The margins between simply reaching the NHL, staying in the NHL and truly becoming a long-term contributor is especially thin. There’s a variety of factors at play that contribute to a player making it or not, from the salary cap to team structure.
But of course, the primary factor is the player himself. Teams will find a way if they think that player is the best option. In the end, as much as the team situation dictates a player’s future, the player is the one who can ultimately make or break his career trajectory.
Each year, there are a series of prospects who are going to be under more pressure to take the next step forward. That doesn’t necessarily mean making the NHL per se, but rather showing what they really can do and giving their current organizations more reasons to consider them for impact roles. Here are seven such players for the 2019-20 season.
Nylander was on this list last year, but his situation has drastically changed since that point. The former No. 6 overall pick was traded from the Buffalo Sabres to the Blackhawks for defenseman Henri Jokiharju. Nylander had not broken through with the Sabres and was in desperate need of a fresh start. And landing in Chicago may have been the perfect destination for him, as his father Michael played there.
Catch more than 180 NHL games streaming live this season on ESPN+. Click here for the upcoming schedule and to learn how to subscribe.
This is the second year in a row the Blackhawks went out to find a former highly-regarded prospect who wasn’t breaking through in his current organization. The lead on this very list last year was Dylan Strome, who was traded to the Blackhawks, reunited with former Erie Otters linemate Alex DeBrincat and had his breakout season with 51 points in 58 games with Chicago after the trade.
But Nylander is in a very different situation than his new teammate Strome, who played two extra seasons in junior before a sensational rookie season in the AHL. In a lot of ways, Strome’s development — while slower than others in his draft class — better positioned him for his future. The same can’t really be said for Nylander, who went straight to the AHL at 18 years old. With 20-20 hindsight, that may not have been the best thing for him, or for the Sabres.