2014-15 Prospect Season Preview: Central Division
Jon Litterine, RotoWire.com
With the new season just around the corner, it's time to go team-by-team and review the top prospects in each organization for the upcoming year. Teams in the Central Division are listed below.
(Notes: If a player has a number listed after his team, it represents his overall prospect ranking for the entire league. We rank the 100 top prospects. All stats listed are from 2013-14 season, any player with 25 or more games of regular season NHL experience are not included)
1) Teuvo Teravainen (C, Jokerit-Finland, Chicago-NHL, 4): Teravainen came over to North America late last season at which point unrealistic expectations were placed upon him. He played three games for the Blackhawks before going down and playing five games in the AHL. I fully believe that the immensely talented Teravainen would be just fine if the Hawks threw him right into the fire next season, but the signing of Brad Richards makes me think Chicago is serious when they say they're going to be cautious with Teravainen's development. Few, if any, prospects in the league are as offensively gifted as Teravainen so even if he begins next year in the AHL I still expect him to spend a good chunk of the season in Chicago.
2) Ryan Hartman (RW, Plymouth-OHL, 65): I loved the pick of Hartman with the last pick of the first round in the 2013 draft, but I think I may have underrated his offensive ability a bit. He's always been an in-your-face type of player who gives his all on every shift and will do anything he can to help his team win. You can't have enough of those players, but Hartman has 113 points in 108 games the past two seasons in Plymouth and he was impressive (7P in 9GP) with Rockford (AHL) at the end of the season. He still may ultimately be a third-liner, but I wouldn't be shocked if he scored somewhere around 15 goals on a yearly basis. That's more than I expected when he was originally drafted.
3) Mark McNeill (C, Rockford-AHL, 76): All in all, McNeill's first full professional season was a successful one. He put up some points (37 in 76GP), he worked in his consistency and he used his size to his advantage. McNeill has always been regarded as one of the most physically developed prospects in recent memory and he's finally started to put that to good use. There's a real chance McNeill might just be a depth player at the NHL level but his size and good hands around the net give him a chance to be more. He will return to Rockford next season.
Next In Line: 4. Adam Clendening (D, Rockford-AHL, 85); 5. Nick Schmaltz (C, Green Bay-USHL)
1) Chris Bigras (D, Owen Sound-OHL): Colorado was one of two teams (Los Angeles was the other) without a top 100 prospect. Almost by default, Bigras gets their top spot. Bigras was the star of Avs training camp last year, nearly making the team as an 18-year-old. Ultimately, Bigras was shipped back to Owen Sound, where he was bad and he also played for Team Canada at the World Juniors, where he was worse. Bigras doesn't put up a ton of points, but he's an appositionally sound defenseman who makes a good first pass and plays a very smart game. He needs to rebound next season.
2) Joey Hishon (C, Lake Erie-AHL): Hishon's story is well known to hardcore hockey fans. He suffered a concussion in the 2011 Memorial Cup and then played just nine games over the next two seasons (he missed the entire 2011-12 season). Injuries once again limited him to just 50 games this past season with Lake Erie. He did get into three playoff games with Colorado. Hishon has shown glimpses of the talent that made him the 17th overall pick in the 2010 draft, but he's just such a poor bet to stay healthy moving forward that his status as a true prospect is really in doubt.
3) Conner Bleackley (C, Red Deer-WHL): Even if Bleackley never scores at the NHL level (which is a real possibility), he still should be a valuable player. He always plays hard, sticks up for his teammates and has been called a potential future captain sometime down the road. I definitely thought that there were better players available when Colorado picked Bleackley with the 23rd pick this past June, but the Avs system is so bare that Bleackley immediately becomes one of their better prospects.
Next In Line: 4. Mason Geertsen (D, Vancouver-WHL); 5. Duncan Siemens (D, Lake Erie-AHL)
1) Radek Faksa (C, Kitchener/Sudbury-OHL, 43): Faksa is big and strong, plays a competitive two-way game and has quite a bit of offensive skill. He's physically developed so I don't think he's too far away from being able to help out at the NHL level. Dallas traded for Jason Spezza and signed Ales Hemsky and Patrick Eaves, so I expect Faksa to begin next season in the AHL. If he continues to develop, Faksa has a real chance to be a second line center that can also kill penalties.
2) Brett Ritchie (RW, Texas-AHL, 53): Ritchie did exactly what the Stars wanted him to do in his first professional season. He was productive (48P in 68GP), consistent and helped lead Texas to the AHL championship. Ritchie is a goal scorer. He scored 41 goals in his final season of juniors and he's far better at finishing than setting up his teammates. I expect him to begin next year in the AHL and make his NHL debut at some point during the upcoming season.
3) Jamie Oleksiak (D, Texas-AHL, 63): I'm concerned about Oleksiak. Even if he never developed any true offensive skills, at 6-7, 245 pounds, he should have a long career as a shutdown defenseman. He's always played a smart game and makes a good first pass, but he gets beaten to the outside too much, which isn't a surprise for a player his size. The Stars have been trying all summer to trade Sergei Gonchar and if they're eventually successful, that could open up a spot for Oleksiak out of camp.
Next In Line: 4. Julius Honka (D, Swift Current-WHL, 75); 5. Devin Shore (C, University of Maine-91)
1) Mathew Dumba (D, Portland-WHL, 18): Dumba has been handled poorly by the Wild. He was kept with the team to start the 2012-13 but he never played in a game and was shipped back to juniors. This past season he played 13 games with Minnesota before being sent back to the WHL. They should have just left him in the junior ranks that entire time and let him play 30 minutes a night. Dumba has the potential to be a top-flight offensive defenseman. He has a cannon of a shot and is an asset on the power play. His defensive game has never been his strength, but it should be good enough. If the Wild don't plan on giving Dumba a bunch of ice time, he should begin the season in the AHL.
2) Mario Lucia (LW, University of Notre Dame-NCAA, 100): Lucia has had two productive seasons at Notre Dame and won a gold medal with Team USA at the 2013 World Juniors (although he was the 13th forward and barely played). Even though he's only played two years of college, there isn't much left for Lucia to accomplish at Notre Dame. He would have been better off signing an entry-level contract with the Wild this summer and playing next season in the AHL. But Lucia has decided to return to South Bend for his junior year. It would be a disappointment if he doesn't have a dominant season.
3) Alex Tuch (RW, US NTDP-USHL): I'm on record as saying I'm not a huge fan of Tuch. If for no other reason, it's because it seems like potential future “power forwards” have a higher failure rate than other NHL prospects. Tuch is built like a house (6-3, 215 pounds), and to no one's surprise he gets in hard on the fore check and does his best work right around the front of the net. I'm probably not giving Tuch enough credit, but I need to see him perform at the college level before he makes my top 100 list. He will head to Boston College in the fall.
Next In Line: 4. Christian Folin (D, U-Mass Lowell-NCAA); 5. Gustav Olofsson (D, Colorado College-NCAA)
1) Calle Jarnkrok (C, Grand Rapids/Milwaukee-AHL, Nashville-NHL, 29): The Red Wings were apparently concerned that Jarnkrok planned to return to Sweden after last season and as a result they traded him to Nashville in a deal for David Legwand. Six months later, Jarnkrok is staying in the United States and the deal looks like a steal for the Preds. Jarnkrok played the final 12 games of the season in Nashville and put up nine points. He's a creative, offensive center who does his best work on the power play when he has extra room to operate. Jarnkrok is going to play next season in Nashville and he's worth a look in deeper leagues.
2) Filip Forsberg (C, Milwaukee-AHL, 30): Nashville acquired Forsberg at the trade deadline in 2013 from Washington in exchange for Martin Erat. It's a trade the Caps will come to regret. Forsberg is a true 200-foot player, who excels in all three zones and does numerous things to help his team win. Forsberg should eventually settle into a top-six role, although it may not happen this year. He's one of those rare prospects whose game has no true weaknesses.
3) Kevin Fiala (C, HV71-Sweden): Fiala is small (5-10, 185 pounds) but he's so quick and agile on his skates that his small stature isn't as big of a concern as it may be for other players. Fiala is at his best when he gets the puck in transition and can use his legs to blow by defenders. If Fiala was a few inches taller and 20 pounds heavier he probably would have been a top-five pick this past June (he was picked 11th by the Preds). A native of Switzerland who played last season in Sweden, Fiala signed his entry-level contract with Nashville this summer. The only reason he isn't on my top 100 list is because he only played 17 games last season. I need to see more.
Next In Line: 4. Colton Sissons (RW, Milwaukee-AHL); 5. Vladislav Kamenev (LW, Magnitogorsk-KHL)
St. Louis Blues
1) Dmitrij Jaskin (LW, Chicago-AHL/St. Louis-NHL, 21): I honestly have no idea what the Blues plan to do with Jaskin. He played 18 games in St. Louis last year, but he was frequently a healthy scratch and he had just two points in those games, mostly because he played on the fourth line. The additions of Paul Stastny, Jori Lehtera and Joakim Lindstrom this summer seems to indicate there won't be any room for Jaskin to get significant playing time this year either. An offensive dynamo that scored 46G and 99P in 51GP in his one year of junior hockey in 2012-13, Jaskin has nothing left to prove at the AHL level. A trade may be his best opportunity to showcase his skills in the NHL. Keeping him in St. Louis and having him play eight minutes a game makes absolutely no sense.
2) Jake Allen (G, Chicago-AHL, 26): Allen was drafted way back in 2008 and has been a pro for four years, but he's seen just 15 games of NHL action (all in 2012-13). The Blues gave Brian Elliott a three-year $7.5 million deal this offseason and plan to have him and Allen compete for playing time this season. Elliott's contract makes you think that he would have the upper hand in the battle. A goalie of Allen's talent who is so young has a ton of trade value, so if the Blues truly plan on making him being a backup, they would have been better off moving him. If Elliott falters or gets injured, or Allen somehow wins the job, he would have a ton of fantasy value as the number one goalie on one of the best teams in the NHL.
3) Ty Rattie (RW, Chicago-AHL, 38): There were serious concerns amongst scouts that Rattie would have problems scoring at the professional level. He scored 105G and 231P in his final two years of junior hockey, but some still thought his style of play wouldn't work as a pro. Rattie put all of those concerns to rest by scoring 31G in his first pro season in the AHL. Rattie is just a pure goal scorer. He's not that big (5-11, 180 pounds) and he's not a great skater, but every time he gets the puck with a chance to bury it, it seems to end up in the net. The 21-year-old Rattie could probably use another half season in the AHL and he'll get that, if not more.
Next In Line: 4. Robby Fabbri (C, Guelph-OHL, 64); 5. Ivan Barbashev (C, Moncton-QMJHL, 74)
1) Nikolaj Ehlers (LW, Halifax-QMJHL, 15): I made it no secret that Ehlers was one of my favorite players available in the 2014 draft. Many people think his monster season (104P in 63GP) was a direct result of playing on the same team as Jonathan Drouin, but I don't buy that for a second. Drouin will be playing in the NHL this season, so Halifax will become Ehlers' team. Ehlers has game breaking ability every single time he touches the puck. He's a fantastic skater and immensely creative in the offensive zone. He needs to get a bit stronger, but I think he'll be ready for the NHL after just one more season in Halifax.
2) Josh Morrissey (D, Prince Albert-WHL, 40): St. John's (AHL) run to the Calder Cup finals was great news for Morrissey. He got experience at the professional level (20GP) after his junior season ended. Simply put, Morrissey is an offensive defenseman who has the ability to quarterback an NHL power play one day. He had a monster season in Prince Albert (28G, 73P in 59GP) and he certainly didn't look out of place with St. John's. Morrissey needs to continue to work on his play in his own zone, but I'd be shocked if he didn't have a long and productive NHL career.
3) Connor Hellebuyck (G, U-Mass Lowell-NCAA, 46): The Jets selected Hellebuyck in the fifth round in the 2012 draft and he's spent the last two years being the best goaltender in all of college hockey. Pretty amazing for a guy who wasn't rated among the top-35 North American goalies in his draft year. Hellebuyck is huge (6-4, 200 pounds), takes up a ton of room in the net, never gets rattled and relies on his positioning. I wasn't sold on him as a top prospect coming out of his draft year, but I spent the last two years attending U-Mass Lowell and I saw every home game he played. He's as good as advertised. Hellebuyck signed with the Jets this summer, deciding to forgo his final two years of college eligibility. Ondrej Pavelec is signed for the next three years at a cap hit of $3.9 million per season, but I fully expect Hellebuyck to take over as Winnipeg's number one goalie before Pavelec's contract is up. He'll start next season in the AHL.
Next In Line: 4. Nicolas Petan (C, Portland-WHL, 56); 5. Eric Comrie (G, Tri-City-WHL)