A look at one member each Western Conference team who may be ready to become an impact player for his respective franchise.
Anaheim Ducks- Kyle Palmieri, Forward
>Palmieri’s seen time with Anaheim before, but only in limits spurts before being sent back to the Syracuse Crunch (the Ducks’ AHL affiliate). He posted seven points in 18 games with Anaheim this year, but his 58 points-in-51 –games for Syracuse this past year (including 33 goals)along with a solid two-goal, two-assists performance for Team USA at the 2012 IIHF World Championships is what should earn him a shot to stay with the Ducks permanently this year. Anaheim’s struggled to find any offense outside of their Big Four (Bobby Ryan, Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Teemu Selanne), and if Palmieri can translate his AHL and IIHF success consistently to the NHL game, Anaheim may have found themselves a good young forward to help fill out their top six.
Also watch for: Devante Smith-Pelley, F
Calgary Flames- Sven Baertschi, Forward
Baertschi was electric in limited action as an emergency call-up last year. With the Flames ravaged by injuries, they were forced to bring up Baertschi long before they figured he was ready. Baertschi answered by posting three goals in five games before being sent back to the CHL. Calgary has struggled to find much offense outside of Jarome Iginla, so if Baertschi sticks with the team on a more permanent basis, he may be primed for an early breakout campaign.
Also watch for: Roman Cervenka, F
Chicago Blackhawks- Alexander Salak, Goaltender
> Suffice it to say, goaltender was not a strong suit for Chicago last year. Neither Ray Emery nor Corey Crawford posted a single shutout, nor was either able to post anything better than a 2.72 goals-against average. Emery barely beat out Salak, Chicago’s top goaltending prospect, for the backup job before last year, but Chicago is likely headed for another short postseason run with Emery and Crawford in net. Thanks to him not making the team last year, Salak has another year of junior-level seasoning under his belt, and should at least see a few games of NHL action, if not more in the event that he can show he’s better than the Blackhawks’ current crop of netminders.
Also watch for:
Colorado Avalanche- Steve Downie, Forward
> After being dealt from Tampa Bay to Colorado, Downie erupted in the final 20 games of the 2011-12 season, racking up 13 points (two goals, 11 assists) with a healthy +9 rating. If Downie can give Colorado a full season like that, the Avalanche may have one more talented young forward to compliment an already burgeoning core headlined by Matt Duchene, Ryan O’Reilly, Gabriel Landeskog and Paul Stasny.
Also watch for: Stefan Elliot, D
Columbus Blue Jackets- Artem Anisimov, Forward
> The talented but inconsistent Anisimov was shipped out of New York as part of the trade for former Blue Jackets captain Rick Nash. However, given Columbus’ relative lack of forward talent, its highly likely that Anisimov, a former second-round draft choice, will get to see top-six, or even top-line minutes; an opportunity for Anisimov to cure his inconsistency with the help of more playing time, and give the Blue Jackets one of the impact forwards they’ll so desperately need with Rick Nash no longer in town.
Also watch for: Ryan Johanson, F; Ryan Murray, D
Dallas Stars- Brendan Dillon, Defenseman
> Dallas’ blueline is a little unsettled, leaving the chance for some of their young prospects to possibly come up and see significant playing time this year. Brendan Dillon is arguably the prospect with the best chance of securing a roster spot this year, though guys like Jamie Oleksiak, Patrik Nemeth, and Jordie Benn will also receive heavy consideration. He saw one game of NHL action last year, the season finale against the St. Louis Blues, and was often the top player in the ice for the Stars. Dillon looked confident handling the puck, taking shots, and playing in every zone of the ice, and should be ready for extended NHL action this year, possibly as a member of one of the Star top two defensive pairings.
Also watch for: Scott Glennie, F; Jordie Benn, D
Detroit Red Wings- Brendan Smith, Defenseman
> For the first time in 20 years, legendary defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom will not be patrolling the blueline for the Detroit Red Wings. So, who will replace him in the lineup? In all likelihood, it will be Brendan Smith, a former first-round pick who’s risen through the ranks to develop into the Red Wings’ top defensive prospect. Smith saw some sparse NHL action this past season, and should be ready for a full-time role with Detroit this year.
Also watch for: Gustav Nyquist, F
Edmonton Oilers- Justin Schultz, Defenseman
> Edmonton is a team loaded with young offensive talent, but overall lacks defensive impact makers. They poached top prospect Justin Schultz from Anaheim after he chose not to sign an entry-level deal with them, and after a stellar college career, Schultz is set to step right into Edmonton’s defensive rotation. Given their lack of talent on the blueline, Schultz may step up to become their best defenseman in the near future.
Also watch for: Devan Dubnyk, G, Jeff Petry, D
Los Angeles Kings- Dwight King, Forward
> Los Angeles is a team that’s built on depth, so its not a stretch to say that one of their young third-liners is headed for a breakout campaign. As a rookie last year, King played in 27 games, posting 14 points. He then posted five goals in the postseason, fourth best on Los Angeles, en route to winning the Stanley Cup. King’s got great size at 6’3”, 234, and plenty of talent. He should be all set to improve upon his numbers from last year, while stepping into a full-time, 82-game role.
Also watch for: Slava Voynov, D
Minnesota Wild- Mikael Granlund, Forward
> Minnesota’s exciting Finnish prospect will finally join the club this year, after spending the last couple years developing in his home country. A smallish but highly skilled and speedy forward, Granlund could be the injection of life the Wild’s offensive attack so badly needs. He’ll likely be inserted right into Minnesota’s second line, and will likely be teamed with countryman and Wild captain Mikko Koivu to help speed up his assimilation process into the NHL.
Also watch for: Jason Zucker, F;
Nashville Predators- Ryan Ellis, Defenseman
> With All-Star defenseman Ryan Suter now suiting up for Minnesota, Nashville will look within in order to replace him. Luckily, they’ve got Ryan Ellis, the 11th overall pick from the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, waiting in the wings. Ellis is on the small side for a defenseman at 5’10, 180 pounds, but he plays with a physical style that makes him seem much bigger than he is (just ask Wayne Simmonds).He’s a great puck-mover with a strong offensive hockey sense, and will likely be inserted into Nashville’s top-four defensive rotation.
Also watch for: Colin Wilson, F
Phoenix Coyotes- Mikkel Boedker, Forward
> Mikkel Boedker has long been a frustrating player for the Coyotes. Good size, plenty of skill, but extremely low production for the former 8th overall selection from the 2008 Draft. However, Boedker came to life at the right time, notching eight points in 16 playoff games this past season, including two game-winners in overtime. Boedker has yet to net more than 11 goals or 28 points in a season, but if he can build off his postseason performance and continue to develop, Boedker could finally develop this season into the player Phoenix envisioned when they used such a high draft pick on him.
Also watch for: Oliver Ekmann-Larson, D
San Jose Sharks- Martin Havlat, Forward
> Yes, Martin Havlat. Yes, he’s been an All-Star, yes he’s won a Stanley Cup, yes he’s a multiple-time 30-goal scorer. But San Jose doesn’t really have much young talent that’s going to see extensive time this year, and given Havlat’s less-than-meeting-expectations campaign last year after suffering a rash of injuries, if he can stay healthy, Havlat should have his best season in a few years as the right wing on San Jose’s second line.
Also watch for: Tommy Wingels, F
St. Louis Blues- Vladimir Tarasenko, Forward
> Widely considered the Blues’ top prospect, Russian forward Vladimir Tarasenko is set to join the team this year after spending the past few years playing in his native Russia. To say he’s ready for NHL action wouldn’t be a huge stretch; he’s been playing in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League, the top professional league in Russia, since he was 16. Now 20 years old, Tarasenko should be ready to be a top offensive contributor for St. Louis. A 50-60 point season shouldn’t be out of the question for him.
Also watch for: Jaden Schwartz, F
Vancouver Canucks- Cory Schneider, Goaltender
> After yet another disappointing postseason, the Vancouver Canucks are undergoing a changing of the guard in net. Cory Schneider, who has backed up Roberto Luongo for the past two years, is set to become the Canucks’ starting goaltender. Luongo, often the scapegoat for Vancouver’s playoff disappointments, will likely be traded. Schneider is a former first-round pick of Vancouver’s, and looked sharp in 33 starts last year, posting a 20-8-4 record with a .937 save percentage and an impressive 1.96 goals-against average.
Also watch for: Zach Kassian, F