One thing that a team's management group usually wants to get right is their draft pick, especially the first two rounds. Whether looking to fill a need or simply picking the best player available at the time, everyone wants their pick to turn out to be a good or at least effective player. After being scouted and drafted, the most important step afterwards is development. Some players join their NHL team only months after getting selected, while more often than not recently drafted players require a bit of seasoning in the AHL.
A few things can be pretty satisfying for a team and the player alike. He could be drafted in the late first round or early second round and can turn out to be a steal that dozens of other teams missed out on. Or more impressive still are the 18 (sometimes just turned 19) year olds that enter the league and immediately make an impact on the team.
Unfortunately though (not really, or else the league would get boring quickly) not all draft picks can be good. Or at least, not immediately good. Maybe more time developing will work wonders, especially if they lack the mechanics like skating or aren't that good on the defensive side of things. But a bad first season for a highly touted draft pick almost always rings alarm bells and could bring with it the dreaded title of being a bust.
It's worth noting though, everyone knows Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine are already stars, so I kept those two out of that category and instead mentioned two players you may not have heard much about yet.
17 Potential Bust: Pavel Zacha
The sixth overall pick in 2015 for New Jersey hardly made a splash on a team that sorely needs dynamic players on offense. Perhaps his lackluster first full season in the NHL has a lot to do with the overall stagnant game the Devils play, but Zacha really didn't make an impact this year. Zacha hardly played this year with the only two other players capable of any hint of offense in Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri, usually stuck alongside Beau Bennett, Stefan Noesen, and Jacob Josefson.
New Jersey really can't do much to surround Zacha with talented players, so unless he takes a huge step up next season it doesn't look like much will come from him. He only had 24 points in 70 games this season.
15 Potential Star: Brady Skjei
Skjei was a welcomed surprise on an otherwise barren Rangers' blue line this season. Apart from Ryan McDonaugh, there isn't much to write home about for New York. Skjei, drafted 28th overall in 2012, brought the total package that's sought after in all young defensemen. Good skating, passing, defensive play, and with a very respectable 39 points in 80 games, it looks like the Rangers did well in drafting the now 23 year old so late in the first round. He'd probably get more responsibilities and opportunities if he was a right handed shot, but with his skill level it won't hinder him too much. With Dan Girardi now off the books in New York, there may be even more potential for Skjei to get more minutes.
14 Potential Bust: Jimmy Vesey
Vesey stirred a bit of a controversy last year regarding where he would be signing. Having spent the last four years in university since he was drafted in the third round, he was eligible for free agency rather than signing with Nashville (who drafted him). Buffalo traded for his rights but were unsuccessful at signing him. He ultimately ended up with the Rangers and played in his first full season at 23 years old. The sought after forward was nothing special however, with only 16 goals and 27 points in 80 games.
He went up and down the lineup and played a diminutive role with the Rangers, with only 13:38 of average time on ice and hardly any time on the power play. Maybe the Predators didn't miss out on anything here.
12 Potential Star: Zach Werenski
Werenski's production this year was unreal. Drafted 8th overall in 2015, the 19-year-old had a first season to remember. He was a tactician on the first power play unit and ended the season with an impressive 11 goals and 47 points in 78 games, with 21 of those points coming on the man advantage. With how good he played in his first season and at only 19 years old, it wouldn't be surprising to see him continue to surpass his yearly point production with each passing season. Columbus will have an elite top pairing for years to come with Werenski playing alongside the equally talented (and still 22 years old) Seth Jones. That's a great duo to build around for the future.
11 Potential Bust: Brendan Perlini
Perlini was given extended looks at center this past season after the Coyotes traded away their main centerman in Martin Hanzal. The 12th overall pick of Arizona in 2014 had a mere 21 points in 57 games in his NHL season this year. Not particularly blessed with good linemates since he played with Shane Doan and Christian Dvorak for most of the season, Perlini was still on the first power play unit but garnered no success.
Perlini can easily be pushed down the lineup in the upcoming years as well, since many more forward prospects are available for the rebuilding Coyotes, and can be promoted if they perform better than he does. They acquired Derek Stepan this offseason, so that could mean Perlini's opportunities will be limited in 2017-18.
10 Potential Star: Matthew Tkachuk
Yet another young forward added to Calgary's success this past season in Tkachuk. Just as gritty as his father and looking like he is just as skilled, the Flames' 6th overall pick in 2016-17 made an immediate impact on the second line. He had 48 points in 76 games as well as 105 PIMs that surely came with the territory of being a Tkachuk. Interestingly as well, unlike most other skilled young forwards, Tkachuk was entrusted with a lot of 5 on 5 responsibilities.
Not only did he thrive in terms of production (10 of his 13 goals were at even strength, as well as 25 of his 35 assists), but was also on the ice for a lot more defensive faceoffs than offensive ones. When you're a rookie and already one of the most hated players in the league, it's because you have a lot of attention on you, which means you must be pretty good.
9 Potential Bust: Mikko Rantanen
His first full year with the Avalanche and the team is so bad it looks like he's already taken a step back. With such an abundance of once promising good young players, the Avalanche are bottom feeders once again. The development and production of players like Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog have come to a standstill, and now the 10th overall pick in 2015 in Rantanen looks like he was added to the bunch. The massive 20-year-old had only 38 points in 75 games this season, mostly due to the fact he was playing with the one bright spot on the team in Nathan MacKinnon.
Hopefully Rantanen and the rest of Colorado can bounce back next year since a lot of teams would love to have so many good players under 26 and under like they do.
8 Potential Star: Mitch Marner
Marner really brought that second line together along with Tyler Bozak and James Van Riemsdyk. He was drafted 4th overall in 2015 and was more than capable of playing with the Leafs that upcoming season, but was instead sent back to the OHL to dominate the league once again with 116 points in 57 games. Marner was promoted directly to the NHL the following year and didn't look out of place. He had 61 points in 77 games, with 42 of those points being assists. His play making ability really puts on display how good of a puck mover he is and how good he is at weaving in the offensive zone. Those traits pair perfectly with the more defensive style of Bozak and shooting preference of JVR. He was also excellent at the world championship for Canada, with 12 points in 10 games. All that and only recently turned 20.
7 Potential Bust: Michael Matheson
Not exactly a household name, mostly because he's playing in Florida. But for a player that made team Canada and played well (with 13 points in 20 games) at the past two IIHF world Championships after only playing three games in the NHL, you'd expect a bit more from his rookie season. The 23rd overall pick from Florida in 2012 left a lot to be desired though. His AHL career saw him amass only 22 points in 54 games.
His NHL career has thus far been no better, with 17 points in 84 games (81 this season) even though he is easily cemented in the Panthers' top four and on a good pairing with either Aaron Ekblad or Jason Demers. Matheson could definitely use more offensive production considering his potential, especially since he was drafted for his skating, vision, and shot. We'll see if he reaches that potential in the coming years.
6 Potential Star: William Nylander
One of the three rookies that dominated for the Leafs all season, Nylander definitely isn't any less impactful. Behind franchise player Auston Matthews and 20 year old phenom Marner, it's easy to forget the 8th overall pick in 2014. But Nylander is just as important to the team as those other two. He had 61 points in 81 games and was conducive to Matthews' success this year as the pair were a great duo all season long.
Drafted as a center but converting to the wing to suit the team's needs more, Nylander is a much improved player in his first full season and has made up for his liabilities under Mike Babcock's tutelage. The team had no choice to promote him anyway, since he had 45 points in 38 games when he was demoted to the AHL during his first year since being drafted.
5 Potential Bust: Travis Konecny
Konecny had quite the surrounding cast this season but couldn't take advantage of it. At any one time, he was on a line with great offensive talents with the likes of Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, and Jakub Voracek. Regardless, the 20-year-old 24th overall pick of the Flyers in 2015 had only 28 points in 70 games this season. Unfortunately, there wasn't room for him on that top power play so he was relegated to the second, much less talented unit. He was drafted for his massive offensive potential, but his rookie season just didn't live up to the hype.
Maybe now that Brayden Schenn was traded to St. Louis there'll be more opportunities for him, but he'll now have to compete with potential superstar Nolan Patrick.
4 Potential Star: Sebastian Aho
You know it was a deep draft in 2016 when someone as talented as Aho falls to the second round. It's not like Carolina will complain though, since they were able to draft the dynamic forward 35th overall. He was on their starting roster the immediate season and did not disappoint. At only 173 pound, the shifty 19-year-old was a big part of Carolina's rejuvenated offense.
Aho quietly had a productive first season with 24 goals, 49 points and 17 power play points. Playing wing with just about everyone on their top six, Aho brought versatility and a good offensive balance with a good shot as well as a good ability to hold the puck and create plays. If he had played in a bigger market, he'd be getting a lot more attention.
3 Potential Bust: Lawson Crouse
Drafted 11th overall by the Panthers in 2015, he was shipped to Arizona with Dave Bolland in order for Florida to shed Bolland's hideous contract. Not much was lost for Florida in this deal, as the now 20-year-old former prospect didn't do anything in his first season. At 6'4" and 220 pounds, he was scouted to be a towering power forward that can actually perform skilled plays. That wasn't the case, at least not for this season, since he only had 12 points in 72 games. He may not have the offensive talents Florida thought he had when they drafted him so highly, since he didn't get any power play time with Arizona on a team that isn't exactly flooded with offensive talent.
2 Potential Star: Ivan Provorov
Drafted 7th overall in 2015, right before another stud offensive defenseman in Werenski, Provorov is yet another productive defenseman for Philadelphia. After Shayne Gostisbehere broke out in 2015-16 with 46 points in 64 games, Provorov followed suit the following year in his rookie year. After only turning 20 half way through the season, Provorov ended the year with 30 points in 82 games. Unfortunately relegated to the second power play unit because of four forwards and Gostibehere on the first one, and having to lug around Andrew MacDonald at even strength, Provorov still did well with the opportunity he was given his first year. Philly is now loaded with young prospects and it only seems like a matter of time before they have a breakthrough season as a team.
1 Potential Bust: Xavier Ouellet
Ouellet had decent offensive numbers in junior but has yet to produce at a level anywhere near that since turning pro. Drafted 48th overall in 2011 by Detroit, he finally played his first full season at 23 years old. It wasn't anything special though, since he had 12 points in 66 games. The Red Wings as a whole brought new meaning to boring hockey this past season and are in a realm they haven't been in for decades.
A player like Ouellet could have easily helped their woes this past season, but it doesn't look like he's the answer for the future. He's yet to even play on the power play, which he at least did in the AHL. If he couldn't do that on a last place Detroit team, you wonder if he'll ever cut it at the NHL level.
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