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Prospects Analysis: Central Division

Jon Litterine

Jon Litterine is RotoWire's lead MMA Writer and MMA Editor. He has covered numerous MMA events live. He's also RW's NHL Prospect Analyst. Jon has been writing for RotoWire since 2005. He is a graduate of U Mass-Lowell.

This is the third in a four-part series covering our the top-10 prospects of each individual team by division leading into the 2015-16 season. Now, onto the rankings.

(Notes: Overall ranking in parenthesis. Only players with less than 25 games played are included.)

Chicago Blackhawks

1. Nick Schmaltz - F (60)
2. Ville Pokka - D (65)
3. Ryan Hartman - F (71)
4. Mark McNeill - F (98)
5. Trevor van Riemsdyk - D
6. Artemi Panarin - F
7. Vince Hinostroza - F
8. John Hayden - F
9. Anthony Louis - F
10. Graham Knott - F

It is hard to believe that van Riemsdyk wasn't drafted. A serious knee injury limited his action this past season, but he showed enough that he should be considered a future NHL regular. The 23-year-old Panarin signed with Chicago this summer after putting up 26 goals and 62 points in 54 games for SKA St. Petersburg (KHL) last season. If he makes the team and is given a top-six role, he is going to have fantasy value this coming season. Hinostroza did what very few young players have been able to do, put up points at the University of Notre Dame. He signed with Chicago after this sophomore season ended and finished the year playing in the AHL. He will begin next season there. Hayden is a big, strong kid who has a developing offensive game. He got good experience playing for Team USA at the World Juniors and this coming year will be his third at Yale University. Louis is an Illinois native. He has been a very productive collegiate player, but he is ridiculously small, even with the new rules that have eliminated clutching and grabbing. The skills are there, but I'm not sure he is big enough to succeed. Knott has the frame to be an effective power forward at the NHL level. The 2015 second-round pick is a candidate to take a big step forward this year for Niagara (OHL).

Colorado Avalanche

1. Mikko Rantanen - F (37)
2. Chris Bigras - D (62)
3. J.T. Compher - F (95)
4. Calvin Pickard - G
5. Joey Hishon - F
6. A.J. Greer - F
7. Will Butcher - D
8. Conner Bleackley - F
9. Nicolas Meloche - D
10. Spencer Martin - G

Pickard played surprisingly well during a 16-game stint with Colorado this past year. His will begin this season in the AHL, but he should see some NHL duty during the year. He may be a long-term backup, but that is more than I expected of him at this time a year ago. Hishon has had his career derailed by concussions. He has real offensive ability, but his career is one huge hit away from being over. Greer put up just three goals and seven points in his freshman season at Boston University, but he was still a second-round pick this past June. He is a candidate to take a gigantic step forward this season. I thought he was one of the more underrated players in the draft. Butcher isn't very tall (5-10), but he is thick. He has played in two World Juniors for team USA and he is pretty good offensively. I wish he turned pro instead of going back to the University of Denver for his junior season. I thought Bleackley was a huge reach as the 23rd overall pick in 2014 and I stand by that. He may be a potential future captain for Colorado, but he looks me like a potential third or possible fourth-liner. Not what you want with a first round pick. Due to his size, skating ability and ability to chip in offensively, Meloche looks like a future NHL regular. He figures to be higher on this list at this time next year. Martin never really developed during his junior days. He will begin his first pro season in the AHL and he is basically just a lottery ticket at this point for Colorado.

Dallas Stars

1. Julius Honka - D (58)
2. Jason Dickinson - F (83)
3. Remi Elie - F (86)
4. Denis Guryanov - F
5. Brett Pollock - F
6. Devin Shore - F
7. Stephen Johns - D
8. Mattas Janmark - F
9. Jack Campbell - G
10. Gemel Smith - F

I knew Guryanov was one of the fastest rising players in this year's draft, but even I didn't expect him to go 12th overall. There is no doubt the size and skill are there, but I have zero idea when he plans to come to North America. His ceiling is extremely high, but he is a risk. Even though Edmonton (WHL) dropped off as a team, Pollock had his best junior season to date with 32 goals. He is only 19-years old and this will be his fourth full junior season. Shore had three productive seasons at the University of Maine and then signed with Dallas when his junior season ended. He finished the year playing in the AHL. He is gifted offensively, but he doesn't do much else to help his team win. Johns came over from Chicago in the Patrick Sharp trade. He is massive (6-4, 235 pounds) and he has good hands considering his size. He may never get his act together, but he is a potential second-pairing defenseman. He is the kind of player that more organizations should be taking a risk on. Janmark was dealt to Dallas in the deal that sent Erik Cole to Detroit. A smart player who has produced offensively in Sweden, outside of nine AHL game, Janmark has never played in North America. He is expected to play this season for Frolunda in Sweden. Campbell is one of the bigger draft busts of the last decade. The 11th overall pick in 2010, outside of 16 good AHL games in 2013-14, his pro numbers have been abysmal. He was so bad last year that he spent time in the ECHL. Smith scored ten goals in his first AHL season. He had a nice junior career, but he is probably a career minor-leaguer.

Minnesota Wild

1. Mike Reilly - D (35)
2. Alex Tuch - F (38)
3. Joel Eriksson-Ek - F
4. Mario Lucia - F
5. Jordan Greenway - F
6. Gustav Olofsson - D
7. Louis Belpedio - D
8. Kaapo Kahkonen - G
9. Dylan Labbe - D
10. Tyler Graovac - F

Eriksson-Ek was the 20th overall pick this past June. He is an all-around player who does everything well and nothing great. This coming season will be his fifth in the Farjestad (Sweden) system. Lucia has had a good college career at Notre Dame, but he has never taken that massive step forward that many expected. This will be his senior season in South Bend. Greenway is built like a truck and is still leaning how to use his size to his advantage. The 50th overall pick in this past June's draft will be a freshman at Boston University this fall. A serious shoulder injury limited Olofsson to exactly one AHL game last season. The Swede has spent the vast majority of his life playing in North America. While not dynamic, I think he is a future NHL regular if he can stay healthy. Belpedio is an undersized, offensive defenseman. He put up 19 points in 40 games in his freshman season at Miami (Ohio) and he is a prime candidate for this year's United States World Junior team. Kahkonen moves well and could be a potential steal as a fourth-round pick in 2014. He will remain in Finland this season. Labbe had a big offensive season for Shawinigan (QMJHL). He has size as well, so if he can carry over his offensive production to the AHL this coming season, he could be a quality regular. Graovac scored 21 AHL goals and got into three games with the Wild this past season. He is a big body and he makes for quality depth in the Minnesota system.

Nashville Predators

1. Kevin Fiala - F (19)
2. Jimmy Vesey - F (69)
3. Vladislav Kamenev - F (89)
4. Juuse Saros - G (91)
5. Pontus Aberg - F
6. Jack Dougherty - D
7. Steve Moses - F
8. Colton Sissons - F
9. Yakov Trenin - F
10. Austin Watson - F

Aberg's first season in North American was a success. He put up 34 points in 69 games and established himself as one of Nashville's better prospects. The small, speedy winger should make his NHL debut at some point this coming season. Dougherty played one season at the University of Wisconsin, signed with Nashville this summer and will play this season with Portland (WHL). His offensive upside is limited, but he is a smart player and he should make it as a depth defender. Moses had a nice career at the University of New Hampshire and has played the last three seasons in Europe. He put up 36 goals in 60 KHL games last season and Nashville signed him this summer. He is extremely undersized, but at 26-years old, the Preds are going to give him a chance to make an immediate impact. Sissons has produced in his two seasons in the AHL, but multiple players have passed the 2012 second-rounder on the depth chart. If he ever turns into an NHL regular, it was probably be as a fourth-liner. Trenin left Russia to play last season in the QMJHL. He ended up producing 67 points in 58 games for Gatineau. He is a candidate to take a major step forward this season. Watson scored 26 goals in the AHL last year, but the 2010 first round pick (18th overall) has already spent three full seasons in the minors. He's a big body who can help along the wall, but his future is as a role player.

St. Louis Blues

1. Robby Fabbri - F (20)
2. Ty Rattie - F (53)
3. Ivan Barbashev - F (59)
4. Jordan Schmaltz - D
5. Ville Husso - G
6. Jordan Binnington - G
7. Vince Dunn - D
8. Tommy Vannelli - D
9. Colton Parayko - D
10. Sam Kurker - F

Schmaltz signed with the Blues after three seasons at the University of North Dakota. He is a big, offensive defenseman and the former first round pick (2012) will begin next season in the AHL. Husso is one of the best goalies in the world that isn't currently playing in the NHL. He has totally dominated for HIFK in Finland over the last two seasons. The Blues need to get the 20-year-old goalie to North America ASAP. Binnington had a nice junior career and spent his first pro season in 2013-14 in the ECHL. Last year he moved up to the AHL and ended up with a 2.35 GAA and .916 save percentage. A team looking for goaltending depth should try and trade for him. He is probably ready to be a backup at the NHL level right now. I thought Dunn was one of the sleepers in this past June's draft. The Blues ended up nabbing him at 56th overall. If his defensive game continues to develop, he has a chance to be a power play quarterback in the NHL. Vannelli decided to play junior hockey in Medicine Hat (WHL) instead of going to college and he has spent the last two years with the Tigers. He is another offensive defenseman who needs more reps in his own end. He will play this season in the AHL. Parayko joined the Blues AHL affiliate late last season after three years at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. He is massive (6-5, 220) and he has good hands for a guy his size. He is an under-the-radar name to keep an eye on this year. Kurker spent two years at Boston University before deciding to transfer to Northeastern. He sat out this past season due to the NCAA's transfer rules and played in the USHL, where he was very productive. His will enter his junior season for the Huskies this fall as a 21-year-old.

Winnipeg Jets

1. Nikolaj Ehlers - F (3)
2. Josh Morrissey - D (17)
3. Connor Hellebuyck - G (25)
4. Kyle Connor - F (32)
5. Nicolas Petan - F (42)
6. Andrew Copp - F (92)
7. Eric Comrie - G
8. Chase De Leo - F
9. Joel Armia - F
10. Jansen Harkins - F

The only reason that Comrie is ranked so low is because Winnipeg has arguably the deepest system in the league. Comrie has played well everywhere he's been (WHL, AHL, Canadian World Junior team) and he will play his first full season in the AHL this fall. He certainly projects as an NHL starter in net. De Leo has scored 78 goals for Portland (WHL) over the last two seasons and he was on the United States World Junior team this past year. He is very small and needs to bulk up, but the offensive ability is there. He will turn pro this season. I am just about done with Armia, whom was the 16th overall pick in the 2011 draft by Buffalo. After coming to the Winnipeg organization in the Evander Kane deal, he responded with two goals in 21 games for St. John's (AHL). For a guy who relies on his offensive game to be successful, he is going backwards. Harkins is a hard worker who has enough offensive ability (mostly playmaking) to get by. The 2015 second round pick is probably an eventual third-liner who can help the team in numerous areas.