Teams throughout the league have adopted the NHL slogan “Is it October yet?” The excitement and promise that surrounds each team this time of year is palpable. For many young hopefuls this is the time of year that dreams can come true. Can they make that step into, in the words of Tom Cochrane, the “Big League.” Lightning camps are in full swing for another year and among the young talent there are five players that you should keep an eye on. (Photos/Susan Ferlita)
Jonathan Drouin: Is there more that needs to be said? The CHL MVP from last season with the Halifax Mooseheads seems poised to take the next step. His collection of accolades continues to grow with the addition of he Presidents Cup and the Memorial Cup This young superstar is on practically every scouts’ radar. It is not a question of if this young rookie is going to make the NHL but when. Under the watchful eye of GM Steve Yzerman, it will serve this 19 year old well to develop further for this coming season.
Adam Erne is another key player to watch and a young man linked with Jonathan Drouin in more ways than one. While playing in a Quebec Major Junior League game last season, a seemingly routine play in the fast moving game of hockey resulted in a concussion for Drouin and a game misconduct for Erne. Aside from the run-in with Drouin, Erne also had some off ice issues with coach Patrick Roy this past season. The disagreement led to a near suspension before Roy changed his mind and revoked the punishment. These off-ice issues and his recovery from wrist surgery this summer should serve to motivate this gritty second round pick from 2013 to prove his worth at this year’s at camp.
Nikita Nesterov is another of Yzerman’s promising Russian prospects. The 21 year old, 6 foot defenseman played in 2012-2013 with the KHL’s Traktor Chelyabinsk reaching the finals against Dynamo Moscow. He was selected to represent Russia at the World Junior Championships where he served as the assistant captain for the team. The Russians brought home a bronze medal from the tournament. Last season with the Syracuse Crunch he appeared in 54 games in his first year as a pro in North America. While playing in the KHL Nesterov played some time at forward. It speaks highly of his skating ability and hockey prowess to switch positions while playing in arguably the second best professional league in the world.
Tanner Richard was drafted 71st overall in the 2012 draft and played last season with the Crunch. According to hockeysfuture.com, the small crafty forward is only ranked as a “C” in probability of success and has a talent score of 6.5. Despite these very average numbers the 21 year old appeared in 65 games with the Crunch last season. In his third season playing in North America he started out slow due to the smaller ice surface, but played well at the end of the season If Richard can continue to make the adjustments necessary to transition to the size of the North American ice, he is very likely to be seeing NHL action very soon.
The oldest player on the radar is Brett Connolly. At 22 years of age this former first round, sixth overall pick from the 2010 draft, has had some glimpses of greatness. The 6’2″ forward was the lone Crunch representative at the AHL All-Star game this past season. He led the team in regular season scoring (21 goals – 36 assists 57 points) and was second on the team in total shots on goal (201). Connolly, who never seemed to really find his footing with the Lightning last season, seems to be on the brink of either becoming a lifelong AHL professional or finally finding his place in the NHL.
For all the young talent Yzerman has amassed, this year’s training camp will be one of the most exciting times in their careers. But in the long run, to steal more words from Tom Cochrane, we will have to wait and see “who will turn some heads and play in the big league.”
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