With NHL training camps opening last week and the regular season less than a month away, the 32 clubs are looking for young players to break out after playing in Europe, the NCAA, or the AHL to make their mark in the big show. For contending clubs, finding players on their entry-level contracts is essential to stay under the $83.5 million salary cap, while rebuilding teams are looking for youngsters as potential building blocks.
We continue our look at the possible breakout players from the Metropolitan Division:
Pyotr Kochetkov – Thought to be the Hurricanes goalie of the future after getting starts in the playoffs two years ago, the 24-year-old Russian started 24 games last season and signed a four-year contract last November, but Carolina re-signed both of their veteran goalies this summer and that likely puts Kochetkov in the minors to start the season.
Ryan Suzuki – The younger brother of Habs captain Nick has not had the same meteoric rise to the NHL, but did score 32 points in AHL Chicago last season and might be ready to make the next step, but with a veteran-laden Canes roster, it might be tough for the 22-year-old to get a chance.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Adam Fantilli – The 2023 third overall pick and Hobey Baker winner matched top pick Connor Bedard with an impressive hat trick debut at the Traverse City Prospect Tournament and could be his biggest competition for the Calder Trophy after scoring 30 goals in 36 games for the University of Michigan.
Cole Sillinger – After surprising many by making the Blue Jackets and scoring 16 goals as an 18-year-old rookie, Sillinger struggled mightily as a sophomore and was demoted to the AHL for a time. Columbus made changes and added veterans to take pressure off of their young prospects. That may help the 2021 first-rounder bounce back.
New Jersey Devils
Luke Hughes – A top-five pick in 2021, the younger brother of Devils center Jack has star potential after two excellent seasons with Michigan and four goals for Team USA at the World Junior. Hughes did not play in the recent prospect tournament in Buffalo, which is a sign he is a shoo-in to make the NHL roster out of training camp.
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Alexander Holtz – The 2020 seventh overall pick scored nearly a point per game in the AHL in 2021-22 but was used sparingly when called up by the Devils last season (3 goals in 19 games). Holtz is in a situation where New Jersey has brought in veterans to supplement their young core group and that may block him from getting a legitimate chance, but the talent is there.
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New York Islanders
Simon Holmstrom – One of the few first-rounders that the Islanders have not used in a trade, Holmstrom had 43 points in AHL Bridgeport two years ago and the 22-year-old scored six goals in 50 NHL games in a depth role last season. More production may result from more opportunity.
William Dufour – New York may have hit the jackpot with their 2020 fifth-round pick. Dufour scored 56 goals for Saint John and seven goals in leading the Sea Dogs to the Memorial Cup. The 21-year-old transitioned to the pros well with 21 goals in the AHL and made his NHL debut. His size and scoring ability give him a good chance to get an increased opportunity with the Isles this season.