The 2013-14 season is just around the corner. It is as good a time as ever to take a look at the top three prospects in all 30 NHL organizations and to review what to expect for them in the coming season.
(Note: Players with 25 regular season games or more of NHL experience are not included here)
1) John Gibson (G, Kitchener-OHL): Gibson had quite a year. He put up stellar numbers in Kitchener and he was lights out to help lead Team USA to a gold medal at the World Juniors. Because he was drafted out of the US Development Program, he's eligible to play in the AHL this coming season, but it's only a matter of time before he runs Jonas Hiller and/or Viktor Fasth out of the crease in Anaheim. He is the top goaltending prospect in the league at this point.
2) Hampus Lindholm (D, Norfolk-AHL): An injury limited Lindholm to just 44 games this past season and caused him to miss the World Juniors. He's one of the better defensive prospects in the league, but the Ducks will likely want him to spend another half season in the AHL before easing him in on the third pair at the NHL level.
3) Nicolas Kerdiles (C, University of Wisconsin-NCAA): A 10 game eligibility suspension got Kerdiles' season off to a late start, but he decided to stay at Wisconsin and then dominated with the Badgers to the tune of 33 points in 32 games in the WCHA. He's likely ticketed for one more season in college and he figures to play a prominent role on Team USA at the World Juniors this December.
1) Malcolm Subban (G, Belleville-OHL): Subban ended up with fantastic numbers last season for Belleville (29-11-4, 2.14 GAA, .934 save percentage), but he had an inconsistent year. He started for Team Canada at the World Juniors before faltering and being benched. Subban is almost too athletic, meaning his athleticism allows him to get away with things that other goalies cannot and his game can suffer because of it. The Bruins figure to take it slowly with Subban, and with Tuukka Rask signed to a new long-term deal; he may be trade bait down the line.
2) Alexander Khoklachev (C, Windsor-OHL): Khoklachev started the season in the KHL where he predictably got little ice time before returning to Windsor where he predictably played very well. He was the main piece that was headed to Calgary in the failed Jarome Iginla trade last season, so that proves that Boston would consider trading him (they refused to trade Subban in the same deal). He figures to start next season in the AHL before making his NHL debut at some point during the year.
3) Joe Morrow (D, Texas-AHL): Despite the fact he was traded twice within the past year, Morrow is one of the better defensive prospects in the league. He came to Boston in the deal that sent Tyler Seguin to Dallas and the former first round pick of the Penguins plays a very well rounded game. With the top six spots on the Bruins defense next season seemingly already spoken for, Morrow is likely to continue to develop with Providence in the AHL.
1) Joel Armia (RW, Assat Pori-Finland): Armia has been playing against men in Finland's top league for the past three seasons and he has been put up good goal scoring numbers in all of them. His plan is to come to North America for this upcoming season, and with the Sabres lacking any real firepower up front behind Thomas Vanek, Armia would seem like a lock to begin the season in the NHL. If he earns a roster spot, he would probably be worth a pick late in fantasy drafts.
2) Rasmus Ristolainen (D, TPS Turku-Finland): Ristolainen also plans to come to North America this season, although he has stated that if he fails to earn a spot with Buffalo, he is likely to return to his native Finland instead of playing in the AHL. It will probably be a moot point because he's likely to earn a roster spot from day one. Ristolainen plays a calm and steady game, but he doesn't project as a point producer in the NHL. You can avoid him in fantasy drafts.
3) Nikita Zadorov (D, London-OHL): Zadorov is well behind Ristolainen in terms of development, but he has a much bigger upside. If he ever reaches his full potential, he may be a top pair NHL defenseman. The size is there and his offensive game is just beginning to come. The Sabres will take it slow with Zadorov and he figures to spend another season developing with London.
1) Johnny Gaudreau (LW, Boston College-NCAA): He didn't win the Hobey Baker award, but Gaudreau was the best player in college hockey last season. He starred for Team USA at the World Juniors and despite his diminutive frame; he has shown a willingness to go to the tough areas of the ice to score goals. He has decided to return to Boston College for his junior season, and regardless of what Calgary claims, they certainly would have preferred he turned pro and played in the AHL this season.
2) Sean Monahan (C, Ottawa-OHL): The Flames took Monahan sixth overall this past June with the expectation that he will play for them this coming fall. In a perfect world, Monahan would probably spend another year in junior hockey, but the Flames need all the productive offensive bodies that they can find and Monahan certainly fits that mold. It's probably going to be a couple seasons before he has any real fantasy value.
3) Mark Jankowski (C, Providence University-NCAA): Jankowski was a project when he was selected 21st overall in 2012 and after one season in Hockey East, his status hasn't really changed. The tools are there, but it's going to likely be at least another 2-3 years before the Flames see anything that resembles an effective NHL player. Jankowski will get consideration for Canada's World Junior team this December.
1) Ryan Murphy (D, Kitchener-OHL): Murphy played four NHL games this past season, but he spent the majority of the year in Kitchener. He once again proved he can put up points and run a power play, but questions remain about his effectiveness in his own zone. He was Team Canada's seventh defenseman at the World Juniors and got very little ice time at even strength. He will get a look in training camp and head to the AHL if he doesn't make the team.
2) Elias Lindholm (C, Brynas-Sweden): Carolina took Lindholm fifth overall this past June and then they announced that they expect him to be on their roster this coming October. Lindholm will have to "earn" a spot, but there's little doubt that he's capable of that. He would be best suited, as a third line center, and it appears that Carolina may stick with that plan. Lindholm suffered an injury at Carolina's development camp this summer, but it isn't believed to be serious.
3) Victor Rask (C, Calgary-WHL): Rask started the season in the AHL where he put up five points in 10 games, but the Hurricanes still decided to send him back to Calgary for the rest of the year. It was probably the wrong decision since Rask had little to prove in the WHL. A very skilled but at time enigmatic center, Rask will try to win a bottom six roster spot out of training camp and he will go to the AHL if he cannot.
1) Teuvo Teravainen (C, Jokerit-Finland): Teravainen had no business being available with the 18th pick in 2012, and being the shrewd drafters that they are, Chicago snatched him up immediately. Teravainen's assist total more than doubled this past season in Finland, which is a good sign for a player who has be known as a pure goal scorer in the past. He has one year left on his contract in Finland and he figures to be in the Chicago lineup for the 2014-15 season. He may very well have immediate fantasy value.
2) Mark McNeill (C, Prince Albert-WHL): An injury at the last minute allowed McNeill to make the Canadian world junior team and although he didn't get much ice time, it was a good learning experience. McNeill averaged more than a point per game in Prince Albert, but he projects as a big two-way center that can kill penalties. He will be eased into the lineup in Chicago and he's likely ticketed for the AHL this season.
3) Ryan Hartman (RW, Plymouth-OHL): The Hawks took Hartman with the final pick of the first round, and it was a smart one. Harman has a bit of Ryan Callahan in him, undersized, but willing to do anything to help his team win. He surprisingly made Team USA at the World Juniors where he was absolutely fantastic in helping the Americans win the gold medal. He is currently dealing with a shoulder injury, but Hartman is expected to be ready for the start of Plymouth's season and he will once again represent Team USA in December.
1) Nathan MacKinnon (C, Halifax-QMJHL): The first overall pick in this past June's draft, MacKinnon is a near lock to begin the season as a top six forward for Colorado. His skating and offensive skills are both well above average and he proved to be a dynamic playmaker both in juniors, and on the international stage. MacKinnon should be worthy of a selection in the mid to late rounds of your draft this year.
2) Joey Hishon (C, Lake Erie-AHL): A former first round pick in 2010, Hishon suffered a concussion at the 2011 Memorial Cup and missed almost two full years of action before returning for nine AHL games at the end of this past season. He's obviously a huge injury risk going forward (one more concussion will likely end his career), but he has the highest offensive ceiling of anyone in the system outside of MacKinnon. Colorado is almost certain to allow Hishon to spend more time in the AHL as he works himself into better game condition.
3) Duncan Siemens (D, Saskatoon-WHL): The Avs really reached when they took Siemens 11th overall in 2011, and over two years later, the pick doesn't look a whole lot better. Siemens has good size and plays a solid and physical game, but his puck skills are only average, and his upside seems to be rather limited. If he can develop into a fourth defenseman at the NHL level, the Avs would likely be thrilled at this point.
Columbus Blue Jackets
1) Ryan Murray (D, Everett-WHL): Murray, the second overall selection in the 2012 draft, suffered a shoulder injury this past November that required surgery, and as a result, he wasn't available to join the Jackets once the lockout ended. A remarkably steady presence on the blueline, Murray is going to have a long and heralded NHL career, although he may never offer much in the way of fantasy value. He will be a member of the Columbus defense corps this coming October.
2) Alexander Wennberg (C, Djurgarden-Sweden): Wennberg put up big numbers this past year for Djurgarden, but he was playing in Sweden's second division, not the elite league. He is expected to play this season for Frolunda in Sweden's highest league, so the Jackets should get a better gauge on his progress against better competition. He seems likely to come to North America for the 2014-15 season.
3) Boone Jenner (C, Oshawa-OHL): Jenner had 82 points in just 56 games for Oshawa this year, but it remains to be seen if he can be a point producer at the NHL level. There is no doubt that he's a big center who can kill penalties and take big faceoffs. He also plays a physical game when needed. He may not make the team out of training camp, but Jenner's NHL debut will almost certainly come at some point this coming season.
1) Valeri Nichushkin (C, Chelyabinsk-KHL): If Nichushkin didn't play in the KHL last season, he would have been taken more like fifth in this past June's draft instead of 10th. But once he dropped, the Stars grabbed him, and to both his and their credit, Nichushkin is expected to be in their lineup this coming October. A massive kid who is already 6'4 and 205 pounds, Nichushkin projects as a high scoring power forward at the NHL level and because he is so physically developed already his learning curve may be shorter than other Russian prospects that come into the league.
2) Jamie Oleksiak (D, Texas-AHL): Oleksiak turned a solid first pro season into a 16 game NHL cameo this past season. His shortcomings were noticeable (mainly that he isn't physical enough given his massive size), but 6'7 and 240-pound defensemen who are quality skaters and have some offensive ability don't grow on trees. The Stars seem to have six defensemen on their roster that are locks to begin the season at the NHL level, so Oleksiak may return to the AHL for some more seasoning.
3) Radek Faksa (C, Kitchener-OHL): Considering he has a fairly well rounded game already, it was thought that Faksa would be given a shot to make the Stars roster this season, but it was recently already announced that he is expected to spend another year in the OHL. It's a bit disappointing for a kid who has little to prove at the junior level, but in the end the extra ice time he will get there will probably do him good. Outside of his skating, while is considered average at best, Faksa can do pretty much everything else while on the ice.
Detroit Red Wings
1) Anthony Mantha (LW, Val d'Or-QMJHL): Mantha is a pure goal scorer. He scored 50 goals and 67 games this past season in the QMJHL and that will be his calling card once he turns pro. The rest of his game needs some work. He has very good size but he isn't physical and scouts have called him lazy in the past. If he ever plays with any kind of consistency he could be an absolute beast.
2) Danny DeKeyser (D, Western Michigan University-NCAA): Never drafted, DeKeyser signed with the Red Wings as soon as his junior season at Western Michigan ended and a week later he was in their lineup. A broken thumb suffered in the playoffs ended what was a very successful 11 game cameo. He is going to be a 20-minute a night defender for the Wings for the next decade, but he is unlikely to ever provide enough offense to be a fantasy option.
3) Calle Jarnkrok (C, Brynas-Sweden): Still just 21 years old, Jarnkrok just finished his fourth season with Brynas in the Swedish Elite League. Once his Swedish season ended, he came over and suited up for with Grand Rapids of the AHL for nine games. A center with only average size but tons of playmaking ability, Jarnkrok is going to get a chance to make the Wings out of training camp. Depending on where he lines up, he may be worth a late fantasy pick.
1) Oscar Klefbom (D, Farjestad-Sweden): A shoulder injury that required surgery ended Klefbom's season in November and he was limited to just 11 games with Farjestad. Despite the fact he has just seven points in 66 career Swedish Elite League games, Klefbom has far more offensive ability than those numbers suggest. He may never be a huge point producer in the NHL, but his should put up respectable numbers. He should also make the team out of training camp this season and be getting a ton of ice time from the start.
2) Darnell Nurse (D, S.S. Marie-OHL): Considering all the offensive weapons on their roster, it was pretty clear that the Oilers would be taking a defenseman with the seventh overall pick this past June and it was also pretty clear that Nurse was their best available option. Nurse is 6'4, but he needs to bulk up. When all is said and done, he should be able to play 20 minutes a night and step in on the second power play unit for the Oilers. He is looking at least once more season in the OHL.
3) Martin Marincin (D, Oklahoma City-AHL): It was surprising how well Marincin adapted to his first season of professional hockey. He had seven goals and 30 points in 69 games with Oklahoma City. The offensive skill is clearly there, as is the size, but his defensive zone coverage definitely needs some polishing. Another season in the AHL would serve him well.
1) Aleksander Barkov (C, Tappara Tampere-Finland): Barkov dominated Finland's top league this season to the tune of 48 points in 53 games as a 17 year old. He was promptly selected by the Panthers second overall in this past June's draft and barring something unforeseen, he's going to promptly earn their number two center role this coming season behind Jonathan Huberdeau. Barkov is already fully-grown, he has great size to go along with his tremendous offensive ability and he is going to be a fantasy option from day one.
2) Nick Bjugstad (C, University of Minnesota-NCAA): Bjugstad turned pro after his junior season at Minnesota ended, but the always-aggressive Panthers decided to let him spend the rest of the season in the NHL as opposed to the AHL. He predictably struggled with just one goal in 11 games. It seems to be a clear indication that they plan to have him on their opening night roster this year as well. His long-term offensive upside is tremendous, but it's quite possible the 6'6, 220 pound center won't show it off much this year.
3) Rocco Grimaldi (C, University of North Dakota-NCAA): It's difficult to make an impact on the ice when you are generously listed at 5'6, 170 pounds. But Grimaldi seems to make himself noticeable wherever he plays. Grimaldi began the World Juniors as the Americans 13th forward after a rumored spat with the coaching staff, but before it was over he was busy scoring two goals in the gold medal game against Sweden. He had 36 points in 40 games at North Dakota and despite his offensive talent, the odds will always be against him being a big time producer at the NHL level due to his size until he proves otherwise.
Los Angeles Kings
1) Tyler Toffoli (RW, Manchester-AHL): Toffoli had a big first professional season with Manchester with 28 goals in 51 games and he played well after he was recalled with five points in 10 regular season games and six points in 12 playoff games. Toffoli has always been a goal scoring forward, having scored 50 goals twice in his junior days. The downside is that he doesn't do much else to help the team, but if he can earn a top six spot with the Kings this coming season, it's likely he will produce some fantasy value.
2) Tanner Pearson (C, Manchester-AHL): Pearson's story is well known at this point. He went through two drafts without being picked before being selected with the last pick of the first round by the Kings in 2012. Because of his age he was eligible to play in the AHL right away and he had a solid first pro season with 47 points in 64 games. He suited up in one playoff game for the Kings. In a perfect world, Pearson projects as a third line center that can fill in on the second line if necessary, score 45-50 points a season and is responsible in his own zone.
3) Derek Forbort (D, University of North Dakota-NCAA): It may be a bit harsh to say that Forbort's game has gone backwards since being selected 15th overall in 2010, but he certainly hasn't taken the leap forwards that the Kings were hoping for. He had career highs in goals (four) and points (17) with North Dakota this past season, but that was mostly the result of him being a junior and getting more ice time. He is a good passer and has great size at 6'4, 220 pounds, but he seemed to have far more overall upside when he was drafted as opposed to now. He has turned pro and is going to need a full season in the AHL before he's an option in Los Angeles.
1) Mathew Dumba (D, Red Deer-WHL): Dumba actually started last season with the Wild but he never suited up for a game and was shipped back to a third season with Red Deer. In the WHL he did exactly what most figured he would do, that being put up huge offensive numbers for a defenseman and struggled in his own zone. Dumba is always going to be able to run a power play but his defensive development will be the key to his future NHL career. Both Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin play nearly 30 minutes a night for the Wild and they gave Keith Ballard a two-year deal as a free agent this summer, so Dumba's odds of cracking the opening night roster seem worse than they did at this time last year.
2) Erik Haula (C, University of Minnesota-NCAA): For a reason I am yet to figure out, (he was one of my favorite players leading up to the draft) Haula lasted until the seventh round in 2009 and his development has been fantastic ever since. He just finished his third straight productive season at Minnesota (51 points in 37 games as a junior) and he played well after he joined Houston of the AHL after their season ended. The Finnish forward is a great passer who plays hard and will do anything to help his team win.
3) Zack Phillips (C, Houston-AHL): Phillips' numbers in his first professional season with Houston (eight goals and 27 points in 71 games) left something to be desired, but that isn't the big concern. The big concern is Phillips' skating. Of all the forward prospects on this list, Phillips may be the worst skater. His puck skills and finishing ability is both top notch, but at times he can be in poor position due to his well below average skating. If he can improve it, his upside is tremendous. If not, he may struggle to be an NHL regular.
1) Nathan Beaulieu (D, Hamilton-AHL): The Habs recalled Beaulieu for six games this past season and he impressed in his brief cameo. Beaulieu is going to be a fixture on the first power play unit in Montreal alongside P.K. Subban, but he may have to wait for Andrei Markov (who has one year left on his deal) to leave before it happens. Markov is always injured however, so Beaulieu's chance may come sooner rather than later. Until then the Habs would be best served to let his defensive game develop in the AHL.
2) Sebastian Collberg (RW, Frolunda-Sweden): A former second round pick in 2012, Collberg is undersized at just 5'11 and 180 pounds but he is an offensive machine. He doesn't shy away from the physical aspect of the game but he needs to bulk up and get stronger before he's an option at the NHL level. Montreal is hoping to have him play for their AHL affiliate this coming season.
3) Zachary Fucale (G, Halifax-QMJHL): Fucale was thought to be a first round pick this past June but he fell to 36th overall and the Habs snatched him. They have very little goaltending depth in their system so it was a wise move. Playing for the Memorial Cup champs in Halifax this past season, Fucale finished with a 45-5-3 record. He may not be a future franchise goalie, but he should at least be a productive starter at the NHL level. The Habs will ship him back to Halifax after training camp and watch his development closely. He is the leading candidate to start for Team Canada at this December's World Junior Championship.
1) Seth Jones (D, Portland-WHL): The Preds are the first ones to admit that they never thought in a million years that Jones would slip to them at number four this past June, but once he did they made sure that he didn't slide any further. A top-flight two-way defenseman, Jones is going to get tons of ice time for Nashville from day one. He has the tools to be a fantasy threat, but he will likely be behind both Shea Weber and Roman Josi when it comes to ice time with the man advantage during his rookie season.
2) Filip Forsberg (C, Leksand-Sweden): For some reason at this past April's trade deadline Washington traded Forsberg to Nashville for Martin Erat (a trade they are certain to regret) and the Preds responded by giving Forsberg a five-game trial before he had to return home to Sweden for all things, to graduate high school. Scouts are split in regards to how much offense Forsberg will provide at the NHL level, but at worst he projects as a third line center who can contribute 20 goals a season. It was a fantastic trade for Nashville and he should be in their opening night lineup this season.
3) Austin Watson (LW, Milwaukee-AHL): Watson surprised a lot of people by putting him decent offensive numbers (20 goals and 37 points in 72 games) in his first AHL season and earned a six game recall to Nashville. He was always thought of as a big winger who was strong physically could do the gritty work along the boards and could kill penalties. If he can add any offensive on a consistent basis, it would be a real bonus. He figures to begin next season in the AHL and see some time at the NHL level once again at some point.
New Jersey Devils
1) Jon Merrill (D, University of Michigan-NCAA): Merrill had a very rough three years at Michigan. The coaching staff at one point suspended him and his maturity was called into question on more than one occasion. His talent level has never been in question. Merrill has all the offensive tools to be a second pair NHL defenseman who is capable of running a power play. He decided to turn pro after his junior season at Michigan ended and he debuted with eight points in his first 12 AHL games. He's likely to start next season in the minors but his NHL debut should come at some point during the year.
2) Stefan Matteau (C, Blainville-Boisbriand-QMJHL): For no good reason the Devils allowed Matteau to play 17 games in the NHL last season (he was often a healthy scratch) before returning him to his junior team. He was then kicked off his junior team during the playoffs after an incident that took place after he was benched during a game. He is another player with all the tools to be an effective power forward at the NHL level, but he needs to grow up. It's blatantly obvious that Matteau should begin next season in the AHL (he's eligible since he was drafted out of the US Development Program), but since the Devils kept him around last year, it's a possibility they will do the same thing this time around
3) Reid Boucher (LW, Sarnia-OHL): Boucher is extremely undersized (he's generously listed at 5'11) but he's a pure goal scorer. He put up 62 goals in 68 games with Sarnia this past season. Once their season ended he joined Albany of the AHL where he had three goals and five points in 11 games with them. He needs works in his own zone and his skating is only average, so the Devils would be wise to let him spend at least half a season in the AHL. He seems likely to either put up huge numbers at the NHL level or flame out completely.
New York Islanders
1) Ryan Strome (C, Niagara-OHL): Considering how long he has been considered a top prospect, it's a big surprising that Strome is yet to make his NHL debut. He has 268 points in 164 career junior games and he had seven points in 10 games with Bridgeport of the AHL at the end of last season. There are few prospects in the league with as much offensive upside as Strome. The Isles best bet would be to put him on the first line with John Tavares and Matt Moulson and just leave him there, but it remains to be seen if they trust him enough to do that. Either way, he's likely to make the team out of training camp.
2) Griffin Reinhart (D, Edmonton-WHL): The Islanders currently have seven defensemen under contract and Reinhart isn't eligible to play in the AHL yet so he's probably looking at another season in Edmonton. It would be a good move if it happened. I think his points are going to be limited once he reaches the NHL level (maybe 20-25 a season), but he should be an effective defenseman who plays over 20 minutes a night for the next decade.
3) Brock Nelson (C, Bridgeport-AHL): Nelson was a former first round pick in 2010, so he was always considered a high level prospect, but his value really took off this past year in his first pro season. Nelson had 25 goals and 52 points in 66 games with Bridgeport and he made his NHL debut during the playoffs. A huge center that skates well and does a lot of his damage from in front of the net, Nelson will be given a chance to win a roster spot out of training camp.
New York Rangers
1) Danny Kristo (RW, University of North Dakota-NCAA): Kristo is a recent addition to the Rangers system (after being stolen from the Canadiens in exchange for Christian Thomas) and he has the highest offensive upside of anyone in the system. He's another player who had been labeled as immature during his college career, but there are few prospects in the league that can match his pure offensive ability. With Ryan Callahan and Carl Hagelin expected to miss the first couple of weeks of the season due to their shoulder injuries, Kristo is expected to be given every chance to earn a roster spot in camp.
2) Dylan McIlrath (D, Connecticut-AHL): A knee injury got McIlrath's season off to a late start and limited him to just 45 games but he showed the type of development during the season that the Rangers were looking for. McIlrath will never be a point producer (he had just five assists last season), but he projects as a big and mean crease clearing defenseman who is more than happy to drop the gloves at any point. He is ticketed to begin the season in the AHL but his NHL debut should come at some point during the year.
3) Brady Skjei (D, University of Minnesota-NCAA): Skjei had a rough freshman year at Minnesota where he had just three points in 36 games and he was one of the last cuts from Team USA at the World Juniors. He has a very similar game to current Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh. Skjei is big and strong and makes a good first pass, but his best asset is his skating ability. He figures to spend at least two more years in college and he should be a key member of the Americans World Junior team this time around.
1) Cody Ceci (D, Owen Sound-OHL): Ceci's numbers in the OHL this past season (64 points in 69 games) aren't really indicative of the type of player he's likely to become at the NHL level. A mid season trade shipped him to Owen Sound and he finished the season with Binghamton of the AHL. Ceci has some definite offensive skills but his real value lies as a big two-way defender who can play in all situations. The Sens blueline isn't exactly overflowing with depth, so he should get a long look in training camp.
2) Curtis Lazar (C, Edmonton-WHL): Lazar's 38 goals this past season also aren't very indicative of the player he is likely to become once he reaches the NHL. Lazar projects as a third liner who can chip in 15-20 goals a season and will do anything to help his team win. He's a fairly advanced player for someone who was just drafted this past June and he has a real shot to make his way to Ottawa rather quickly.
3) Matt Puempel (LW, Kitchener-OHL): Puempel is a pure goal scorer, nothing more and nothing less. His goal scoring totals have always far outweighed his assist totals in junior hockey and he will turn pro this season, likely with Binghamton of the AHL. He needs to work on his consistency and improve in all other facets of the game. If Puempel isn't scoring goals, he isn't helping his team a ton.
1) Scott Laughton (C, Oshawa-OHL): I'm generally not a fan of keeping an 18-year-old on an NHL roster unless they're an elite prospect (which Laughton isn't), but I didn't have a problem with the Flyers decision to give him five NHL games last season before sending him back to juniors. He has the type of game that translates well to the NHL. Laughton will be a third line center who will have a long NHL career, but he may never have any fantasy value. He plays a very similar game to current Flyer Sean Couturier (although Couturier has more natural offensive ability). Laughton has a real chance to earn a full time gig with the Flyers this year.
2) Samuel Morin (D, Rimouski-QMJHL): The Flyers pick of Morin with the 11th overall pick this past June figures to either be a home run or a strikeout. Morin isn't anywhere near a finished product. He's still growing and he's just starting to scratch the surface of his offensive abilities. There were far "safer" picks available, but it's a risk worth taking for a team with one of the worst prospect pools in the entire league. Morin will return to the QMJHL this season.
3) Shayne Gostisbehere (D, Union College-NCAA): Gostisbehere wasn't a household name at the start of the season, but he made his mark on the international stage with a very solid performance for Team USA at the World Juniors. He's an undersized offensive minded defenseman and his play in his own zone is steadily improving. Gostisbehere is expected to play one more season at Union before the Flyers take a crack at signing him to a professional contract.
1) Max Domi (C, London-OHL): Domi is a prime candidate for Canada's World Junior team this December if he isn't playing in the NHL. The Coyotes have said that he will be given a chance to win a roster spot out of training camp, and with offensive skills that cannot be taught, Domi may just take full advantage. Domi is generously listed at 5'10, but he's almost 200 pounds and he uses his strong base to his advantage. He should be a sleeper fantasy selection if he cracks the Phoenix roster.
2) Brandon Gormley (D, Portland-AHL): For the first time in three seasons, Gormley more or less made it through an entire year healthy in his first professional season (he played 68 AHL games). He's a potential second pair defenseman, but his offensive talents are limited. The 29 points he put up in the AHL last season is about where he figures to max out at the NHL level. The Coyotes have eight defensemen on NHL contracts, so Gormley figures to head to the AHL once again to begin next season.
3) Henrik Samuelsson (C, Edmonton-WHL): No one doubts Samuelsson's offensive ability, but his skating is a big question mark. There are some who feel it will severely limit his ability to be an effective player at the NHL level. He's eligible to play in the AHL this season, so the Coyotes have to decide if they want him to begin his professional career or return to Edmonton to get big minutes. Samuelsson is also being considered for Team USA's World Junior team.
1) Derrick Pouliot (D, Portland-WHL): Pouliot is barely six feet tall and he weighs less than 200 pounds, but his value to the Pens will be as a left-handed shot to eventually play alongside Kris Letang on their first power play unit. It's unlikely to come to fruition this season, but it's going to happen sooner or later. Pouliot can hold his own at even strength, but he will never be a defensive force in his own zone. With Seth Jones expected to turn pro, Pouliot figures to return to Portland and get all the minutes he can handle this season.
2) Scott Harrington (D, London-OHL): Harrington and Pouliot's game couldn't be more different. Harrington is a pure defensive defenseman. His offensive skills are extremely limited, although he does make a good first outlet pass. He's probably NHL ready right now, but the Pens figure to let him start the season in the AHL to get some professional experience.
3) Olli Maatta (D, London-OHL): If Pouliot is the offensive wizard and Harrington is the defensive stud, Maatta is seen as a combination of the two. I'm not particularly confident that Maatta's game will translate terribly well to the NHL level, but he's still a solid prospect. He is known for a very simple style of play, although he has the offensive ability to chip in a few points here and there. As long as his skating continues to improve, he should have no problem being an NHL regular.
San Jose Sharks
1) Tomas Hertl (C, Slava Praha- Czech Republic): Hertl just finished his second season with Slava Praha where he was his team's leading scorer. Hertl is big, physical, and extremely talented offensively. He has stated his intention to come to North America for this coming season and the Sharks have already said that will give him a chance to make the team. If he does crack the roster, Hertl will be a sleeper pick for rookie of the year.
2) Matt Nieto (LW, Boston University-NCAA): Despite the fact his team played poorly, Nieto had a very good junior season at Boston University and decided to turn pro once it was completed. He finished the season with six points in 11 games for Worcester of the AHL. The Long Beach, California native is an exceptional skater who is very adept at finishing off the rush, but he's undersized and needs to get stronger before he's a realistic option for NHL duty.
3) Freddie Hamilton (C, Worcester-AHL): Hamilton was a big time scorer in junior hockey, but his numbers in his first professional season (13 goals and 26 points in 76 games) are more indicative of how much he is likely to produce at the NHL level. The Sharks are going to continue to hold out hope that Hamilton can be a top six center, but he's likely going to end up as a third liner who can also kill penalties and take big faceoffs when needed.
St. Louis Blues
1) Ty Rattie (RW, Portland-WHL): Rattie has made a mockery of the WHL to the tune of 133 goals and 310 points over his last three junior seasons. He does his best work in the power play when there is more open ice available and he is going to have a realistic shot to make the Blues out of camp. Even if he doesn't, his NHL debut is likely to come at some point during this upcoming season.
2) Jake Allen (G, Peoria-AHL): Allen was drafted in the second round way back in 2008, but just this past season Blues fans finally got a taste of his potential. Allen got 13 starts for the Blues and went 9-3-0 with a 2.46 GAA. The Blues have over $5.5 million invested in the tandem of Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott for this coming season, but both are going to be free agents at the end of the year and even though Allen may spend the majority of this coming season in the AHL, it looks like he will be the Blues starter come 2014-15.
3) Dmitrij Jaskin (LW, Moncton-QMJHL): The Blues convinced Jaskin to leave his native Czech Republic to play in Moncton last season and he responded with 46 goals and 99 points in just 51 games. He was called up to the NHL when his junior season ended and got into two games with the Blues. Jaskin has a massive frame and excels at taking the puck hard to the net. Half a season in the AHL would serve him well, but after that he should be ready for primetime.
Tampa Bay Lightning
1) Jonathan Drouin (LW, Halifax-QMJHL): With 105 points in 49 games with Halifax this past season, it's quite clear that Drouin has nothing left to prove in the QMJHL, but I would still send him back there for another year. This is a kid who just two years ago got a late start to the season only played in 33 games because he didn't feel he was ready for junior hockey yet. I think he would be better served getting big minutes in Halifax and starring for Team Canada at the World Juniors. Unfortunately, the Lightning seem disagree with me and it seems to be a lock that Drouin will be in their lineup on opening night. As long as he is, he should produce some immediate fantasy value.
2) Andrei Vasilevski (G, Salavat Ufa-KHL): The fact that Vasilevski played just nine KHL games last season won't make the Lightning very happy. He did play for Russia at the World Juniors where he starred in some games and was benched in others. The Lightning were hoping to get Vasilevski to come to North America for this coming season, but it appears as if he will honor the final year of his KHL contract. He clearly needs more time to develop, but with the goaltending situation in Tampa an absolute mess, the sooner Vasilevski arrives, the better.
3) Tyler Johnson (C, Syracuse-AHL): Johnson went undrafted (probably because he's 5'8, 175 pounds) but he has dominated the AHL since he turned pro two years ago and he responded with six points in a 13 games trial with Tampa late in the year. He's a player to keep an eye on in training camp. If he can crack the team and end up playing with some talented offensive players, he could be a fantasy sleeper.
Toronto Maple Leafs
1) Morgan Rielly (D, Moose Jaw-WHL): The Leafs and Rielly are in a bit of a jam, and they know it. Rielly has nothing left to prove in the WHL, but he's too young to play in the AHL and if he doesn't crack the Leafs roster out of training camp, he's looking at one final junior season. Rielly is a pure offensive defenseman who had 12 goals and 54 points in 60 games for Moose Jaw this past season. The Leafs back end isn't exactly deep, so it wouldn't be a surprise to see Rielly make the team.
2) Tyler Biggs (RW, Oshawa-OHL): Biggs left the University of Miami-Ohio after his freshman season and played last year in the OHL. It was a successful debut with 26 goals and 53 points in 60 games and he made Team USA for the World Juniors (though he didn't get much playing time). Biggs is a big, mean power forward who has pretty good hands and can score around the net. He figures to begin this season in the AHL.
3) Carter Ashton (RW, Toronto-AHL): There is no doubt Ashton's stock is far lower now than it was when he was drafted 29th overall by the Lightning in 2009. Ashton had a rough year in the AHL this past season with just 19 points in 53 games and in 15 career NHL games, he doesn't have a point. Ashton has the size to compete at the NHL level and a decent amount of skill, but the consistency just hasn't been there. He isn't an official "bust" yet, but he's running out of time.
1) Bo Horvat (C, London-OHL): The Canucks thought enough of Horvat to trade Cory Schneider to the Devils for the right to select him. Horvat is the exact type of player that new head coach John Tortorella loves. He's a guy who will do anything to help his team win, plays every shift like it's his last and doesn't need the puck to contribute. I wouldn't be surprised in the least to see Horvat in Vancouver's lineup on opening night.
2) Nicklas Jensen (RW, AIK-Sweden): Jensen decided to leave Oshawa of the OHL to play last season in the Swedish Elite League. He held his own with 17 goals and 23 points in 50 games and once his season ended, he headed back to North America. He finished the season playing in 20 games with Chicago of the AHL and two games with the Canucks. Jensen will be given a legitimate shot to make the team in camp and he'll head to the AHL if he doesn't.
3) Hunter Shinkaruk (C, Medicine Hat-WHL): Many were shocked that Shinkaruk was still available with the 24th selection this past June and the Canucks quickly snatched him up. Shinkaruk has always been an offensive wizard, but his play away from the puck as always left something to be desired. That's something that won't fly in Tortorella's new system. Shinkaruk is going to end up back in the WHL where he will have to continue to work on his all-around game.
1) Evgeny Kuznetsov (RW, Chelyabinsk-KHL): Kuznetsov plummeted to 26th overall in the 2010 draft because teams were convinced that he would never come over to play in North America. Three years later, those teams have all been correct. Both the Caps and Kuznetsov have claimed that he will be in Washington for the 2014-15 season, once his KHL contract ends, but I'll believe it when I see it. He may be the most talented prospect on this entire list and if he actually does come to the NHL, his fantasy impact will be immediate.
2) Tom Wilson (RW, Plymouth-OHL): An injury to Martin Erat got Wilson into the Caps final three games against the Rangers in their first round playoff series. Wilson played well, contributing some big hits and having a couple of scoring chances. Wilson is a big power forward who can score and is more than happy to drop the gloves. Wilson figures to get a look once again in camp, but a final season in Plymouth and a spot on the Canadian World Junior team is most likely in his future.
3) Andre Burakowsky (LW, Malmo-Sweden): Burakowsky's offensive skills are undeniable, but the rest of his game needs work. He's a high upside player and the Caps felt comfortable taking that risk with the 23rd overall choice this past June. Burakowsky is still deciding where he will play next year. His options include staying in Sweden for another year, Hershey of the AHL or Erie of the OHL. He says he will let the Caps make the decision, which should almost certainly mean a trip to North America.
1) Jacob Trouba (D, University of Michigan-NCAA): Trouba was drafted ninth overall in 2012 with the expectation that he would be shutdown defenseman, but in this past year his offensive skills have developed quicker than anyone could have ever imagined. He had 12 goals and 29 points in 37 games at Michigan and he dominated offensively for Team USA at the World Juniors. He signed a contract with the Jets late in the season and although they gave some thought to letting Trouba play a couple NHL games before the season ended, they decided against. Barring some unforeseen change, his NHL debut is going to come on opening night in October.
2) Mark Scheifele (C, Barrie-OHL): Scheifele had nothing to prove in Barrie this past season, but the Jets didn't think he would get enough ice time at the NHL level so they smartly shipped him back for one final season of junior hockey. Scheifele responded with 39 goals and 79 points in 45 games, clearly proving that he's ready for NHL duty. The addition of Devin Setoguchi doesn't help Scheifele's chances of earning a top six role out of camp, but he should at least make the team.
3) Josh Morrissey (D, Prince Albert-WHL): The Jets thought enough of Morrissey's ever developing game to select him 13th overall this past June. He is known as a smooth skating offensive defenseman who needs work in his own zone. He only has average size, so his positioning will be key. The Jets figure to be patient with Morrissey and give him plenty of time to develop.