Future Focus: 1 prospect from each NHL team who's off to a hot start
We're more than a month into the NHL season, which means it's time to look at early standouts from around the hockey world.
From multi-year pros who took a step in the summer to emerging draft day gems from this past June, here's a look at one prospect from every team's system that's impressing early in the 2023-24 season:
Yegor Sidorov is proving he was a worthwhile top-100 pick this summer despite being passed over in the 2022 draft. The Belarusian winger is making a mockery of WHL goaltenders with 15 goals, 24 points, and an insane 89 shots on goal in 16 games.
Conor Geekie's picked up the slack with Wenatchee Wild teammates Zach Benson and Matt Savoie making cameos in the NHL. The 19-year-old's showing why the Coyotes traded up to take him 11th overall in 2022 with 23 points through 15 games. Don't be surprised to see him as a top-six center with Team Canada at the world juniors.
Second-round picks aren't supposed to become important pieces on top NHL teams less than two years after being drafted. But that's exactly what Matt Poitras has done with seven points and legitimate top-nine usage thanks to his hockey IQ and work ethic.
Jiri Kulich just keeps scoring goals. Coming off an excellent rookie season in the AHL as an 18-year-old, Kulich hasn't missed a beat in his sophomore campaign. He's racked up nine goals and 13 points to put himself on the cusp of the NHL.
Connor Zary's strong start - in conjunction with Calgary's early struggles - saw the 2020 first-rounder called to the big league in early November. After tallying 10 points in only six AHL games, the 22-year-old isn't wasting his NHL opportunity: He's got four points through five games with the Flames.
There's been no regression for Alexander Nikishin after his breakout 2022-23 campaign. The 6-foot-4 defenseman is putting up huge totals with seven goals and 23 points through two and a half months, while his 24:13 per contest leads all KHL players. Nikishin's very likely the best defenseman not in the NHL - but the Hurricanes have to wait until 2025 to bring him to North America.
You already know all about Connor Bedard, so let's look elsewhere for the Blackhawks.
Adam Gajan - a breakout star at the world juniors last year with Slovakia - has been a workhorse with the USHL's Green Bay Gamblers early on. He has a .917 save percentage in a league-leading 13 games.
After missing all of October with an injury, Nikolai Kovalenko seamlessly returned to action last week. The 24-year-old is up to seven goals and 18 points through 14 KHL games ahead of his anticipated arrival in North America next season.
Columbus Blue Jackets
After back-to-back 100-point seasons in the QMJHL, it's not a shock to see Jordan Dumais putting up absurd totals upon his return to the Halifax Mooseheads. The 2022 third-rounder has 12 goals and 28 points...in only 11 games. A 150-point year is a legitimate possibility for Dumais, even with missed time.
Logan Stankoven dazzled with the WHL's Kamloops Blazers and the 2021 second-rounder is doing much of the same in the AHL. The 5-foot-8 forward has seven goals and 15 points in his first 12 pro games. It's only a matter of time before we see him donning a Stars jersey in an NHL debut.
Detroit Red Wings
A transfer to Michigan State has paid dividends for Red Savage. The 20-year-old has 14 points in 12 games with the Spartans - the same amount he had in 32 contests with the Miami RedHawks a year ago.
Raphael Lavoie made it abundantly clear he wants to be on the Oilers' roster, as he tallied four goals and seven points in five AHL games to earn a quick call-up. He'll look to break into Edmonton's bottom six in the coming games under new head coach Kris Knoblauch.
Jack Devine's looking like a quality snag in the 2022 seventh round for the Panthers. Coming off of a strong sophomore campaign at the University of Denver, Devine started 2023-24 with five straight multi-point performances and has 18 points through 10 games.
Los Angeles Kings
It should be no surprise that Brandt Clarke earned an early season NHL call-up. The 2021 eighth overall pick has seamlessly transitioned to the professional ranks, tallying 10 points in 12 AHL games and ranking third in shots on goal among blue-liners.
Riley Heidt wasn't selected until the final pick of the 2023 second round despite scoring 97 points in the WHL at just 17 years old. He's letting teams know they made a mistake passing on him with 27 points in 16 games, and he's scored a point in every contest except for one.
Apparently, Lane Hutson got bored with racking up a bunch of assists. The electrifying blue-liner has goals in four straight, highlighted by a hat trick against North Dakota. With eight goals, Hutson's more than halfway to his tally from his freshman campaign in 30 fewer games.
Yaroslav Askarov doesn't have the same hype he once did as a former 11th overall pick, but he remains one of hockey's elite goaltending prospects. He's figuring out the North American game with a sparkling .935 save percentage in five starts to commence his sophomore AHL campaign.
New Jersey Devils
The Devils have an embarrassment of riches on the back end - and Seamus Casey will add to it before long. The 2022 second-rounder is flourishing at the University of Michigan with added offensive opportunities since Luke Hughes' NHL promotion, registering 18 points through the opening 12 contests to lead all NCAA defenders.
New York Islanders
Justin Gill's building on the breakout 2022-23 campaign that made him an Islanders fifth-round pick in the summer. The 20-year-old leads the QMJHL with 35 points in 19 games in his final year of junior eligibility.
New York Rangers
The New York Rangers always seem to have a goaltender on the cusp of the NHL. Dylan Garand has carried the momentum from a strong AHL postseason into the new campaign, sporting a .927 save percentage through seven starts.
Maxence Guenette is making a case to receive NHL minutes. The 22-year-old rearguard has 10 points in 11 games with the AHL's Belleville Senators after assisting on both goals in the team's 2-1 overtime win on Sunday.
Early concerns about Matvei Michkov's lack of ice time in the KHL have subsided since he was loaned back to HC Sochi. The 2023 seventh overall pick is playing 16:59 per night with Sochi and has registered 20 points in 22 games. That's a hugely positive development for the Flyers.
The Penguins used a top-15 pick on Brayden Yager this summer, anticipating that his goal-scoring dip was an anomaly. That's proving to be correct early on this season, as the Saskatoon native has 11 goals and 24 points in 17 WHL contests.
San Jose Sharks
Kasper Halttunen's elite shot made him an early second-round pick this summer. It's been on full display with the London Knights, as the Finnish sniper has 14 goals and 72 shots in his first 18 OHL games.
A dominant WHL postseason from Jagger Firkus has carried into the 2023-24 campaign. The 2022 second-rounder has 18 goals and 35 points in 18 games to lead the league in scoring. He has as many hat tricks (two) as he has games without a point.
St. Louis Blues
The Blues took Juraj Pekarcik in the top 100 of this past draft after his exceptional showing at the Under-18 tournament with Slovakia. He's made it look like a quality selection with his early performance in the USHL, where he has 18 points in 14 contests in his maiden campaign in North America.
Tampa Bay Lightning
2022 first-round pick Isaac Howard lit up the junior ranks with the National Team Development Program but disappointed in his first collegiate campaign with Minnesota-Duluth. A transfer to Michigan State revitalized the young talent, who has 15 points through 12 contests with the Spartans.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Easton Cowan exceeded all expectations with a superb preseason performance with the Maple Leafs and carried that momentum to the OHL. His tenacity has made for multiple highlight-reel plays on the penalty kill. So much for being a questionable first-round pick - the Strathroy, Ontario native has a whopping 24 points in 13 games.
The OHL's Kitchener Rangers are off to a flying start offensively - and Canucks 2023 third-rounder Hunter Brzustewicz is a big part of it. He has five goals, 32 points - making him the league leader among defenders - and is a plus-12 in only 19 contests.
Vegas Golden Knights
Arttu Karki's booming shot made him an intriguing third-round pick by the Golden Knights in June. Making the move to the OHL from Finland, he ranks third in the entire league with 14 goals through 19 games. Oh, and he's a defenseman, by the way.
Andrew Cristall remains an absurd scorer at the junior level. The 2022 second-rounder has 11 goals and 31 points through 16 WHL games. Assuming he stays healthy, he'll fly past the 100-point mark with the Kelowna Rockets.
The Brad Lambert who was once thought to be a contender for first overall in the 2022 draft is beginning to reappear. After decimating the WHL in the second half of last season, Lambert started the 2023-24 campaign on a seven-game point streak upon his return to the AHL.
Statistics from Elite Prospects.
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