Expect a banner year for rookie NHL forwards. We’ve already highlighted Edmonton Oilers winger Nail Yakupov, St. Louis Blues winger Vladimir Tarasenko, Minnesota Wild center Mikael Granlund and New York Rangers forward Chris Kreider in our list of potential breakout forwards for this season.
All four players are high-end talents capable of filling scoring line and power play roles right away. Here are some other youngsters to keep an eye on:
Jakob Silfverberg, W, Ottawa Senators: He progressed nicely in four seasons with Brynas IF Gavle of the Swedish Elite League. He produced 24 goals and 30 assists in 49 games last season and earned MVP honors in the SEL. He played his first two NHL games in the playoffs last spring and prepared to grab a top six role this season. “He's got courage, he's got puck skills, and he's got great hockey sense,” Senators GM Bryan Murray told NHL.com.
Sven Baertschi, W, Calgary Flames: This native of Switzerland made a spectacular transition to North American hockey. Last season blew up the WHL for 94 points in 47 regular season games for Portland and 34 more points in 22 playoff games. He also scored three goals in five NHL games. Calgary is starved for fresh offensive talent, so expect Baertschi to get lots of attention this fall.
Alex Galchenyuk, C, Montreal Canadiens: He played just eight games last season – two in the regular season and six more in the playoffs – due to a serious knee injury. So despite his No. 1 center skill set and his lofty draft status (third overall in 2012), he may needed developmental time. He showed the whole offensive package while scoring 31 goals and added 52 assists in 68 games during his rookie season with the Sarnia Sting.
Brandon Saad, W, Chicago Blackhawks: He has the size and skill (61 goals in 103 Ontario Hockey League games for Saginaw) to earn a regular role this season. He did not look out of place during his two early season games in the NHL and he returned to make two playoff appearances for the Blackhawks. He looks like one of the big steals of the 2011 draft as the 43rd overall pick.
Mikhail Grigorenko, C, Buffalo Sabres: This team could use a big center, so expect Lindy Ruff to take a long look at the 12th overall pick in the 2012 draft. Grigorenko scored 40 goals and added 45 assists last season for the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He is still filling out his 6-foot-3 frame. He and subsequent first-round pick Zemgus Girgensons will be cornerstones for this franchise.
Charlie Coyle, W, Minnesota Wild. This sturdy forward jumped from Boston University (where he scored 14 points in 16 games) to the Saint John Sea Dogs midway through last season and showed his offensive promise. In 23 regular-season games in the QMJHL, Coyle had 15 goals and 23 assists. That production continued right into the playoffs where he had 15 goals in 17 games, earning playoff MVP honors.
Jaden Schwartz, W, St. Louis Blues: He scored his first NHL goal on his first shot and generally showed much promise during his seven games with the Blues last season. Schwartz prodiced 32 goals and 56 assists in 80 games for Colorado College and served as captain for Team Canada at the most recent World Junior Championships. St. Louis has solid three-line depth, so Schwartz may start the year in the AHL while waiting for his turn.
Damien Brunner, W, Detroit Red Wings: After scoring 164 points in 132 games during the last three seasons for Zug in the Swiss-A League, he opted to take his shot at the NHL. The Red Wings won the bidding. Give this franchise’s history of success with European imports, don’t be surprised if Brunner earns regular work on one of the top three lines.
Jonathan Huberdeau, C, Florida Panthers: He made a strong pitch for NHL work last fall, then added some muscle on his 6-foot-1 frame. He scored 182 points in 104 regular season games the last two seasons for Saint John of the QMJHL. He also scored 51 points in 34 playoff games during that span.
Mika Zibanejad, C, Senators: The sixth overall pick of the 2011 draft got a little taste of the NHL last season (one assist in nine games) but spent most of the season with Djurgardens of the Swedish Elite League (13 points in 36 games). He excelled in the WJC tourney convinced Ottawa he is ready to play in North America this season.