Last week Pro Hockey Rumors began profiling first year players who have both a solid chance of making their respective teams and of also impacting their club’s on-ice fortunes this season. We started with four Metro rookies and today we finish up with four more from the same division.
Pavel Zacha (New Jersey) – Zacha, a skilled 6-foot-3, 210-pound pivot, was the Devils first-round choice in the 2015 entry draft, selected sixth overall from the Sarnia Sting of the OHL. In his draft year, Zacha tallied 34 points in 37 games for the Sting and followed that solid performance with a stronger 2015-16 campaign, scoring 28 goals and 64 points in just 51 contests. His terrific play led to the Devils electing to suit him up for the team’s season finale where Zacha recorded two assists in nearly 17 minutes of ice time.
Zacha also appeared for the Devils AHL affiliate in Albany, netting three points (one goal, two assists) in three regular season games and another three points in five postseason contests. Ultimately, Zacha would find himself sidelined due to a hip pointer which knocked him out of the postseason and also prevented him from participating in the team’s summer development camp.
Even after acquiring LW Taylor Hall this summer, the Devils could certainly use additional offensive firepower up front and Zacha’s potential could earn him a spot in training camp. He’s already listed as the the third LW on the team’s depth chart over at Roster Resource, suggesting there isn’t a lot of experienced NHL talent he’ll have to beat out for a spot. Given his level of skill and the opportunity he should be presented with in New Jersey, there’s a reasonable chance Zacha could quickly become one of the Devils top offensive performers.
Matthew Barzal (New York Islanders) – It’s not often a player selected in the middle of the first round make their NHL debuts little more than a year after the draft. But the Islanders need for a scoring line pivot following the loss of Frans Nielsen to Detroit in free agency and Barzal’s skill could lead to a scenario where the 19-year-old center makes the club out of camp.
Barzal made a great impression in camp last year and was one of the team’s final roster cuts. He returned to his junior team, the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL, and got off to a blazing start with seven goals and 40 points in just 22 games. He finished with 88 points in 58 contests with Seattle.
The Islanders made what looks to be in hindsight a brilliant trade to acquire the draft choice used to select Barzal by sending defense prospect Griffin Reinhart to Edmonton for #16 overall along with a 2015 second-round pick. Reinhart had trouble cracking the Oilers lineup despite the dearth of competent defensemen in Edmonton. Meanwhile, Barzal is one of the game’s top prospects and could flourish with the Islanders as soon as this season.
Ryan Pulock (New York Islanders) – Drafted 15th overall by the Islanders in the 2013 entry draft, Pulock is a strong defenseman already with NHL size and a good, hard shot. He made his NHL debut in 2015-16 scoring two goals and 4 points in 15 regular season games. Pulock would also appear in six postseason contests tallying another three points.
Pulock also has extensive pro experience playing for the Islanders AHL affiliate in Bridgeport. In 108 games with the Sound Tigers, Pulock has netted an impressive 24 goals and 30 assists.
The Islanders do boast a solid contingent of top-four blue liners with Nick Leddy, Johnny Boychuck, Calvin de Haan and Travis Hamonic expected to see the lion’s share of defensive work. But there would appear to be an opening on the third pair opposite Thomas Hickey and Pulock should be a near lock to earn that spot. It’s possible playing a sheltered role while receiving some second unit power play time, where his big shot would be quite useful, that Pulock could prove to be a valuable asset on the club’s blue line.
Ivan Provorov (Philadelphia) – In an ideal world the Flyers would likely prefer Provorov to return to Brandon of the WHL for more seasoning. Philadelphia GM Ron Hextall wants young players to be ready for the rigors of the NHL and they simply need to be better than what the team already has on the roster. However, the Flyers currently list both Andrew MacDonald and Mark Streit among their top six defenders leaving open the possibility that a great camp could propel Provorov to a spot with the Flyers.
MacDonald was demoted to the minors to start the 2015-16 campaign despite the minimal cap savings the move created. He was only recalled in February when injuries to several regulars crippled the Flyers blue line depth. Assuming his standing in the eyes of the organization is much the same as it was a year ago, MacDonald shouldn’t prove to be much of an impediment toward Provorov’s chances of sticking with the Flyers.
Streit has had a wonderful career in the NHL but turns 39 in December and is in the final year of his contract with Philadelphia. It wouldn’t be much of a surprise if at some point this season the club moved on from Streit to open up a spot on the blue line for a younger player like Provorov.
The Flyers do boast a lot of prospect depth among their defense corps and it’s possible the team would rather give one of Samuel Morin, Mark Alt, Travis Sanheim or Robert Hagg – all of whom already have professional experience – the first crack to make the team out of camp. However, Provorov has the most upside of the team’s defensive prospects and could force his way into the lineup with a solid preseason performance. While he likely wouldn’t have the same impact as last year’s breakout rookie, Shayne Gostisbehere, Provorov has plenty of talent himself and could provide a boost to the team’s blue line.