Here’s our weekly look at the young NHL players who are on a roll — and those who need to step up their game. Behold, the under-24 player rankings.
I actually waffled on whether to highlight Vesey or another top young Rangers forward, J.T. Miller. Both of them have been crucial to a New York attack that has seen the Rangers jump out of the gate with an 8-3 record and lead the league offensively, averaging 4.09 goals per game. Vesey has fit seamlessly into the Rangers attack after signing with New York as a free agent out of Harvard, tying for the team lead with six goals and adding three assists. The 6-foot-3 left winger has earned head coach Alain Vigneault’s trust and is averaging 2:41 minutes in power-play time a night and has delivered two power-play goals and three man-advantage points. For the record, Miller, 23, another left winger, leads the Rangers with 12 points. The two have combined for 18 points in New York’s last seven games.
The Flames are still trying to dig their way out of an ugly, 1-4-1 start to the season, but as of Friday morning they’d clawed their way back into third place in the Pacific Division. As Calgary’s young offensive stars go, so go the Flames. So it’s no coincidence that Bennett, the team’s 20-year-old center, has taken off, with three goals and four assists in his last seven games, after starting the season with a five-game pointless streak.
The talented 19-year-old center taken 20th overall in the 2015 draft is getting a chance to show his wares with the Wild, who have suffered multiple injuries up front. So far Eriksson Ek has shown he has NHL-worthy skills. Now, has he earned a spot long-term? It’s hard to argue that he hasn’t, as Eriksson Ek has scored twice — including a game-winner — in spite of taking just seven shots on goal. He added three assists in just six games for the Wild, who are off to a solid 6-3-1 start in the tough Central Division. Head coach Bruce Boudreau is being cautious with his young forward, allotting him just 10:51 in ice time a night. But if Eriksson Ek sticks around, look for that number and his offensive numbers to make an upward tick.
No question, the Oilers are in the process of turning a significant corner. That doesn’t mean this isn’t a team without question marks, and one of them has to do with the offensive production from the back end. Edmonton’s defensemen have contributed a total of three goals to the cause this season. While the Oilers are miles ahead of where they once were in terms of their defensive play, they also expect players like Adam Larsson, Darnell Nurse (who has two of the three goals from the defensive corps) and Klefbom to chip in on the other side of the puck. Given the offensive smarts shown by the 23-year-old Klefbom in a limited role last season — he had four goals and eight assists in 30 games — it would be reasonable to expect a similar arc this season. It hasn’t turned out that way just yet, as Klefbom has collected two assists in 11 games. He is averaging more than two minutes a night in power-play time, but has registered only four power play shots on goal.
Another reminder that young stars, no matter their pedigree, don’t necessarily follow a straight line in terms of their development. Everyone knows Drouin’s back story, his demand for a trade a year ago and how he eventually returned to the fold and re-established himself as a key building block, with 14 points in 17 playoff games for the Lightning. This season, though, Drouin has seen some more ups and downs and missed Thursday’s game against the Bruins after taking an elbow to the head in a game earlier this week. Drouin, 21, has just two goals on the season and before his injury the left winger had just one goal and zero assists in his previous seven games. Head coach Jon Cooper’s confidence in Drouin has clearly wavered as Drouin has moved from playing with Steven Stamkos to a lower-profile role in the lineup in recent days.
Last spring the emergence of the 20-year-old Fabbri as a legitimate NHL scoring threat helped propel the Blues to the Western Conference Finals. The 21st overall pick in 2014 had 15 points in 20 postseason games for the Blues and the young left wing was being counted on by the Blues to continue to add juice to a younger, more speed-based offense this season. So far that’s been a challenge for Fabbri, who has yet to score in 11 games and has just three assists. It’s not just Fabbri’s fault, of course, as the Blues are mired in a significant offensive swoon and are coming off a 6-2 thrashing at the hands of the Dallas Stars. But there’s also no doubt that head coach Ken Hitchcock — who has been busily mixing up his forward line combinations, looking for a spark — would like to see Fabbri return to the form that made him so critical to the Blues’ attack last spring.
Young Guns Showdown of the Week
Two young defensemen crucial to their respective teams’ long-term blue-line plans will square off Saturday night in Montreal. The Canadiens have been dynamite through the first month and remain the only team without a regulation loss, thanks in large part to the arrival of Shea Weber from Nashville. The 6-foot-2 Beaulieu has played some with Weber, although he has more recently settled into a third-line pairing. At some point, though, Beaulieu’s puck-moving skills should see him move back up the lineup. Meanwhile, the 19-year-old Provorov is a key part of a youth movement in Philadelphia. The Flyers are 6-5-1 and have made a habit of late-game comebacks. Provorov, the seventh overall NHL draft pick in 2015, is averaging 19:50 minutes a night in ice time and has chipped in five assists.