Note*** A full NHL schedule breakdown by week is available here on a Google doc.
AN EYE ON NEXT YEAR
If your keeper league still allows waiver wire pick-ups, this time of year may be an opportunity to get your hands on next season’s Next Big Thing. I managed to catch my fellow competitors napping around this time last season by acquiring free agent Justin Schultz just before the end of our regular season. With the start he had in the AHL, he surely would have gone first overall in our entry draft, which was exceptionally held in December due to the lockout.
Who will be next season’s Justin Schultz? Here are a few VERY early candidates for some significant playing time on their respective NHL teams in 2013-14. Don’t fall asleep at the wheel, if you can spare a roster spot these guys might give you an edge in the short, mid or long term.
Tyler Johnson (C) – TBL: A natural goal scorer, Johnson is yet another diminutive dynamo that was never drafted due to his size (when will they ever learn...). Not only has he produced at every level, but his learning curve is very steep: 75-31-37-68 in his rookie AHL season a year ago and already 6-3-3-6 in his first call-up to the big club. The 22 y/o American is also a high energy competitor who has never been a minus player... at any level (currently +6 for a struggling Lightning squad). Another Martin St-Louis or Cory Conacher in the making for Tampa?
Tyler Toffoli (RW) – LAK: Seems to be at the exact same stage as Johnson, but two years younger and four inches taller (thus he was drafted). Skating deficiencies had him fall to 47th overall in the 2010 draft. Hmmm... awkward skating, great nose for the net... Remind you of another Kings great that seemingly came out of nowhere back in the 80’s? He’s in their front office today. This kid still has to fill out his frame and that will come with pro off-ice training methods, but we see no reason to believe he won’t be a force as an NHL sniper someday . Recently called up and had a goal and an assist in his second game in the NHL.
Gustav Nyquist (LW) – DET: We’ve been waiting for this guy for a couple of years now, but you know how the Wings work... Well, his time has finally come. We think his March 13th call-up could finally be his last. The former U. Of Maine standout still leads the Eberle-less AHL in scoring (58-23-37-60). He is currently on Detroit’s fourth line, but he is seeing PP time on the second unit, another typical Wings move to slowly incorporate their young players. We do expect Nyquist to get a top 6 job next season since Drew Miller and Justin Abdelkader are clearly inadequate in that role going forward.
Nick Bjugstad (C) – FLO: Much like Justin Schultz, Bjugstad may be next season’s hottest commodity coming out of the college ranks. He’s a physical specimen at 6’5” and 212 lbs so we know his body is NHL ready. But the fact that he belongs to a team that desperately needs an infusion of talent makes him one of the VERY early Calder Trophy favorites for 2013-14. He was a force at the WJC for the champions Team U.S.A. (6-4-2-6), proving he can compete and produce at an elite level. A key cog of the strong rebuilding plan Dave Tallon is putting together in South Florida.
T.J. Brennan (D) – FLO: Acquired March 15th from the Sabres, this one may be more of a ‘shot in the dark’ type of pick. Offensive defensemen are much more difficult to forecast than forwards. The position takes more time to assimilate and even the most heralded prospects suffer through multiple setbacks before finding a comfort zone that finally makes them consistent point producers. Now 23, Brennan may be one of those late-bloomers: he improved from 0.58 PPG last season to 0.94 in this his fourth AHL campaign. His minutes have gone up since the trade and the Panthers are giving him a real shot at the PP. He possesses a very hard slap shot, which could complement Brian Campbell’s terrific passing ability (remember Jason Garrison last year?).