2014-15 Prospect Season Preview: Atlantic 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 Atlantic 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) Malcolm Subban (G, Providence-AHL, 39): Subban played just 33 games last season in his first year of professional hockey as the backup to Niklas Svedberg. Svedberg is slated to be the Bruins backup goalie this upcoming season, so Subban should get all the reps he can handle in Providence. He started last season slowly before really turning it on and finishing with an impressive 2.31 GAA and .920 save percentage. Tuukka Rask is signed through the 2020-21 season, so it's hard to see how Subban fits into the Bruins future plans. They have been reluctant to include him in trade offers in the past, but I expect that to change in the future. He's too good to spend an extended period of time toiling in the AHL.
2) Matt Grzelcyk (D, Boston University-NCAA, 58): A couple injuries and representing Team USA at the World Juniors limited Grzelcyk to just 19 games with the Terriers last season. He was impressive in limited action, with 3G and 11P. Grzelcyk is very small (5-9, 170 pounds) but he's a great skater and has fantastic offensive instincts. As long as his defensive play improves to the point that he can take a regular shift at the NHL level, he should be a very effective player. He will head back to Boston University for his junior year in the fall.
3) Alexander Khokhlachev (C, Providence-AHL, 89): Khokhlachev was nearly traded to Calgary a couple of years ago in the Jarome Iginla trade that eventually fell through. His stock is on the rise after a fantastic first pro season (21G, 57P in 65GP) in the AHL. Khokhlachev is an undersized, skilled center that doesn't shy away from the tough areas of the ice despite being just 5-11, 185 pounds. He may begin next season in the AHL, but I expect him to see a decent amount of time in Boston next year.
Next In Line: 4. Joe Morrow (D, Providence-AHL); 5. Seth Griffith (RW, Providence-AHL)
1) Sam Reinhart (C, Kootenay-WHL, 16): It's difficult to knock a kid who was the second overall pick in the draft just a few months ago. My biggest complaint about Reinhart is that he doesn't have elite physical gifts. He does have elite hockey sense, which allows him to maximize his physical ability. He had 105P in 60GP for Kootenay this past season and he played very well for Team Canada at the World Juniors, so I don't want to make it sound like he doesn't have any talent at all. I just expect Reinhart to be more along the lines of a second-liner, as opposed to a team's top offensive weapon. He has nothing to prove in the WHL and I fully expect him to be in the Buffalo lineup on opening night. But the Sabres are going to struggle next season, so if he shows in training camp he isn't ready, I'd still ship him back to juniors and let him play for Canada again at the World Juniors.
2) Nikita Zadorov (D, London-OHL, 19): Zadorov was injured to start last season and when he got healthy, the Sabres had him begin the season in the NHL. It was a mistake. They realized it, and sent him back to London after just seven games. He was playing nearly 25 minutes a night for the Knights and got the experience of playing in another Memorial Cup. Zadorov is a big, strong defender who will be able to help the Sabres at both ends of the rink. Buffalo has eight defensemen signed to NHL contracts for the upcoming season, so I don't see any room for Zadorov to make the team.
3) Joel Armia (RW, Rochester-AHL, 51): Armia's stock is down after a rough first pro season in North America. He broke his hand in a preseason game last season and was limited to 54 AHL games once he got healthy. There's no doubt he struggled a bit with the adjustment to the smaller rinks, but for a player who's one elite attribute is his ability to put the puck in the net, seven goals in 54 games just isn't going to get it done. If he doesn't take a considerable step forward this season the Sabres should be very concerned.
Next In Line: 4. Jake McCabe (D, University of Wisconsin-NCAA, 73); 5. Hudson Fasching (RW, University of Minnesota-NCAA, 90)
Detroit Red Wings
1) Anthony Mantha (RW, Val d'Or-QMJHL, 3): No prospect in the entire league had a better 2013-14 season than Mantha. In 81 combined regular season and playoff games, Mantha scored 81 goals. He's absolutely huge (6-5, 205 pounds), is nearly impossible to handle down low, and can play the point on the power play. The Wings have already said that they are going to give Mantha every opportunity to win a top-six spot out of camp, as they should. I would just put him alongside Pavel Datsyuk and leave him them. If he does return to the QMHJL, it's scary to think the damage he could do with another year in juniors.
2) Teemu Pulkkinen (RW, Grand Rapids-AHL, 55): Pulkkinen turned a very impressive first season in North America (31G, 59P in 71GP) into a three-game cameo appearance with the Wings. He spent the previous three years playing against men in Finland, so I don't think he has a ton left to learn in the AHL. Detroit's four highest paid forwards (Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen and Stephen Weiss) are all extremely injury prone, so even if he doesn't make the team out of camp I wouldn't be surprised if Pulkkinen saw considerable NHL duty this season.
3) Andreas Athanasiou (LW, Barrie-OHL, 92): His first two OHL seasons in London, Athanasiou got limited ice time while playing for a stacked team. A 2012 trade to Barrie was the best thing that ever happened to him. He averaged over a point-per-game (67P in 66GP) in 2012-13 and exploded this past season to the tune of 49G and 95P in 66GP. Athanasiou is an above average skater and has terrific hands. He will make his professional debut this fall, likely in Grand Rapids (AHL).
Next In Line: 4. Dylan Larkin (C, US NTDP-USHL); 5. Petr Mrazek (G, Grand Rapids-AHL)
1) Aaron Ekblad (D, Barrie-OHL, 8): The Panthers spent the first overall pick this past June on Ekblad and I fully expect him to be in the lineup on opening night. He's extremely calm with the puck and rarely gets caught out of position so I don't see why he can't play upwards of 20 minutes a night during his rookie season. I don't ever seem him becoming a top fantasy defenseman, but a guy who plays major minutes against another team's best players and can contribute on the power play is an extremely valuable asset. I still think the best comparison to Ekblad is Brent Seabrook, and if Ekblad becomes anywhere near the player that Seabrook has for the majority of his career, Florida will likely be thrilled.
2) Michael Matheson (D, Boston College-NCAA, 35): Matheson's stats took a minor tumble in his second season at Boston College, but he still had a good year and the Panthers wanted to sign him this summer. Matheson passed on the opportunity and will return to the Eagles for his junior season in the fall. He's an offensive defenseman who is still a work in progress in his own zone. He has decent size (6-1, 180) so if he can bulk up a bit, he should be just fine. I fully expect Matheson to turn pro after his junior year.
3) Rocco Grimaldi (C, University of North Dakota-NCAA, 50): Grimaldi was extremely productive in the last two seasons at North Dakota (75P in 82GP) but he's listed (generously) at 5-6, 170 pounds and that can't be ignored. He signed his first NHL deal with the Panthers this summer and will turn pro in the fall. The Panthers have a good, young core of forwards, but I fully expect Grimaldi to need a season in the AHL. His offensive game is NHL ready, but a player of his size if going to have a difficult adjustment period dealing with the size and strength of NHL defensemen. I think he'll be a good one, I think it will just take a little while for it to materialize.
Next In Line: 4. Vincent Trocheck (C, San Antonio-AHL, 61); 5. Ian McCoshen (D, Boston College-NCAA, 72)
1) Zachary Fucale (G, Halifax-QMJHL, 41): Overall the last two seasons in Halifax, Fucale's record is 81-14-6. The biggest challenge for Fucale has been staying in the game mentally. He's played on fantastic teams in Halifax who control the puck and he has gone long stretches during games without seeing much action. Fucale relies on terrific positioning as opposed to raw athleticism. He's also extremely calm in net and rarely gets rattled. Fucale will head back to the QMJHL this season for his final year of junior hockey. It's difficult to see where he fits into the Canadiens future plans since Carey Price isn't going anywhere, but that's a problem for another day.
2) Nathan Beaulieu (D, Hamilton-AHL, 44): Beaulieu played seven playoff games for the Habs this past season and in those seven games he showed why some scouts love him, and others hate him. His skating ability is undeniable. He can take the puck from behind his own net and easily get his team out of trouble. On the other hand, he struggled so much defensively in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Rangers that he was benched for long stretches. Beaulieu is still just 21 years old, so he has time to figure it out. His fantasy value is directly tied to how much power play time he'll get and with P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov both signing new deals, there doesn't seem to be much available for Beaulieu.
3) Nikita Scherbak (RW, Saskatoon-WHL): It can be difficult to get a read on a player who played on a team that won 16 games all season. Some scouts think that Scherbak's productive season (28G, 78P in 65GP) was the result of him being the go-to-guy on a bad team. Others think that if he played with better players, his numbers would have been off the charts. The Canadiens are clearly in the later camp since they spent their 2014 first round pick (26th overall) on him. It will be interesting to see what will happen to Scherbak's numbers if Saskatoon is a better team in 2014-15.
Next In Line: 4. Charles Hudon (LW, Chicoutimi/Baie-Comeau-QMJHL); 5. Jacob De La Rose (C, Leksand-Sweden)
1) Curtis Lazar (C, Edmonton-WHL, 36): No player looked more NHL-ready in the Memorial Cup than Lazar. He scored an overtime game-winning goal in the semifinals to help lead the eventual champion Oil Kings to the final. Lazar's numbers have improved every year in junior hockey and I think he's ready to play at the top level. Lazar had 41 goals for Edmonton last season but I don't think he'll ever be an elite goal scorer at the NHL level. I expect him to develop into a 20-25 goal scorer who can fill a top-six role when needed but ultimately may be best suited as a third liner.
2) Matt Puempel (LW, Binghamton-AHL): Puempel's first pro season in Binghamton was a successful one, tallying 30 goals in 74 games. I've never been as high on Puempel as others, simply because his game is so one-dimensional. Puempel is a gifted goal scorer and is better at setting up his teammates than he gets credit for, but he offers virtually nothing physically and his defensive play is average, at best. He's the type of player who if he isn't putting up points, he isn't doing anything to help your team win. I expect him to get a chance in Ottawa at some point this season.
3) Mark Stone (RW, Binghamton-AHL): The only thing that will hold Stone back from being a productive NHL player is his skating. He's put a lot of work into it, and it's gotten better, but it's nowhere near the level it has to be in order to be considered a top prospect. His skating was the sole reason he fell all the way to the sixth round in the 2010 draft. Stone averaged more than a point-per-game in Binghamton last year (41P in 37GP) and he was impressive in a short stint in the NHL (8P in 19GP). He's the type of player who will either take a big step forward next season or will be off this list completely.
Next In Line: 4. Robbie Baillargeon (C, Boston University-NCAA); 5. Alex Guptill (LW, University of Michigan-NCAA)
Tampa Bay Lightning
1) Jonathan Drouin (LW, Halifax-QMJHL, 1): The best prospect in hockey returned for a third season in Halifax and responded with 108P in 46GP. He was also Team Canada's best player at the World Juniors. Although he's eligible for another year in juniors, Drouin will never play another game in Halifax. He's a lock to make the Tampa lineup next season and he will have immediate fantasy value. Coach Jon Cooper is smart enough to know Drouin will need to play with talented players and get tons of power play time and he'll make that happen. I wouldn't be surprised if he put up the kind of numbers this season that Nathan MacKinnon did last year (24G and 63P).
2) Andrei Vasilevskiy (G, Ufa Salavat Yulayev-KHL, 7): If someone wanted to make an argument that Vasilevskiy is the best goaltending prospect in the league, I wouldn't put up much of a fight. He played extremely well in limited KHL action (2.21 GAA, .923 save percentage in 21 GP) and he is expected to come over next season to play in the AHL. Ben Bishop just inked a new extension and is now signed through the 2016-17 season. Vasilevskiy is going to be ready to play in the NHL well before that, so something is going to have to give.
3) Vladislav Namestnikov (C, Syracuse-AHL, 42): A brilliant first pro season in Syracuse (48P in 56GP) earned Namestnikov a four-game cameo with the Lightning this past season. He's an extremely gifted center who is better at setting up his teammates than finishing himself. The Lightning resigned Ryan Callahan, added Brian Boyle and Brendan Morrow in free agency and have Drouin on the way, so I don't see any room for Namestnikov to start the season. If he isn't getting top-six minutes (and I don't see anyway that can happen), he should be in the AHL.
Next In Line: 4. Adam Erne (LW, Quebec-QMJHL, 77); 5. Anthony DeAngelo (D, Sarnia-OHL, 83)
Toronto Maple Leafs
1) William Nylander (RW, Sodertalje/Rogle/MoDo-Sweden, 24): Outside of the 2012 draft (that they nailed), I think the Leafs have been amongst the worst drafting teams in the league for the past five years or so. I also think Nylander will help turn that around. His offensive gifts cannot be taught and he does a good job of using his body to his advantage despite being just 5-11, 170 pounds. He needs to get stronger and work on his defensive play (playing for three teams last season didn't help matters), but I definitely think he's closer to being NHL ready than 99% of the 18-year-olds that get drafted.
2) Connor Brown (RW, Erie-OHL): Brown's final season of junior hockey resulted in him tallying 45G and 128P in 68GP and winning the OHL's scoring title by 21 points over teammate Dane Fox. A former sixth round pick in 2012, Brown is a below average skater (which worries me going forward, especially for a goal scorer), but he has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. I'm very interested to see how his game will translate to the professional level this coming season. There are plenty of players who put up huge numbers in juniors and then flounder once they reach the pros.
3) Frederik Gauthier (C, Rimouski-QMJHL): Gauthier is huge (6-5, 215 pounds) and a load to handle down low, but his offensive skills are very limited. He scored just 18G in 54GP with Rimouski this past season and I'd be shocked if he ever scored that many as a pro. On the other hand, he's good in the faceoff circle and can help kill penalties. I expect him to be an effective third-line center and penalty killer at the NHL level, but I don't ever expect him to score more than 10-12 goals in a season. I would want more out of a guy I selected in the first round (2013).
Next In Line: 4. Matt Finn (D, Guelph-OHL); 5. Stuart Percy (D, Toronto-AHL)