The National Hockey League is becoming a young man's league. Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, Jack Eichel and Patrik Laine are just a few of the many young stars in the league today.
With every team looking to cash in with a great franchise player like the ones named above, they look to the junior ranks and minor league system for the next big thing.
Every single team in the league (yes, all thirty), have at least one exciting young prospect to look forward to. While some teams may only have that one or two, others have a handful that could provide a spark for their big club. However, it's also important for fans to remember that you should be patient with these prospects. While you might be imploring for your team to bring them up to the lineup as soon as possible, you can't mess with a player's development. That extra year in junior or in the minors can make all the difference in determining whether a player succeeds in the NHL or not.
These are guys that GMs may view as untouchables because they know they can be their team's future.
Without any further ado, let's go team by team and look at each franchise's most exciting prospect. The only rule for this list is that none of these players can be on their respective teams' main rosters. Enjoy!
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30 Anaheim Ducks - Sam Steel
Sam Steel is a dynamic, playmaking forward that could transition very well to the NHL. As the 30th overall selection of the first round in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, Steel has improved his game with every season.
Steel was the second overall pick in the WHL draft and immediately paid dividends in his 17-year-old season. He scored 54 points in 61 games in his first junior season, which was only the beginning. Last season, in his draft year, he scored 70 points in 72 games, so he was at nearly a point-per-game pace.
This season, Steel is shattering the glass ceiling. Steel has over 100 points (106 to be exact) in 53 games for the Regina Pats in the WHL. He's scoring at a two point-per-game pace! He won’t be eligible for the AHL next season, so he may force the Ducks' hand to get the youngster into the lineup as soon as next year.
29 Arizona Coyotes - Clayton Keller
The rebuilding Coyotes have a lot of top prospects as they transition to a younger team, but by far their most exciting one is Clayton Keller. The Coyotes' first round selection of the 2016 NHL Draft at seventh overall is having a phenomenal freshman season at Boston University.
His 35 points in 24 games is good for 19th in the nation among all NCAA players, and the second best among freshmen. He's only 5'10", but Keller is putting on a clinic in the NCAA.
Keller was also a major part of Team USA’s run to gold at this year’s World Junior Championships. He had 11 points in seven games en route to the gold medal.
He may be a year or two away, but Clayton Keller is a guy that Coyotes fans can get excited about.
28 Boston Bruins - Charlie McAvoy
Charlie McAvoy, the first round selection (14th overall) by the Boston Bruins in the 2016 NHL Draft is playing his collegiate hockey close to the team that drafted him at Boston University. The right-handed shooting defenseman is big enough and skilled enough to do everything you can ask for from a blueliner.
McAvoy led all Boston University defensemen in points with 24, and assists with 21, in the 2015-16 season prior to being drafted. He’s a good ol' American boy as well. Playing for Team USA at the World Junior Championship he had six points in seven games and was a plus-six as well.
He isn’t quite Zdeno Chara, but the Bruins could have another franchise defenseman in Charlie McAvoy.
27 Buffalo Sabres - Alexander Nylander
Alexander Nylander is one of the most skilled guys out there. He's shifty, fast, and has great hands to go along with a scoring touch. The eighth overall selection in this past year's draft, Nylander is struggling a bit as he transitions to the AHL.
Nylander put on a show in juniors last season with the Mississauga Steelheads as he had 75 points (28 goals, 47 assists) in 57 OHL games, but he isn't quite scoring at that same rate in the pros.
The transition from juniors to the professional game is always tough, and Nylander is proof of that. He has just six goals and 15 assists for 21 points in 47 games with the Rochester Americans.
Nylander has the pure skillset and hockey sense to be able to come out of this stronger and he could be scary good when he finally makes his NHL debut.
26 Calgary Flames - Mark Jankowski
Mark Jankowski is one of the older prospects in the league at 22 years old. Mind you, that is still young, but the 2012 first round pick is finding his game in the AHL until the Flames need him.
Jankowski spent all four years at Providence College, recording 110 points (43 goals, 67 assists) in 148 games including 40 points in 38 games his senior season as an alternate captain. Since then he ended last season in the AHL and has spent the large majority of this season there as well, with one lone NHL game to his name.
He had six points in eight games at the end of last year with the Stockton Heat, and is staying hot with 33 points in 43 games this season. Hopefully Jankowski can be worth the wait for Flames fans.
25 Carolina Hurricanes - Julien Gauthier
The Hurricanes have a bunch of top prospects, but none of them are as highly-touted offensively as Julien Gauthier.
The 2016 first round pick (21st overall) is an explosive power forward with scoring touch. He has scored at over a point-per-game pace in each of the last two seasons in the QMJHL, and recorded seven points in as many games for Team Canada at this year's World Junior Championships.
Gauthier is keeping that pace in the QMJHL this season with 44 points in 37 games, but only 13 are goals. Instead of being the finisher he is setting up his teammates more, which could be an asset moving forward.
Either way, Gauthier is still finding his name on the scoresheet nearly every single night and had found his footing after a QMJHL trade. Expect big things from the big-bodied power forward in the coming years.
24 Chicago Blackhawks - Alex DeBrincat
Alex DeBrincat slipped in the draft ranks due to off the ice issues, and was then subsequently cut from Team USA because of the same problems. However, there is no doubt that he has the flashiness and skills of an exciting prospect.
Debrincat stands at just 5'7", but he plays a big game. He is a dynamic, skilled forward that can snipe with the best of 'em.
He was in the shadow of Connor McDavid in his first season with the Erie Otters, when he put up 104 points, but he has continued that and proven he can do it on his own. He has 107 points (51 goals, 56 assists) in 51 games this season. That gives him three straight seasons with at least 50 goals and 50 assists in the OHL.
DeBrincat could become the next big thing in Chicago.
23 Colorado Avalanche - Tyson Jost
Tyson Jost rounded out the top ten of this past year's draft as the Colorado Avalanche's first round selection.
The Canadian product is taking the collegiate route to the NHL, playing his hockey at the University of North Dakota. He is off to a good start with over a point-per-game pace. Jost is crafty and has the skills to play at a fast tempo and to creat offense.
Jost played for Team Canada at the World Junior Championship as an 18-year-old, which is quite impressive. He played a fairly large role too, recording four points in seven games.
The Colorado Avalanche don’t have too much to be excited about right now, but a young core of Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon (if they aren’t traded) could be joined by a dynamic top-six forward like Jost in a couple of years.
22 Columbus Blue Jackets - Pierre-Luc Dubois
Many were surprised when the Columbus Blue Jackets reached a bit to draft Pierre-Luc Dubois with the third pick in last year’s draft, but he hopes to silence the critics. Dubois is a strong, two-way power forward with few holes in his game. He is a menace on defense and can just as easily find the back of the net.
The big-bodied power forward appeared to be the most physically ready for professional hockey, and he is playing well in the QMJHL. He has 47 points in 38 games for two teams this season, including 29 points in 18 games for his current team the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada.
The man that draws comparisons to Anze Kopitar should have hockey fans excited, if they aren't already, in Columbus.
21 Dallas Stars - Julius Honka
Stars fans have already gotten a little taste of Julius “Honka-Honka” Honka this season. The 2014 first round pick finally made his way to the NHL for ten games this season, but has primarily played in the AHL with the Texas Stars.
The offensive defenseman recorded four assists in his 10 NHL games, and has 23 points in 33 games for Texas in the minors so far this season. He’s great in transition and can get the puck up ice with ease.
The Stars have a lot of talent up front but have a few holes on the backend. Honka should be able to provide some help on the blue line for Dallas in the coming years. That would come a long way in making Dallas a true contender.
20 Detroit Red Wings - Vili Saarijarvi
The Detroit Red Wings' most exciting young players are already in the NHL, but they could be joined shortly by a shifty young defenseman. Vili Saarijärvi was the third round pick of the Wings in the 2013 draft, but he has surprised some recently.
The Finnish blueliner has had a good season for the Mississauga Steelheads in the OHL. He has 28 points in 30 games, an increased pace from 43 points in 59 games last season.
Saarijarvi played for Team Finland at the World Junior Championships in each of the past two seasons. Last year he had four points (all assists) in seven games as an 18-year-old, and had four points (two goals, two assists) in six games this winter.
Saarijarvi isn’t as exciting as some of the other prospects in the league, but he should make for a solid NHL defenseman soon.
19 Edmonton Oilers - Jesse Puljujarvi
Jesse Puljujarvi, the eighth straight top-10 selection of the Edmonton Oilers, was drafted fourth overall in this past year's draft. Puljujarvi impressed in his draft year with Karpat in the Liiga with 28 points (13 goals, 15 assists) in 50 games as a boy against men.
He really showed off his size and skill at the World Junior Championships last year, scoring a whopping 17 points (five goals, 12 assists) in just seven games en route to the gold medal.
Playing last season in the Liiga allowed Puljujarvi to transition straight to the professional ranks in North America as a 19-year-old. He played disappointingly in 28 games with the Oilers, but has 13 points (six goals, seven assists) in 17 games with Bakersfield in the AHL.
Puljujarvi is a power forward with the size and skill needed to be a big part of the Oilers franchise moving forward.
18 Florida Panthers - Henrik Borgstrom
The Panthers are already an exciting young team, but they have a few prospects that could be joining them soon. Henrik Borgstrom is one of them.
The 23rd overall selection by the Florida Panthers in the 2016 NHL Draft is tearing it up at the University of Denver. Henrik Borgstrom, the Finnish forward, has 29 points (15 goals, 14 assists) in 26 games for his collegiate team.
The 19-year-old played at this year's World Junior Championships for Team Finland, but failed to record a point and was a minus-one in six games for his country.
Borgstrom is a tall two-way center that has the ability to win battles as well as put the puck in the net. He had 92 points in 61 games in his final two junior seasons in Finland which could be a sign of things to come for the Panthers prospect.
17 Los Angeles Kings - Kale Clague
The Los Angeles Kings are rather thin on prospects in their system, but this one ate his vegetables growing up. Kale Clague was the second round pick (51st overall) of the Kings in last year's draft.
The offensive defenseman has great speed, vision and puckhandling abilities. He had six assists in seven games for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships this winter and is playing at nearly a point-per-game pace in the WHL.
Clague isn’t a highly-touted prospect, but he is a very skilled defenseman that can become a great producer on the blue line for the Los Angeles Kings. The Kings are a team built on the present, so it might be a while before they get a prospect more highly touted than Clague.
16 Minnesota Wild - Kirill Kaprizov
The Minnesota Wild may have found a diamond in the rough with Kirill Kaprizov.
Kaprizov was a late round pick, 135th in the fifth round to be exact, by the Minnesota Wild in the 2015 NHL Draft. The Russian forward has taken great strides in his game over the past two years.
He increased his KHL point total from 27 in 2015-16 to 42 in 2016-17. He also scored 12 points (nine goals, three assists) in seven games for Team Russia at this year's World Junior Championships after scoring a goal and adding two assists in seven games the year before.
The Wild don't have too many prospects to get excited about right now, but this skilled forward offers some hope for the future.
15 Montreal Canadiens - Mikhail Sergachev
The Montreal Canadiens opted to go for a defenseman with their ninth overall pick in this past year's draft, and it looks like it may pay off.
Mikhail Sergachev is a great two-way defenseman that can shoot and score as well as he can play the body in the defensive end. He seems to be a difference maker no matter what. He is playing at nearly a point-per-game pace in the OHL, which is impressive for a defenseman, while carrying a plus-23 rating.
The Canadiens traded away their personality last offseason when they sent P.K. Subban to Nashville, but Shea Weber could soon have Sergachev by his side in front of the great Carey Price. Weber sure needs a partner like Sergachev, as he's played most of the season alongside Alexei Emelin.
14 Nashville Predators - Vladislav Kamenev
Vladislav Kamenev has been a bit of a project prospect for the Nashville Predators, but their patience may pay off.
Kamenev is talented and has good size so he can pick a corner just as well as he can win a board battle. His vision and hockey sense have progressed as well, as he has nearly double the amount of assists (25) as goals (13) with the Milwaukee Admirals this season. He also carries a plus-15 rating after being a minus-5 last season which shows his two-way improvement.
He had a good showing with Team Russia at the World Junior Championships in each of the last two seasons. Last year, he scored a goal and added three assists for four points in seven games. This season, however, he topped that with five goals and an assist for six points in seven games.
Kamenev got a cup of tea in two games with the Nashville Predators, but he could be slotted into their top six for years to come if he continues to develop.
13 New Jersey Devils - Mike McLeod
The New Jersey Devils hope they hit it big with this strong, skilled center from Mississauga. Mike McLeod was the Devils’ first round pick (12th overall) in this past year’s draft.
McLeod is a highly skilled center that is a one-man wrecking crew. He has superb skills and control of the puck that allow him to carry over a point-per-game pace in the OHL.
The 19-year-old center has 53 points in 46 games, following up on his 61 points in 57 games last season with the Steelheads in the OHL. He is also his team's captain, showing his leadership abilities.
The Devils are searching for any signs of hope as they wade through mediocrity, and McLeod could just be that bright light they need.
12 New York Islanders - Matt Barzal
The hype around this 19-year old Canadian has been growing.
Matt Barzal was selected with the 16th pick in the 2015 NHL Draft after sliding down the draft board a bit. He has been massively impressive in each of the past three seasons, recording point totals of 57 (in 44 games), 88 (in 58 games) and 63 (in 34 games) with the Seattle Thunderbirds in the WHL.
Barzal is a fantastic skater with good puck-handling and poise. His shot is one of the best you'll find and he's capable of playing a two-way game.
The Islanders have been looking for a Robin to John Tavares' Batman for a while, and Barzal could be that guy for the boys from Brooklyn. How soon could it be?
11 New York Rangers - Igor Shesterkin
The New York Rangers farm system is slim for the pickings, but Igor Shestyorkin could be the heir apparent to their current King.
Shestyorkin was drafted in the fourth round (118th overall) by the New York Rangers in the 2014 NHL Draft. Normally fourth round picks aren't the most exciting prospects in a team's system but the Rangers may have struck gold with Shesterkin.The Russian product has spent all of his career in his home country, currently playing for SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL.
It’s hard to get excited about a goalie, but Rangers fans have come to love Henrik Lundqvist and although he’ll be hard to replace, Shesterkin could be the guy in a few years. There's no rush for Shesterkin to keep developing his game in Russia.
10 Ottawa Senators - Thomas Chabot
Thomas Chabot is part human, part horse. The big defenseman played nearly 30 minutes a game for Team Canada at this year’s World Junior Championship after his defensive partner suffered an injury.
Chabot slipped all the way to Ottawa at 18th overall in the 2015 NHL Draft, but some of the teams that passed on him are probably regretting it now. The two-way defenseman is looking like he'll be a top-pair defenseman in the NHL. With the Senators already having a right-handed stud in Erik Karlsson, Chabot could be the ying to Karlsson's yang as a left-handed blueliner.
Chabot had 10 points in seven games for Team Canada at the World Juniors, and has 38 points in 27 games for the Saint John Sea Dogs in the QMJHL. It won’t be long before we see him sporting the Ottawa jersey and playing 20 minutes a night there.
9 Philadelphia Flyers - Philippe Myers
The Philadelphia Flyers have a lot of prospect depth in their system, but one of their most exciting ones happens to be an undrafted defenseman.
Philippe Myers was signed to a contract after an amateur tryout to training camp in September of 2015. Since then, the big-bodied defenseman has bloomed. He has soared up the ranks of experts’ top prospects and has put up big point numbers.
Myers has suffered through a few injuries, but is still producing in the QMJHL with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. The 6'5" defenseman had 45 points (17 goals, 28 assists) and an insane plus-52 rating in 63 games last season for the QMJHL champions, and he has 20 points (eight goals, 12 assists) in 23 games there this season.
The Flyers have plenty of prospects from Travis Sanheim and Sam Morin to German Rubtsov and Oskar Lindblom, but the tall defenseman may be the most exciting of them all.
8 Pittsburgh Penguins - Daniel Sprong
The Pittsburgh Penguins hope to have another dynamic forward in the mix with Daniel Sprong.
Sprong was drafted in the second round at 46th overall in the 2015 NHL Draft by the Penguins. The man from Amsterdam is a great skater, passer and puck-handler. He can score at will in juniors, but didn't do much in a short stint with the Penguins last season.
Sprong scored just two goals in 18 games with Pittsburgh, but then scored 16 goals and added 30 assists for 46 points in 33 games with the Charlottetown Islanders in the QMJHL. He's continued and improved upon that pace this season, with 31 points (18 goals, 13 assists) in just 19 games for Charlottetown.
Sprong has dealt with some injuries, but once he’s fully healthy he should be an exciting player for Penguins fans to keep an eye on.
7 San Jose Sharks - Danny O'Regan
There aren't many great prospects in the San Jose Sharks farm system, but Danny O'Regan could be a diamond in the rough.
Danny O'Regan is another one of those project prospects. He was drafted in the fifth round (138th overall) by the San Jose Sharks in the 2012 NHL Draft. The forward played all four years at Boston University, totalling 154 points (66 goals, 88 assists) in as many games, including 44 points in 39 games his senior season.
This year he played one game with the Sharks while shining in the AHL. He has 45 points (16 goals, 29 assists) in 43 games for the San Jose Barracuda.
The Sharks don’t have a lot of young prospects to look forward to, but this forward could be their best bet.
6 St. Louis Blues - Tage Thompson
The American-born Thompson fell down the draft board a bit to the 26th spot for the St. Louis Blues to snag him in this past year’s draft. The Phoenix product was ranked in the late teens to early twenties, but slid down to the Blues on draft day.
Thompson is playing out his late-teenage years at the University of Connecticut and is doing pretty well for himself. He had 32 points (14 goals, 18 assists) in his freshman season and has 29 points (17 goals, 12 assists) in 30 games this season.
He also represented his country at this year’s World Junior Championships, scoring a goal and adding four assists for five points in seven games for the gold medalists.
Thompson is a big-bodied two-way forward that can provide an offensive presence for the Blues to look forward to a few years down the road.
5 Tampa Bay Lightning - Taylor Raddysh
Taylor Raddysh fell all the way down to 58th overall in the second round of last year's NHL Draft, but the Tampa Bay Lightning must be happy he did.
It's somewhat understandable, as the right-winger had just over a point-per-game pace last season with 73 points (24 goals, 49 assists) in 67 games for the Erie Otters. However, he's completely broken through this season.
Raddysh has an extremely impressive 93 points (34 goals, 59 assists) in just 47 OHL games. He also scored six goals and added an assist for seven points in as many games for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships.
The Tampa Bay Lightning are already a young, exciting bunch and they could be joined by another electrifying forward soon.
4 Toronto Maple Leafs - Kasperi Kapanen
The prized prospect from the Phil Kessel trade may eventually pay dividends for the Toronto Maple Leafs. The 2014 first round pick (22nd overall) of the Pittsburgh Penguins got traded to Toronto last summer and has been thriving since.
Kasperi Kapanen didn't show much in his nine NHL games, but he is playing at a point-per-game pace in the AHL with the Toronto Marlies. He has 33 points, nearly split even between goals (16) and assists (17) in 33 games.
Kapanen also represented Finland at the World Junior Championships where he had five points (two goals, three assists) in seven games.
The Toronto Maple Leafs already have one of the best young cores in the league and they could have another young, exciting prospect joining their ranks as soon as next season.
3 Vancouver Canucks - Brock Boeser
The Vancouver Canucks are ready for the future to get here already. They are struggling along in the NHL with the Sedin twins aging, and are looking for some signs of hope.
Brock Boeser was the Vancouver Canucks first round pick (23rd overall) in the 2015 NHL Draft. He isn't too strong in the defensive end, but he knows how to shoot the puck.
Boeser had 27 goals and 33 assists in 42 games last season in his freshman year at the University of North Dakota. The American born Boeser also played at the World Junior Championships last year, recording six points in seven games.
He's following that up with a point-per-game pace this season. He has 28 points (13 goals, 15 assists) in 26 games for UND.
Bo Horvat is already a young stud, and they have another young goal scorer in their system that could be making waves soon.
2 Washington Capitals - Jakub Vrana
Jakub Vrana was the first round pick (13th overall) of the Washington Capitals in the 2014 NHL Draft. He's been in their system for a few years now and is finally getting a taste of the NHL. The Capitals are a team built to win now, so if Vrana can make it to the next level soon, he might get a chance at an early-career Stanley Cup.
He's primarily played in the AHL this season, but Vrana scored his first NHL goal and added two assists in 12 games with the Capitals this season. Meanwhile, he has 26 points in 34 games for the Hershey Bears in the AHL.
The Capitals already have lots of exciting European players, namely Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Vrana could be a solid addition to the group.
1 Winnipeg Jets - Kyle Connor
Kyle Connor is a two-way center with great speed and creativity. The 2015 first round pick (17th overall) of the Winnipeg Jets has spent some time with the big club this year, but has mostly played for the Manitoba Moose in the AHL after leaving the University of Michigan last season.
Last year he had a huge point total in the NCAA, with 71 points (35 goals, 36 assists) in 38 games for the Big 10 Champions.
This season, however, he is struggling a bit. He had four points (one goal, three assists) in 19 NHL games, and 18 points (eight goals, ten assists) in 32 AHL games.
The point totals aren't quite there yet, but the talent and ability still are. There are plenty of exciting things to watch for with this top prospect.
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