It seems like just yesterday that we were talking about October/November, and the first On the Rush of the 2015-16 campaign was being put together. Alas, here we are in April with many teams and players done for the season. It has been another phenomenal year across the hockey world, and every year we are left with no shortage of players who surpass expectations and those that fall short.
We had some great stories this year, some difficult seasons, and overall there was plenty to talk and write about on 2015-16’s leaders and trailers.
In this the final On the Rush of the season, we are going to be taking a look at the entirety of the season and selecting players. If you have followed OTR all season, thank you! We hope to see you again next season with a whole new crop of players to keep track of.
Leading the Rush
Shayne Gostisbehere, D, Philadelphia Flyers (NHL)
Drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers
Third round, 78th overall, 2012
When the nominees for the Calder Trophy are announced, Shayne Gostisbehere deserves to be one of them. His emergence in the winter turned Philadelphia from a struggling squad into a competitive team. In the final two months of the regular season, the rookie made an impact, contributing 23 points in 36 games to help the Flyers sneak into the postseason. He was a treat to watch throughout the season because his fluid skating and puck skills were just as good as the effort he showed each night. Whether retaining the blue line, hustling up and down the ice to make plays, or deking opponents to create opportunities, Gostisbehere always brought something to take away positively. Philadelphia has more talented young defensemen coming up the pipeline, but Gostisbehere has set the tone for what is expected to become an intimidating blue line in the near future.
Runner Up: Charles Hudon (MTL)
Colton Parayko, D, St. Louis Blues (NHL)
Drafted by the St. Louis Blues
Third round, 86th overall, 2012
Colton Parayko was featured in the first On the Rush of 2015, and his strong play has continued throughout the season. Not many expected the big 6’5” defenseman to make the St. Louis roster out of camp, let alone have a massive impact with the team. The former University of Alaska-Fairbanks defenseman logged close to 20 minutes a night on average in 2015-16, while adding 33 points from the back end in 79 games during his rookie season. He was a plus possession player (CF% – 54.8), and a plus team relative possession player as well (3.4%). There is no doubt that Parayko was one of the best – if not the best – rookie defensemen in the NHL this season. He should garner some votes in the Calder race, and the Blues should pat themselves on the back for grabbing Parayko late in third round of the 2012 NHL Draft.
Runner up: Ben Hutton (VAN)
Dmytro Timashov, LW, Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL)
Drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs
5th Round, 125th overall, 2015
The Toronto Maple Leafs may have themselves a keeper in Dmytro Timashov. The offensive dynamo was in the spotlight this season for his standout play in the QMJHL as well as internationally at the World Junior Championship. Overshadowed by the big names at the tournament, Toronto’s Director of Player Personnel Mark Hunter suggested Timashov would be a sleeper in the tournament. He was correct. Timashov had a two-goal, five-assist performance for Sweden in a tournament where that country failed to medal. Upon returning to North America, he was traded to the Cataractes, bringing with him his playmaking ability, skating, and experience in the postseason. Timashov produced 32 points in 28 games for the Cataractes and finished the regular season with 85 points in 57 games overall. He has maintained his top form in the postseason where he has been especially dangerous with the man advantage.
Runner Up: Jeremiah Addison (MTL)
Kevin Labanc, RW, Barrie Colts (OHL)
Drafted by the San Jose Sharks
Sixth round, 171st overall, 2014
There were many very good performers this year in the junior circuit, but a certain duo in Barrie paired up to be a two-headed monster for many opponents this season. The pairing referred to includes forwards Andrew Mangiapane and Kevin Labanc of the Barrie Colts. Together the duo combined for a ridiculous 233 points on the season. LaBanc individually led the OHL in scoring over highly-rated prospects and draft picks like Christian Dvorak, Mitch Marner, Dylan Strome, and Matthew Tkachuk. LaBanc, a sixth round pick, led the OHL in assists as well and also has a bit of nasty to his game. Having sniper Andrew Mangiapane on his wing certainly helped with the massive point totals, with the diminutive and creative winger being a catalyst on many of those offensive forays. Labanc’s performance was a major reason Barrie clinched a division title, the playoffs, and notched a 40-win season.
Runner up: Michael Amadio (LAK)
Danton Heinen, C, University of Denver (NCHC)
Drafted by the Boston Bruins
Fourth Round, 116th overall, 2014
For the second consecutive year, a Boston Bruins prospect is the top amateur prospect of the On the Rush feature. This year’s recipient is Danton Heinen, who was one of the most prolific scorers in the NCAA. The freshman finished tied for 12th in the nation with 20 goals and 28 assists in 41 games, and helping to lead the Pioneers to its first Frozen Four appearance since 2005. Heinen centered the “Pacific Rim” line at Denver, which featured Trevor Moore and Dylan Gambrell. The trio were nearly unstoppable in the second half of the season, combining for 103 points from January to April. Heinen himself was impressive, creating plays and playing responsibly in all three zones. After Denver fell to the eventual champion North Dakota, Heinen signed his entry-level contract with Boston. He should adjust quickly to the pros as the Bruins continue to focus on developing their younger scorers.
Runner Up: Miles Wood (NJD)
Jimmy Vesey, LW, Harvard University (ECAC)
Drafted by the Nashville Predators
Third round, 66th overall, 2012
While the elephant in the room when it comes to Jimmy Vesey is of course his status with the team that drafted him, it shouldn’t dampen an utterly outstanding season. His 1.39 point per game pace and 24 goals led his team this season, and the 46 points he produced led both Harvard and the ECAC in 2015-16. While many high-scoring college players often have deficiencies in their game such as size or defensive acumen, Vesey is a complete player and has garnered the attention of scouts and NHL teams all season. Now that he is potentially a free agent, expect teams to be lining up in order to woo the collegiate standout.
Runner up: Tyler Motte (CHI)
The 2015-16 season saw Nikita Gusev’s hard work rewarded. Over the years, the dynamic winger has moved his way up the ranks in Russia and the KHL, but this year was his breakout season. Early on with Khanty-Mansiysk Yugra, he stepped into a bigger role in the top-six and excelled, scoring 37 points in 55 games. When he was traded in the middle of the season to St. Petersburg, his performance only improved. Gusev quickly became one of St. Petersburg’s top threats, recording 35 points in 33 games. Interestingly enough, his point-per-game pace was better that of his than his teammate and St. Petersburg superstar, Ilya Kovalchuk. When the drama regarding Kovalchuk unfolded, Gusev stepped up in the postseason to carry the load, scoring 14 points in 15 games. He finished 11th in the KHL in scoring with 49 points and also participated in the 2016 KHL All-Star Game. It appears Gusev is ready to come to the NHL, but if or when he wants to come remains uncertain.
Runner Up: Lucas Wallmark (CAR)
Kirill Kaprizov, LW/RW, Metallurg Novokuznetsk (KHL)
Drafted by the Minnesota Wild
Fifth round, 135th overall, 2015
In 2014, Kirill Kaprizov was taken 1st overall in the KHL Draft by Novokuznetsk. His rookie season saw the shifty little scorer net just four goals and eight points while averaging around 10 minutes a night. He was taken in the fifth round of the NHL Draft the following summer by Minnesota, and in 2015-16 he caught fire. In 53 games this season in the KHL, Kaprizov upped his scoring to 27 points and 11 goals, while upping his minutes to around 17 a game. Those 27 points were tied for the team lead. He was also only a -4 on a team that struggled and was heavily outscored this season. While the inevitable questions of how his game will translate to North America will certainly persist, he has had a great season and could be a heck of a find for a fifth round selection.
Runner up: Ziyat Paygin (EDM)