Welcome to the 2016 edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. As we go through the Summer of 2016 I will be featuring a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. I will follow the order of the first round of the NHL draft (as if there were no trades). You can find all the articles here. Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, I will not be reviewing the players who were drafted this year. There have been no games since then, and my reports on them will not have changed.
What I will be doing is linking you to those articles, as well as taking a look at prospects that were acquired before this year’s draft; their progress, and their chances of making the 2016-17 roster. I will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later; or an undrafted free agent signing who I pick as my darkhorse to make the NHL. The cut-off for what is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 50 NHL games played or being 25 years old. These are not hard or fast rules though, and I may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
Ranking The Top NHL Affiliated Prospects: Part 2 (75-51)
With all thirty NHL teams reviewed its time to wrap up the series. In order to do this we will be releasing a number of wrap up pieces this week. Stay tuned for our organizational rankings, looking at the deepest and best prospect systems in the NHL, as well as our top 10 Calder Contenders. How are the Calder contenders different from the top prospects you ask? Well, our top 30 prospects are who we are picking to have the best careers, a Calder contender will be a prediction of who is going to have the best rookie season. NHL readiness, the situation inherited (linemates and opportunities) and the fact that the Calder is typically a very difficult award for a defenceman to win in recent years all play into this.
As for today, we bring you our selection for top NHL Prospects. Note that by clicking on the player name you will get a full report.
Walman is an absolute elite skater, and may be the best skating defenceman in the NCAA. He has elite speed in both directions. His first step is quick and a smooth, almost effortless stride leads to outstanding acceleration. His edge work, pivots, cross-overs, and agility are all extremely good. He has the type of lateral agility that allows him to quickly walk the line and open up passing and shooting lanes. In his own zone he rolls off checks and opens up space to clear the puck. This skating ability makes him extremely difficult to beat one-on-one, and able to join, or lead the rush while still recovering defensively and hardly ever getting caught with the level of opposition he faces.
After an outstanding 2014-15 season that saw him play for Team USA at the World Championships, Hellebuyck might have had an even better 2015-16. He earned time with the bigh club, getting in 26 games with a 2.35 goals against average and .918 save percentage.At 6’4″ Hellebuyck takes up a ton of net, and is an imposing target for shooters. He gets out quick on his angles and is excellent positionally to take away as much net as possible. Hellebuyck has quick legs and uses his frame to cover a ton of net when he’s down in his butterfly. He also has a good glove to take away the top half of the net.
Anthony DeAngelo is a star offensively from the blue line. He has good skating and puck handling skills and can lead the rush or join as a trailer. He is a natural power play quarterback who shows poise with the puck and excellent passing skills. DeAngelo has patience to wait for the right play, and can use good lateral agility and mobility to walk the line and open up lanes. He often pinches into the slot in order to get into a better position to shoot. He can sometimes get caught doing it too often and this hurts his defensive game.
The strength of Dante Fabbro’s game comes from his silky smooth skating stride. He has a great agility, and an excellent first step, allowing him to pounce on loose pucks quickly. Fabbro has good speed and acceleration in both directions, and covers a ton of ground in just a few seconds. He has good edgework and pivots, allowing him to transition quickly from offense to defense, and vice-versa. Fabbro is a two-way defender who does everything well. As he hasn’t faced the best of competition, he will needs some time in the NCAA to get used to a faster paced game, and to bulk up.
At just 6’0:, Alex Nedeljkovic is average size for the types of goalies NHL teams seem to be drafting now. He makes up for it with quick reflexes. He is especially strong in the lower half of the net. His butterfly style is complemented by extremely quick legs that take away most low shots. Nedeljkovic has excellent leg strength. His strong push helps him him to go side-to-side very quickly, and he tracks the puck extremely well. This allows him to close down quickly and effectively on cross ice passes. His rebound control is surprisingly well-developed for a junior goalie.
Morrissey had a solid first AHL season, after turning pro last summer. He scored three goals and 19 assists in 22 games for the Manitoba Moose. The 20-year-old defender seemed to get better and better as the season went on. He even earned a call-up, playing his first NHL game. The key to Morrissey’s games is his outstanding skating ability. He is amongst the best skating defence prospects. His stride is fluid, and he has excellent top end speed both backwards and forward. His first step is quick, and he accelerates well reaching that top speed in just a few strides. Morrissey’s agility, edge work, and pivots are very strong and fluid, giving him excellent mobility, and allowing him to cover a lot of ice.
Larsson is not flashy, but he has solid all-around skill. His wrist shot and slap shot are good, but not bombs. He is extremely smart though, and makes sure to get it on net, and keep it low for rebounds and tip-ins. He shows good poise with the puck on his stick and makes smart plays. Larsson’s vision and passing skill are excellent. He makes a great first pass out of his zone, and can make the long stretch pass if a forward is open. Larsson’s defensive game is his real strength. He is gritty and willing to battle in front of the net and in the corners, but is not one to throw big hits. He could use an increase in upper body strength to play at the next level though. Larsson reads the play well and has very good positioning.
Ho-Sang is immensely skilled. He is a lightning fast skater with incredible agility and edgework. Ho-Sang has a great first step and outstanding acceleration as well. This helps him to get to loose pucks and dart through openings in the offensive zone. He could stand to use this great speed more, taking defenders wide and cutting to the net more often would add another aspect to his game off the rush. Ho-Sang also has quick, soft hands, and incredible puck control. When he’s on his game, he is a joy to watch as he can do things with the puck that other players only dream of.
Schmaltz had an excellent career at the University of North Dakota. After three seasons, he signed his entry level contract with the Blues. Schmaltz had a strong rookie season with the Wolves, scoring six goals and 36 points. Schmaltz is yet another offensively talented defence prospect. His passing is superb, especially in the offensive zone. He makes crisp, hard tape-to-tape spaces, and is able to thread the needle through some tight passing lanes. Schmaltz really excels setting up his teammates on the power play. His shot is not the hardest, however Schmaltz is really good at is keeping it low, accurate and on net even with heavy traffic.
A big winger who plays a power forward’s game, Jones gets in quickly and throws hits on the forecheck. He is more than willing to mix things up in battles for pucks in the corners and in front of the net. Jones protects the puck extremely well, working the cycle game to create opportunities for his linemates to get open in scoring areas. He uses his body well to shield the puck, and long reach to keep it away from opponents. Jones can sometimes be too much of a shoot-first player though, getting tunnel vision and not being enough of a passer. He has a tremendous motor and will continue his intense pursuit of the puck in all three zones, never taking a shift off.
Erne is a power forward in training who plays a very physical game. He loves to get in on the forecheck and throw big hits, the type that can really set the tone for his team. He just loves to win battles on the boards and to fight for position in front of the net. Erne is at his best when he drives the net and uses his soft hands to beat the goalie in close. He can do this by taking defenders wide off the rush, or in the cycle game by just fighting through checks and barreling his way to the crease. He drives the net effectively without the puck as well.
Di Giuseppe developed a well rounded game where he can play the role of both play maker and goal scorer at this point in his career. He has extremely good hockey sense, excellent vision, and the ability to make difficult passes, threading the needle through opponents sticks and skates to give a teammate a great scoring chance. He is very good in board battles and in working the cycle in the offensive zone. Di Giuseppe is also not afraid to go to the dirty areas of the ice and makes key plays in traffic.
Beauvillier has great stick handling skills and the ability to create plays when it seems like nothing is there. He protects the puck extremely well, and uses his quick hands and shiftiness to get defenders out of position and create passing or shooting lanes. Beauvillier also has excellent vision and play making abilities and is the type of player who can make his linemates better. He has a strong shot and a good release, and with him learning to rely on it more has added a new element to his game, making him extremely difficult to defend, and greatly adding to Beauvillier’s breakthrough season.
Tuch uses his size and strength to establish position in front of the net or to win board battles. He also is an effective forechecker and will use his body to get the puck, however, he is not likely to throw highlight reel hits. He is also good at controlling the puck in the cycle game and driving the net when an opening appears. If an opening doesn’t appear, he bowls right over defenders. Tuch has soft hands to tip-in pucks, pounce on rebounds, as well as score from in tight. He also had one of the hardest wrist shots in college and a very good release. Tuch adds to that powerful wrister, with a cannon of a slap shot and one-timer. He is able to control the puck in the cycle game and make smart passes to teammates leading to the majority of his assists.
Sorokin had an outstanding first full season in the KHL, putting up a .953 save percentage in the regular season and a .945 save percentage in the playoffs. He ended up winning the award for best KHL goaltender. He was part of Russia‘s World Championship team, bringing home a bronze medal. Sorokin has good height at 6’2″ but is extremely slight as he weighed just 172 pounds last year. He is an extremely athletic, butterfly style goaltender. He gets side to side quickly, and makes a number of saves that will leave your jaw dropping. Sorokin never fully gives up on a play and can show very quick recoveries.
Zaitsev has been one of the top defencemen in the KHL over the last several years. He has also represented Russia internationally; and was excellent at the 2016 IIHF World Championships. In addition to his four points scored in the tournament, Zaitsev was very effective in the defensive zone. He played a shut down role for the Russian team, and limited shots and scoring chances against while playing against the other team’s top players. Zaitsev plays a strong two-way game, which is based off of his strong skating ability. At 24-years-old Zaitsev should be ready to step into the Leafs line-up immediately. In fact, the way the Leafs roster is currently shaping up, he will be given every opportunity to take over a top four role and significant minutes this coming season.
Dunn is a very good puck-moving defenceman as he combines great skating ability with the puckhandling skills to skate the puck out of dangerous areas, and led the rush. Dunn has the ability to stickhandle while still moving at top speed that is rare amongst defencemen, especially at his age. He also has very good vision and passing skills, making strong breakout passes, and quarterbacking the play on the power play. Dunn has a very good wrist shot, with a lightning quick release. His slap shot and one-timer are powerful and accurate. Dunn is everything you could want in an offensive defenceman.
Charlie McAvoy is an excellent skater, with good speed and acceleration in both directions. He has very good agility, and edgework, which allows him to avoid forecheckers or to skate through traffic in the neutral zone to create offence. He also has good pivots allowing him to transition quickly from defence-to-offence and vice-versa. McAvoy’s strong skating allows him to cover a lot of ice. McAvoy has the potential to be a top pairing defender, and be used in all situations at the NHL level. He will need some time to continue to develop, and will likely head back to Boston University next year in order to continue to work on his defensive game.
The first thing you notice about Michael Dal Colle is his stick handling ability. His soft hands are absolutely elite and he can do things with the puck that others only dream of doing. Dal Colle has shown an excellent ability to play the cycle game protecting the puck down low, and making quick, smart passes. When given openings he cane drive the net and show off those soft hands in close, and they give him the ability to beat defenders and goaltenders one-on-one. He’s also a power winger who is strong on his skates and also isn’t afraid to bulldoze through a defender if necessary. Willing to take a hit to make a play, he’s also unfraid to dish them out. Dal Colle can only improve as he adds more strength.
Vatrano had a remarkable year, vaulting himself from virtual unknown one year ago, to this list today. He scored 36 goals in just 36 AHL games, and added 19 assists for 55 points. His performances earned him a few NHL call-ups. He scored eight goals and 11 points in 39 NHL games. Vatrano was also part of Team USA at the World Championships scoring three goals and eight points in 10 games. He is a very good skater. He has very good top end speed and acceleration. Short but stocky, Vatrano has a low centre of gravity. This gives him excellent balance, as well as the power to fight through checks and get to good scoring areas. Vatrano is a pure shooter. He will shoot the puck from anywhere. He also has a vast array of shots, all of which feature a hair trigger release that fools goaltenders.
Coming over from Finland, Lindell had a solid first season in North America. He scored 14 goals and 42 points in 73 games, and added two goals and four points in four playoff games. Lindell also played for Finland at the World Championships, scoring four points in 10 games. Along the way, he also had a short stint in the NHL, playing four games. He was selected for Finland at this year’s World Cup of Hockey. Lindell is a strong puck handler who loves to join the rush, and unleash a strong and accurate wrist shot. He reads the play well in the offensive zone and picks good times to pinch into the play. He keeps his head up and can make a strong pass out of the defensive zone or quarterback things from the point. His slap shot also has good power.
Point is an excellent playmaker. His hockey sense, vision, passing skills and decision making are all at a very high level. His stickhandling is also good. He has the ability to control the puck and the poise to slow the play down and wait for a teammate to get open. Point also has a very good scoring touch in close to the net where he tips in shots or pounces on rebounds, he also has the soft hands to make a move and fool a goaltender in tight. Point has added muscle and this resulted in him having more power on his wrist shot. It could still be better, but it is accurate and features a good release.
Koekkoek has a number of offensive skills. His slap shot is hard and accurate, and Koekkoek understands the importance of keeping it low and on net. Koekkoek is also a very good passer, and his excellent vision helps him to quarterback the power play. He is a good puckhandler. He shows the ability to join the rush, and smart decision making to do it at the right times. Koekkoek is also a willing and able shot blocker. Over the last two years he has worked on his positioning and cutting down passing and shooting lanes. He has also added muscle to his frame and worked to be able handle bigger forwards at the next level.
Lehkonen recently led Frolunda to the SHL Championship, leading all scorers with 11 goals and 19 points in 16 playoff games. He broke the franchise’s playoff points record, previously set by Daniel Alfredsson in 2004-05. Lehkonen is a natural goal scorer. He has great stick handling and the ability to beat defenders one-on-one. He also has a hard and accurate wrist shot with a lightning quick release. Lehkonen also has good hockey IQ, and a knack for finding the open areas of a defence. This allows him to set up for a one timer, which he can unleash with great results. Lehkonen is at his best when he is in the dirty areas of the ice. Despite being undersized, he does work to win battles along the boards, gets to the front of the net.
Milano has great hands and the ability to make plays with the puck at top speed. He loves to shoot the puck, and has a great wrist shot and release. He also has a very dangerous backhand which he can get off in an instant. Milano is relentless on the puck, chasing down loose pucks in the offensive zone with reckless abandon. He wins puck battles via his determination, positioning and leverage, but can do even better if he added muscle. Milano is very dangerous working off the half-wall on the power play, as he can take advantage of smallest bit of extra time and space to create excellent scoring chances with a shot or a pass. He is a tremendous play maker with great vision, and the ability to thread the needle and put the puck on a teammates tape.