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Ten rookies set to become impact players this season

by Brian Compton

Today marks the start of's preview of the 2013-14 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout September.

Several rookies made an impact in the NHL last season, led by Florida Panthers forward Jonathan Huberdeau. The third pick of the 2012 NHL Draft had 14 goals and 17 assists in 48 games and was awarded the Calder Trophy as the League's top rookie, beating out Montreal Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher and Chicago Blackhawks forward Brandon Saad.

With the new season upon us, here are 10 rookies to watch in 2013-14:

Seth Jones, Nashville Predators -- The fourth selection of the 2013 draft, Jones is a smooth skater who could find himself playing more than 20 minutes per game right from the get-go. The son of former NBA player Popeye Jones, this 18-year-old will bring size (6-foot-4, 205 pounds), skill and hockey sense to the Predators' lineup as soon as they open the season, Oct. 3 against the St. Louis Blues.

"Seth is a special prospect and we were fortunate to be in position to select him," Predators general manager David Poile said. "As a player, he brings so much to our organization, from size you can't teach to a skill set that every team hopes to add and a personality and maturity that will allow him to grow and develop with our veteran core and other young players."

Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche -- The Avalanche opted to go with the talented center with the No. 1 selection at this year's draft, and MacKinnon is expected to be in the lineup when Colorado hosts the Anaheim Ducks on Oct. 2. The 18-year-old had 32 goals and 43 assists in 44 games for the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League last season, his second with the team. He spent this summer working out with new teammate Matt Duchene and fellow Nova Scotia native Sidney Crosby.

"My biggest goal is to make the team, and then I just want to contribute as much as I can," MacKinnon told the Avalanche website. "There are tons of great players on the team, but I want to help as much as I can and as soon as possible."

Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers -- Taken right after MacKinnon at the 2013 draft, Barkov had shoulder surgery in April but is expected to be on the ice when the Panthers open training camp. The 6-3, 209-pound center is extremely talented -- he had 21 goals and 27 assists in 53 games for Tappara in Finland's top professional league -- and should be a very nice complement to Huberdeau.

"He really wants to be a star, he wants to play here, and he wants to play right away," Panthers GM Dale Tallon said during the club's development camp this summer. "He's excited to be here, he loves it here and wants to stay here, so that's a real positive."

Ryan Murray, Columbus Blue Jackets -- Murray likely would have been in Columbus' opening-night lineup last season, but the talented defenseman sustained a season-ending shoulder injury in November while playing with his junior team, the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League. Now healthy, the No. 2 selection in 2012 is ready to join the Blue Jackets' blue line, where it's likely he'll be a mainstay for years to come. Murray (6-1, 198) had two goals and 15 assists in 23 games prior to his injury. He'll turn 20 on Sept. 27.

"I'm excited to see him," Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards told "He spent his whole summer here. He's ready to go. It's a big jump going from junior hockey to the NHL, especially missing the number of games and the time he missed last year because of his injury, so I don't know where he's going to be at. But from everything I've heard, I think he's the real deal and it's only a question of when."

Jonathan Drouin, Tampa Bay Lightning -- MacKinnon's teammate in Halifax, Drouin was the third player selected at the 2013 draft. Expected to play for the Lightning right away, the 5-11, 186-pound left wing had 105 points (41 goals, 64 assists) in 49 regular-season games then had 35 points in 17 QMJHL playoff games. Drouin could be on the top line with Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis when the Lightning open the season Oct. 3 against the Boston Bruins.

"Jonathan has a special compete level and a special skill set that you very rarely see come along," Tampa Bay director of amateur scouting Al Murray told "If any of the fans are watching the YouTube videos of Jonathan, the thing they should really keep in mind is that the best part of his game is his playmaking and not his individual 1-on-1 goal scoring. He's very unselfish and sees the ice really well and really is a complete forward."

Jacob Trouba, Winnipeg Jets -- The ninth pick of the 2012 draft, Trouba (6-2, 187) helped the United States win a gold medal at the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship, where he had four goals and five assists and was named the tournament's best defenseman. The 19-year-old spent last season at the University of Michigan, where he had 12 goals and 17 assists in 37 games and was named a first-team NCAA All-American.

Trouba could find himself as a top-four defenseman in Winnipeg. If that's the case, he said he believes he's ready to make an impact in the NHL.

"It's a goal of mine and a dream come true and it's a good opportunity," Trouba said after signing with the Jets in April. "It's definitely going to be a challenge, playing with bigger guys, but it's something that I need and I'm ready to take that challenge."

Torey Krug, Boston Bruins -- The undrafted 22-year-old burst onto the scene with the Bruins during the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs. After appearing in 63 games in the American Hockey League for the Providence Bruins (13 goals, 32 assists), Krug helped Boston reach the Stanley Cup Final with four goals and two assists in 15 playoff games. He's expected to be a top-six defenseman this season for the reigning Eastern Conference champions.

Torey Krug
2013 Playoffs
GOALS: 4 | ASST: 2 | PTS: 6
SOG: 34 | +/-: 5
"Now I have a full year of professional hockey under my belt and I understand the ins and outs of the pro hockey lifestyle," Krug told the Bruins' website. "So I know what's important and I know what actually isn't as important to make sure I'm ready for the season."

Valeri Nichushkin, Dallas Stars -- This 6-4, 202-pound right wing could prove to be a steal after the Stars selected him with the 10th pick of the 2013 draft. Nothing will be handed to the 18-year-old, but there's a strong chance Nichushkin is in the Stars lineup when the team opens its season Oct. 3 against Florida. If Nichushkin doesn't make the NHL, he would have to return to Chelyabinsk in the Kontinental Hockey League.

"We're excited. We think he's very close, but I don't want to put expectations on him either," Stars GM Jim Nill told "I want to be careful. He's going to get every opportunity in the world to be on the team. We want to keep him around for a while."

Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets -- The seventh pick of the 2011 draft seems primed to make the jump after coming off another solid season (39 goals, 40 assists in 45 games) with the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League, his third with the team. Scheifele (6-2, 184) played in the NHL in each of the past two seasons, appearing in seven games in 2011-12 and four last season. In 2013-14, he could find himself on the second line, centering Evander Kane and Devin Setoguchi.

"Every year that I've been to camp I've gotten a little taste of what it's like to play in the NHL, but getting in some games last year was huge," Scheifele told "Experiences like that are huge in building your confidence.

"I'm certainly more comfortable now after having gone through this process less than a year ago. Coming in this year, I know what to expect, I know what to do and I know how hungry to be."

Morgan Rielly, Toronto Maple Leafs -- Rielly has been turning heads this summer and is ready to make a name for himself in Toronto after being the fifth pick in 2012. The 6-1, 205-pound defenseman appeared in 14 games for the Toronto Marlies in the American Hockey League last season and had a goal and two assists, after totaling 12 goals and 54 points in 60 games for the Moose Jaw Warriors of the Western Hockey League.

"I understand that I have plenty of time to play pro hockey," Rielly told Canadian Press in July. "If I don't play this year, that doesn't mean that I won't ever play in the NHL. That's a goal I have. But if not, I've just got to keep working hard, keep trying to get better. I'll be 20 this time next year, which is still pretty young, so I'm not too concerned about it. But that's a goal I'm pretty driven to achieve."


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