For every 19-year-old phenom like Connor McDavid, there are several players drafted that require years of seasoning and maturation in either junior leagues, foreign leagues, or the AHL to eventually reach the NHL.
On the San Jose Sharks, Joonas Donskoi played through the four years of development with the Florida Panthers before becoming a free agent. Donskoi now will be remembered as a vital member of the Sharks’ Stanley Cup Final team, helping show how some players can contribute without entering the NHL immediately.
Shayne Gostisbehere, a Calder Trophy finalist, spent two seasons in college and another pair in the AHL prior to contributing to the Philadelphia Flyers.
With the salary cap likely to stay flat, teams will be looking inward this offseason to find their own Donskois and Gostisbeheres — guys outside of the spotlight who have matured to the point where they can have an immediate NHL impact, but have never played in at that level.
The 35th overall selection in the 2015 NHL Draft, Aho reached his peak prospect status playing for the championship winning Finland World Juniors team. Aho worked with likely second- and third-overall picks Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujärvi to lead the Finns to a gold medal, scoring five goals and nine assists for 14 points in the tournament.
Aho is also familiar with another recently signed prospect, Aleksi Saarela, giving the Hurricanes a lethal combination of young Finnish talent.
Hurricanes General Manager Ron Francis recently commented on Aho’s status with the Hurricanes, saying
“I would think based on everything he’s done, he’s certainly penciled into our lineup, if not in pen,” Francis said.”
Aho’s 45 points in 45 games this past season serves as reasoning for the confidence in his ability to impact the big club, and increased time with players with NHL-level talent could unlock even more offensive firepower out of Aho.
Buchnevich was selected in the third round of the 2013 NHL Draft by the New York Rangers. Since being selected, the Russian forward played three seasons in the KHL, developing into one of the Rangers’ top offensive prospects. The Rangers signed Buchnevich to an entry-level contract in April, signaling that he will almost certainly play for the NHL club this season.
Following the surge of Artemi Panarin and Evegny Kuznetsov in the NHL, Buchnevich’s stock has improved in context as well.
As displayed by the chart above put together by Kevin Power of Blueshirt Banter, Buchnevich’s numbers in the KHL were similar to that of Kuznetsov, Panarin, and even Vladimir Tarasenko. Look for Buchnevich to contribute an infusion of youth into a Rangers lineup that desperately needs it.
Michael Dal Colle
Dal Colle is one of only four players selected in the top 16 picks of the 2014 NHL Draft to have not yet played an NHL game. Serving as the highest selected of the quartet at fifth overall, Dal Colle narrowly missed making the Islanders in his first season in the NHL before being cut earlier in camp this past preseason.
Now, Dal Colle has played in the AHL for the first time in his career and with the Islanders likely to lose at least one of Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo, there could be a lineup spot open.
Dal Colle scored 80 points in 60 games split between the Oshawa Generals and the Kingston Frontenacs this past season, continuing to show his offensive abilities. When he was drafted, Dal Colle was touted as a potential future linemate of John Tavares, and now that he has proven everything he could in the AHL, Dal Colle may find that to be his fate in the NHL.
Demko is the most difficult player to place of the quartet due to there being no obvious spot for him on the Vancouver Canucks. The Canucks boast a goaltending duo of Jacob Markstrom and Ryan Miller, so unless the team trades one of the two or there is an injury, Demko is likely destined for the AHL.
Still, Demko’s talent is not to be ignored. The Boston College product improved in save percentage in each of his three seasons in college, moving from a 0.919 to a 0.935 by the time he left for the Canucks. Demko was named the 2016 Co-Player of the Year by the Hockey East Association and received the Mike Richter Award for the best goaltender in college hockey.
Demko opened the eyes of many scouts playing for USA in the 2015 World Junior Championships, leading the Americans to a bronze finish with his 0.938 save percentage. If an opening arises in Vancouver, look for the 36th overall pick of the 2014 NHL Draft to take hold of it.