s exactly the kind of player the University of Notre Dame like to recruit. He’s playing to his identity early on at the college level. Nelson has two goals in his first five games.

Philadelphia Flyers: The sky was apparently falling in when Matvei Michkov was an early season scratch at SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL. Things clearly weren’t going to work between him and the organization. He was loaned back to HK Sochi and he’s been excellent. Michkov has seven goals and seven assists in 14 games. Nobody panic! He’s going to be OK!

Pittsburgh Penguins: Brayden Yager has bounced back and forth between being described as a goal scorer, then a playmaker, in the WHL. The Moose Jaw Warriors forward was selected 14th overall by the Pens in Nashville. He’s merging his identities together. Yager has scored eight goals and nine assists in his first nine games with Moose Jaw this season.

Washington Capitals: One of the most entertaining pre-draft interviews, at the combine last spring was Kelowna Rockets forward Andrew Cristall. He had our Sportsnet crew in stitches! The Caps selected Cristall 40th overall. He’s an elite offensive talent and he’s off to an incredible start in the WHL this season. Cristall is being used in all situations and has scored seven goals and 16 assists in 10 games.

Atlantic Division

Boston Bruins: At the 2022 draft in Montreal, the Bruins selected Guelph Storm forward Matthew Poitras in the second round (54th overall). Poitras has worked hard to add more strength to his frame. He leans playmaker more than shooter but he contributed two big goals in the Bruins’ come-from-behind victory over Anaheim on Sunday. It doesn’t look like Poitras will be returning to the OHL anytime soon … if at all.

Buffalo Sabres: If the Sabres are going to make playoffs, they are going to need to get superior goaltending. Devon Levi won the net in training camp. He’s won at every level of his development, but he’s off to an uneven start by his standards. Levi is nursing a minor injury. When he returns, I’m expecting him to improve on his 3.26 goals-against average and .892 save percentage he’s posted through his first four starts this season. Levi is a bulldog. He will put in the work to get better results.

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Detroit Red Wings: Axel Sandin-Pellikka was one of the most dynamic skaters available at the draft. The transitional defenceman projects as a power-play quarterback at the NHL level for the Wings, in time. Detroit selected Sandin-Pellikka 17th overall in Nashville. He’s off to a great start, playing for Skellefteå AIK in the Sweden’s SHL. He’s playing to his strengths and providing sound defensive detail. Sandin-Pellikka has five goals and one assist through 12 games.

Florida Panthers: 2021 first-round pick Mackie Samoskevich left the University of Michigan to turn pro with the Panthers. He leans shooter/goal-scorer more than play-driver. Samoskevich had a solid training camp with the Cats. He’s on the cusp of making the NHL roster, but some time in the AHL won’t hurt his development. Samoskevich has landed in the AHL with Charlotte. He’s only played two games and has one assist.

Montreal Canadiens: The Habs are loaded with prospects. It’s difficult to chose just one to talk about in this space. I’ve decided to go “off the board” a bit. Montreal selected goalie Jacob Fowler in the third round (69th) at the draft in Nashville. Fowler is a proven winner and he’s off to a solid start at Boston College. Fowler has excellent feet, quick pads, and reads the play very well. He’s posted a 1.97 GAA and .913 save percentage in his first four college starts.

Ottawa Senators: The Senators drafted defenceman Tyler Kleven in the second round (44th) in 2020. He’s a big rig (six-foot-four, 200 pounds). Kleven adds to the depth of the Senators blue-line prospects. He was selected out of the USNTDP and went on to play college hockey at North Dakota. He moves very well and his puck play has improved exponentially over the years. He projects as a two-way defenceman. He’s currently in Belleville, playing for Ottawa’s AHL affiliate.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Forward Ethan Gauthier was projected higher than where the Bolts selected him in Nashville. He fell to Tampa and they selected Gauthier 37th overall. Gauthier plays the game the right way: He provides offence and detail and checks all the way back to his net. Through 11 games with Drummondville, in the QMJHL, Gauthier has five goals and six assists.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Easton Cowan had a terrific training camp with the Leafs this fall. He played fast and competed in the trenches. Cowan has returned to the London Knights (OHL) and slotted into their top-six forward group. Cowan is being used in all situations. He’s maintaining his momentum. Cowan has scored four goals and five assists in nine games. Two of his goals have been scored short-handed. He also has 15 penalty minutes. He has some pest to his game.

With data and information from The Pro Hockey Group and CapFriendly

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