With the 2016-17 season fast approaching, this is the second of a two-part series that will coverage the top-100 prospects in the game heading into the year.
(Note: All players with 25 games or more of NHL regular season experience are not eligible for this list)
1. Auston Matthews, LW, Maple Leafs: While Matthews is one of the safest prospects in the entire league (I would be shocked if he was anything less than a productive second-line center), itís his scary ceiling that earns him the top spot. Matthews is big (6-foot-2, 215), moves well for a kid his size, and has great shot. †He has performed immensely well under pressure the past two years with the eyes of the entire hockey world on him. I donít have advocate many eighteen-year olds playing professionally in Europe instead of junior hockey in North America, but Matthews had nothing to gain by spending this season playing against overmatched kids and I think the decision to play in Zurich will benefit him in the long run. Expectations for Matthews are going to be through the roof because of the market that he is playing in, but he has the ability to live up to them. The Leafs will probably miss the playoffs again this season, although I doubt they will have problems scoring goals. Coach Mike Babcock may try to limit the burden on Matthews this coming season, but I expect him to be the Leafs number one center by the start of the 2017-18 season. His ceiling is a dominant, 35-40 goal-scoring, two-way center, who impacts the game at all levels.
2. Patrik Laine, RW, Jets: Laine doesnít have the all-around game that Matthews does, but he is one of the best pure snipers that I have seen since I started covering prospects for RW more than a decade ago. He has a bomb of a shot and he is deadly in open space, particularly from the top of the circles down. Laine also plays with a flair and edge that drives his opponents crazy. While not a pure power forward, Laine has the size (6-4, 205) to dominate play in the offensive zone. Laine isnít a great skater, but he is better with the puck than without it and he has a unique ability to find dead spots in coverage in the offensive zone. Laine was drafted to score goals. If he does that at the rate of 35-plus a season, no one in Winnipeg is going to care about anything else.
3. Mitch Marner, C, Maple Leafs: Marner was more than ready to play in the NHL last season, but since the Leafs knew they would be one of the worst teams in the league once again, they shipped him back to London (OHL) for one final season. He responded with 116 points in 57 games in leading the Knights to the Memorial Cup Championship. Marnerís biggest strength is his playmaking ability. He has elite vision, and his hockey sense is off the charts. We often see players who are talented but have little hockey sense or vice versa, Marner excels in both areas. It may take Marner some time to adapt to pro hockey because of his smaller frame, but he should be contributing in a big way for the Leafs by midseason.
4. Dylan Strome, C, Coyotes: Strome, like Marner, could have played in the NHL last season, but since he wasnít eligible to play in the AHL, the Coyotes loaned him to Erie (OHL) for one last year. Even without Connor McDavid flanking him, Strome finished with 111 points in 56 games. He has 240 points dating back to the start of the 2014-15 season. There is no doubt that Strome possess all the physical gifts to be a dominant offensive player at the NHL level, but there are inconsistencies in his game. They werenít exposed very often at the junior level, but he will have to clean up some areas of his game as a pro. While I seriously doubt he will turn into anything worse than a top-six forward, Strome remains a bit of a boom-or-bust prospect for a player who is ranked so highly.
5. Kyle Connor, C, Jets: Itís mind boggling to think that Connor lasted all the way to pick number seventeen in the 2015 Entry Draft. After ripping apart the USHL in his draft year, Connor followed that up with 35 goals and 71 points in 38 games this season for the Wolverines. It was one of the best freshman seasons in NCAA history. Connorís calling card is his speed. He flies around defenders, seemingly at will, and he has the hands to finish in close on a consistent basis. No prospect in the league has raised his stock more in the last twelve months. Connor signed his entry-level contract with Winnipeg shortly after Michiganís season ended and he seems likely to begin next season in the NHL.
6. Zach Werenski, D, Blue Jackets: Werenski posted a point-per-game (36P in 36GP) in his sophomore season at the University of Michigan, but it was his performance during the Calder Cup playoffs that was the highlight of his season. He posted five goals and 14 points in 19 playoff games in helping lead Lake Erie to the AHL Championship. Werenski is a terrific puck-mover, often making the most difficult passes seem routine. His smarts and vision allow him to quarterback a power play effectively and even though he isnít exactly rugged defensively, he has the size (6-2, 210) to be a force in his own end. Itís a remarkably attractive package. The Jackets have some talented young defensemen on their roster, but they are going to be forced to make room for Werenski this season.
7. Matt Murray, G, Penguins: I thought Murray showed more than enough in leading the Penguins to the Stanley Cup this past season that I would have taken the best offer presented for Marc-Andre Fleury and moved him. As things stand now, Murray and Fleury figure to split time until one of them (almost certainly Fleury), is either traded or injured. Murray showed his two biggest assets all playoff long: his size (6-4) and his positioning. Pittsburgh is paying Fleury nearly six million dollars this year so I have a difficult time believing that they are going to sit him for any real extended period of time, but I think Murray is the better goaltender of the two. Murray would be a top-five goaltender this year if I knew he was going to start 60-plus games. I imagine his GAA and save percentage will be somewhere in the 2.25 and .925 range, although how many wins he racks up is entirely dependent on how Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan decides to setup his goaltending rotation.
8. William Nylander, C, Maple Leafs: The Leafs have to be thrilled with Nylander's production this past season at both the AHL and NHL levels. He†racked up†45 points in 38 AHL games and then joined Toronto where he posted six goals and 13 points in 22 games. In between, Nylander suffered a concussion in the first game of the World Juniors that cost him the rest of the tournament, but he bounced back nicely and finished the season strong. Nylander is as slick as any prospect in the game with the puck on his stick and he's a very strong skater who possess elite offensive awareness. He can struggle defensively at times, but everyone is well aware that isn't the strength of his game. He's a lock to provide fantasy value this season if the Leafs give him a top-six role, but that's not a certainty at this point. What is certain is that he has nothing left to prove in the minors.
9. Ivan Provorov, D, Flyers: Provorov had a fantastic season. He was named CHL Defenseman of the Year and he led the WHL in plus/minus at plus-64. Still, he was noticeably exhausted by the time the Memorial Cup rolled around in late May. He may have made more poor decisions with the puck in the weeklong tournament than he did in the entire rest of the season combined. Provorov is a calming presence on the backend who rarely gets caught out of position. He doesnít have a huge shot, but he is an ideal power play quarterback because of his vision and his ability to get the puck to the net. I imagine he will have a decent amount of fantasy value this coming season. Other than Shayne Gostisbehere, the Flyers blueline isnít exactly full of standouts. Provorov could very well be a twenty-minute per-night guy immediately.
10. Matthew Tkachuk, LW, Flames: I thought the Flames pulled off quite a coup by selecting Tkachuk, who was the third-ranked player on my board, at number six overall this past June. Heís an agitating, highly skilled forward who is physically mature for his age and not too far from contributing at the NHL level. After posting 107 points in 57 games for London (OHL), he was even better in the playoffs racking up 20 goals and 40 points in 20 games including the overtime win in the Memorial Cup Championship against against Rouyn-Noranda. Tkachuk has already signed his entry-level deal with Calgary, so I would imagine that they are going to give him a real opportunity to make the team this season, but I would send him back to London for one more year. The Knights are going to lose both of Tkachukís linemates (Christian Dvorak and Mitch Marner) to the professional ranks this season, but London is scheduled to host the Memorial Cup next year and I think it would be good for Tkachukís development to be the main offensive threat on one of the best teams in the CHL.
11. Mathew Barzal, C, Islanders: It's scary to think that the Isles were able to snag the pick they used to obtain Barzal in exchange for a fringe NHL defenseman in Griffin Reinhart. The consummate playmaker, Barzal posted 88 points (61 assists) in 58 games for Seattle (WHL) this past year. Barzal spent most of the year playing on a line with Rangers top prospect Ryan Gropp, but the truth of the matter is that the talented center makes everyone around him better. Barzal isn't big (he's listed at 6-0, 185) yet he moves so well and his hockey sense is so†strong that he rarely†gets hit, and he has no problem producing scoring chances against quality defenders. He is a smart enough hockey player that I imagine he could help the Isles this season if they wanted to be push him aggressively, but my guess is that he is one year away from full-time NHL duty.
12. Pavel Buchnevich, LW, Rangers: The Rangers can do all they want to try to limit the expectations for Buchnevich this coming season, but the fact of the matter is that itís not going to work. Hampered by the contracts of Dan Girardi and Marc Staal, the Rangers were unable to add any notable talent this offseason. The end result is Buchnevich being forced into playing a major role right from the get go. The scary thing is that he may very well be ready for it after playing the last three seasons in the KHL. The Russian is rail thin (he looks to be about 120 pounds soaking wet), but he has terrific vision and heís a well above-average skater. He may struggle defensively early on his NHL career, but I am 100% confident that he can help the Rangers offense, especially the power play, immediately. He would have to fall flat on his face not to earn a significant role right out of training camp. He is the best prospect the Rangers have had since the tragic death of Alexei Cherepanov in 2008. ††
13. Christian Dvorak, LW, Coyotes: The development of Dvorak over the last two seasons has been nothing short of extraordinary. The Coyotes were universally panned when they spent the 58th overall pick in the 2014 Entry Draft on Dvorak just months after he posted 14 points in 33 games in his first OHL season. Since then, Dvorak has 93 goals and 230 points in 125 OHL games and he has turned himself into one of the best prospects in the league. Most scouts likely wouldnít consider Dvorak to have one elite skill, but he has above-average ability in every single facet of the game. Dvorak had great chemistry with Mitch Marner during their time together in London, so it will be interesting to see how he looks this year as a pro without Marner on his wing, but I think he just has way too much ability to not turn into an impact player as a professional. He may begin next year in the AHL, but his debut with Arizona will almost certainly come at some point during the upcoming season.
14. Jesse Puljujarvi, RW, Oilers: Everyone in Edmonton thought the sky was falling when they failed to win the Draft Lottery this season, yet they still managed to walk away with a top-flight prospect in Puljujarvi at number-four overall. Fourth is exactly where I had the Finn ranked in this past June's draft class, but nearly everyone else had him as the third-best prospect, so the Oilers appear to have gotten a potential steal here. I have doubts about how skilled Puljujarvi truly is, but there is little doubt that he has the size (6-4, 205) and work ethic to impact a game in numerous ways. At the very least I think he is a 20-goal scoring third-liner, but I need to see more before I comfortably project him in a top-six role. The fact he is ranked so high speaks to how well rounded his game is at age-18. He should spend the entirety of this season in Edmonton.
15. Jakub Vrana, RW, Capitals: Vrana was an elite performer for Hershey (AHL) when healthy, but wrist surgery cost him nearly three months worth of action. When all was said and done, he finished with 16 goals and 34 points in 36 games, both†of which are stellar numbers for a kid who turned 20 in February and was playing his first full season in North America. Vrana's offensive game doesn't have one single weakness: he's a strong skater, has a cannon of a shot, and he's equally adapt at setting up his teammates as he is at finishing himself. Washington has no fewer than 14 forwards who are expected to crack their roster out of training camp, so unless they plan to give him limited ice time, which I highly doubt, I don't see how Vrana can open the season in the NHL.
16. Mikko Rantanen, RW, Avalanche: One of the most NHL-ready players in last year's draft, Rantanen began the season in Colorado and looked overwhelmed in a brief nine-game stint. He posted zero points and was promptly shipped off to AHL San Antonio where spent the rest of the season, and dominated. Rantanen scored 24 goals and added 36 assists for 60 points in just 52 games. He also captained Finland to the Gold Medal at the World Juniors. Rantanen is a gifted offensive player who is a very good passer and is very adapt at finishing, particularly around the front of the net. Despite his poor showing in Colorado last year, he played so well in the AHL that his stock hasn't dropped one bit in my opinion. He could stand to use his 6-4, 215-pound frame to his advantage a bit more often, but that's really my only complaint regarding Rantanen. Colorado is going to need him to play a significant role this coming year.
17. Brock Boeser, RW, Canucks: Boeser's first collegiate season at the University of North Dakota could not gone any better. He tallied 27 goals and 60 points in 47 games to help lead the NoDak to the National Championship. Vancouver did all they could to convince Boeser to leave school, but he ultimately decided to return to campus for his sophomore year. Boeser has shown a constant ability to finish plays and his playmaking ability has long been underrated. Another season of collegiate hockey should help Boeser improve defensively, but he ultimately had little to gain by returning to school for one more year. Barring a catastrophic injury or some freak occurrence, I don't think there's anywhere Boeser is playing a third year at NoDak.
18. Shea Theodore, D, Ducks: Theodore spent most of last year in the AHL, although he did post eight points in his 19 games with Anaheim. It was Theodore's first full pro season, but he plays like a ten-year veteran. Theodore is mobile, has good vision and a strong, accurate shot, which makes him an ideal power-play quarterback. Theodore is going to play in the NHL this year, that much I am sure of; the question is how much responsibility will he be given on a nightly basis? If the Ducks want to move either Hampus Lindholm or Cam Fowler in exchange for a goal-scorer, I think Theodore can match their production for about a fifth of the price.
19. Anthony Mantha, LW, Red Wings: Mantha's second AHL was considerably better than his first, although he's still well behind the curve in terms of where I expected him to be by now. He had a nice season for Grand Rapids, posting 21 goals and 45 points in 60 games. He also got into 10 games with Detroit where he tallied two goals and a helper. The scouting report on Mantha hasn't changed at all: great size (6-5, 215), a rocket of a shot, and elite speed for such a big kid. The issue all along has been consistency. And while Mantha has improved in that area, he can still do a bit better. Mantha's ceiling is amongst the highest of any prospect in the game. He has the tools to be a perennial 35-40 goal-scorer.†I'm†not giving up on†a 22-year-old†(in September) kid who can physically dominate a†game the way Mantha can, but†he needs to take†another significant step forward this coming season.
20. Ilya Samsonov, G, Capitals: Samsonov spent this season serving as the backup to Vasily Koshechkin for Magnitogorsk of the KHL,†getting into 19 games and†posting an impressive 2.04 GAA and .925 save percentage in the second-best†league in the world. It may seem like a small amount of playing time, but it's considerably more starts than the average 19-year-old keeper in the KHL receives. Braden Holtby won the Vezina Trophy this past season, so it's not like the Caps needs to rush Samsonov's development. He will return Magnitogorsk this season, again as the likely backup to Koshechkin. Matt Murray is going to graduate from the rankings early this year, so Samsonov figures to be the top-ranked goaltender on this list entering the†2017-18 season. †
21. Clayton Keller, C, Coyotes: Keller has as much, if not more, pure offensive ability than any player taken in the past June's draft, Matthews included. He posted 107 points, including a whopping 70 assists, in just 62 games with the USA U18 team. The only concern surrounding Keller is his lack of size. He's listed at 5-10, 165. I doubt he's that tall and I wouldn't be surprised if he isn't that heavy. Hockey†East certainly isn't the NHL, but I'm immensely intrigued to see how Keller fares at Boston University this coming season because he has the physical gifts to tear college hockey apart.
22. Travis Konecny, C, Flyers: My biggest concern about Konecny has always surrounded the numerous concussions that he has suffered in the past. He seems destined to have a long, productive NHL career if he is able to stay healthy, but he battled a shoulder injury late in the year that thankfully did not require surgery. He works his tail off and he is fearless on the forecheck, which is both a good and bad thing for a kid with a long history of injuries. The most impressive part of Konecnyís play this past season was his improved playmaking ability. One season after posing 39 assists, he upped that total to 71 assists in 2015-16. He has always had the talent, but it just never translated into bigger numbers until this season when he was dealt from Ottawa to Sarnia. The Flyers top two-lines are chock full of talent, but their third and fourth lines are brutal. They would be wise to see if Konecny can fill their third-line center role to begin the season.
23. Sebastian Aho, LW, Hurricanes: Playing on a line with top draft-eligible prospects Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi, Aho was unstoppable (14 points in seven games) in Finlandís run to the Gold Medal at the World Juniors. Aho finished second in Finnish League MVP voting as an 18-year-old after posting 20 goals and 45 points in 45 games for Karpat. He led the league with a plus-26 rating and he took just one minor penalty all season long. Aho is about as smart of a hockey player as you will ever see for such a young kid and his ability to play both center and wing should be a big plus for Carolina moving forward. He figures to begin this season playing on the third-line for the Hurricanes, but there is potential for much more moving forward. His hockey IQ is so high that I would be shocked if Aho had any issues adjusting to the North American-style of play.
24. Alexander Nylander, RW, Sabres: Buffalo's forward core is both young and talented, so I thought the selection of a high-floor prospect like Nylander made perfect sense. If everything breaks correctly I suppose it's possible that Nylander could develop into a first-liner, but†at the very least, he†should fit in perfectly as a number-two†option†who puts up 60-65 points per season. His offensive-zone positioning is exceptional, and he has a unique ability to excel playing alongside all different types of players. As I've mentioned before, he's not as dynamic as his brother William, but I think he is going to be a more thorough professional.
25. Timo Meier, LW, Sharks: It was a relatively productive QMJHL season for Meier as his production†(34 goals, 87 points in 52 games) remained steady and he helped lead Rouyn-Noranda to the QMJHL Championship after coming over in a midseason trade from Halifax. Meier, who is a very strong kid, has been ready to play in the NHL from a physical standpoint for the last two years. He has an accurate shot, he constantly wins battles along the walls and he excels at opening up space for his teammates in the offensive zone. And unlike many top prospects, Meier is responsible enough defensively to start his career in a checking-line role before moving up the depth chart as the season goes along. The Sharks are deep enough up front that Meier seems certain to begin this coming season in the AHL, but he should make his NHL debut at some point in 2016-17.
26. Mikhail Sergachev, D, Canadiens: Montreal's decision to move P.K. Subban for Shea Weber made little sense to me, but I thought they nailed the ninth-overall pick in the past June's draft by taking Sergachev. His combination of size (6-2, 220), skill, mobility and grit, made him the top-ranked defenseman on my board. I see a guy who has the smarts and offensive ability to score ten-plus goals a season and rack up a boatload of assists while helping the Habs in every situation. He is talented enough to improve on the terrific numbers (17 goals, 57 points) that he posted for Windsor (OHL) last year. Sergachev has already signed his entry-level contract with Montreal and although he turned 18-years of age just days before the draft, I am completely confident that this will be his last season of junior hockey.
27. Pierre-Luc Dubois, LW, Blue Jackets: No one is disputing the fact that Dubois had a brilliant season for Cape Breton (QMJHL). He had†42†goals and 99 points in 62 games and added 112 penalty minutes for good measure. As dominant as†Dubois was, this is a guy who had 10 goals and 45 points just a year ago. Don't get me wrong, I think he's far closer to the player we saw this year than the guy we saw last year, but there were still quite a few players that I would have taken ahead of Dubois at number-three overall. His calling card is his ability to dominate at both ends of the rink. He's a goal-scorer, he plays physically, he can kill penalties, and most importantly, he makes everyone around him better. It's an attractive combination, and while it wasn't the move that I would have made, I can understand what the Jackets were thinking when they made the pick. He should be ready to play in Columbus after one final season in the QMJHL.
28. Anthony DeAngelo, D, Coyotes: For the sake of Lightning GM Steve Yzerman, I certainly hope there was some underlying reason that we don't know about that led him to trade†DeAngelo for the 37th-overall pick in this past June's draft. DeAngelo has been dogged by attitude concerns in the past, but there was no report of any incidents this past†year and he certainly†played well†(43 points in 69 games) in his first professional season in the AHL. DeAngelo's defensive game remains a work in progress. He's made some small, steady improvements, but it will never be a strength of his. DeAngelo may be limited in terms of how much he can play at even strength for his entire career, but he's so good offensively and such an asset on the power play that there's no way in heck he should have ever been moved for a second-round pick. I imagine he starts next season in the AHL, but he should see a decent amount of time with the big club.
29. Thatcher Demko, G, Canucks: Demko was a stud throughout his first two seasons at Boston College, but this past year he raised his game to an entirely new level. He finished with a 27-8-4 record and posted a 1.88 GAA and .935 save percentage. Truly laughable numbers in the always-competitive Hockey East. Demko is a huge (6-4, 195) goaltender who plays a conservative style that allows him to use his size and positioning to his advantage. He rarely gets rattled and if he gives up a bad goal he almost never lets it impact his play moving forward. Ryan Miller is locked into the starting job in Vancouver with Jacob Markstrom as his backup, but if Demko and Miller were given an equal amount of playing time, I think the kid would easily outplay the veteran. Demko is going to begin the year in the AHL, but I think the odds are about 50/50 that he spends a decent portion of the year in Vancouver.
30. Nick Schmaltz, RW, Blackhawks: It was a terrific season for Schmaltz on multiple fronts - he had 46 points in 37 games for the University of North Dakota in helping them win a National Championship, he played very well for Team USA at the World Juniors, and most importantly, he started to trust his teammates more and become more responsible defensively. Schmaltz is an elite stickhandler and a terrific passer, although the later was never displayed as often as it should have been because he frequently tried to do too much by himself in his freshman season. Schmaltz finished this past season with a plus-44 rating, further evidence of his improved dedication to the defensive aspect of the game. I was pleasantly surprised by his decision to sign with Chicago and forgo his final two seasons of college eligibility. I can see Schmaltz needing a full season in the AHL to adjust to playing against bigger, more talented defenders, but his skill level is undeniable.
31. Oliver Bjorkstrand, RW, Blue Jackets: Bjorkstrand's numbers this past season in the AHL (17 goals, 29 points in 51 games) aren't all that impressive, but he posted four goals and eight points in 12 games with the Jackets and then he finished the season by scoring 10 goals in 17 playoffs games to help lead Lake Erie to the Calder Cup Championship. Bjorkstrand excels in finding dead spots in coverage in the offensive zone and he has a wicked release on his wrist shot. I have always viewed him as a player who would†need to play in a top-six role in order to be an effective NHL player and I'm more confident than ever that he will be able to fill such a role.
32. Pavel Zacha, C, Devils: Despite rumors to the contrary, the Devils wisely decided to have Zacha play one final season in the OHL and his production increased considerably (28 goals, 64 points in 51 games). He posted 13 points in seven playoff games for Sarnia and he joined the Devils for their regular season finale against Toronto where he tallied a pair of assists. A very strong kid with good hands and quick shot, Zacha can play multiple positions, although I have always been of the mind that his game is better suited for the wing. Zacha wouldnít be described as a physical player, yet his uses his 6-3, 215-pound frame when necessary in the offensive zone. If the Devils can get him to play physically on a more consistent basis, he has the talent to be a top-six forward who can beat you in a multitude of ways. The addition of Taylor Hall was a brilliant move, but New Jersey needs more difference-makers up front. Zacha has that potential and I would wager that he will spend either the entirety, or the vast majority, of this season playing in the NHL.
33. Michael Dal Colle, LW, Islanders: No one was higher on Dal Colle than I was entering the season, but boy did he get off to a brutal start. He scored just eight goals in 30 games for Oshawa (OHL) before a midseason trade to Kingston. With a boatload of better players around him, Dal Colle got back to his old ways, posting 27 goals in 30 games for the Frontenacs. He finished the season for the Islanders AHL affiliate in Bridgeport where he made no impact in three regular season games and three playoff games. A year ago at this time I would have advocated giving Dal Colle a try on John Tavaresí left wing in training camp, but I donít see how the Isles can do that now. No player of Dal Colleís skill level should be as inconsistent of a performer as he was this past season. He has the highest ceiling of any skater in the Islanders system by far, but he is looking at an extended run in the AHL to begin the season.
34. Colin White, C, Senators: Whiteís freshman season at Boston College got off to a terrific start and while his production dried up a bit following the World Juniors (where he was arguably Team USAís best player), his final numbers of 19 goals and 43 points in 37 games were far better than what I would have projected for him at the start of the year. White is responsible defensively and a hard worker, but he has more skill than I originally gave him credit for. He has only average size (6-0, 185), but he plays bigger than what he is listed at. After just one season of collegiate hockey, White appears to be on track to eventually turn into a do-it-all top-six forward for the Sens. I imagine that he will turn pro after this coming season.
35. Olli Juolevi, D, Canucks: It was a golden year for Juolevi, who won both the Memorial Cup Championship with London (OHL) and a Gold Medal with Finland at the World Juniors. Juolevi makes the game look simple, which is undoubtedly one of the things that the Canucks fell in love with which led to them selecting him with the fifth-overall pick in this past Juneís draft. Juolevi was Londonís best defenseman all season long and he had zero problems adjusting to the smaller ice surface in his first year in North America. His final numbers in the OHL this past season (nine goals, 33 assists for 42 points) is in line with what I expect from him on a yearly basis when he becomes an NHL regular. I donít see a ton of upside here, but I would be shocked if Juolevi didnít have a quiet, effective NHL career. I donít think heís a top-two defenseman, but he certainly has the look of a second-pairing guy who can help on the power play. He isnít physical despite being a big kid (6-3, 180), but his defensive positioning is almost always on point and he rarely makes any bone-headed plays with the puck.
36. Jimmy Vesey, LW, Rangers: Our regular readers know that I was very high on Vesey well before #VeseyWatch took over the hockey world this summer. His decision to sign with the Rangers made perfect sense on numerous levels: he is extremely close friends with Kevin Hayes, he gets to play a significant role immediately on a competitive team, and he is close to his home in the Boston area. Rangers coach Alain Vigneault is notorious for dividing ice time evenly amongst his top-nine forwards, so Vesey is a virtual lock to get 13-plus minutes nightly from the start. A highly intelligent player who has terrific vision and hockey sense, Vesey has the potential to develop into productive second-line winger. At the very least, the Rangers have gotten an above average third-liner on an entry-level contract. That alone makes all the fuss worth it.
37. Brayden Point, C, Lightning: Point was the best player in the WHL over the first two months of the season before he suffered a shoulder injury that cost him a considerable amount of time and ultimately limited his effectiveness for Team Canada at the World Juniors. His final numbers were exceptional (35 goals, 88 points, plus-24 rating in 48 games) and he would have blown past the 100-point mark had he not been injured. A playmaker who busts his tail every single shift, Pointís lack of size (5-11, 165) is the biggest concern surrounding his game at this point. He has more than enough skill to eventually play a top-six role for Tampa, yet you have to wonder if Point can continue to play his trademark aggressive style and manage to stay off the IR at the same time.
38. Travis Sanheim, D, Flyers: It was another inconsistent season for Sanheim. He played very well during the 52 games he was able to dress for Calgary (WHL), posting 15 goals and 68 points, but he was an afterthought for Team Canada at the World Juniors and he missed substantial time during the season due to injury. At his best, Sanheim is a dynamic defenseman who has the ability to dominate a game offensively. He is a terrific athlete and has a very long reach that he uses to his advantage. Sanheimís long term upside is through the roof, but he was viewed as project when the Flyers 17th overall in 2014. Nothing has changed in regards to Sanheimís ceiling, but I think itís going to take him a while longer to reach it. He may very well by looking at an entire season in the AHL, which isnít the worst thing in the world for a 20-year-old kid.
39. Evgeni Svechnikov, LW, Red Wings: Svechnikovís numbers this past season for QMJHL Cape Breton (32 goals, 79 points in 50 games) were nearly identical to two years ago, although his dreadful performance for Russia at the World Juniors in which he didnít record a point in seven games was probably the highlight (or lowlight) of his season. Your typical big-bodied, power forward, Svechnikov has very good hands and a big shot, yet he offers little from a defensive point of view and he has had consistency issues in the past. The overall package is similar to fellow Wings prospect Anthony Mantha, although Mantha is a better skater and is a bit bigger. Theoretically, Svechnikov should be just about ready to help Detroit in some capacity.
40. Tyson Jost, C, Avalanche: A season in which he posted 42 goals and 104 points in 48 games for Penticton led to Jost being named the BCHL MVP, and while there is no doubt that he didnít face the quality of competition this past season that many first-round picks did, Jost has more than enough ability to make an immediate impact when he heads to the University of North Dakota this coming fall. Jostís ability to make plays at high speed is his calling card. He thinks the game extremely well and he figures to put up big possession numbers as a pro, for all those who are into the analytics.
41. Brady Skjei, D, Rangers: Injuries and ineffectiveness forced Skjei into playing major minutes for the Rangers late into the season and into the playoffs and for the most part, I thought he handled the promotion very well. Skjei is built like a rock, and he is an effortless skater for a kid who is 6-3, 215. Heís not a true offensive defenseman, but he has an underrated shot and he jumps into the play effectively when the opportunity presents itself. The Rangers are stuck with Dan Girardi and Marc Staal for now, but coach Alain Vigneault canít continue to ride them both into the ground. If Skjei isnít ready to play top-four minutes immediately, the Rangers are going to have a hard time making the playoffs. He is one of the few young assets on the roster.
42. Michael McLeod (F-NJ): Taking into account his talent level and the quality of his linemates, McLeod had a pretty average year (21 goals, 61 points in 57 games) for Mississauga (OHL). McLeod is a big body (6-2, 190) and has terrific speed, so thereís no reason that he shouldnít be dominating against fellow kids in junior hockey. Right-handed shooting centers who have the all-around offensive game of McLeod are virtually impossible to find, so I certainly understand why the Devils made him the 12th overall pick in the 2016 draft, but he needs to produce more in the OHL next season.
43. Anthony Beauvillier, LW, Islanders: A very strong skater who is a brilliant puck-handler and has great offensive awareness, Beauvillier has done all that the Islanders could have possibly asked after they traded up to make him the 28th overall pick in the 2015 draft. He can do a countless number of things to impact a game offensively, although he needs to add another 15-20 pounds of muscle to his frame in order to be able to physically compete against NHL defensemen. And while he certainly wouldnít be termed a defensive asset, Beauvillier is a hard-worker who has the speed to recover should he be caught out of position. He should get lots of playing time in the preseason before heading back to the QMJHL for one last year.
44. Alex Tuch, RW, Wild: A power forward in the truest sense, Tuch uses his size (6-4, 220) and above-average skating ability to wreck havoc on the forecheck and outmuscle opposing defenders in front of the net. He showed flashes of dominance, but his sophomore season at Boston College was no better than mediocre (18 goals, 34 points in 40 games), yet the Wild saw enough to sign Tuch to an entry-level contract in April. Tuch was involved in numerous trade rumors this offseason, but Minnesota ultimately decided to hang onto him. Tuchís style of play is better suited to the pros than college, so I wouldnít be surprised if he took a major step forward in his first AHL season. He is too big and too talented to be playing so inconsistently.
45. Ryan Pulock, D, Islanders: The Islanders were clearly a better team with Pulock in the lineup last year, but that didnít stop coach Jack Capuano from benching him on a regular basis in favors of studs such as Brian Strait, Marek Zidlicky and Scott Mayfield. Pulock doesnít have great mobility, but he has a howitzer from a point and he should be playing on the Islesí first power-play unit. He is a smart, physical defender in his own zone when he doesnít get caught out of position, but his reads could still stand to improve a bit. In an ideal world Pulock should be taking playing time from Johnny Boychuk, especially with the man-advantage, but I have no faith in Capuano to realize that. Even if his even-strength ice time is somewhat limited, Pulock can still help the Islanders this year.
46. Jakob Chychrun, D, Coyotes: Arizona thought highly enough of Chychrun that they agreed to take on all of Pavel Datsyukís $7.5 million salaryfor this coming season in order to move up four spots to select him. Having entered this year at the consensus top defenseman available and a possible top-three pick, Chychrun had a maddingly inconsistent season and ended up being the fifth defender selected this past June at 16th overall. At his best, Chychrun has the ability to dominate in every single aspect of the game. Heís strong as an ox, can skate like the wind, and he has good vision and a big shot. But heís more potential than performance at this point. Any defenseman with the physical gifts of Chychrun should be dominating junior hockey against other kids. There doesnít seem to be much middle ground in regards to the kind of player that Chychrun will eventually become. I expect him to either develop into a top-flight defenseman (Iím talking a perennial all-star), or be a complete bust.
47. Sonny Milano, LW, Blue Jackets: Milano made his NHL debut and won a Calder Cup Championship with Lake Erie (AHL) this past season, but that didnít stop Columbus from reportedly moving him at the draft in June before the trade fell through. Milano, an elite offensive talent, has never used his teammates enough and although he has made minor strides in that area, he still isnít where he needs to be. He is stronger on the puck than he gets credit for, but he offers little defensively and thereís no room for an individualist in an NHL lineup, no matter how talented he is. Milano is young, talented, and cheap, so he must have considerable trade value and Iím starting to believe that a move out of Columbus would be the best thing for his career.
48. Josh Ho-Sang, RW, Islanders: Having played four full seasons of junior hockey, Ho-Sang is on the verge of helping the Islanders in some capacity if he can manage to stay out of the organizationís doghouse. He overslept on the first day of training camp last season and was immediately shipped back to Niagara (OHL) without getting any preseason action. It was a gross overreaction from the team, although Ho-Sang has had maturity issues in the past. On the ice, Ho-Sangís stickhandling and vision stand out. He has the ability to make seemingly impossible passes appear routine. He has always been a better playmaker than finisher, which allows him to mesh seamlessly with all different types of linemates. Ho-Sang is near zero defensively, so he would be all but useless in a checking role, but even the Islanders often-clueless management must realize that. His NHL debut should come at some point this upcoming season.
49. Vladislav Kamenev, LW, Predators: Kamenevís first season in North America was a success, even if his numbers in the AHL (15 goals, 37 points in 57 games) donít blow you away. Like many young Russian forwards his defensive game needs work, but he has good size (6-2, 185), fast hands, and a laser-quick release on his wrister. Kamenev would have gone considerably higher than 42nd overall in the 2014 draft if teamís knew that he would only be spending one more season in Russia. Kamenev just needs more reps and experience at this point. At age-20, he may be ready for full-time NHL duty after another half season in the minors.
50. Jake Bean, D, Hurricanes: Bean was drafted about where I expected this past June (13th overall), although Carolina, who is loaded with young defensemen, seems to be an odd fit for the offensive-minded rearguard. I have said on numerous occasions that Bean reminds me of a left-handed shooting Ryan Ellis: a guy who smarts and skill level allow him to make the game look easy. Bean is weak from a physical perspective, but he makes smart decisions with the puck which allows him to defend from a position of strength most of the time. Bean had a ridiculous 24 goals and 64 points for Calgary (WHL) last season and while those numbers arenít going to be obtainable at the NHL level, he has the ability to post 12-plus goals and 40-plus points as a pro. Carolina has zero incentive to rush Bean, but I donít think he has much to learn playing junior hockey. He needs to work on his defensive zone play against professionals.