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Ryan Murphy, (Carolina Hurricanes). Drafted 12th overall in 2011, Murphy got his first four-game taste of pro hockey in February of this year as an emergency call-up for the Hurricanes. Once his Kitchener Rangers were booted from the OHL postseason, the diminutive D-man made his AHL debut with the Charlotte Checkers in April and held his own. But while considered one of the best young, puck-moving defensemen around, Murphy is often slammed for his weak defensively play. How he performs in that regard at training camp will likely determine whether he makes the Hurricanes' opening night roster. Putting on some extra muscle over the summer won't hurt either. As it stands, a roster spot is there for the snagging; the 'Canes have only six NHL defenseman on board at present.
Seth Jones, (Nashville Predators). Hopefully he already took the opportunity to bid his fellow Portland Winterhawks farewell. Passed over at the 2013 draft by the Colorado Avalanche, Florida Panthers, and Tampa Bay Lightning before falling to an ecstatic Nashville consortium, Jones is headed straight for the NHL. Poised to fill a top-four role with the Predators, the nearly 19-year-old may also see minutes paired with Shea Weber on the power play. As far as early-bird Calder Trophy contenders are concerned, Jones is right up there.
Ryan Murray, (Columbus Blue Jackets). Barring a complete coming apart at the seams, Murray will make his NHL debut this fall. The 2012 second-overall draft pick is believed to be 100 percent after undergoing shoulder surgery last January. If all goes well, don't rule out a top-four role for the former member of the WHL Everett Silvertips either.
Morgan Rielly, (Toronto Maple Leafs). Roster-related arithmetic is one significant factor impeding Rielly's journey to the big leagues. If/when RFA Cody Franson is signed, the Maple Leafs will have eight NHL defenseman on their roster. Even if (when?) the club trades an NHL regular (John-Michael Liles?), the numbers still won't work in Rielly's favor. That being said, the 2012 fifth-overall draft selection has arguably taken his game to beyond the WHL level (54 points in 60 games through 2012-13), yet remains too young for a full-time gig with the AHL Marlies. If the talented, puck-moving defenseman puts in a good showing at camp, the Leafs will have some tough decisions to make.
Frank Corrado, (Vancouver Canucks). After making a favorable impression in seven NHL games this past spring (regular season + playoffs), Corrado will be given the opportunity to fight for a full-time role. Beyond the Canucks' top-four of Alexander Edler, Kevin Bieksa, Dan Hamhuis, and Jason Garrison, question marks and holes plague the rest of the defensive roster. Plus, the 20-year-old comes cheap ($600,000 cap hit) -- a huge bonus for a team often challenged in that department. With new head coach John Tortorella in town, a good showing from Corrado in camp will go a long way.
Calvin de Haan (New York Islanders). If de Haan can stay healthy -- a significant if, recent history considered -- he stands a solid chance of battling for an NHL job. Drafted back in 2009 (12th overall), the 22-year-old is noticeably bigger and stronger than when the Islanders first took a shine to him.
"Calvin's had ups and downs; he had some injuries last year," Isles coach Jack Capuano told NHL.com in July. "But he's strong. He's a high-character guy, and he's been through some tough times ... He's healthy, he's positive, he's confident. He wants to be a part of the New York Islanders next year, and we want him to be, as well. We want to see our young kids succeed, so he'll come into camp and try to earn a spot."
After a solid 2011-12 in Bridgeport and one NHL game, de Haan lost most of last season to a separated shoulder. He claims to be 100 percent, going into camp. The former Oshawa General could challenge Joe Finley and/or Thomas Hickey for a substantial role with the Isles.
Jarred Tinordi, (Montreal Canadiens). An imposing, tough presence standing six-foot-six, Tinordi is pegged to be a formidable regular in the Canadiens' lineup as long as Alexei Emelin remains sidelined. And, recovering from reconstructive knee surgery, Emelin isn't due back until late November.
Jamie Oleksiak, (Dallas Stars). Look for Oleksiak to battle Jordie Benn for a roster spot out of camp. However, the Stars' blue line is otherwise pretty plump. Unless the club loses a D-man to serious injury or trades a veteran like Stephane Robidas -- who only has a year left on his contract -- Oleksiak may not again get more than a taste of NHL action through 2013-14.
Oscar Klefbom, (Edmonton Oilers). Rebounding off last season's serious shoulder injury and subsequent surgery, Klefbom says he's in tip-top shape and intends to challenge for an NHL roster spot this fall. After two seasons in the Swedish Elite League -- plus a few games last fall before the shoulder injury -- the 20-year-old feels comfortable enough with playing the game at the top level.
"I think I'm ready. Last season I felt like I took a big step," Klefbom told the Edmonton Journal earlier this summer.
Roster space is a serious concern, however. Ahead of camp, the Oilers sport a mixed bag of nine defensemen, including comeback-kid Denis Grebeshkov, 27-year-old "rookie" Anton Belov, and new faces Andrew Ference (Boston Bruins) and Philip Larsen (Dallas Stars). Klefbom will have to beat out more than a suitor or two to land a job with the NHL club. A start to 2013-14 in the AHL could well be in the cards for the young Swede.
Other rookie defensemen to watch through 2013-14 include Sami Vatanen and Hampus Lindholm (Anaheim Ducks), Cody Ceci (Ottawa Senators), Jacob Trouba (Winnipeg Jets), Jon Merrill (New Jersey Devils), Radko Gudas (Tampa Bay Lightning).