Zack Kassian had 77 points in 56 games last season, his last in the OHL. This season, he has five points in four AHL games. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images)
The NHL stays for some rookies was very short – in fact, the Islanders' Ryan Strome didn't even play a game – but the experiences will go a long way in helping prospects such as Brandon Saad and Ryan Murphy develop this year. Most interesting is the fact Canada's world junior squad will benefit. No Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, but Strome, Jonathan Huberdeau and Murphy give the Canucks a pretty good start. As always, here's a look at some of the players we're excited to see in the NHL one day.
Zack Kassian, RW – Rochester Americans
The Buffalo Sabres have a trio of big, bruising prospects in Kassian, Marcus Foligno and Luke Adam. Only Adam made the final cut, but that doesn’t mean the future is dark for the other two. Kassian, for example, has five points in his first four games with the Amerks, plus a fight with Garnet Exelby to top it off. Being physical is something Kassian knows will be his bread and butter as a pro, but he doesn’t want to limit himself.
“I’m hard to play against, but at the same time I can bring skill,” he said. “I can make plays and I can score.”
Taking on older competition is something that will be a bellwether for his development and in engaging a veteran such as Exelby, it’s clear the youngster won’t back down.
“I’m a very competitive person, so I like that stuff,” Kassian said. “Taking on older players…I’m looking forward to the challenge and it should be exciting.”
Coming from a loaded Windsor Spitfires squad at the end of his junior career (he also played for Peterborough), Kassian is used to being surrounded by talent and credits the time in Windsor for helping his development.
“They’ve had a lot of great prospects,” he said. “Some are playing in the NHL right now, some are close, so that was a great team to be a part of.”
Now that he’s growing in the Sabres organization alongside Adam and Foligno, Kassian has the chance to be part of another great team in the near future. Drafted 13th overall by Buffalo in 2009.
Cody Bradley, RW – Indiana Ice (USHL)
Indiana’s off to a perfect 4-0 start in the United States League and Bradley’s contributions have been a big part of the success. The Florida native has been excellent on the power play and has tallied two goals and six points so far, putting him on pace for a breakout season as a USHL sophomore. Draft eligible in 2012.
Dougie Hamilton, D – Niagara IceDogs (OHL)
Not every high pick can go straight to the NHL, though Hamilton had a good showing at Boston’s training camp. The big, smart blueliner will have to settle for lighting up the junior ranks for another season and he’s off to a great start. Hamilton has five goals and 17 points through nine games, tying him for fifth among all Ontario Leaguers. Drafted ninth overall by Boston in 2011.
Carter Ashton, RW – Norfolk Admirals (AHL)
Ashton has been high on Tampa Bay’s radar basically since the Bolts drafted him in the same 2009 first round that netted them Victor Hedman. But power forwards can take a while to develop and the son of ex-NHLer Brent Ashton is now beginning to put up points at the pro level, notching four goals and seven points in four games for the Ads so far this season. Drafted 29th overall by Tampa Bay in 2009.
Emerson Etem, RW – Medicine Hat Tigers (WHL)
It seems as if Etem’s ascension to the NHL hinges on the activities of Teemu Selanne and since the Finnish Flash is still in Anaheim, Etem is still in junior. No problem for Medicine Hat, as the Western League’s player of the week has launched himself to the top of the leaderboard with 13 goals and 21 points in nine games. Drafted 29th overall by Anaheim in 2010.
Nick Bjugstad, C – University of Minnesota Golden Gophers (WCHA)
Florida GM Dale Tallon loves the size and talent Bjugstad brings to his organization and the kid has certainly stepped it up a notch for his sophomore season in Minnesota. Bjugstad has three goals and seven points in his first four games as the undefeated Gophers have run roughshod over the competition. Drafted 19th overall by Florida in 2010.
Ryan Pulock, D – Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)
A late birthday, Pulock must wait another year to be draft eligible, but that will just give him more time to light up the ‘Dub.’ At 6-foot-1, 201 pounds, the Wheaties blueliner has a great frame already and his nine assists and 12 points through nine games makes him one of the top-scoring D-men on the circuit. A plus-10 rating is a nice bonus, too. Draft eligible in 2013.
Francois Tremblay, G – Val d’Or Foreurs (QMJHL)
After a rocky start to the campaign, Tremblay has really settled in. The 6-foot-2 goalkeeper boasts a .950 save percentage through his past four appearances, two of which resulted in shutouts. The Foreurs are the lowest-scoring team in the Quebec League, but they’ve been thriving with Tremblay’s recent heroics. Draft eligible in 2012.
Blake Pietila, LW – Michigan Tech Huskies (WCHA)
Lauded in his NTDP days for hustle, physical play and speed, Pietila is getting a chance to put up more offense now that he’s not buried behind elite scorers with Tech. The mid-sized winger has four points in his first four NCAA games and leads the team with 20 shots on net. Drafted 129th overall by New Jersey in 2011.
John Gaudreau, LW – Boston College Eagles (Hockey East)
Originally committed to Northeastern, Gaudreau hopped across town when Huskies coach Greg Cronin left to join the Toronto Maple Leafs. And the Eagles are already reaping the benefits of the freshman’s decision. Gaudreau has put up four assists and six points in four games for Boston College, using those finely honed offensive skills that made him a star in the USHL despite standing just 5-foot-6 and 141 pounds. Drafted 104th overall by Calgary in 2011.
The Hot List, a roundup of minor league, junior, college and high school players we’re excited to one day see in the NHL, appears every Tuesday only on thehockeynews.com. A player is eligible for The Hot List until they play in their first NHL game.
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