Atlantic Division Top 2011 Prospects

Every off-season teams test their new draft picks and hope for the next breakout rookie star.

Last season, Jeff Skinner stole the show with 63 points in his rookie debut with Carolina and Logan Couture of San Jose finished with 32 goals and a plus 18 rating.  Leading the rookie group in goals was Michael Grabner of the New York Islanders with 34.

Jeff Skinner broke out early in the season and quickly became a top offensive threat for the Hurricanes.  He showed very little trouble adapting to the speed of the NHL and no fear going hard to the net in order to bury his next goal.

Scoring more goals than Joe Thornton and not far behind Patrick Marleau was Logan Couture of San Jose.   Many expect Couture to break the 40 goal mark in the coming season and take over as the most dangerous Shark in the tank.

Michael Grabner gives life and hope to an Islander team that was relying solely upon John Tavares before hand.  Along with PA Parenteau, these three will lead the Islanders to a happier place in the coming seasons.

On the defensive side of the ice, Adam McQuaid of Boston topped all rookie defensemen and most veteran defensemen with an astonishing plus-30 rating.

Defensemen with this kind of ability are hard to come by and while McQuaid did have the luxury of playing with one of the league’s best defensive teams, he was still able to make a name for himself and not just ride his veteran teammates to a Stanley Cup.

When you look bad and think of rookie goaltenders, maybe Michal Neuvirth of Washington comes to mind as the top performer but in reality Corey Crawford of Chicago takes the cake with 33 wins and 4 shutouts behind a sometimes defensively struggling Blackhawk team.

Who will record the most goals next season or post the most shutouts and will they come from the Atlantic Division?

The New York Rangers are hoping Christian Thomas becomes the NHL’s next elite sniper.  Coming from the Oshawa Generals in Ontario, Thomas finished the 66 game season with 99 points and a plus 20 rating.   This is a player who is used to being the top guy on his team and wants to score the important goals.  The Rangers are building up a lot of young talent between Stepan, Dubinsky and now Thomas making them a threat coming out of the Eastern Conference.  With Lundqvist in net, there’s always a chance for this team and the future looks bright.

In New Jersey it’s not as clear who the next big prospect might be.  Lou Lamoriello likes what he sees in Adam Larsson and there are also a few more Zajacs coming up the ranks who can be huge additions to the squad if they’re anything like their brother Travis.

The biggest concern in New Jersey right now is the future of their franchise goaltender Martin Brodeur.  Everyone has to retire sometime and that time is coming for Marty.  Maxime Clermont and Scott Wedgewood seem to be impressing the coaching staff the most and could see decent playing time next season as they search for a full-time replacement.

With the Flyers dropping two of their top scorers in Mike Richards and Jeff Carter they will need to find worthy successors to fill that void.  Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier might be just what they had in mind.   The two rookie centers are both great two-way players who possess the necessary talent to keep the Flyers chugging right along.   Obviously this will not be an instant fix as the two young centers most likely will not match the numbers that Richards and Carter have posted over the past years.

The top prospect in Pittsburgh is a defenseman named Joseph Morrow.  Morrow is described as a strong two-way defensemen with a big shot and god-given talent.   Playing in front of Marc-Andre Fleury and behind Sidney Crosby should allow this young talent to develop well without having to be perfect.  Solid defense is a key for the Penguins moving forward and would be an excellent addition to an already offensively powerful team.

The Islanders will continue to look to Michael Grabner to develop into their second star along with John Tavares and after a brief stint with the team last season, Nino Niederreiter has work to do in order to stay an Islander for more than nine games.

As far as the 2011 additions, first round pick Ryan Strome expects to make a splash in training camp and join Grabner and Tavares this season as the Islanders hope to make it out the bottom of the Atlantic.

It’s impossible to forecast and predict the next Sidney Crosby or Wayne Gretzky because sometimes a highly gifted player just can’t adjust to the NHL’s speed and talent level.  Every player in the NHL is the best player from another team.  Remember that guy you played against in college who couldn’t be stopped or your teammate who always seemed to be in the right place at the right time and always led in goals and points?  Well the NHL is full of those guys and it makes for a tough transition when these young prospects who are used to being the best are suddenly back at the bottom trying to work their way up.

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