5 young players poised to break out this season
It's no secret that the NHL has become a young man's game, built on fast feet and even quicker minds.
And while some players make an immediate impact, others take a little more time to develop. Here are five youngsters set for the next step after making it through the feeling-out phase:
Sam Bennett, Calgary Flames
In a way, it's nearly make-or-break time for Bennett, the Calgary Flames forward who's spent two seasons in the NHL but hasn't yet lived up to his billing as the fourth overall draft pick in 2014.
Bennett appeared in all but one game with the Flames last season, but finished with just 26 points - a double-digit slide from a year earlier, when he also skated in four fewer contests.
The good news is that Bennett was one of Calgary's brightest lights during the team's quick postseason exit against the Anaheim Ducks. In four playoff games, Bennett notched two goals, which ranked second on the team behind Sean Monahan.
Kyle Connor, Winnipeg Jets
Connor didn't disappoint in the minors, recording 25 goals and 19 assists in 52 games. That offensive outburst laid the foundation for the upcoming season, as the 20-year-old is again expected to begin the campaign in Winnipeg.
With the Jets, Connor has the potential to take his scoring impact to the next level, as he should share a line with center Bryan Little and winger Blake Wheeler, who combined for 121 points last season. Drafted 17th overall in 2015, Connor's selection looks like another savvy move by the Jets.
Brendan Perlini, Arizona Coyotes
A first-round pick in 2014, Perlini made his pro debut last season and began the year with the AHL's Tucson Roadrunners, where he netted 14 goals in 17 games.
After scoring at just below a goal-per-game pace in the minors, Perlini was called up by the Arizona Coyotes, where he kept up the hot stick by pocketing 14 goals in 57 contests.
Now that he's gotten a taste of the NHL, Perlini will begin the 2017-18 campaign with the Coyotes where he should figure into the club's top-six forwards, likely alongside fellow freshman Christian Dvorak.
Jesse Puljujarvi, Edmonton Oilers
The 2016-17 season was undoubtedly frustrating for Puljujarvi, as he kicked things off with the Edmonton Oilers but struggled while notching just one goal and seven assists in 28 games.
In early January, the Oilers decided more seasoning was in order, sending Puljujarvi to the Bakersfield Condors of the AHL - a demotion that came just weeks after he could have been loaned to Team Finland to suit up at the world juniors.
But after a disastrous early run in Edmonton, Puljujarvi found his game in Bakersfield, tallying 12 goals and 16 assists in 39 games. The expectation is he'll be able to translate that production to the NHL ranks this season.
Josh Ho-Sang, New York Islanders
A late first-round pick in 2014, Ho-Sang is set to take off for the New York Islanders after the franchise put in plenty of patience.
In his first pro season, the Islanders winger spent much of the year in the minors, skating in 50 games with the AHL's Bridgeport Sound Tigers, where he produced 36 points before getting called up to the big club.
Islanders fans then got a preview of Ho-Sang's scoring abilities during a 21-game run at the end of last season, a stretch in which he produced almost a half-point per game with four goals and six assists. Ho-Sang could certainly build on those numbers to become a Calder Trophy candidate this season.
(Photos courtesy: Action Images)