Every year waves of new players enter into the league in hopes of cementing themselves as an everyday player and eventual all-time great. Players taken with the first few overall selections in the year’s previous drafts are usually always in the NHL within their first year, but here are three players to look out for heading into the 2020 season.
After losing Erik Karlsson, Mark Stone and Matt Duchene in one season, the Ottawa Senators will be building their future team around their young players. One of these players is 19 year old Erik Brannstrom. Brannstrom was drafted 15th overall by the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft and was acquired in the trade that sent Mark Stone to the Golden Knights at the trade deadline. After recording respectable numbers in Sweden following his draft year, Brannstrom transitioned smoothly to the North American game gathering 7 goals and 28 points in 41 games with the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League. After being traded, Brannstrom spent time with the Senators’ AHL affiliate, the Belleville Senators, where he collected 4 assists in 9 games finishing his first pro season with 7 goals and 32 points in 50 games. Brannstrom was then subsequently called up to Ottawa and played in his first 2 NHL games averaging a little over 18 minutes of ice time.
Brannstrom will surely get a look in training camp to hopefully land himself on the opening night roster, but even if he starts the 2019-20 season in the AHL, I think he will find himself in the NHL at some point this season and should be a rookie to keep an eye on. Aside from Thomas Chabot, the Senators don’t have many high end defensemen and Brannstrom will hopefully be one for Ottawa fans to enjoy for a long time.
Although much of the attention this season will be on Quinn’s younger brother Jack, who was selected 1st overall by the New Jersey Devils in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, Quinn could be one of the year’s more underrated rookies. Hughes, 19, was drafted 7th overall by the Vancouver Canucks in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft and spent the majority of the season with the University of Michigan before turning pro and finishing the season with the Canucks. Hughes had an excellent sophomore season in collegiate hockey scoring 5 goals and 33 points in 32 games, leading the team in scoring. Hughes then appeared in 5 games for Vancouver gathering 3 assists and averaging a little over 18 minutes of ice time. He looked incredible in his NHL debut and had a sensational assist on Brock Boeser’s goal securing his first NHL point.
Like Ottawa, the Canucks are building towards the future with their young players (such as Boeser, Elias Pettersson, etc.) and Vancouver is hopeful that Hughes will be their eventual star defenseman moving forward. It may be a small sample size from his collegiate seasons and his 5 game stint last year, but look for Hughes to make a much bigger impact on the Canucks’ blueline in 2020.
Unlike Brannstrom and Hughes, Victor Olofsson wasn’t drafted with an expectation to make an impact as soon as possible. Olofsson, 24, was drafted 181st in the 7th round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft by the Buffalo Sabres and has spent the four years since being drafted playing in Sweden. After two successful years with Frolunda, Olofsson made the jump to North America and started the 2018-19 season with the Sabres’ AHL affiliate, the Rochester Americans. Olofsson’s offense exploded and he finished the year at almost a point-per-game pace scoring 30 goals and 63 points in 66 games, leading the Americans in both goal scoring and points. When called up to the Sabres towards the end of the year Olofsson made a lasting impression netting 2 goals and 4 points in 6 games played. His first NHL goal in particular was a laser of a shot.
Although not a lock for the opening night roster, Sabres’ fans got a brief glimpse of a potential serious goal scorer. If Olofsson starts in the AHL and continues to produce how he did last year, it will be no time before he finds his way back to Buffalo again. If he can remain up with the big club and continue putting up numbers like he did in his short stint last year, the Sabres may have found a diamond in the rough.