By Jason Chen, RotoWire Hockey Writer
Special to Yahoo Sports
It’s no secret that players perform better when they’re on good teams, but the reality is that not every player can be so fortunate. Fifteen teams will not take part in the postseason dance, but all have something to look forward to next year. The Blues, Stars and Panthers just missed the cut and should contend again next season, while many of the other teams have a wave of new talent coming in that should help them take the next step.
Dylan Sikura, RW, Blackhawks – The Blackhawks missed the playoffs for the first time since 2008, but their pains should be short term. Sikura is among the group of young talent the team is bringing in, signing a two-year deal after scoring 22 goals and 54 points in 35 games in his senior season at Northeastern and being named a finalist for the Hobey Baker. In five games with the Blackhawks, Sikura registered three assists and averaged the second-most ice time among the team’s rookies, trailing only Alex DeBrincat, who is a possible future linemate. With Patrick Sharp retiring and Patrick Kane the only Blackhawk to score more than 52 points, the Blackhawks will be looking for scorers to fill out the roster spots.
Robby Fabbri, LW, Blues – Fabbri was ruled out for the season after surgery on his left knee a second time, derailing his promising career yet again. The former OHL champion and World Junior gold medallist for Canada is one of the Blues’ most prized young players, and he’s proven to be a capable top-six forward when healthy. The Blues aren’t very deep down the middle and that could be a problem, but Fabbri also has shown he can create scoring chances on his own. In 123 career games he’s scored 29 goals and 66 points.
Charles Hudon, RW, Canadiens – Hudon’s first full season was a success, scoring 10 goals and 30 points in 72 games and establishing himself as a fixture on the third line by the end of the season. His numbers don’t jump off the page, but he’s been a proven scorer in three AHL seasons and certainly has the potential to be a second-line scoring winger. Hudon was one of the bright spots for the disappointing Habs and if he has a good summer he may climb even higher on the depth chart.
Anthony Beauvillier, LW, Islanders – He averaged more than 16 minutes per game since January and finished the season with 29 points in his final 40 games of the season after scoring just seven points in his first 31 games. His blazing speed makes him a dynamite one-on-one sniper, and in his second season improved his goal total from nine to 21. The former back-to-back 40-goal scorer in major junior is just scratching the surface of what he can do, and if he continues to play with Mathew Barzal they could form a devastating duo.
Jake Virtanen, RW, Canucks – His role increased dramatically in the late stages of the season, and by the final game found himself on top center Bo Horvat’s right wing. Virtanen is one of the fastest players in the league, and after some growing pains is almost assured of a roster spot next season. He went from averaging less than 10 minutes a game in October to playing more than 15 in April. The 2014 sixth overall pick has a good chance to score 20-30 goals next season, but still needs to develop a go-to move to improve his scoring efficiency. On a team that lacks high-end scoring wingers, Virtanen will likely get better opportunities than center Adam Gaudette.
Dylan Strome, C, Coyotes – He averaged more than a point per game in 47 games with AHL Tucson before earning a call-up for 21 games, during which he scored four goals and nine points. He’s Arizona’s prized prospect and the team’s future No. 1 center, and at 21 he’s ready for prime time. The Coyotes have brought him along slowly but expectations are quite high, and he should slot in as the team’s No. 2 center behind Derek Stepan and ahead of Christian Dvorak.
Mark Jankowski, C, Flames – Former general manager Jay Feaster took a lot of heat when he took Jankowski 21st overall in 2012, but after a slow development path the 23-year-old is a full-time NHL player and re-affirmed his status with a four-goal effort in the season finale against Vegas. Mikael Backlund is the better player, but Jankowski has more offensive upside, so it’s not a stretch to suggest Jankowski will be the team’s No. 2 center next season. The Flames need better wingers but Spencer Foo and Sam Bennett is a pretty good place to start.
Valentin Zykov, LW, Hurricanes – Zykov impressed in just 10 games with the Hurricanes, scoring seven points after a breakout season with AHL Charlotte that saw him score 32 goals in 61 games. The Hurricanes are flush with talent on the wings, which hurts Zykov’s chances at securing a spot on the top two lines, but he has enormous potential and the team is clearly building around its younger players.
Ryan Pulock, D, Islanders – By the end of the season Pulock averaged more than 23 minutes per game, and over his final 18 games scored 12 points with a plus-2 rating. He has the most upside among Islanders defenseman and has an ability to score points that Nick Leddy never quite developed. The 2013 first-round pick was always known for his offense and has earned a spot after three seasons in the minors. He will pose a legitimate threat to Leddy’s status as the team’s top power-play quarterback next season.
Pavel Buchnevich, LW, Rangers – He goes through lulls where he doesn’t do much, but then there are times where he’s a threat to score every time he touches the puck. His ice time has increased recently from 14 minutes to 16 minutes, albeit with the Rangers out of playoff contention, but at some point in the future, the Rangers do count on him being their go-to guy. A 30-goal season shouldn’t be out of reach for Buchnevich, especially if the Rangers hire a coach who’s not afraid to play young players.
Kailer Yamamoto, RW, Oilers – He earned a nine-game audition and notched three assists but was re-assigned to WHL Spokane for the season where he scored 64 points in 40 games. He’ll have a chance to play alongside Connor McDavid again next season on a team short on scoring wingers. If he does earn that coveted job, it’ll be easy for Yamamoto to pile up the points. He lacks the strength to be a consistent scoring winger, but the Oilers don’t have many other choices at the moment.
Jared McCann, LW, Panthers – He may be too slight to ever be a full-time center, but he’s climbed his way back into the NHL and appeared in 67 games this season after playing just 29 the season before. McCann’s best weapon is his speed and quick shot, and with the depth the Panthers have down the middle should find himself playing with a very capable center. McCann’s role began to expand a little late in the season and should continue to do so down the road.
Tyler Bertuzzi, LW, Red Wings – The nephew of former power forward Todd Bertuzzi, the younger Bertuzzi is smaller, a little more skilled but equally tough to play against. On a team that features three devastating speedsters (Dylan Larkin, Andreas Athanasiou and Anthony Mantha), Bertuzzi plays with an edge the others don’t. That makes him valuable and by the final two months of the season was averaging well more than 16 minutes per game while playing alongside Henrik Zetterberg.
Sam Reinhart, RW, Sabres – All eyes are on Casey Mittelstadt but Reinhart’s late-season offensive outburst in which he scored 28 points in 29 games is a teaser of what kind of player he can be next season. His breakout has helped him become one of the Sabres’ best forwards down the stretch, and he seems to have found a home on the right wing after being bounced around in his first few seasons. With Mittelstadt, Jack Eichel and Ryan O’Reilly, Reinhart will always be playing with a quality center and after three seasons of small improvements he should be able to take a leap forward.
Filip Chlapik, C, Senators – The former second-round pick scored 30 points in 50 games for AHL Belleville before scoring four points in a 20-game audition with the Sens. The team’s future is shrouded in mystery but Chlapik is unlikely to go anywhere, providing a low-cost offensive option with second-line potential. However, there’s a chance he may not get much playing time as he continues to learn the ropes, even though he is a better fit than Jean-Gabriel Pageau or Zack Smith in a scoring role behind Matt Duchene.
Julius Honka, D, Stars – The Finnish defenseman doesn’t have the same game-breaking ability on offense as John Klingberg but he’s certainly cut from the same cloth. In 201 AHL games Honka has scored 26 goals and 108 points, and even though he scored just four points in 42 games with Dallas, he’s ready for the NHL. The 14th overall pick from 2014 isn’t trusted at even strength just yet, but he’s been running the second power-play unit and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.