We aren’t far away from rookie and training camps opening, with that in mind, Dobber Prospects will look at the names you need to know and may see emerge into roles with the big club or set themselves up for near future recalls through battles in camps. Most of the time rookies are not advised to pick in one year league drafting, but can be plucked during the season, while in keeper leagues drafting younger players close to the show and with potential can be effective.
We will start with 8 of the teams in the Eastern Conference:
Boston – I fully expect Reilly Smith to sign soon, with that in mind Boston has an opening for a lower line forward and extra. It seems like the ‘bottom six’ opening will be mainly contended by the 6’4, 24 year old, Justin Florek. He appeared in four games during the season scoring a pair of points and appeared in six more playoff games. The size is attractive for the lower lines and has some offensiveness to get him over. The more attractive camp battle will be between Anthony Camara, Ryan Spooner, Alex Khokhlachev and Seth Griffith. Spooner currently holds the upper hand due to his experience and production in limited showcasing so far, while ‘KoKo’ and Griffith are quickly earning notice for Providence and could be better long term plays. Camara has an ability to flexibly play on higher or lower lines with a mean streak.
On the blue line there is no real opening as it is expected that Matt Bartkowski and Kevan Miller hold onto their spots, but recently there has been some discussion to Johnny Boychuk on the move which may lead to the arrival of Joe Morrow, something that we seem to have been waiting for a while.
The goalie battle will be quite good as the temporary ‘heir apparent’ is Niklas Svedberg, but Malcom Subban has stated he fully intends to give a huge run. Both are waiver exempt so the winner may not hold the job all season but we are projecting Subban get a run as starter in Providence with Jeremy Smith supplying insurance and a veteran presence.
Buffalo – Bottom teams are always fun to watch in camp for poolies as they don’t really have openings, they are just looking to put out the best roster they can. Buffalo is in just that situation, several prospects will be getting opportunities on a largely rotating basis. Sam Reinhart will start with the big club and likely stays the year, the big question is what responsibility he is given and the production he can get out of it. Outside of Reinhart, Nicolas Deslauriers, Joel Armia and Nicholas Baptiste are the next attractive forwards to watch, while William Carrier, Brendan Lemieux attempt to impress and Phil Varone attempts to sneak into a lower line role.
Defense will feature Jake McCabe & Rasmus Ristolainen. Mike Weber need to be strong in camp to keep a roster spot as Nikita Zadorov will be knocking on the door, but he has so many options but the most likely scenario is the AHL even with an OHL option, the team will want to keep him close. Mark Pysyk likely gets bumped due to waiver exempt status but is an option for stability. Lots of interest in Chad Ruhwedel, I don’t see it materializing, in Buffalo with the high quality of blue line options available in the system and a pair of vets on long term deals. One name to watch is Brady Austin, a sizable 7th rounder with some offensive acumen and highly responsible. Look for him to get noticed and build a position to battle into a role within 2 years.
Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth will be the expected tandem on paper, after that the situation is interesting and murky. Matt Hackett had an off year and is now subject to waivers, he is still a good quality option, but the Sabers need to keep room open for a trio of hungry guys coming forward. Nathan Lieuwen seized the starting roll from Hackett in Rochester, and should be given the chance to continue. He is the lowest ceiling prospect, but is the tallest standing and is of good game eating pedigree. Audrey Makarov is the lowest standing in the blue paint, but has an ability to battle for every inch and puck and is my favorite in the system to watch, that said, I see the entertaining Russian as the odd man out likely heading to the ECHL. The Swede, Linus Ullmark is the real wild card, good size, and has very good showings for MODO in the SEL, has signed his Entry Level and likely will be guaranteed a Rochester spot. None of the six mention here or of high quality status, but all are NHL quality or have average potential.
Carolina – In Hurricane country, there are a few openings and contracted players to be bumped. Unfortunately most options to jump in are not of high quality. The highest ceiling option to get a look is Sergey Tolchinsky but he is very undersized and likely will see AHL time. Brock McGinn and Phil Di Giuseppe will enter pro with potential and set themselves up for the future, but the names you will likely see work to acquire lower roles seem to be Chris Terry (finally), Greg Nemisz and Zach Boychuk. Justin Shugg and Victor Rask are on the outside looking in, but still need seasoning.
The back end seems pretty sown up as my only question is with Brett Bellemore and he is an eighth man. Hayden Fleury is likely to get a 10 game trial in camp, but I’d look at him more for next year as junior still has more to offer him. Trevor Carrick will be entering pro and has the highest potential of the guys likely to be found on the farm.
In the crease, the only name to know this season is Daniel Altshuller and he isn’t looking for a spot in camp, will just be soaking up experience and try and get a leg up on others for next season.
Columbus – One of my favorite spots to watch prospects over the years as they draft attractive, high potential pieces, unfortunately most don’t live up to the hype. Simon Hjalmarsson is pretty much a walk on and his development curb is near its peak, he will either preform or he won’t at 25 years old. He is waiver exempt this season, but I can’t really see it being used unless he struggles. Jerry D’Amigo was brought in for an option to compete with speed on a lower line. The biggest names to watch will be Alexander Wennberg, Marko Dano, Kerby Rychel, Oliver Bjorkstrand and Josh Anderson. I feel Rychel is the closest, but not quite there yet. Bjorkstrand had very impressive year in Portland, but he has growing to do. A solid camp in 2014 will make next year a very good fight for roster spots as all have higher outlooks and demand attention.
The current blueline is young and locked in, but let’s give spotlight to two names: Cody Goloubef and Dillon Heatherington. Goloubef will be placed on waivers, should clear and be a normal recall when needed as a guy that does everything needed, yet has potential if he assumes a role but not enough for anyone to think about acquiring yet. Heatherington has the best outlook of the D prospects in the system, but he will spend more time in junior and then be a bit of a project in the future.
The crease battle will be rather epic and go on for a few years, but right now it is just for placement and who will be the recall in case of injury. Anton Forsberg is the only one with AHL experience (212 impressive minutes in regular season action), but Oscar Dansk seems to be the more thought of blue chipper. I’d expect those 2 take the crease in the AHL. Joonas Korpisalo is in the mix but seems relatively inexperienced and could make the most use of ECHL seasoning. Unsigned but still a guy to watch, third round pick, Elvis Merzlikins. I don’t know much about him, but with a name like Elvis, he must be a Rockstar! Merzlikins is unsigned as of yet but likely comes to camp. He had a great showing in the Swiss Lg last year, an odd place to find a goalie prospect but the league features several former NHLers and other skilled players that prefer to play in a pressure free environment so he has to have soaked up some information and experience.
Detroit – Rarely does the organization have camp battles, they just shift prospects in as needed and expect them to perform. The hottest names to draft are Tomas Nosek the CZE forward who could slide into a spot sooner than later and Anthony Mantha. The next tier are recalls, Teemu Pulkkinen, Andreas Athanasiou, and Andrej Nestrasil all could see time as needed. Tyler Bertuzzi is the player to gain the most in camp, as he only appeared in 29 games during the season last year but he produced 34 points, had an excellent playoffs and Memorial Cup and will look to soak in as much as possible with the staff as it will be hoped that he breaks camp next season as an explosive bottom six agitating winger.
When Danny DeKeyser signs, the blueline will be sealed. Xavier Ouellet and Ryan Sproul will continue to battle for recalls with Sproul being my favorite long term. Alexey Marchenko flies under the radar to most but don’t let yourself be part of that group. He has the ability to jump the other two at any time.
In the blue paint, Petr Mrazek, that is all! Fine, Jake Paterson will exit junior but has a long road and is a quality name that will slowly ascend in the shadows.
Florida – The Panthers have no room currently on forward for rookies to break camp so Vincent Trocheck and Rocco Grimaldi will mold their games while waiting for spaces to open up. Both are good ceiling prospects.
Defensively it is assumed both Aaron Ekblad and Alex Petrovic will break camp with the big club. Petrovic is a very interesting prospect who has an ability to produce when needed with a big shot, but seems to have gone another direction using his size as a nasty, physical force in order to make the NHL. Petrovic still has waiver exemption status and could be bounced as needed.
The crease battle will feature Michael Houser and Sam Brittain. Houser is entering his third year of pro, but Brittain is the better goaltender exiting NCAA and will likely take the main role in the AHL.
Montreal – The Habs have several interesting prospects to note, but only one forward and one goalie are on the radar for impact this season. Jiri Sekac will most likely take the Alexei Emelin route into the Canadiens’ lineup straight from the KHL or at least rather quickly. Gabriel Dumont will maintain his status as an expected recall as needed but this year will see waivers. Sven Andrighetto will excite and throw his name in the hat as ready to recall for an offensive role. Likely playing in Hamilton will be Jacob De La Rose, Tim Bozon and Charles Hudon, this trio will attempt to push forward their pro careers into the fast lane.
The defense is rather sown up, so Greg Pateryn will continue to fly under the radar waiting for opportunity. He will be joined by Dalton Thrower who will bring edge and offensive explosiveness to the organization. He is one that roto poolies will need to take note of.
In net Dustin Tokarski will put everything he has on the line to make the Canadians out of camp, otherwise he will be subject to waivers and unlikely to pass after strong showings late last season. Peter Budaj’s NHL career for all intents and purposes is on life support.
New Jersey – Devils management seems to refuse growing talent in house and since the late 90s’ they haven’t had much reason to. The weak depth pool this season will have Reid Boucher and Stefan Matteau will continue to role as recallable options with potential and waiver exemption. Both will remain unattractive this season.
There is some light on defense, Adam Larsson will look to regain the glory he once had, as being waiver eligible this year keeps him on the NHL squad. In the minors, Damon Severson and Reece Scarlett will battle heads up for status as top D prospect in the AHL. One could make the NHL if Eric Gelinas remains a holdout.
The big battle in the swamp is in net. Scott Clemmenson has been brought in as experienced insurance, but the organization would much rather Keith Kinkaid or Scott Wedgewood take the ball and run. Kinkaid is the expected backup, but Wedgewood is more attractive long term. Wedgewood’s pro career has been lack luster thus far, but so was Martin Brodeur’s until he hit the prime time.
Over the next week more prospect camp battles will be highlighted and updated as needed or information comes available.