Prospect Ramblings: Young stars burning brightly earlier (Oct. 22)

Mark Allan

2016-10-22

Besides the can't-miss impact of Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine in the young NHL season, RW William Nylander of the Maple Leafs is among other rookies off to a good start in what promises to be another hotly contested Calder Trophy competition.

 

As demonstrated by Team North America in the World Cup, NHL fans are increasingly becoming accustomed to young prospects rapidly becoming stars or even superstars.

Connor McDavid led the way last season, although a serious injury left him third in Calder Cup voting behind Artemi Panarin and runner-up Shayne Gostibehere.

Jack Eichel, Dylan Larkin, Max Domi, John Gibson, Colton Parayko, Sam Reinhart and Jacob Slavin followed in arguably the strongest rookie class in league history.

This season?

Thanks to better coaching, conditioning and diet – all earlier in players’ lives than ever before, as well as a salary cap that convinces teams to give many bargain-priced prospects unprecedented opportunities – the current crop also looks extremely promising.

No. 1 draft pick Auston Matthews became the first player in history to score four goals in his NHL debut. In his fourth NHL game, No. 2 pick Patrik Laine completed a hat trick in a 5-4 come-from-behind victory over the Leafs, scoring the OT winner seconds after Matthews failed to convert a breakaway.

Matthews and Laine are the headliners, but this exciting rookie class has depth. In four games, RW William Nylander of the wet-behind-the-ears Leafs has a goal and four assists, C Devin Shore of Dallas has a goal and three assists, LW Travis Konecny of Philadelphia has four assists, D Michael Matheson of Florida has two goals and one assist and RW Sebastian Aho of Carolina has three assists.

These hot starts don’t include high 2016 draft choices Zach Werenski, Jakob Chychrun, Anthony Beauvillier and Tyler Motte who are among the top-10 rookie scorers for Columbus, Arizona, New York Islanders and Chicago respectively.

They also don’t include 2015 Calder winner Aaron Ekblad, who has been named an alternate captain for Florida at 20; top-10 NHL scorer Johnny Gaudreau of Calgary and 2013 No. 1 overall pick Nathan McKinnon of Colorado or imposing Finnish man-child Mikko Rantanen of Colorado who has yet to play for the Avalanche this season due to an ankle injury but is playing in the AHL for conditioning. He dominated in the AHL last season as a teen, and has nothing more to prove there.

 

* * *

 

Ah, yes, injuries.

Not all prospects rocket to stardom immediately. Physical setbacks are a common reason and you just have to review Pittsburgh’s baby Penguins to drive that point home.

Although inadequate defensive play has been the biggest obstacle standing between D Derrick Pouliot and the NHL, he quickly went on IR after a lower-body injury in his first game of the season Thursday. The swift IR assignment in