Special to Yahoo Sports
The NHL as a whole is increasingly becoming a younger league, but it's still not uncommon to see players who are ready to help the big club right away begin the season in the AHL. Below is our annual list of 10 prospects that are worth stashing on your bench even though they may start the year with their organization's minor-league affiliate.
Igor Shesterkin, G, New York Rangers
Ilya Samsonov, G, Washington Capitals
Shesterkin and Samsonov will both begin the season in the minors as there's simply no room for either of them in New York or D.C. at the moment. It's the correct decision. Henrik Lundqvist and impressive second-year man Alexandar Georgiev are expected to shoulder the load for the Rangers, while Braden Holtby (backed up by Pheonix Copley) is the unquestioned No. 1 man in the nation's capital. It's difficult to decide which of these two young Russians is better equipped to contribute this season. Shesterkin seems more likely to earn a significant chunk of NHL games, but he's also entering his first season in North America. Samsonov is less likely to earn playing time in Washington, but he spent the entirety of last season in the AHL. Both youngsters project as future top-tier netminders and both possess league-winning upside in the event they earn the starting gig with their respective teams as the result of trades, injuries, or otherwise.
Jordan Kyrou, RW, St. Louis Blues
Kyrou is clearly ready to play in the NHL at age-21, but St. Louis displayed little interest in deploying the former 2016 second-rounder in a depth/power-play role last season, and there doesn't appear to be a top-six slot open with the big club at the moment. As a result, the odds appear to be better than 50/50 that Kyrou will begin the year back in the AHL. He posted 16 goals and 43 points in 47 games with San Antonio last season, and I expect him to be among the AHL's leading scorers for as long as he remains on the farm. The Blues are a good team, but they're also an aging team. Kyrou will get his shot in St. Louis at some point in 2019-20.
Morgan Frost, C, Philadelphia Flyers
I keep wavering back and forth about how I feel Frost's transition to professional hockey will go. Part of me thinks it's going to take him some time to adjust to the speed and physicality of the higher level, while another part believes that his high hockey IQ will enable him to seamlessly adjust to the reduced time and space he'll have to make plays with the puck. The Flyers are super high on Frost and I don't think they'll be afraid to push him this year if they feel he's ready. If Sean Couturier or Kevin Hayes goes down with a long-term injury, don't be surprised to see Frost slot into a top-six role in Philadelphia.
Jeremy Bracco, RW, Toronto Maple Leafs
Bracco finished second in scoring in the AHL last campaign (79 points in 75 games) despite playing nearly the entire regular season as a 21 year old. He's a brilliant passer and power-play specialist but he's limited to playing the right wing and of no use in a depth role. If Mitch Marner signs with the Leafs before the season begins, Bracco will have almost no chance of beginning the year in the NHL. The offseason additions of Jason Spezza, Pontus Aberg, and Ilya Mikheyev don't help his chances, either. Bracco is almost certainly a better player than the aging Spezza and enigmatic Aberg, but the Leafs want their 22 year old stud playing big minutes, and it's hard to argue with that mindset. It might take a trade for Bracco to earn significant playing time in Toronto in 2019-20.
Owen Tippett, RW, Florida Panthers
Tippett is 100 percent ready to help the Florida power play, but there's simply no room for him at the moment. He would have to climb over the likes of Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Evgenii Dadonov, Vincent Trocheck, Mike Hoffman and Henrik Borgstrom for playing time. Tippett's play away from the puck also needs work, and that's not the type of thing that will improve if you're only playing eight or nine minutes per game. Perhaps a mid-season deal opens the door for the former 2017 10th overall selection in 2019-20.
Nicolas Hague, D, Vegas Golden Knights
Hague is an under-the-radar, deep-league option and the first defenseman on our list. He's ready for a full-time role in Vegas after posting 13 goals and 32 points in 75 AHL games last season. Hague was drafted as a tall, rangy, stay-at-home defenseman, but his offensive game has really come along over the past couple seasons. However, the fact that the Golden Knights already have six NHL defenders under contract all but ensures he'll begin the 2019-20 campaign right back with AHL Chicago.
Victor Olofsson, RW, Buffalo Sabres
Olofsson would probably be second on this list if I was truly convinced that Buffalo's going to send him back to the minors, but I refuse to believe that he'll return to Rochester to start the year despite the fact the team acquired Jimmy Vesey and Marcus Johansson this summer. Olofsson scored 30 goals and averaged nearly a point-per-game (63 points in 66 games) in his first AHL campaign last year. He's 24 years old and has four seasons of SHL experience under his belt, so it's not as if he's a kid. A player like Vesey is best served in a third-line/depth role, so I have faith that the Sabres will see the light and deploy Olofsson properly to begin the year.
Jason Robertson, LW, Dallas Stars
Robertson led the OHL in scoring last season with 117 points. I'm higher on his long-term potential than most, but he's a below-average skater, and it remains to be seen how he'll adjust to the speed of the professional game. I believe he'll eventually adapt and develop into a solid second-liner and power-play threat, but I don't expect it to happen immediately.
Adam Boqvist, D, Chicago Blackhawks
Boqvist is ready to help the Chicago power play right now, but I think his play away from the puck will torpedo any chance he has of making the team out of training camp. Boqvist was good, not great, in his first and only OHL campaign last year. He's a very good offensive defenseman, but he's not overly dynamic. The Blackhawks could use his smarts and puck skills in their lineup this year, but they also can't rush the Swede — he means too much to their long-term prospects.
Oliver Wahlstrom, RW, New York Islanders
Wahlstrom's freshman campaign at Boston University was an unmitigated disaster (eight goals in 36 games), but the Isles still elected to sign him to an entry-level contract in March. He needs at least a full season in the minors, but I have him listed here because I'm concerned about New York's offensive depth, and I could see him rushed to the NHL in February or March if the Islanders' power play continues to struggle.
On the flip side, here are ten players who will likely begin the season in the NHL, but would immediately slide to the top of this list in the unlikely event that they're demoted:
1- Cody Glass (C-VGK)
2- Vitali Kravtsov (RW-NYR)
3- Martin Necas (C-CAR)
4- Filip Zadina (LW-DET)
5- Erik Brannstrom (D-OTT)
6- Joel Farabee (LW-PHI)
7- Nick Suzuki (C-MON)
8- Eeli Tolvanen (RW-NSH)
9- Adam Fox (D-NYR)
10- Ryan Poehling (C-MON)