Make-or-break time: Six NHL prospects who must take the next step this season


Considering the way the 2020-21 NHL season has gone — or more accurately hasn’t gone — we have to look at all prospects and young players like we’re grading on a curve. Many of these players have never gone this long between games in their entire playing careers. Some are closing in on their 10th straight month without any sort of competitive hockey. That’s not conducive to development.

But with the expectation that we’ll have an NHL season, there are opportunities for prospects to elbow their way into lineups. Because the flat salary cap is at a figure lower than pre-pandemic projections suggested, many teams are at or very near the cap ceiling. With the trade market frozen, teams can look within their own systems, using the low-dollar contracts of pipeline prospects to stay under the cap number.

One of the other factors at play is the uncertainty of when farm teams will be able to resume play. While the NHL is set to start in mid-January, it’s not as clear a path forward for the AHL and ECHL, the latter of which has already had a number of teams opt out of the upcoming season. The lack of places to put prospects to allow them to continue to develop might force some teams to give longer looks at the NHL level.

Regardless, given the nature of this season, this isn’t the traditional make-or-break kind of situation. More than anything, this is a chance to look at some prospects who have been in systems for a few years and are staring down one of their best opportunities to not only make the NHL roster, but also find a full-time job there. Here are six young players who need to make the most of those chances and take the next step in 2020-21.

Tolvanen was on this list last year, too. As I noted then, it was more about reestablishing himself within the organization and making sure he gets his development on track toward the NHL. To be fair, he increased his goal totals slightly in 2019-20 and progressed enough to suggest he can still be on the NHL track.

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