Here’s our weekly look at the fortunes of some of the game’s brightest young stars.
A natural center, Draisaitl has found such terrific chemistry playing mostly on the right side with league scoring leader Connor McDavid and might be the best NHL player most people don’t know about. The German 21-year-old, who was taken third overall in 2014, has topped the 70-point plateau and has 16 points during his current nine-game point streak. And he’s a big reason the Oilers — who have clinched their first postseason berth since 2006 — continue to stay in the hunt for home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
The Blues are hot and have eclipsed any notion that dealing defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk to the Washington Capitals at the trade deadline meant they were waving the white flag on the season. One of the key factors for the Blues, who are trying to advance to the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season, will be the continued productivity of Schwartz, who has suffered through hellacious dry periods this season — including a one-goal-in-25-games stretch in February and early March. But Schwartz, 24, has been red-hot of late, with four goals in his past five games and points in 10 of his last 13 tilts.
The Flames have made things interesting in the logjam that is the Pacific Division and are on the verge of clinching their second playoff berth in three seasons. Monahan, 22, has been a key offensive catalyst, with points in nine of his past 13 games — including a four-point effort against the Colorado Avalanche this week. Monahan, the sixth-overall pick in 2013, has 17 points over that span while playing between the equally hot Johnny Gaudreau and Micheal Ferland.
I wonder who was happier to see Niederreiter break out of a prolonged slump with two goals in a 5-1 win over the Ottawa Senators on Thursday, Niederreiter or Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau? Boudreau has been pressing every button available in the hopes of getting the once-mighty Wild back into a groove before the playoffs. Niederreiter, 24, notched his 21st and 22nd goals of the season on Thursday — but they were the first goals for big winger in 17 games. Niederreiter, who was taken by the New York Islanders with the fifth-overall pick in 2010, is an important part of the Wild’s offensive depth and his contributions will have much to say about whether Minnesota makes good on the high optimism it generated earlier in the season.
For much of the last third of the season, it appeared the Sharks were a lock to win the Pacific Division — and maybe even throw a scare into the Chicago Blackhawks for top spot in the conference. But a rough patch that has included a prolonged team-wide scoring drought has dropped the Sharks into third in the division after their loss to Edmonton on Thursday. Hertl’s season has been marked by injury — the 22-year-old has played in just 45 games. The 17th overall pick in 2012 is amid a 15-game goal-scoring drought and has collected just two assists over that period.
It has been a tough season for the Sabres and sharp learning curve for Reinhart, the No. 2 pick in 2014, as he was benched for an entire game this week against the Columbus Blue Jackets for arriving late to a team meeting. Good on head coach Dan Bylsma and GM Tim Murray for holding young stars such as Reinhart, 21, accountable, even as the Sabres run out the string on another season without a sniff of the playoffs. Reinhart has 17 goals but just two in his past 12 games. Maybe this is the kind of lesson that will resonate for Reinhart and his teammates as they try to pick up the pieces on another disappointing season.
Young guns showdown
Saturday, April 1, in Edmonton
McDavid has opened up a seven-point lead on defending scoring champ Patrick Kane atop the overall points list heading into Friday’s games, but the Oilers captain is more focused on helping his squad win the Pacific Division and secure home-ice advantage through at least the first two rounds of the playoffs. Edmonton could bring that goal closer to reality with a win over the first-place Ducks on Saturday. Meanwhile, most of the focus around the Ducks has been on veterans Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler and Corey Perry, who rank 1-2-3 on team scoring. But how about the work of Ritchie, the 10th-overall pick in 2014, who has two goals and two assists in his past four games? The big winger (he’s 6-foot-2, 232 pounds) is making the most of his opportunities under head coach Randy Carlyle, and playing often with former scoring champ Perry and adding both skill and size to the Ducks’ lineup. The 21-year-old Ritchie has scored 14 goals this season, after doing so just twice in 33 games last season.