The NHL preseason is just a big tease.
For starters, it’s way too long. The NHL (and, by extension, the AHL) starts much later than necessary. Some SHL teams are down to seven games. Some teams in Switzerland will reach the 10-game mark in the coming days. Heck, the KHL is nearly a quarter of the way there.
We don’t need eight preseason games, especially with some teams giving too much ice time to players who clearly won’t be on the final roster. Let’s go.
But a cool feature is watching prospects play against seasoned veterans, often for the first time. Few players are as driven as a youngster trying to break into the NHL for the first time, especially if they weren’t in a rush to crack the roster in the first place.
Oh, and jersey numbers. More than 57 and 64, please.
A handful of top prospects made their presence known with the end of the preseason. Here’s a look at 10 notable standouts with the regular season just days away:
Shane Pinto, C, Ottawa Senators
Tied for the preseason lead in goals (four) and points (seven), Pinto looked incredible early on. His 2021-22 season was limited to just five games due to a shoulder injury, but everything he’s done since starting rookie camp has propelled Pinto into the spotlight. Pinto projects to be the No. 3 center in Ottawa this season, and he’s one hell of a player to have in his last six.
Nicholas Robertson, LW, Toronto Maple Leafs
Robertson looks like a man on a mission. He’s tied for first in preseason scoring with seven points, beating his total of 16 NHL career games by just two points. Robertson missed more than half of the season due to injury last year, but is forcing Sheldon Keefe to make him a permanent player. If not, a little more AHL seasoning won’t hurt.
Brad Lambert, RW (Winnipeg)
After falling from an expected top three in 2022 to a slump to 30th overall, Lambert did everything in his power to earn a spot on the Winnipeg Jets. He performed throughout training and looked like a man on a mission. The biggest problem ? It is currently unsigned. If he manages to clear an ELC, the team might have a hard time keeping him out.
Marco Rossi, C, Minnesota Savage
The season lost to COVID-19 is now history. Rossi rebounded from a huge AHL rookie campaign last year and became one of Minnesota’s top players with six points in four games. His only goal was shorthanded, and he even saw time on the power play. Rossi deserves to be on the opening night list, simple as that.
Matty Beniers, C, Seattle kraken
Perhaps the favorite to win the Calder Trophy, Beniers has already lived up to the billing as Seattle’s No. 1 center. Beniers scored one goal per game, showing his blend of confidence, speed and skill with and without the puck. Beniers is Seattle’s first player with true star potential, and after an impressive end to 2021-22, he’s ready for the big time.
Andrei Kuzmenko, LW, Vancouver Canucks
Europe’s top free agent signing of the summer, Kuzmenko lived up to expectations from the start. Kuzmenko brings a potent blend of speed, creativity and a high-level shot that made him a dangerous KHLer last year. Kuzmenko is two goals and five points away and gives the Canucks an extra scoring machine in the middle of the six.
Dylan Holloway, LW, Edmonton Lubricators
‘Hollywood’ Holloway had one of the best performances of the pre-season, a hat-trick in a 7-2 win over Vancouver earlier this week. Holloway took the opportunity and showed he really wanted to be on the team. He has six points in five games and is third in shots among all players this preseason with 17.
Daniil Gushchin, RW, San Jose the Sharks
Speaking of hat tricks, Gushchin grabbed one of his own against Vegas early on. A pure scorer, Guschchin was reassigned to the AHL on Wednesday, where he played three games for the Barracuda to close out 2021-22. The Sharks can afford to be patient with Guschchin before having an extended look with the big club.
Jake Neighbors, LW, St. Louis Blues
After kicking the team out of training camp last year, Neighbors hope to do the same again. He scored three goals and four points in his first three pre-season outings and had no problem managing his against top-flight competition. The tough forward has incredible playing ability and moves well for the NHL.
Nick Blankenburg, D, Columbus Blue Jackets
Blankenburg doesn’t have a lot of attack to show, but he does average just under 22:30 per game. He showed potential during his seven-game stint with the Blue Jackets last year after wrapping up a successful four-year streak at the University of Michigan. Although there was significant competition, Blankenburg advocated for a full-time position.
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