With breakout stars of the past like veteran Eric Staal having career years into their late twenties and thirties, it is no surprise that we are seeing more and more this happening in the NHL. Of course, there are still draft prospects to consider who will most likely make a splash with their respective clubs. We as NHL fans can't help but wonder and speculate who the next big splash is going to be made by. For the Western Conference, I have chosen four.
Eeli Tolvanen, the 19-year-old sensation from Vihti, Finland recently signed a three-year ELC with the Nashville Predators, just before the playoffs began in March. The youngest to claim rookie of the month in the KHL since Evgeny Kuznetsov. In just 49 games, he had 36 points last year playing for Jokerit. That's four games faster than Kuznetsov. Tolvanen has been more than busy this year, competing with the Finnish national team, the Finnish Olympic team, playing in the World Juniors for Finland and scoring six points. He also was a part of the KHL's All-Star team. Just an average year for a typical teenager right?
While he still needs work on the power play, his offensive talents will no doubt translate to more goals for the Predators next season.
"The thing that's allowed him to translate and succeed at the men's level as well as he has is that he thinks and executes at a very mature level for his age," Predators Director of Player Personnel Jeff Kealty said. "It's not just the goals, the assists, and his shot, but the little things that he does, like the way he handles the puck and makes the right decisions in all areas of the ice. You always feel like the puck is in good hands when it's on his stick and he's going to make the right play when he has the opportunity."
I can see Peter Laviolette playing Tolvanen alongside proven goal-scorer Ryan Hartman and overtime hero, Nick Bonino, especially if the Predators want to make a deep run in the playoffs. The Preds will need the depth to go farther than the second round this season with offensive threats from San Jose and the Vegas Knights. I put Tolvanen as a point per game player by the end of the season.
Adrian Kempe, the 21-year-old from Kramfors, Sweden who started getting recognized at fourteen for his playmaking abilities playing for Kramfors-Alliansen. As a teenager, he joined the MODO U18 team in which he had 5 goals and 3 assists in four games on their way to the gold medal. Drafted by the LA Kings 29th overall in the 2014 draft, Kempe played two seasons with the AHL affiliate Manchester Monarchs. Kempe helped the Monarchs to the Calder Cup championship with 8 goals and one assist in 17 playoff games. Appearing in 81 games last season, Kempe scored 16 goals and 21 assists for the Kings. Fans got a taste of Kempe's talent in the October 24th game against the Ottawa Senators. With the game on his stick in an overtime shootout, Kempe dazzled and duped Craig Anderson for the game-winning goal. We've barely scratched the surface on what this talented center-man can do in a game. I look to see him improve his overall game and offensive abilities with the return of Jeff Carter and scoring veteran Ilya Kovalchuk added to the roster. I can see Kempe doubling his numbers from next season as the King's beef up their goal scorers.
Miro Heiskanen. The Dallas Stars have one of the smoothest skaters from the 2017 draft in Heiskanen. Selected number 3 overall, the 19-year-old defenseman from Espoo, Finland brings electricity to the ice every time he takes a shift. He has a great ability to transition from offense to defense. The puck seems to follow him everywhere he goes. Heiskanen handles the puck well in his own zone. He likes to stay around the net, not even needing a lot of space to shoot, but boy does he have a rocket from the blue line. Last season playing in the IIHF U18 World Championships, Heiskanen played in 7 games, scoring 2 goals and 10 assists for Finland. He was also named the 2017 Best Defenseman at the tournament. I think Heiskanen is ready for the big club. I can see him slotting in the second pairing with Julius Honka and dominating the Stars defense this season.
Evander Kane has spent 9 seasons in the NHL bouncing from one club to the next but he says, "I felt like I have been waiting to play for a club like the Sharks my whole life." On a personal request from future hockey hall of Famer Joe Thorton, Kane packed his bags and headed out West. San Jose Sharks GM Doug Wilson made one of the best moves at this year's trade deadline when he acquired Kane from the Buffalo Sabres. All Wilson had to give up was prospect Daniel O'Reagan, a conditional first-rounder, and a conditional fourth-rounder. It was a low-risk move that paid off in the end. Kane played 17 games with the Sharks and scoring 9 goals and 5 assists before crushing it in the playoffs against Anaheim with 3 goals one of those being the game-winning goal in game one. I see Kane having the best year of his NHL career in San Jose next season. What could spur on a player more than being given seven more years with a club he considers to be the home he has always longed for? Playing for keeps, on a brand-new deal for arguably one of the best teams in the Western Conference, I can easily see Kane having a 70 point season this year.
Who do you think will have the best breakout-season this year? Let us know in the comment section below and be sure to give us a follow on Twitter by searching (VAVELNHL_ENG)