Thanks to the one-year NHL salary cap reduction, many teams will turn to younger players to provide depth and fill roster gaps this season.
Many young European-trained players could become factors. A great example is Aleksander Barkov, an offensive explosive forward the Florida Panthers drafted second overall with the expectation of instant deployment.
He scored 21 goals and added 27 assists in 53 games for Tappara in Finland’s top league. He suffered a shoulder injury that limited his participation in Florida’s prospect camp this summer, but he should be ready to go in training camp.
After losing top center Stephen Weiss to free agency, the Panthers will give Barkov every opportunity to stick in the NHL.
“He was the second-best player in the Finnish elite league as a 17-year-old, 16 turning 17,” Panthers GM Dale Tallon told NHL.com. He's played two years in that league and he's yet to see his 18th birthday. He feels he's ready. He's very confident -- quiet confidence. He's got size and skill and he makes other players around him better."
Here are some other European prospects hoping to make their first major mark in the NHL this season:
Valeri Nichushkin, C, Dallas Stars: He will likely need some to adapt to the North American game. But after earning rookie-of-the-year honors in the Kontinental Hockey League, he could offer near-term helpd for the retooled Stars. He certainly has the optimal size (6-foot-4, 202 pounds) to go with his unique skill set.
“Physically, he’s ready,” Stars GM Jim Nill told NHL.com. ”He’s a man already. We’re just going to monitor him real close and let him come in and see where he fits in. He can just come in and play, and that’s going to be key to his development.”
Tomas Hertl, W-C, San Jose Sharks: Last season he scored 18 goals and added 12 assists in 43 games for Slavia Praha HC– terrific numbers for a teenager playing against men. He starred for the Czech Republic in the 2012 World Junior Championships, scoring three goals and five points in six games.
Now Hertl, 19, will try to fill the void left when the Sharks traded TJ Galiardi to the Calgary Flames. He has the size (6-foot-2, 200 pounds) to handle the rigors of the North American game, but he must prove he can play at the necessary pace.
He demonstrated his willingness to backcheck during San Jose’s prospect camp. “I think his defensive awareness has always been pretty good, but it’s on a bigger rink (in Europe),” Sharks scouting director Tim Burke told CSN Bay Area. “It’s a different kind of a system, but I think he’s picked up some of the stuff here, which will help, so there will be less risk in playing a younger player. He has an appetite for it. Some guys don’t.”
Johan Larsson, C/LW, Buffalo Sabres: He arrived from the Minnesota Wild organization in the Jason Pominville trade with impeccable European credentials. He served as captain of Sweden’s gold-medal winning team in the World Junior Hockey Champions. He was named Elitserien Rookie of the Year for his work with Brynas IF. During his first season in North America, he scored 41 points in 69 games for Houston and Rochester of the American Hockey League.
The Sabres don’t expect Larsson to fill Pominville’s scoring role, but the team does expect him to compete for role on one of the top three lines.
Filip Forsberg, W/C, Nashville Predators: Last season he broke out for 15 goals and 18 assists in 38 games for Leksands IF in Sweden's Elitserien. That is notable production in that circuit, especially for an 18-year-old.
He got a taste of NHL hockey last spring when he played five games for the Predators, earning one assist while suffering a minus-5 rating. The Predators are famously deliberate with player development. Normally their prospects spend most of his first full North American season playing for Milwaukee in the AHL.
The team would like him to skip that step if it is at all possible. The franchise needs him to become the impact scorer Alexander Radulov could have become, had he stayed in the NHL.
Dmitrij Jaskin, W, St. Louis Blues: He played as a teenager in the Czech league and got little done in 2011-12, producing just one goal and one assist in 30 games for Slavia Praha HC. The Blues convinced him to play for Moncton of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League last season to adapt to North America and develop the offensive side of his game.
He scored 46 goals and added 53 assists in 51 games. Jaskin produced three goals and three assists for the Czech Republic at the World Junior Championship and finished the season in the NHL, where he played two games for the Blues.
He figures to start the season with Chicago of the AHL, but he will almost certainly play a role for St. Louis this season. David Perron departed for Edmonton in an off-season trade and Andy McDonald retired, so Jaskin should have an opportunity to rise.
Zemgus Girgensons, C, Sabres: The bulldozing Latvian center scored only 17 points (six goals, 11 assists) in 61 games for Rochester of the AHL last season. But the 14th overall pick in the 2012 draft could develop into a prototypical third-line NHL center.
He scored three goals in three games during the AHL playoffs, proving he had finally made the tough adjustment from the United States Hockey League (where he scored 55 points in 49 games for Dubuque in 2011-12) to the pro level.
Calle Jarnkrok, C, Detroit Red Wings: All-star forwards Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg can’t play forever. So this team hopes to develop still another European import into an impact forward. Jarnkrok scored 40 goals over the previous three seasons for Brynas IF in the Elitserien, then earned three assists in nine games for Grand Rapids of the AHL last season.
He could start with the Griffins this season as the Red Wings look to fully develop his offensive game before testing him in the NHL. He need to bulk up and adapt to the tighter quarters on North American rinks.
“I think I have to work on everything, but I think I need to work on my strength to be bigger and put some muscle on,” Jarnkrok told MLive.com last spring. “I think that’s the biggest thing for me right now and this summer.”