It’s what every NHL organization wants to see in its prospect pipeline: the player who takes the next step and shows that they’re ready for more responsibility and a look at a higher level. Now, a month-plus into the 2023-24 hockey season, these rising-stock prospects have started to emerge.
Who’s rising the fastest for each team?
The Athletic posed that question to its NHL staff, stipulating that while very recent call-ups are eligible, the prospects should not be current full-time NHLers.
In response, we heard about top picks ready to make the leap, hidden gems earning bigger opportunities and players on the precipice of making an NHL impact. Here are the picks.
Yegor Sidorov: Any one of Leo Carlsson, Pavel Mintyukov or Jackson LaCombe could have fit here except all three are with the Ducks and making an immediate impact. Olen Zellweger is progressing well with AHL San Diego but the nod for fastest-rising goes to Sidorov, a third-round pick in this year’s draft. The 19-year-old out of Vitebsk, Belarus had 40 goals in his second WHL season and is following that up with a scorching 20-goal start for the Saskatoon Blades in just 19 games. Sidorov, whose skill was shown in Anaheim’s rookie camp, is among the leading goal scorers in the WHL and could push for 50 goals in 2023-24. He’s definitely on the Ducks’ prospect radar. — Eric Stephens
Maveric Lamoureux: The third of the Coyotes’ three first-rounders in 2022, Lamoureux was taken 29th overall behind Logan Cooley (No. 3) and Conor Geekie (No. 11). Unhappily, Lamoureux’s development was limited last season because of a shoulder injury that kept him out of all but 35 games for his junior team, the Drummondville Voltigeurs. But he is off to a strong start in 2023-24, with 18 points in 16 games. So, there’s an offensive component to accompany his real strength, which is his size and especially his wingspan (he’s 6-foot-7, 214 pounds). Once Lamoureux smooths out the rough edges in his game at the pro level, likely next year and likely in the minors to start, he could be a major defensive force for the Coyotes for years to come. — Eric Duhatschek
Fabian Lysell: The right wing has eight points in his last seven games for the Providence Bruins (AHL). It is a good sign for the 2021 first-round pick. Lysell did not perform well during training camp. He started the AHL season slowly after his assignment. He was not going to dangerous ice enough. That is changing. The 20-year-old is applying his speed and skill inside the dots now. — Fluto Shinzawa
Ryan Johnson: This time last year, the Sabres weren’t sure whether 2019 first-round pick Ryan Johnson would sign with the organization after finishing his college career at Minnesota. Not only did the Sabres get Johnson under contract, but he now looks like a key piece for Buffalo. He tore it up at training camp and was the team’s first defenseman call-up. He’s gotten time on the top pair with Rasmus Dahlin and handled that assignment well. Johnson’s future in Buffalo looks bright. — Matthew Fairburn
Connor Zary: Calgary Wranglers head coach Trent Cull said he’d miss Connor Zary when the youngster was called up at the start of November. He doesn’t appear to be headed back to the minors anytime soon. Zary has found ways to get goals and points in his first few NHL games, including a two-point night against the Canadiens at the Bell Centre. His skating, skill and confidence have even propelled him to the Flames’ top power-play unit. His dynamism is precisely what the Flames have needed to start their year. — Julian McKenzie
‘He has some swagger’: What can Connor Zary bring to the Flames?
Felix Unger Sorum: When Carolina selected Unger Sorum 62nd overall at this summer’s draft, it looked like a bit of a reach. Few draft experts graded the Swedish right winger that high, and he was also the youngest player in this year’s draft class. Unger Sorum certainly didn’t look overmatched or overwhelmed in training camp, performing a cut above the rest of the prospects in camp. The Hurricanes even weighed keeping him on the roster to start the season before reassigning him to the Swedish Hockey League. — Cory Lavalette
Paul Ludwinski: Ludwinski had a rough season after being drafted by the Blackhawks in the second round in 2022. He had a few injuries and just never found much consistency in his game. Being healthy and having a coaching change in Kingston has seemed to help him this OHL season. He has eight goals and 13 assists in his first 18 games. He extended his points streak to 12 games on Saturday. He’s playing fast and making a difference. — Scott Powers
Blackhawks prospect notebook: Paul Ludwinski out to have a greater impact this season
Nikolai Kovalenko: The Avalanche drafted Kovalenko in the sixth round in 2018, and that pick is looking more encouraging than they likely could have hoped. He had 54 points in 56 games for Torpedo in the KHL last year, and now has 20 points in 16 games this season. “I would think he was probably drafted young thinking he could be this steady 200-foot checker, but he’s developed a really nice offensive ability in the KHL, and he’s being used in all situations,” Jared Bednar said earlier this year. The Avalanche signed Kovalenko to a two-year deal in July, and he could come over after his KHL season ends. Depending on how his game translates, he could be an immediate impact player. — Peter Baugh
Jordan Dumais: In an ideal world, Jordan Dumais would be playing his first pro season right now, most likely with the Blue Jackets’ AHL affiliate in Cleveland. But Dumais is too young for the AHL per CHL rule, so it’s back to Halifax (QMJHL) for another season of dominating junior hockey. Dumais is torching the rest of the league, with 12 goals, 19 assists and 31 points in only 13 games. His points per game average (2.38) is up sharply from last season (2.19), when he had 140 points (54 goals, 86 assists) in 64 games. Dumais will almost certainly get a chance to play for Canada at the world juniors after being one of the final cuts last season, so he does have something to keep his attention. Scouts are mixed on his NHL future. He is undersized (5-foot-8, 170 pounds) but his determination is second-to-none. — Aaron Portzline
Lian Bichsel: It’s important to reiterate the premise, which is not the best prospect — which would be Logan Stankoven and/or Mavrik Bourque — but instead one whose stock is rising the most because of his play. Bichsel was already the top defenseman prospect for the Stars, almost by default, but the front office has been impressed with his performance so far this season and encouraged by how quickly he’s transitioned to North American hockey. There’s still some seasoning to be done but Bichsel has been impressive. — Saad Yousuf
Axel Sandin Pellikka: The Red Wings’ second first-round pick from 2023, Sandin Pellikka has been on a tear to begin SHL play. At age 18, the defenseman already has seven goals and 10 points through 18 games. The most ever goals for a U19 defender in that league in one season? 11. Much of that damage has come on the power play, where Sandin Pellikka’s right-hand shot has been a weapon from the left circle, but for a Red Wings team that has lacked offense from the blue line in past years, it’s been a welcome development nonetheless. His small stature at 5-foot-11 remains a factor to watch when it comes to his NHL translatability, and for that reason (among others), he likely won’t be on any kind of fast track. But the Red Wings have to be encouraged by his early play. — Max Bultman
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Raphael Lavoie: Lavoie has played sparingly in six games after being called up from AHL Bakersfield. Though issues with Mattias Janmark and Connor Brown up front necessitated his promotion, Lavoie had just been named AHL Player of the Week. An excellent start to the season is just what he needed after failing to make the Oilers out of camp. The prospect cupboard is nearly bare in Edmonton and strong work in the minors means Lavoie’s stock is continuing to rise following his breakout in the second half of last season. — Daniel Nugent-Bowman
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Gracyn Sawchyn: The Panthers are a tough case as Anton Lundell, Spencer Knight and Mackie Samoskevich are all still part of Corey Pronman’s rankings despite already having played NHL games. No. 3 prospect Ludvig Jansson, a defenseman, has two points in Sweden. Beyond them, thanks to years of trading picks, things thin out in a hurry. Sawchyn, though, is a crafty forward with 11 points in eight WHL games. He was the No. 63 pick in June. — Sean Gentille
Koehn Ziemmer: Alex Laferriere would have filled this space except the former Harvard standout made the club out of training camp and has stuck while top prospect Brandt Clarke’s time will come. This is a good spot to deliver some shine to the 18-year-old Ziemmer, a third-round pick in 2023 who drew some attention at rookie camp with his good hands and strong motor. After scoring 40 times for Prince George last season, Ziemmer is off to another good start in the WHL with nine goals and 28 points in 18 games. On Friday, the Kings signed Ziemmer to a three-year entry-level contract. Honorable mention: Erik Portillo is in his first year as a pro and has won four of his first five AHL starts with a solid 2.20 goals-against average. This will be a good development season for the 23-year-old former Michigan standout. — Eric Stephens
Jesper Wallstedt: In an organization with many solid prospects like Liam Ohgren, Daemon Hunt, Marat Khusnutdinov, Danila Yurov, Hunter Haight and Riley Heidt, the Wild are most excited about Wallstedt and so especially are their fans. For the latter, it’s partially because the Wild’s goaltending has been amongst the NHL’s worst this season and in their eyes Wallstedt can’t get here soon enough. The Wild flipped picks with the Oilers to move up two spots in 2021 to draft Wallstedt 20th overall. It was a surprise because the Wild kept trying to move up all first round because they were actually worried it would be Edmonton that would draft him. Wallstedt has been great for Iowa this season, going 6-2 with a 2.01 GAA, .932 save percentage and two shutouts. He also was recently AHL Player of the Week. — Michael Russo
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Bogdan Konyushkov: The 20-year-old defenseman with Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod in the KHL was a fourth-round pick in the 2023 draft as an overager, but he’s already proving to be a steal. In a league where young defensemen struggle to get ice time, Konyushkov has put up 16 points in 32 games while playing well over 20 minutes a night for coach Igor Larionov. Konyushkov is an undersized defenseman at 5-foot-11, 176 pounds, but he is mobile and showing excellent potential for making the transition to North America with how trusted he is in Russia at a young age. — Arpon Basu
Joakim Kemell: Kemell, the No. 17 pick in the 2022 draft, is ascending quickly, though the Preds may want him where he is for a good long stay. The 19-year-old Finnish winger has eight points in 13 games with the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals, after a 14-game stint in Milwaukee last season produced six goals and 13 points. Kemell has his weight into the 180s on a 5-foot-11 frame, and he is marked as a prospect who should be a prominent Predator for a long time. As GM Barry Trotz has made clear, he wants prospects “overcooked” if anything. So even if this season continues to underwhelm, Kemell isn’t likely to be part of it. — Joe Rexrode
Simon Nemec: With Luke Hughes earning himself a full-time role at the NHL level, and Alexander Holtz in the mix this season, these honors go to an obvious choice. The defenseman’s time in the Devils organization didn’t get off to the best start last year, but he found his footing and emerged as a top player for the Comets. He’s resumed that role this season, and has shown he can make a difference in all three zones. Considering his ceiling and the team’s growing needs on the backend to round out their roster with a more complete number six, Nemec’s stock and importance to the franchise keep growing. — Shayna Goldman
Danny Nelson: The Islanders haven’t had a first-round pick in the last four drafts so it’s become imperative they hit on some of their mid-round selections. Nelson was the 49th pick last June and he’s been a solid freshman at Notre Dame, with two goals, seven assists and nine points in his first 13 games for a team that’s ranked in the top 20. Nelson is a longer-term pro project but he’s progressing well already — and the Isles pipeline isn’t exactly jammed with talent. — Arthur Staple
Gabe Perreault: Perreault fell into the Rangers’ laps at No. 23 in the June draft and it was fair to wonder what made a player who had a top-10 ranking from Central Scouting fall so far. Through his first 12 games at Boston College, we’re still wondering. Perreault has 17 points, behind only potential 2024 No. 1 pick Macklin Celebrini in scoring among NCAA freshmen. The Rangers may have yet another young talent to work into their roster sooner rather than later. — Arthur Staple
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Mads Søgaard: The Senators pipeline is thin. They traded their last two first-round picks to get Alex DeBrincat and Jakob Chychrun. Their 2021 first-rounder Tyler Boucher is injured and his progress is muddled at best. So this team doesn’t really have any blue-chip prospects, but Mads Søgaard has the ability to be a game-changer in the crease. He was forced to play 19 NHL games last season because of injuries, but he clearly needed more time to marinate in the AHL. With Belleville so far this season, Søgaard has posted a .923 save percentage and a 2.35 GAA in eight starts. If the 22-year-old can keep this for the entirety of the regular season, there could be an argument to be made that he’s emerged as Ottawa’s top prospect in the system. — Ian Mendes
Denver Barkey: A third-round pick in the 2023 draft, Barkey opened some eyes during summer prospect camp and is off to a tremendous start with the OHL’s London Knights. The right winger leads the Knights in scoring with 28 points (13 goals, 15 assists) in 21 games, and was named as the OHL’s Player of the Week earlier in November. He’s on the small side at 5-foot-9 and 154 pounds, but Barkey seems to have a knack for getting on the scoresheet. — Kevin Kurz
Brayden Yager: Indeed, the Penguins haven’t made a lot of first-round picks over the past 15 years. When they do, a lot of pressure is on those prospects to develop because the franchise is in win-now mode as long as Sidney Crosby is playing. So, there is high hope for Yager. But speaking to club personnel, they expect him to make a mark when he gets into the AHL, mostly because he’s shown such steadiness with Moosejaw (WHL). Yager wowed hockey operations during his prospect camp, and there’s a feeling he’s already more NHL-ready in terms of skill than any other non-NHL forward with the Penguins. There are a lot of JAGs (Just A Guy) to which the Penguins can point among prospects, but Yager looks like a potential star. — Rob Rossi
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Danil Gushchin: Will Smith is the big name, and the No. 4 overall pick is off to a strong start in his freshman season at Boston College. But the 18-year-old is already a big-time prospect. If we’re talking fast-rising, Gushchin fits here. A third-round pick San Jose made in 2020, the 21-year-old had a promising first pro season as the second-leading scorer for the AHL’s Barracuda in 2022-23. Gushchin was leading Barracuda in points at the time of his recall last Monday and notched an assist in his season debut with the Sharks. He now has three points in four games in his NHL career and has shown some flair in his offensive game. Gushchin is bold enough to try a behind-the-legs shot off the rush as he did Tuesday against Florida. — Eric Stephens
Carson Rehkopf: Selected in the second round of the 2023 NHL Draft, Carson Rehkopf is off to a dream start to his draft-plus-one campaign. On a loaded Kitchener side, Rehkopf has exploded this season, scoring over a goal per game for 24 goals and 39 points in 21 games so far. He’s leading the entire league in scoring through the first quarter of the season. Kitchener’s power play is a lethal weapon and Rehkopf’s mastery of the half-wall with the man advantage is a major reason why. Combine that with his attentive two-way play at five-on-five and Rehkopf’s stock is trending way up. There’s no question that he’s currently one of the single best players in the entire OHL. — Thomas Drance
Dalibor Dvorsky: The plan was for Dvorsky, 18, to play in the Swedish Hockey League this season, but that changed quickly. The No. 10 overall pick in the 2023 NHL Draft had no points in 10 games with IK Oskarshamn, and his ice time was dwindling. So Dvorsky chose to come to North America and play for the Ontario Hockey League’s Sudbury Wolves, who took him No. 68 in the 2022 Canadian Hockey League import draft. The 6-foot-1, 201-pound forward is now playing against his peers and performing well, with eight goals and 15 points in 12 games. — Jeremy Rutherford
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Isaac Howard: It’s hard to call a player who is arguably his organization’s top prospect a quote-unquote riser, but in Howard’s case it applies. After a difficult freshman year at Minnesota-Duluth, Howard hit the transfer portal and now has points in 12 of his first 14 games at Michigan State. The Lightning need him to hit, so his bounce-back season is a big step forward. He looks like a first-rounder again and will be in the mix to make Team USA’s world juniors roster. — Scott Wheeler
Easton Cowan: When Easton Cowan was drafted 28th overall, you could collectively hear the fan base echo “Who?” The crafty, high-energy winger was projected by outsiders to go after the first round, but Leafs director of amateur scouting Wes Clark believed in the London Knights dynamo and you can see why. Among players with at least 10 games played, Cowan’s 1.69 points per game are tops in the OHL. Cowan is playing center more, which has improved his on-ice awareness. There’s so much drive in his game that you can see why Sheldon Keefe kept him around Leafs training camp until the very end. The Knights wanted to count on Cowan for offense this season and Cowan is holding up his end of the bargain with some physicality to boot. — Joshua Kloke
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Jonathan Lekkerimaki: Lekkerimaki has bounced back in a huge way after a difficult, injury-plagued 2022-23 campaign where he notched just nine points in 29 games in the Allsvenskan. Vancouver’s 2022 first-round pick is popping off, despite playing in a higher league this season, as he sits with eight goals in 17 SHL games, which slots him top 10 in the league for goals. Lekkerimaki has been potent on the power play but is also showing a higher degree of confidence in creating chances from the inside rather than being restricted to the perimeter. — Harman Dayal
Jakub Brabenec: A fourth-round pick in 2021 by the Golden Knights, Jakub Brabenec impressed in both rookie camp and training camp this fall, and has played well in limited action in his first season in the AHL. Brabenec is an excellent skater, tenacious on the forecheck, and has started to show more skill with the puck, highlighted by his between-the-legs goal for the Silver Knights in October. He’s only 20, and isn’t quite to the point where he’ll be called upon in the NHL, but he’s developed nicely for a fourth-rounder and should see action with the Golden Knights eventually. — Jesse Granger
Ryan Leonard: Leonard, the eighth overall pick in June, started the season as Washington’s No. 1 prospect in Pronman’s rankings, and he’s only strengthened his grip on that spot. A freshman at Boston College, Leonard has five goals and 12 points in 12 games for the NCAA’s No. 1 team. Five of those goals have come in his last eight games. He’s shown continued chemistry with Team USA linemates Will Smith and Gabe Perreault. — Sean Gentille
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Rutger McGroarty: When Rutger McGroarty scored at a point per game in his freshman season, playing on one of the hottest lines in the NCAA with Adam Fantilli and Gavin Brindley, I’m sure some observers wondered if Fantilli, who became the NHL’s third overall pick in 2023 and then made Columbus’ roster, was driving the bus. But McGroarty has taken a leap forward in his sophomore season, exploding out of the gate with 18 points in 13 games and taking co-Player of the Month honors in the NCAA in October. Even if his scoring regresses, McGroarty has earned fastest-rising status in Winnipeg’s pipeline. The one concern — and it’s a big one — is that McGroarty was injured after an endboard collision in Ann Arbor on Friday. — Murat Ates
Jets mailbag: Top prospects ETA? Making changes on defence?
Looking for more prospect coverage? Check out the latest Prospect Series episode of “The Athletic Hockey Show” with Max Bultman and Corey Pronman.
(Top photos of Jesper Wallstedt, Brayden Yager and Easton Cowan: David Zalubowski / Associated Press, Jeanine Leech / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images and Nicole Osborne / NHLI via Getty Images)