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5 players poised to break out this season

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Recent NHL seasons have seen plenty of young talents make immediate impacts, but for other budding stars, a feeling-out process is needed before their teams see a return on investment.

Whether it's adjusting to the speed, becoming more familiar with the North American rink, or simply finding comfort in playing the pro game, here are five players who have endured slow starts to their NHL careers but are destined for better times in 2018-19:

Joel Eriksson Ek

Often criticized as an older club lacking offensive creativity, the next wave is on the way for the Minnesota Wild, headlined in part by Joel Eriksson Ek.

The Swedish import and former first-round pick has spent the past two seasons in North America, and after getting his feet wet in 75 games with the Wild last year, Eriksson Ek is ready to make the next step.

The 21-year-old made the Wild out of training camp last season but struggled to find his scoring touch, notching just three points in 20 games. By late November, a refresher in the minors was deemed necessary and later proved worthwhile, as Eriksson Ek posted a point-per-game pace over seven AHL contests.

Later recalled to the big club, Eriksson Ek showed greater poise as he closed out the season with 13 points. For the coming campaign, he will have plenty of opportunities to build on last year's performance as he is expected to play among Minnesota's top nine forwards.

Nolan Patrick

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New Jersey Devils forward Nico Hischier took Round 1 in the battle of the top two picks of the 2017 draft, but expect that gap to disappear this season.

After posting just 11 points through his first 41 games, Philadelphia Flyers center Nolan Patrick found his footing in his final 32 contests, picking up nine goals and 10 assists. He then added another two points in the Flyers' first-round playoff exit.

As the new season nears, and with Patrick projected as Philadelphia's second-line center, there will be plenty of support for the Manitoba product to not only avoid a sophomore slump but build on his successful second half.

With the Flyers' first line expected to stay intact, look for Patrick to pivot between free-agent addition James van Riemsdyk, who potted 36 goals last season, and dominant playmaker Jakub Voracek, whose 65 assists were outpaced by only three players in 2017-18.

Jesse Puljujarvi

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Jesse Puljujarvi leads the next wave in the Edmonton Oilers' fountain of riches, and while he hasn't been immediately productive at the NHL level like many in his draft class, expect the Finnish winger to reach those heights this season.

Puljujarvi disappointed when he didn't make the Oilers out of training camp a year ago, but after putting up five points through 10 AHL games, he was recalled to Edmonton just one month into the season. There was no looking back from there, as Puljujarvi finished the 2017-18 campaign with the Oilers, notching 12 goals and eight assists in 65 appearances.

While his overall numbers don't equal the level of production expected from a high pick - Puljujarvi was drafted ahead of star talents like Matthew Tkachuk and Clayton Keller - he'll be provided with an expanded offensive role in 2018-19.

The expectation is Puljujarvi could ride shotgun to center Leon Draisaitl, who has cracked the 70-point plateau in each of the past two seasons. There's also the possibility for some magic alongside Connor McDavid should the captain's chemistry with winger Ty Rattie fizzle out.

Jack Roslovic

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While he won't be the focal point for the opposition, expect Jack Roslovic to fill an offensive role in the Winnipeg Jets' top nine.

The 25th pick in 2015 already has two years of pro experience under his belt. He led the AHL's Manitoba Moose with 48 points in the 2016-17 campaign, proving he's ready for prime time.

Last season, Roslovic split time between the Moose and the Jets, impressing with 35 points in just 32 games in the minors to earn a call-up to Winnipeg. That stretch included 10 appearances in the Jets' run to the Western Conference Final and gave the young forward a leg up in locking down a full-time spot for the coming season.

There will be one change, however, as Roslovic, who played on the wing last season, is expected to compete for a job at center following the departure of deadline addition Paul Stastny.

Daniel Sprong

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There's no denying what Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby has achieved over his career; the seemingly constant challenge has been finding talented linemates that can mesh alongside the captain.

The likes of Patric Hornqvist, Jake Guentzel, and the departed Conor Sheary have held those roles in recent seasons; however, there could be a new face this season in intriguing forward Daniel Sprong.

Over the past two years, the Dutch-born winger has seen plenty of minutes sprinkled across junior, the minors, and Pittsburgh. The erratic winger boasts plenty of offensive skill, as he demonstrated with a point-per-game pace over 65 games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton last season. But when called upon by the Penguins, Sprong has yet to deliver consistent production.

Still, given his accomplishments in the minor ranks, Sprong is due for another shot at NHL duty and could have the chance to play alongside some exceptionally talented linemates in the process.

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