It’s rare for players to debut in the NHL and make a significant impact for their teams in the same year they are drafted. In 2015-16, just three players selected in the prior June’s draft – Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel and Noah Hanifin – appeared in more than 18 NHL contests as rookies. However, we could see as many as five 2016 draftees all earn regular shifts with their clubs during the 2016-17 season, two of whom appear in this post.
Jesse Puljujarvi (Edmonton) – Expected to go in the top-three of the draft, Puljujarvi surprisingly dropped to #4 after Columbus elected to take C Pierre-Luc Dubois at #3 instead of the Finnish winger. Edmonton happily grabbed Puljujarvi with their choice and this stroke of good fortune may have played a role in the June 29th trade of Taylor Hall to New Jersey for Adam Larsson. Having Puljujarvi in the fold provided Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli the knowledge he had enough depth on the wings to cash in a player of Hall’s caliber to address their weakness on the blue line.
Puljujarvi combines NHL size at 6-foot-3 and 203 pounds with excellent skating ability. He starred for the Finns helping his home country win the gold medal in the World Junior Championships. He also captured the tourney’s MVP award and finished tops among all participants in both assists (12) and points (17).
The Oilers already have one of the top young superstars in the game in MacDavid and saw 2014 first-round pick Leon Draisaitl bust out with a 51-point campaign in 2016-17. Joining that dangerous duo up front is former top overall selection Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Edmonton boasts plenty of talented high-end forwards which virtually assures Puljujarvi will have a chance to skate with some good players. Don’t be surprised if he ends up as a Calder Trophy finalist and the leading scorer among all 2016 draftees.
Adrian Kempe (Los Angeles) – After losing forwards Milan Lucic and Kris Versteeg to free agency and with Dustin Brown’s offense regressing to a level where he has no business in the top-nine, the Kings could turn to Kempe to provide additional scoring. Kempe, the team’s first-round choice in 2014, already has 55 games of pro experience in North America after suiting up this past season for the Kings AHL affiliate, the Ontario Reign. The Swedish winger tallied 11 goals and recorded 28 points during the regular season and another four goals and five points in 13 postseason contests.
Since Kempe doesn’t turn 20 until later this month and given he didn’t exactly dominate at the AHL level, it wouldn’t be a bad idea if the Kings sent him back to Ontario to start the 2016-17 campaign and get some more seasoning. But with Kyle Clifford (nine points in 56 games) and Brown (28 points in 82 games) currently expected to hold top-nine spots, according to Roster Resource, Los Angeles might decide they need to inject more offense into the lineup and Kempe could be the source of that offense.
Nikolay Goldobin (San Jose) – The Sharks addressed any need they may have had for a scoring line LW by signing Mikkel Boedker as a free agent this summer. With Tomas Hertl and Patrick Marleau also listed as LW’s on the team’s depth chart, it’s likely the highly skilled Goldobin begins the season with the San Jose Barracudas of the AHL to gain more experience. But in the event of injury, Goldobin could be among the team’s first choices for a promotion to the big club.
Goldobin is said to have an excellent shot and release and is a creative offensive player. He can use some work on his defensive game, as do many young players, which is another reason he might find himself in the AHL to start the 2016-17 campaign. But with Marleau entering the final year of his contract, Goldobin is in line to land a job with the Sharks soon enough; perhaps as early as this year.
Matthew Tkachuk (Calgary) – The Flames already possess several skilled young players, but as mentioned in an earlier installment of this series, if they do have an opening it would be for a scoring line LW with size. Hunter Shinkaruk might get the first crack to fill that role though he doesn’t possess the size the Flames would seem to need. If Shinkaruk isn’t ready for regular NHL action, Tkachuk could be an option for Calgary up front.
Tkachuk, the son of former NHL power forward Keith Tkachuk, was drafted by the Flames with the sixth overall selection of the 2016 draft following an impressive 107-point season with the London Knights of the OHL. While his dad was noted for playing a physical game (2,219 PIM in 1,201 NHL games), as well as being a terrific goal scorer, Matthew is more of a complete, two-way player who is also a good skater with high-end offensive instincts. He helped Team USA to a bronze medal at the 2016 WJC U20 tournament, tallying 11 points in seven contests.
Tkachuk might be better off returning to junior to gain more experience. He will certainly have to prove to the Flames that he is truly ready to play at the NHL level but he has the talent and the skill to provide some offense if he earns a role in Calgary.