When a player gets drafted into the NHL, it’s obviously a huge accomplishments. All those 5:00 a.m. practices and countless road trips for the parents were worth it.
And once a player is drafted, he’s instantly thinking about becoming a future superstar in the world’s greatest hockey league. That goes double for guys drafted in the first and second round. Before they know it, scouts are raving about them. These players are going on to great and big things. It’s only a matter of time until they become household names, as one of the top superstars in the NHL.
But that’s not always the case, and some current NHL prospects are learning that. Despite coming with lots of hype and intrigue, many prospects have failed to show much in the NHL, and their professional hockey careers are suddenly in jeopardy. Here’s a look at 15 NHL prospects who are facing a now-or-never time to break out.
*Stats courtesy of Hockey DB*
15. Samuel Morin
Looking to boost their defence, the Philadelphia Flyers drafted a towering 6-foot-6, 202-pound winger in Samuel Morin. He was taken with the 11th selection in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, but Morin’s progress has been super slow.
He didn’t make his NHL debut until 2016-17, appearing in just one game. The Flyers are still waiting for Morin to break out — if that ever happens. They don’t have to be patient on him, as Philly already has some talented young blueliners in Shane Gostisbehere, Ivan Provorov and others.
The Flyers don’t have to give Morin much more time to develop his game. He’s had his chances and just hasn’t been able to break through in the pros. He’ll likely get a ton of looks this upcoming season. And if Morin can’t put it together at the NHL level, the Flyers may move on from him.
14. Alex Tuch
The Minnesota Wild drafted Alex Tuch with the 18th selection in 2014. The talented forward was a machine at Boston College, scoring 32 goals and 62 points in just two seasons there. He played well for their farm team (The Iowa Wild), too. But Minnesota gave up on Tuch and packaged him to the Vegas Golden Knights in a deal that ensured the expansion squad selected Erik Haula.
Vegas stockpiled their prospect pipeline by making a large number of deals at the expansion draft, so GM George McPhee is loaded with forwards and young players in the system.
So will they put the pressure on Tuch to find his own game? Unlikely. Tuch has to start piecing it together himself. Vegas is in rebuilding mode, so they aren’t going to keep around former first round picks on their roster. They’re just going to keep getting younger and younger.
13. Frederik Gauthier
The Toronto Maple Leafs thought they had drafted a top-two centre when they used the 21st pick in 2013 on 6-foot-5, 235-pound sensation Frederik Gauthier. A former star for the Rimouski Oceanic, Gauthier posted a pair of 50-point seasons in the QMJHL. But four years later, and Gauthier’s NHL career may be one that never comes into fruition.
Gauthier has only appeared in 28 NHL games, scoring a mere two goals and a pair of assists. It doesn’t help that the Maple Leafs own a TON of quality forwards that includes Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, Connor Brown, Nazem Kadri, James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak.
As far as the Leafs are concerned, they have a great number of young forwards to build around for the long-term future. Gauthier has a ton of work to do if he wants to jump the depth chart. 2017-18 could be his final chance to show he has a future in Toronto.
12. Jacob De La Rose
A standout overseas in Sweden, Jacob De La Rose was drafted in the second round (34th overall) by the Montreal Canadiens in 2013. Though the Habs are a team known for taking their time to develop prospects, De La Rose was rushed into the NHL and figuratively hasn’t panned out thus far.
De La Rose appeared in 33 games for the Habs in 2014-15, put finished with just six points. He split time in the AHL and in the NHL that year, and has been up-and-down in the pros ever since.
Thus far, De La Rose has played in just 64 NHL games and has scored a mere four goals and seven points. Montreal already has a great group of forwards highlighted by Alex Galchenyuk, Max Pacioretty and Jonathan Drouin. They don’t really need De La Rose at this point. If he wants to be a Hab for the long run, he’s going to have to show his talents in 2017-18.
11. Jared McCann
After lighting up the OHL with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, Jared McCann was drafted 24th overall by the Vancouver Canucks in 2014. They acquired that pick from the Anaheim Ducks via the Ryan Kesler trade, and the skilled McCann looked like a nice piece for the Canucks to build around.
McCann did show some flash with the Canucks in 2015-16, scoring nine goals and 18 points in 69 games. But the Canucks dealt McCann to the Florida Panthers in a package deal that brought 6-foot-5 defenceman Erik Gudbranson over to the west coast. McCann had just seven points in 29 games for Florida in 2016-17.
Vancouver apparently traded McCann because of character issues. He now joins a retooling Florida team that isn’t devoid of young talent. It’s been three years since McCann has been drafted, and he still hasn’t become an NHL regular. Indeed, he’s facing a now-or-never stage of his career.
10. Kasperi Kapanen
Kasperi Kapanen was the centre piece asset for the Toronto Maple Leafs when they dealt away perennial 30-goal man Phil Kessel to the Pittsburgh Penguins — who drafted the Finnish talent 22nd overall in 2014.
But three years later, we are still waiting on Kapanen to break out at the NHL level. He did score 18 goals and 43 points in as many games for the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, but Kapanen has only appeared in 17 NHL games thus far. Without a doubt, he’s running out of time to show he deserves to be part of the Leafs’ future.
The Leafs will surely give Kapanen his ice time this year, but if he can’t put it all together? Well, Toronto simply won’t feel the need to stay patient with him. Kapanen has to get it going if he wants to be an NHL regular.
9. Hunter Shinkaruk
So far, Hunter Shinkaruk has been in two NHL organizations, and neither of them have been able to develop him accordingly. Shinkaruk — whom the Canucks selected with the 24th pick in 2013 — appeared in just one NHL game for Vancouver. Last year, he was swapped for Calgary Flames frustrating prospect Markus Granlund.
Well, Granlund scored 19 goals for the Canucks in 2016-17, so Vancouver is surely doing just fine. But the Flames? Not so much. Shinkaruk appeared in just seven games for them last season and scored one assist.
The former Medicine Hat Tigers sensation scored 49 goals and 91 points in 2011-12, then followed it up with 37 tallies and 86 points. Based on his play in junior, we know the talent is there. But Shinkaruk has barely played in the NHL, so 2017-18 may be his final chance to show Calgary that he deserves to be a regular in the big leagues.
8. Curtis Lazar
As is the case with Shinkaruk, Curtis Lazar is trying to figure himself out in Calgary after failing to develop with the team that drafted him. Once regarded as an elite NHL prospect, Lazar never lived up to the hype with the Ottawa Senators — who drafted him 17th overall in the 2013 Entry Draft.
Lazar was hyped up because of his blazing speed and blistering shot, but the Salmon Arm, B.C. native hasn’t transitioned well into the NHL. He has just 13 points and 39 points in 180 games.
Frustrated with his lack of progress, the Senators shipped him to the Flames at the 2017 trade deadline. Lazar did have three points in four games, but it remains to be seen if he’ll lock down a roster spot. If he doesn’t do it this upcoming season, Lazar may have to give up on the NHL dream.
7. Mirco Mueller
At first, Mirco Mueller seemed like one of the biggest steals in the first round of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. The San Jose Sharks landed the Swiss defenceman with the 18th pick, hoping he could develop well and form a strong blue line with Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic already in the fold.
However, Mueller’s progress has been incredibly slow, and the Sharks may soon run out of patience with the 6-foot-3, 205-pound defenceman. Mueller has only appeared in 54 NHL games — spread through three different seasons.
With Burns and Vlasic already on the blue line, San Jose has a terrific blue line and doesn’t have to wait around for Mueller. He’s had his chances to become an NHL regular, and it hasn’t happened yet. As is with many guys on this list, Mueller may only have one more season to show his team that he belongs.
6. Josh Ho-Sang
Hoping he could be a nice fit with John Tavares on Long Island, the New York Islanders selected Josh Ho-Sang with the 28th pick in 2014. Josh Ho-Sang had twice hit the 80-point mark in junior, and the Isles had hoped that an extra year in the OHL would help him develop more.
But Ho-Sang didn’t exactly crush it in the AHL, scoring just 10 goals and 36 points in 50 games for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. The Islanders brought him in for 21 games this past season, but Ho-Sang scored just four goals and 10 points.
With Tavares possibly leaving next season in free agency, New York is hoping that Ho-Sang will be able to emerge as a top goal-scorer. One thing is for sure — they really cannot wait around much longer.
5. Mark Jankowski
The Flames have played the (super long) waiting game with Mark Jankowski, whom they selected 21st overall in the 2012 draft. But five years later, it’s becoming more and more unlikely that Jankowski never becomes the superstar they had hoped for.
After four strong showings for Providence College, the Flames have since tried developing Jankowski in the AHL. He had a terrific season for the Stockton Heat in 2016-17, scoring 27 goals and 56 points. Jankowski was called up for one game last season, but didn’t score a point.
Calgary already has a plethora of young talent on their roster, including Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, Sam Bennett and Matthew Tkachuk. They really don’t need Jankowski as badly as they did some years earlier. If Jankowski doesn’t turn pro in the next two seasons, Calgary will surely give up on him.
4. Kerby Rychel
Kerby Rychel lit up the OHL during his four years with the Windsor Spitfires, twice scoring 40 goals. He seemed poised to be a pure goal-scorer in the NHL, but that may just end up never happening.
The Columbus Blue Jackets drafted Rychel 19th overall in 2013, but eventually gave up on him and sent the 6-foot-1 winger to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Scott Harrington and a fifth round pick. The Maple Leafs are know Rychel’s last chance, should he salvage an NHL career.
The good news for Rychel is that he did show flashes for the Marlies last season, scoring 19 goals and 52 points in just 73 games. But Rychel still needs to become a regular NHLer, and there’s no guarantee that he cracks Toronto’s roster. He probably has two years left at most to show the world he can be a professional. Otherwise, he may have to give up on the NHL dream.
3. Brendan Lemieux
The brother of iconic NHL power forward and pest Claude Lemieux, Brendan was once among the game’s elite prospects. He was drafted 31st overall by the Buffalo Sabres in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. Lemieux was the ultimate power in the OHL, scoring 41 goals and picking up 145 penalty minutes with the Barrie Colts in 2014-15.
But the Sabres opted to package Lemieux in a blockbuster trade two years ago that brought Evander Kane over to Buffalo. The Winnipeg Jets have since put Lemieux in the minors with the Manitoba Moose.
However, Lemieux hasn’t even scored that much in the AHL. He has just 14 goals and 22 points in 66 games there. Having yet to make the NHL — and being part of a Jets team that features countless elite prospects — Lemieux has to show his worth this upcoming season. Otherwise, Claude’s son may not continue the family generation of having players in the NHL.
2. Jake Virtanen
If there was to be any consolation for a disastrous 2013-14 Vancouver Canucks season, it would be the sixth overall pick. In a draft loaded with scorers, general manager Jim Benning selected power forward Jake Virtanen, passing on future stars that included William Nylander and Nikolaj Ehlers.
Virtanen — a 6-foot-1, 229-pound goal-scorer, dominated the WHL with the Calgary Hitmen. In 2013-14, he scored 45 goals and 71 points. He instantly became the top prospect in Vancouver’ system, but Virtanen has yet to make much of an impact in both the AHL and NHL.
In 65 NHL games, Virtanen has just seven goals and 14 points. He expressed his frustration with being sent up-and-down the minors this season. Virtanen had just nine goals and 19 points with the Utica Comets of the AHL, and hasn’t shown that he is ready for the NHL.
Vancouver has since began building a solid group of young players through the draft. Virtanen is not needed at this stage. If he doesn’t do well in the minors/NHL this season, the Canucks may just cut ties with him and trade Virtanen to another team.
1. Malcolm Subban
Despite already owning one of the league’s top young goalies in Tuukka Rask, the Boston Bruins decided to use the 24th pick of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft on goalie Malcolm Subban. That got fans excited, considering that older brother P.K. was a star on the rival Montreal Canadiens.
But Malcolm Subban has not progressed at all in the minors. He’s spent four seasons with the Providence Bruins of the AHL, but has yet to play more than 35 games in a single campaign. His numbers aren’t that bad, but his play isn’t jaw-dropping. With Rask locked up long-term, things aren’t looking good for Subban in Beantown.
At this stage, his best bet is to seek a trade and find a new team to develop under. Boston has been super patient with Subban, cause they already have Rask. It could only be a matter of time until they move on form P.K.’s younger brother.
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