Before the season began, we looked at the top three prospects from all 30 NHL teams and discussed what was expected this season. With the season nearing it's completion, it's time review how the last seven months went for those 90 young players.
(Notes: The prospects are in order that appeared in the original article in September. They wouldn't necessarily be in this order if they were re-ranked today. All stats as of May 3.)
1. Haydn Fleury (D, Red Deer-WHL): It was a terrible season for the seventh overall pick in the 2014 Entry Draft. After putting up 46 points two seasons ago, Fleury ended up with 28 points this past season. The projected two-way defender struggled at times in both ends of the rink and was one of the first cuts from Canada's World Junior selection camp. Fleury won't turn 19-years-old until July, but this past season couldn't have gone any worse for him. Carolina was hoping that Fleury could potentially help them at the NHL level next season, but it's quite clear that he's nowhere near ready.
2. Victor Rask (C, Carolina-NHL): While inconsistent at times, Rask played the entire season in the NHL and showed flashes of his high-end offensive potential. If he was in an organization with greater depth, Rask may have spent a third season in the AHL, but to his credit, he improved as the season went on and was one of Carolina's key offensive contributors as the season reached it's end. Carolina has to be thrilled with the 11 goals and 33 points he put up in 80 games.
3. Alex Nedeljkovic (G, Plymouth-OHL): Nedeljkovic was on a bad team, one of the worst in all of junior hockey, so as expected, his numbers dropped across the board. His 3.13 GAA was poor and his .916 save percentage was just average. Nedeljkovic technically made the Team USA roster for the World Juniors, but he was the third goalie and never played. Cam Ward and Anton Khudobin gave the Hurricanes decent enough goaltending this year, but neither is the long-term answer for Carolina, so Nedeljkovic (who was a 2014 second round pick), needs to continue his development. It hasn't even been a full calendar year since it took place, but the 2014 draft doesn't look like a particularly strong one for Carolina.
Columbus Blue Jackets
1. Alexander Wennberg (C, Columbus-NHL/Springfield-AHL): Wennberg spent virtually the entire year in the NHL (he played just six AHL games) and despite being a healthy scratch on several occasions; he showed his complete all-around game that made him a top prospect. He scored just four goals in 68 games, but he got both power play and penalty killing time and earned the praise of coach Todd Richards on several occasions. Wennberg's numbers were eerily similar to Ryan Johansen's in his rookie year, so he's definitely a candidate to take a major step forward next season.
2. Oscar Dansk (G, Springfield-AHL/Kalamazoo-ECHL): Injuries limited Dansk to just 31 games this season. When he did manage to play, he was awful. It's never a good sign when a top prospect struggles so badly in the AHL (3.57 GAA, .880 save percentage) that he has to be demoted to the ECHL. It's an even worse sign when that player doesn't look any better at the lower level (3.73 GAA, 1-8-0 record) than he did at the higher level. The Jackets have to be seriously worried about Dansk. No top prospect should struggle as badly as he did this past season. Dansk is just 21-years-old and goalies tend to take longer to develop than skaters, but he needs to take a huge step forward next season to ever have a future as an NHL starter.
3. Kerby Rychel (LW, Columbus-NHL/Springfield-AHL): Rychel had a good first professional season. He was productive in the AHL (33P in 51GP) and earned a five game trial in Columbus, where he produced three assists. Rychel was a big scorer in juniors, but I think he's ultimately going to be a good third-liner at the NHL level. I expect him to eventually settle in as a guy who scores around 20 goals a season and puts up about 45 points. Rychel doesn't have the high-end offensive skill of some of the other players on this list, but he's a strong kid and a smart player and I think he's going to have a long NHL career.
New Jersey DevilS
1. Damon Severson (D, New Jersey-NHL): Severson's overall numbers this past season aren't indicative of how well he played for the Devils this year. He finished with five goals and 17 points, most of which came very early in the season. He broke his ankle and mid-December and missed nearly three months with the injury. Severson struggled after he returned, but all in all, it was an awfully impressive first professional season. Severson is New Jersey's most important defensive cog moving forward.
2. Steve Santini (D, Boston College-NCAA): Santini, much like Severson, started off the season well before breaking his wrist in late October. It ended up costing him over two months of action and as a result, he missed the World Juniors (where he was scheduled to serve as Team USA's captain). Santini's offensive game hasn't really developed (he had just five points in 22 games this season), but he's an awfully smart player and is solid in his own zone. I don't think he'll ever be a star, but he should be a reliable NHL defenseman for years to come. He has decided to return to Boston College for his junior season in the fall.
3. Reid Boucher (LW, New Jersey-NHL/Albany-AHL): Boucher didn't have a particularly good season. He's small (5-foot-10, 190) and fast, but if he isn't scoring, he isn't bringing a whole lot to your team. Boucher finished with just 15 goals in 62 AHL games and he had just one tally in 11 games with the Devils. That's just not going to cut it for a player who doesn't have much of an all-around game. Boucher scored 62 goals in his final season of junior hockey, but I've seen nothing to suggest that he can be a consistent contributor at the NHL level.
New York Islanders
1. Griffin Reinhart (D, New York-NHL/Bridgeport-AHL): Reinhart was slated to spend the entire season in the NHL, but then the Islanders acquired Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy on the eve of the season and as a result, Reinhart was limited to just eight games with the Isles. As expected, Reinhart had his ups and downs when he was at the NHL level. It's not that his stock has dropped all that much, but due to Ryan Pulock's fantastic season, an argument can be made that Reinhart has fallen behind him on the depth chart. I wouldn't be surprised if the Islanders packaged Reinhart in a deal this summer in attempt to get another scoring winger.
2. Michael Dal Colle (LW, Oshawa-OHL): Despite being cut from Team Canada's selection camp for the World Juniors (a decision I disagreed with), Dal Colle went right back to Oshawa and continued to dominate. He now has 188 points in his last two junior seasons and the Islanders have to be thrilled with how his development is going. I doubt they'd actually do it, but I'd love to see the Isles put Dal Colle on John Tavares' wing in training camp and just leave him there.
3. Josh Ho-Sang (C, Niagara/Windsor-OHL): Ho-Sang was dealt from Windsor to Niagara early in the season and he played well (62P in 49GP) for the IceDogs. He has always had a ton of offensively ability, but the dreaded "character issues" label has always followed Ho-Sang around. The Isles decided he was worth a late first round pick in the 2014 Entry Draft and if he can keep his head on straight, it's possible they got a steal. He's probably looking at one more year in juniors.
New York Rangers
1. Danny Kristo (RW, Hartford-AHL): It's the same story for Kristo. He has tons of offensive ability and brings little else to the table. His numbers (22G, 46P in 72GP) were very similar to last year. The Rangers dipped down into their farm system for a forward on numerous times this past season and it was never Kristo who got the recall. Team officials were just simply concerned that he wasn't ready defensively. That has been the concern for numerous seasons. Kristo is going to be a free agent this summer and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him playing in another organization next year. If he signs with a team that lacks offensive depth (i.e.: Buffalo, Carolina), there's a shot he could spend significant time in the NHL next season.
2. Brady Skjei (D, University of Minnesota-NCAA/Hartford-AHL): Skjei's entire game has continued to develop the past couple of seasons and even though he had just 10P in 33GP for the Gophers this past season, he has more offensive ability than that indicates. Skjei is a great skater and he signed with the Rangers once Minnesota's season ended. He has since joined Hartford (AHL) for their playoff run and he immediately became one of the team's top defensemen. The Rangers currently have their top-six defensemen signed for next season, so they can afford to give Skjei another year of development in the AHL.
3. Anthony Duclair (LW, New York-NHL, Quebec-QMJHL): As we all know, Duclair was dealt to Arizona in March in the deal that brought Keith Yandle to the New York. Duclair was a standout in training camp, made the Rangers, and dressed in 18 games before being loaned to Team Canada for the World Juniors. Duclair was brilliant in the tournament and then was shipped back to Quebec as soon as it ended. His numbers in the QMHJL were decent (15G, 34P in 26GP), but he was nowhere near the pace of last year. Arizona is counting on the combination of Duclair and Max Domi (who were dynamite together at the World Juniors) to be their top offensive pairing in the future.
1. Shayne Gostisbehere (D, Philadelphia-NHL, Lehigh Valley-AHL): It was a lost year for Gostisbehere, who tore his ACL in early November and never returned to action. He was limited to just seven games this season, two in the NHL and five in Lehigh Valley. His skating, puck moving and offensive abilities were on full display when he was in the lineup, but he barely dressed. Gostisbehere would have been a prime candidate to spend all of next season in the NHL if he hadn't missed so much action. As is, he's probably looking at another half season in the AHL before he gets the call.
2. Scott Laughton (LW, Philadelphia-NHL, Lehigh Valley-AHL): My opinion of Laughton has dropped over the past seven months. I never thought he would be a big scorer at the NHL level, but now I'm thinking he's looking at a career as strictly a depth player. If everything breaks right, he MAY be a third-liner who scores 10-12 goals a year. He can kill penalties, so he will always bring some value to a team, but I don't think he's a top prospect anymore.
3. Samuel Morin (D, Rimouski-QMJHL): Reports leaked that the Flyers planned to carry Morin on their roster to start this past season, although at the very last minute they changed their mind and shipped him back to Rimouski. Morin dressed for Team Canada at the World Juniors but he was the team's weakest defenseman and ended up getting less and less ice time as the tournament progressed. He's an absolutely gigantic kid (6-7, 225) and his offensive ability is greater than you'd think for a player his size. The Flyers defensive corps isn't exactly a picture of depth, so I wouldn't rule out Morin spending significant time in the NHL next season.
1. Derrick Pouliot (D, Pittsburgh-NHL/Wilkes-Barre/Scranton-AHL): Pouliot split the season between two levels and his puck moving ability was on full display no matter where he played. Pouliot's offensive ability is tough to find in a defenseman, especially one who is still on an entry-level contract. The biggest concern was that Pouliot was a minus-11 during his 34 games with the Pittsburgh. Then again, the Pens weren't the offensive juggernaut that they had been in past seasons. He suffered an upper-body injury in April and as a result, couldn't dress for the Penguins in the playoffs. Assuming he's healthy, Pouliot is a lock to make the Pens roster out of training camp next year.
2. Kasperi Kapanen (RW, KalPa-Finland/Wilkes-Barre/Scranton-AHL): The Pens gave Kapanen a look in training camp before deciding to send him back to Finland for another year. Kapanen played well (21P in 41GP) considering he was a 18-year-old playing against men and once KalPa's season came to an end, he joined Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for their playoff run. Kapanen's above-average offensive skills and smarts are an enticing combination. The Pens will do all they can to ensure that he plays next season in North America.
3. Scott Harrington (D, Pittsburgh-NHL/Wilkes-Barre/Scranton-AHL): Harrington finally made his NHL debut this past season (he played 10 games with the Pittsburgh), but the scouting report on him hasn't changed. He brings minimal offensive ability and is best suited as a third-pairing defenseman who can help out on the penalty kill. It's not a good sign for Harrington's future that Brian Dumoulin, Ian Cole and Taylor Chorney all performed so well when forced into action in the playoffs. Even if the Penguins buyout Rob Scuderi (which they're reportedly considering), Harrington may have a difficult time finding a full-time job at the NHL level next season.
1. Evgeny Kuznetsov (C, Washington-NHL): Kuznetsov played 80 of Washington's 82 games this past season, but he frequently played on the fourth line and received minimal ice time on many nights. Late in the season, he seemed to gain the confidence of coach Barry Trotz and started to prove what many of us already knew; that he is the Caps best offensive player not named Alex Ovechkin or Nicklas Backstrom. Kuznetsov's solid playoff showing may raise his profile before next season's fantasy drafts, but if the price remains reasonable enough, he's worth the plunge.
2. Andre Burakovsky (LW, Washington-NHL/Hershey-AHL): Despite the fact he spent the vast majority of the season with the Caps (53GP), Burakovsky was a healthy scratch on several occasions. It's never a good idea to scratch a 20-year-old kid with Burakovsky's offensive upside, but Trotz is known for being tough on young players at times. Burakovsky has the ability to be a major fantasy asset, but I'm skeptical that the Caps will give him the ice time he needs next season to take advantage of it.
3. Jakub Vrana (C, Linkopings-Sweden/Hershey-AHL): Vrana was the best player at Washington's rookie camp this past summer and considering he's just 19-years-old, he had an awfully impressive year (12G, 24P in 44GP) playing against men in Sweden. Vrana joined Hershey once his season in Sweden ended and he has looked impressive there as well. As long as Vrana has bulked up a bit and his defensively play is slightly improved, he's a sleeper to make the Caps out of training camp next year.