Much like scouting, player development is an inexact science. A player's progression is something all his own.
What makes that more challenging to grasp is the regularity with which younger players have earned roster spots on NHL teams. It breeds impatience for those who don't follow suit and creates a little more scrutiny on everyone involved, from the scouting staff to the GM to the player. But once a player enters his age-21 or age-22 season, it becomes more reasonable for both the team and player to wonder when it's going to happen. The timeline becomes more of an issue because entry-level contracts can slide only so far, and the team is going to have a very good sense of where that player will or won't fit in.
With that in mind, I wanted to take a look at several players who are reaching crucial seasons in their development. For some, this is the year we should see them take a big step toward becoming NHL players, most notably 2015 third overall pick Dylan Strome of the Arizona Coyotes. But I also looked at some players who aren't necessarily in make-or-break seasons but are entering important years of their development when we should see more progression than has been apparent to date. Here are some prospects under pressure to take the next step this season.
Dylan Strome, C, Arizona Coyotes
Few prospects outside of the NHL have been under as much scrutiny over the past few years as Strome. It hasn't helped Strome that he was part of such a high-profile draft, one in which he was picked right after Erie Otters teammate Connor McDavid went No. 1 and Jack Eichel went No. 2 and right before the Toronto Maple Leafs snapped up Mitch Marner at No. 4. Meanwhile, 19 of the 30 first-rounders selected in 2015 have played more games than Strome, as have several players picked in later rounds.