At the World Cup of Hockey this year, there are a few players who are playing internationally for their countries before ever suiting up for a professional game in North America. For various reasons, not all of these men will ever come across to join the best league in the world. Some, however, will do so as soon as this year. Here’s a look at a few of the players who are set to make their NHL debut just after the World Cup concludes.
Auston Matthews (Maple Leafs) – Obviously, one of the biggest story lines at the tournament has been the young guns squad, captained by Connor McDavid. As we wrote earlier today however, Auston Matthews has made quite an impression on head coach Todd McClellan, and will suit up on the top line today in their opener. Matthews is the youngest player on the youngest team, and is asserting himself at the highest level already. He’ll get to greet the Maple Leaf faithful before he pulls a blue and white sweater over his back.
2015-16 stats (Switzerland) – 36 GP, 24 G, 22 A, 46 P, +16 rating
Patrik Laine (Jets) – On a Finnish team loaded up front, 18-year old Patrick Laine will take on a huge role. Even though the #2 overall pick has yet to play a professional game on the small rink, he’s already being compared to some of the greatest goal scorers of all time. Laine is following up a World Championship where he was named tournament MVP, and should step into a scoring role with the Jets immediately. His shot, skating ability and nose for the net will create an offensive dynamo, especially if he ends up skating with Mark Scheifele or Blake Wheeler.
2015-16 stats (Finland) – 46 GP, 17 G, 16 A, 33 P, +6 rating
Nikita Zaitsev (Maple Leafs) – Though Russia isn’t known for its defensive capabilities, one to keep an eye on is young Nikita Zaitzev who will be headed over to make his debut for the Maple Leafs this season. A right-handed shot who can play in all situations, Zaitzev is skating on both the powerplay and penalty kill at this tournament. If somehow he can develop some chemistry during the season with Leafs #1 Morgan Rielly, they could form a dynamic puck moving duo for years to come.
2015-16 stats (KHL) – 46 GP, 8 G, 18 A, 26 P, +21 rating