This week, many NHL franchises will get to put their prospects to the test in rookie tournaments across the continent, from Traverse City and Arizona to Buffalo, Tampa and beyond. While development is the No. 1 priority, the pre-season meets also offer teams a look at how their prospects have progressed since they last hit the ice. And for some of these players, this year in particular will be crucial. A number of prospects have the chance to make their team’s NHL roster this fall and could use these rookie tournaments as a slingshot for training camp.
Some players, such as Anaheim’s Trevor Zegras and Jamie Drysdale, have already proven themselves to be NHLers (both played nearly half of last season with the Ducks) as has Florida goalie Spencer Knight, but what about those who still have work to do? Here’s a look at 10 players who can really help themselves at their respective rookie tournaments.
1. Quinton Byfield, C, Los Angeles: The second overall pick in 2020 made his NHL debut with the Kings last season, while playing most of the campaign in the AHL with Ontario. Byfield put up solid numbers with the Reign and he was always seen as a player who will get better as he grows into his body and continues to refine his skills. If he can dominate with the Kings kids in Arizona, Byfield will be on the right path for main camp.
2. Liam Kirk, LW, Arizona: A star turn with Great Britain at the World Championship put Kirk in the spotlight after successful stops in Sweden and the UK pro ranks. Now the young Brit is coming back to North America, this time with a pro job in line. Already 21 years old, Kirk needs to be a force at Arizona’s tournament if he wants to keep the momentum going.
3. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, G, Buffalo: His stats may not have been great last year, but UPL did make his Sabres debut and get in 14 games with AHL Rochester, so it was a good learning experience for the big netminder. This season should be focused on tightening up the results and building a solid pro resume because Buffalo does need goaltending soon (they needed it yesterday, but you know what I mean). Kicking things off on the right foot at Buffalo’s rookie tourney would help.
4. Ryan Merkley, D, San Jose: The Sharks certainly have room for a young puckmoving defenseman on their roster, but Merkley will have to prove he belongs first. No doubt he’ll bring offense to San Jose’s entry in the Arizona tournament, but it would be nice to see some progress in the defensive zone from the 2018 first-rounder. Playing with the AHL’s Barracuda last year, Merkley got a good taste of what pro hockey is going to be like.
5. Lucas Raymond, RW, Detroit: The host Red Wings always have a fun and exciting team in Traverse City and Raymond is the one to watch this time out. The 2020 first-rounder hasn’t played in North America yet, but his dynamic skill game will certainly be welcome. If Raymond adjusts quickly over here, there’s no reason he couldn’t see games with Detroit this season (though spending time with AHL Grand Rapids would not be a step back by any means).
6. Philip Broberg, D, Edmonton: With his tantalizing combination of skating, size and skill, Broberg will be a fun one to watch in the coming years. He has shown the ability to be a shutdown guy too, which speaks to his versatility. The Oilers kids will face off against their peers from Calgary for a couple games and Broberg will be a key player for Edmonton’s side.
7. Yegor Chinakhov, RW, Columbus: Scoring will be hard to find in Columbus this season, but luckily for Chinakhov, that’s kinda his thing. Getting adjusted to the North American game isn’t always easy, but the Russian winger will get a great chance to see the score in Traverse City, a tournament that always features fast, physical hockey.
8. Scott Perunovich, D, St. Louis: Coming off an exemplary college career with two national titles under his belt, Perunovich unfortunately lost last season to shoulder surgery. Based on his track record at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, I don’t think the smart puckmover will need too much time to adjust to the pro ranks, but getting his feet wet in Traverse City will set him up nicely for the Blues’ main camp.
9. Alex Holtz, RW, New Jersey: Much like his fellow Terror Twin Lucas Raymond, Holtz has the opportunity to make some noise on a rebuilding squad. Holtz got a bit of a head start on his buddy however, playing 10 games with AHL Binghamton last year. Based on his sniping abilities, Holtz will be one of the more dangerous players to watch when the Devils kids compete in Buffalo’s rookie tournament.
10. Anton Lundell, C, Florida: I wouldn’t say Lundell needs to play big for the Panthers kids in Tampa, but I expect him to play big because he’s such a great talent. The Panthers are a deep squad, but if the two-way force can push himself into the lineup, it’s great for Florida. Lundell can start his march at the rookie tournament and go from there.