I found myself bored and decided to click through TheHockeyNews.com's team depth charts to see who they see lining up on opening night for each team. But in starting at the top with Atlanta's depth chart (alphabetically, certainly not by expectations) — and the inclusion of No. 3-overall pick Zach Bogosian as the team's sixth defenseman — I quickly turned my attention to rookies, specifically ones that have never pulled on an NHL jersey.
Let me first point out this is just their take on who will make it to the NHL for the first time. There are notable omissions (Nikolai Kumelin, for example, has been promised a spot with the Maple Leafs, but is nowhere to be found on Toronto's depth chart on the site) and mistakes (Jerred Smithson is listed as both the third-line right winger and No. 4 left winger for Nashville, so unless he was cloned, this is clearly a mistake. And if he was cloned, why choose Jerred Smithson? At least clone Alexander Radulov, send one to Russia, keep one with the Preds and end this silly transfer argument). But for the most part, it provides a good look at the league's rosters and what to expect come training camp.
By my count, THN.com lists eight players on teams' depth charts that have yet to grace the ice in an NHL game. After Bogosian, one of those is Carolina's top pick last year, center Brandon Sutter. Sutter is penciled in as the team's fourth-line center (certainly a realistic expectation) and will probably have to play himself out of a job or get hurt in training camp to not start the season with the Canes.
Also in the Southeast is Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos, the top pick in this past draft. Seen Stamkos? Well, The Hockey News has (on the most recent cover and the cover of its draft preview issue), and also sees him centering the Lightning's second line.
No. 2 overall pick Drew Doughty is listed as the Kings' third defensemen — with Carolina castoff Jack Johnson taking over for the departed Rob Blake as L.A.'s top blueliner.
The Hockey News also figures St. Louis will be playing a newcomer this year, but it's not No. 4 overall pick Alex Pietrangelo. No, it's 2005 first-round pick T.J. Oshie, who is the fourth-line center on the Blues' depth chart .
One of the more anticipated arrivals is that of Swedish forward Fabian Brunnstrom. Brunnstrom went undrafted, but after a breakthrough season in the Swedish Elite League (9-28-37 in 54 games in the low-scoring SEL), he was courted by several, if not most, NHL teams last year. While Vancouver and Detroit (both with large Swedish contigents) were expected to be frontrunners for his services, in the end Brunnstrom chose to go to Dallas. The Hockey News has him on Mike Modano's left on the Stars' third line.
Most interesting, however, may be Phoenix's depth chart. It boasts two newcomers, both draft picks this year. Mikkel Boedker, the eighth overall pick in this past draft, was slotted to be the team's No. 2 right winger, while the Coyotes' other first-round pick, Russian Viktor Tikhonov, is on the right side of the fourth line. While my focus is on the guys who have never played an NHL game, it's worth noting that coach Wayne Gretzky will also likely have Peter Mueller (81 games last year), Martin Hanzal (72 games in 2007-08), Daniel Carcillo (75 career games), Daniel Winnik (79 games last year), Keith Yandle (50 career games) and Kyle Turris (three games last year) dressed for opening night. With the two draft picks slotted to play, that's 360 games of total experience for eight players. Gretzky alone played 208 playoff games in his career (notching 382 points), so he'd better hope that experience rubs of on the youngsters.
There are other candidates to make opening-night rosters, such as Columbus' Nikita Filatov, Chicago's Kyle Beach, Washington's Karl Alzner, Florida's Michael Frolik and a host of others who could make an impression in camp and storm onto an NHL roster. Even Carolina will take a close look at 2007 third-round steal Drayson Bowman after signing him to his entry-level deal last week. Plus there's a bundle of other players with some NHL experience that will be Calder Trophy-eligible in 2008-09 and looking to make an impact for their respective teams.
But it might be the most fun to watch these eight — especially Sutter — and see where expectations meet experience, where merit meets maturity. In these cap-strapped days, you know the league's GMs will be keeping a close eye on it.