This looks like a banner season for young centers to move into the No. 2 and No. 3 slots on NHL teams. Several well-regarded prospects could make their first major impact in the league in 2013-14.
Keep an eye on these guys:
Sean Couturier, Philadelphia Flyers: After scoring just 42 points in his first 123 NHL games, he is looking for his offensive breakthrough. He starred in the American Hockey League during the lockout, scoring 28 points in 31 games. Then he fell into a checking center role for the Flyers and struggled offensively – going nearly two months without scoring a goal. Couturier, 20, picked up his play in April, scoring six points in 13 games while averaging nearly 16 minutes playing time.
Ryan Johansen, Columbus Blue Jackets: The fourth overall pick of the 2010 NHL Draft may finally emerge offensively after scoring just 33 points in his first 107 NHL games. Johansen, 21, should benefit from the arrival of Ryan Horton to provide a second-line scoring threat. But the rangy pivotman missed a developmental opportunity last spring when he contributed just one assist in five AHL playoff games for Springfield.
Mikhail Grigorenko, Buffalo Sabres: The 12th overall pick in the 2012 draft may emerge as a solid No. 2 center this season, despite his meager production (five points in 25 games) as a rookie. He scored 70 goals in 92 games for the Quebec Ramparts during his 1½ seasons of major junior hockey in North America. The retooling Sabres need Grigorenko, 19, to mature quickly.
Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets: He scored 15 goals and added 26 assists in 21 games for the Ontario Hockey League’s Barrie Colts during the major junior playoffs last season. He scored 142 points in 92 regular season games for Barrie the last two seasons. This explains why he was the seventh overall pick in the 2011 draft. Now Scheifele, 20, might be ready for the NHL -- where he has scored just one goal in 11 games during brief trials the last two seasons. He should center one of the top three Winnipeg lines.
Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche: The first overall pick of the 2013 draft will get an opportunity to earn a job right away as the No. 3 center behind Matt Duchene and Paul Stastny. MacKinnon, 20, scored 63 goals and 153 points in 102 regular-season games for the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Mikael Granlund, Minnesota Wild: He made his transition to North American hockey last season, scoring 28 points in 29 games for Houston of the AHL and eight points in 27 games for the Wild. In 2011-12, he scored 51 points in 45 games for HIFK Helsinki in Finland’s top league. He will have a chance to earn the No. 2 center slot behind Mikko Koivu.
Brandon Pirri, Chicago Blackhawks: He has nothing left to prove in the AHL, where he scored 131 points in 142 regular season games for Rockford the last two seasons. His NHL same size is small (two assists in seven games) but he will come to training camp with an opportunity to win the No. 2 center job.
Ryan Strome, New York Islanders: He should be ready to play in the top nine sometime this season after scoring 268 points in his 164 regular season games for the OHL’s Niagara IceDogs. Strome, the fifth overall pick in the 2011 draft, also scored seven points in 10 games during his brief taste of the AHL. He could center the third Islanders line as a 20-year-old or move up to play the wing one of the top two lines.