Welcome back to my bi-weekly ramblings. This week we are taking a look at some of the players that are on the roster bubble and their likelihood of making the NHL roster out of training camp. These are all players that are looking to make their respective NHL teams and have a realistic shot at making it. None of them are locks like Jack Hughes or Kaapo Kakko but they are legitimate options for their teams to step into the lineup and begin producing right away. We are going to look at each player in three areas. What is the player? Who do they have to pass on the depth chart and what the chances of them taking that next step on a full-time basis?
The 10th overall pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft got a cup of coffee with the Oilers last season to start the year but the team decided that the young blueliner could use a bit more seasoning in the OHL with the London Knights. Evan Bouchard didn’t let his demotion after just seven games sour his attitude or affect his season in London. He was a leader on the ice and he was able to put up 53 points in 45 games as a defender. Like many young players of his calibre, his offensive game is ready for the NHL. He would be an asset offensively thanks to his elite passing, shot and hockey IQ. Where concerns arise for Bouchard is in his own zone. Well documented since his draft-eligible season, the Knights captain needs to continue to work on his defensive zone coverage and compete level. His skating is about average which makes it more difficult to make up for mistakes in his zone. Working on his skating and defensive zone play will be key to him making the Oilers lineup on opening night.
For Bouchard to make the Oilers roster, his competition shouldn’t be too hard to overcome. Fighting for a spot on the Oilers right side with Ethan Bear and Matt Benning for two spots on the Oilers right side behind Adam Larsson. All indications point to the second-pair spot alongside Darnell Nurse being Bouchard’s to lose but they won’t just give him the spot. He will need to play well in camp and show that he is ready to take on a full-time role with the big club come October.
Likelihood to make the roster: 80%
Point Projection (G – A – P): 8 – 30 – 38
Cody Glass, C, Vegas Golden Knights
The first-ever draft pick by the Vegas Golden Knights could be on his way to the big club come fall. Cody Glass is poised to claim a spot in the Vegas top-nine. He combines elite hockey sense with an outstanding offensive tool-set. He can bring a crowd to their feet with his playmaking ability. He exhibits excellent puck control and the ability to attack the net. He works his way into the offensive zone with speed and he displays consistently high energy levels throughout a game. He has dominated the WHL for three straight years and looked like a star in his six-game stint with the Chicago Wolves of the AHL.
Glass is almost assuredly starting the season with the Vegas Golden Knights as they are fairly tight to the salary cap and the Winnipeg native will fit in a top-nine role at an entry-level price tag. He probably begins the year as the third line pivot, working his way towards a larger and more prominent role with the team. Possibly centering fellow newcomer Nikita Gusev and original Golden Knight Reilly Smith, Glass will be in a position to succeed against weaker competition with skilled linemates. If Glass can stick with the big club, he should produce at a good clip throughout the season.
Likelihood to make the roster: 90%
Points Projection: 14 – 29 – 43
Joe Veleno, C, Detroit Red Wings
The Detroit Red Wings were thanking their lucky stars when Joe Veleno fell in the 2018 NHL draft, selecting the dangerous forward 30th overall. Veleno’s game has truly rounded out since his draft selection, developing a sound defensive game and continuing to grow offensively. Whether electing to be the play-maker or the trigger man, Veleno can take on either role on his line and provide a well-balanced attack. He trusts that his teammates can convert on their chances and doesn’t shy away from distributing the puck despite having a lethal shot of his own. He plays a smart game and doesn’t cheat in his zone in favor of offence, rather he transitions to offence with ease once the task of retrieving the puck is completed.
The former Drummondville Voltigeur center is taking the next step in 2019. Whether it be to the AHL or NHL, it is up to Joe Veleno to prove that he belongs at the top level in training camp. That will not be an easy task for a team who has no issue with their prospects being over-seasoned before being called up to the big leagues. While he may not start the year with the NHL club, he will certainly be allowed to earn a call-up. With a strong camp and good preseason, he could create a tough decision for general manager Steve Yzerman and his crew. He would have to supplant one of the top-nine forwards to earn a spot, possibly sticking on the wing in a third-line capacity, being mentored by a veteran center such as Valtteri Filppula or Frans Nielsen.
Likelihood to make the roster: 50%
Points Projection: 8 – 18 – 26
Erik Brannstrom, LHD, Ottawa Senators
Acquired in the trade that sent Mark Stone from the Ottawa Senators to Vegas, Erik Brannstrom immediately became one of Ottawa’s top prospects. The diminutive defender is a wizard with the puck. His skating is truly special and his offensive IQ is phenomenal. Brannstrom does an excellent job evading opposing players with the puck on his stick and can often act as a one-man breakout in his zone. He can dart in and out of traffic, elusively working his way around the ice seemingly with ease. His defensive game is good as he understands that at 5’10” and just 180lbs, his skating and stick play must be his calling card without the ability to impose his will physically.
Among the top left-handed defensive prospects in the NHL, Brannstrom received a taste of action in two games towards the end of the 2018-19 season. He looked comfortable against older and larger competition, the defender will fight for a job with the NHL club come training camp. After proving that he was capable of playing well at the AHL level with 32 points in 50 games total between Ottawa’s and Vegas’ affiliates, the NHL seems like a logical next step. The competition for a roster spot on the Ottawa Senators will be less than exceptional and the path to a top-four role on the Senators is quite easy to identify. He should do enough in training camp to warrant a start with the club and then he will need to continue to work at his craft and prove that he belongs in the NHL for the full season.
Likelihood to make the roster: 75%
Points Projection: 6 – 19 – 25
The runner up to Kaapo Kakko for the Rookie of the Year in the Liiga, Aleksi Heponiemi makes up for his 5’10”, 150lb frame with his immense skill and blistering speed. He consistently burns defenders to the outside with his skating ability and he plays stringer on his skates than a player is expected to be at his size. He thinks the game at a very high level and makes his teammates better. The quick-thinking forward seems destined for the wing at the NHL level where he will be able to facilitate the play from the wing as the rare player able to be the driving force on his line from the position.
The Florida Pathers recently signed the 2017 second-round pick to an entry-level contract and are happy to have the Finnish forward in south Florida when camp breaks. He may be the longest shot of any player here but the game-breaking forward will be doing everything in his power to make an impression on new coach Joel Quenneville and the rest of the Florida coaching staff. With the odds favoring a start in the AHL, Heponiemi will be hard-pressed to fight his way onto the Panther’s roster if not for injuries. A year in the AHL will do good for the former Portland Winterhawk. Heponiemi is sure to continue to create offensively with whatever team he plays for in the 2019-20 season.
Likelihood to make the roster: 30%
Points Projection: 3 – 7 – 10
Thank you for joining me for another edition of Dobber Prospect Ramblings. I’ll be at the World Junior Summer Showcase this weekend in Plymouth, Michigan. I hope to see you there! Leave comments below and you can always reach out to me personally on Twitter at @TheTonyFerrari!
Be sure to check out the Dobber’s Fantasy Hockey Prospect Report for 2019! It’s the best guide for fantasy prospects around and makes sure that while you’re there you check out the rest of the fantasy hockey guides.