The Return to Play tournament offers a unique opportunity for teams to bring their future stars into an NHL setting for a concentrated dose of the pro ranks. Here are some of the names that caught our prospect expert’s eye.
Bowen Byram|Steven Ellis/The Hockey News)
From a prospects angle, one of the most exciting aspects of the Return to Play training camps is the inclusion of some of the best and brightest from the NHL’s future ranks. While there is no guarantee that any of the kids will play post-season games this year, their mere presence will be a boon to their respective developments. One of the most important lessons to be learned on the way to the top is how to prepare and act like a professional – and what better way to do that than to be sequestered away with NHL veterans who have been there and done that before?
With that in mind, here are 10 top prospects who can benefit from their time at Return to Play camp. And just in case a spot or two does open up in the playoffs, I’m restricting the list to those eligible to play – which means no K’Andre Miller (NYR), Kirill Kaprizov (MIN) or Alexander Romanov (MTL).
Bowen Byram, D, Colorado: The Avs are building a deadly back end, with Cale Makar and Samuel Girard already in the fold. Byram will join them soon. Like his brethren, Byram is a wicked skater with offensive hops and he earned himself a gold medal with Canada at the world juniors this year. Back in the WHL with the Vancouver Giants, the promising D-man posted more than a point per game. Now he gets a chance to hang with a heavy crew from Colorado.
Phil Tomasino, C, Nashville: A speedster who can really finish, Tomasino is coming off a sizzling OHL campaign split between Niagara and Oshawa. He’s the perfect future weapon for a Predators squad that doesn’t have a lot of dangerous forwards right now and that future may be arriving soon. Tomasino still has a year of junior eligibility left, so this is a great opportunity for him to spend an extended period of time with the Preds before battling for a spot on the 2020-21 Nashville squad.
Nick Robertson, LW, Toronto: Robertson finds himself in a fantastic position right now – not only is he superbly talented, but salary cap-wise, he’s also cheap. That makes him quite valuable for a 2020-21 Toronto squad that will need all the cap room it can get. Robertson is a great skater who is tenacious around the puck. He led the OHL with 55 goals this season while playing for Peterborough.
Calen Addison, D, Minnesota: One of the pieces that came to the Wild in the Jason Zucker deal with Pittsburgh, Addison is a modern-style defenseman who can quarterback a power play and really help on the offensive end. Defensively, he’s not big, but he does have a great Torey Krug-like battle level. Getting reps with the big boys will further his progress in that respect.
Samuel Poulin, LW, Pittsburgh: A big kid with excellent pro habits already, Poulin scored in bunches for QMJHL Sherbrooke this season. Given the dearth of prospects in the Penguins system, Poulin has a pretty clear path to a roster spot in the near future, but obviously he has to earn it first. This camp will give him a tremendous opportunity to get the lay of the land with Pittsburgh.
Victor Soderstrom, D, Arizona: Smart and swift-skating, Soderstrom is an excellent two-way defender. He has already played against men back home in Sweden, but now he gets the chance to hang with the Coyotes on North American ice in a pressurized environment. It won’t be long before Soderstrom is playing full-time in Arizona, perhaps on a pairing with Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
Peyton Krebs, C, Vegas: Of course Krebs has skill, but what the Golden Knights really love about their 2019 first-rounder is his drive and compete level. Had he not been coming off a serious injury (torn Achilles), Krebs might have made Canada’s WJC squad. As it is, he’ll be a great option for the next tourney. In the meantime, he’ll get some great experience with Vegas before likely heading back to the WHL’s Winnipeg Ice for one more go-around.
Jakub Skarek, G, NY Islanders: I like this one a lot. This was Skarek’s first season in North America and he split his time between AHL Bridgeport and ECHL Worcester. He’s a big goalie with a lot of potential, but he’s still learning the game. Having him in the same sphere as pros like Semyon Varlamov and Thomas Greiss will be fantastic for his development.
Yegor Zamula, D, Philadelphia: The Flyers signed Zamula as a free agent in September of 2018 and it’s already looking like a huge pick-up. Zamula is a big kid who plays a dynamic two-way game and he was one of Russia’s best defensemen at the world juniors, alongside Alexander Romanov. Zamula missed the second half of the season with WHL Calgary due to a back injury, so getting the opportunity to skate in a competitive environment again this season is a big win for him.
Philip Broberg, D, Edmonton: With his enviable size and skating ability, the future is bright for Broberg. He has been developing his game back home in Sweden while playing against men, but it was heartening to see him play a shutdown role for the Swedes at the world juniors. Now he gets to see the likes of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl up close and personal – which surely will be illuminating for the young blueliner.