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 3 (50-26)
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.
Prospect Rankings 50-26
Bigras is an extremely smart player with outstanding instincts and positioning. While he is not flashy, he consistently makes the smart play in nearly all situations and in all three zones. Extremely poised with the puck. He makes hard, crisp tape-to-tape passes, both on the breakout and on the power play. Bigras is quick and efficient with the puck. This means less time spent in his own end and more time spent in transition. On the power play he is a heads up play maker. His shot improved due to added upper body strength, but is not a howitzer. He has great ability to keep it low and on target though, leading to tip ins and rebounds.
Brandon Montour had a remarkable rookie year with the San Diego Gulls, scoring 12 goals and 57 points in 68 games. He was also named to post-season AHL First All-Star Team and All-Rookie Team. Montour loves to join or lead the rush. He avoids the forecheck and pushes the puck up the ice quickly. Montour has very good stick handling skills. He is an excellent play maker, with good vision, and the passing ability to start the rush or to quarterback things at the blue line. He also has a huge slapshot.
Korpisalo is a big goalie who takes up a lot of net. He challenges at the top of the crease allowing him to cut down shooting angles very well. Strong skating allows him to really challenge shooters, as he doesn’t have to worry about getting deked and beaten back to the net. A very athletic goalie, he also has very good lateral mobility. His puck tracking is spot on as well. Korpisalo can make some real highlight reel saves as he never seems to give up on a play.
Ritchie is a power forward prospect who finishes his checks, and plays a very straight line game, taking the puck right to the front of the net and not caring if he has to go through a defenceman to do it. He loves to stand in front of the net as well as having the quick, soft hands necessary to score on rebounds and deflections. Ritchie has one of the best wrist shots in the AHL. It is tremendously powerful, and features a very good release. He is also willing and able to drop the gloves.
White is a strong skater despite a choppy stride. He already has decent top-end speed and good acceleration and there is room to improve in both areas if he can work on his stride with a good skating coach. He plays a great puck protection and cycle game, always keeping his feet moving and working down low. White uses his body to shield the puck from defenders. He also has good stick handling to extend plays or to get by defenders. He has the soft hands necessary to finish in close to the net.
At 6’5 Mantha has really impressive size. What is really intriguing though is that Mantha couples that impressive size, with great offensive skills. He’s not just a player who scored in junior hockey because he was physically bigger and stronger than his fellow teenagers, but instead has skill to pair with that impressive physique. Mantha has a great wrist shot. It is heavy and accurate. The shot is paired with a tremendously quick release which fools goalies and helps him to put the puck in the back of the net. He also has a great one timer.
Honka projects as an offensive defenceman. He is a great skater who can both lead the rush or join in as a trailer. He has excellent speed as well as very good acceleration. Honka has good edge work, and excellent agility. In the offensive zone, Honka is able to walk the line and open up shooting and passing lanes to create offence. Honka has good stick handling ability along with excellent vision and passing skill. He is excellent in the role of power play quarterback and can create a ton of chances when he is given time and space. He has a booming slap shot and very good one-timer from the point. Honka has the knack to get his shot through and on net around the defenders that defend high to try and prevent it.
McLeod is an absolute speedster, with great top end speed and outstanding acceleration. McLeod might be the fastest skater in the 2016 draft- he’s that fast. On top of that he has excellent agility, and the ability to change directions quickly. McLeod uses his skating ability to its full advantage to elude defenders and open up passing and shooting lanes when working off the rush, or even when playing the cycle game. He has good size and is strong on his skates, which is a great asset in working along the boards and in front of the net. Mcleod is also able to provide great support on the backcheck. As a 17-year-old, he’s developing such a strong two-way game that the Steelheads match him against the other teams top lines, and use him to kill penalties.
Kamenev is an extremely fundamentally sound player given his age. His game shows very few weaknesses, and while he may not have the absolute high end skill of some other top prospects, he has very few weaknesses. He’s a player that just does everything well. Kamenev projects as a two-way centre and playmaker, due to his very good vision and passing skills. Kamenev makes linemates better by extending plays on the cycle and then finding them in good spots. He is also excellent defensively.
At 6’2″ Husso may not be huge, but he still has good size for an NHL goalie. He plays a strong butterfly technique with good positioning. Husso also comes out to challenge shooters, which makes him appear even bigger in the net. He is a good skater which allows him to challenge, while still recovering in his net on deke attempts. Husso has a very good leg push and this helps him get from side to side quickly. He tracks the puck extremely well, taking away one-timer attempts and cross ice passes. His glove hand is especially strong. Husso has very good rebound control for a young goaltender. He swallows up pucks, and those he can’t he kicks to the corners. His legs are quick and the reflexes good which takes away the bottom of the net.
At 6’4″ and 212 pounds Crouse is a budding power forward. He has a powerful skating stride, but could work on his first step and acceleration. That power allows him to fight through checks and get to the net. He loves to get in the forecheck, and finishes his hits along the boards. He is also very good in protecting the puck in the cycle. Crouse has the soft hands to finish in close and can tip in shots, or bang in goals from the front of the net. He also has a good wrist shot with a decent release. He could stand to shoot the puck more though. Crouse can make the smart pass in the cycle game to an open man along the boards to keep the play going. He is also strong defensively.
A silky, smooth skater, Thomas Chabot shows high potential as puck moving defensive prospect. He has the speed to join or lead the rush, and get back defensively. He has the strong edge work and agility to pivot quickly that allows him to cover large areas of the ice, as well as walk the line and open up passing and shooting lanes. Chabot is calm and composed with the puck. He is a good stick handler and makes strong passes either to start the transition, or set up a play from the blue line. His slap shot is decent, and he has good accuracy. He has added power over the last year, though of course it can continue to get better.
Athanasiou has tremendous skill. He is one of the fastest and best skaters in the AHL. His top end speed is off the charts. He also has great acceleration and agility, and can make pivots and change directions with ease. His edgework and balance are also exceptional. Athanasiou also has incredible stick handling ability. He has soft, quick hands and can make extremely creative dangles with ease. He has the ability to stick handle in a phone booth, and is a menace to goaltenders in the shootout. Athanasiou combines this with a hard, accurate shot, as well as a quick release, which makes many believe he can be a goal scorer in the NHL.
Fiala is a dynamic skater. He has great speed and acceleration. Fiala can beat defenders to the outside and get by them and cut to the net. He has great edge work and agility, and a tremendous first step. This gives him the ability to fool defenders with quick cuts and then turning on the jets. Fiala is at his best as a sniper. His wrist and snap shots feature great releases and he has the hockey sense to find open spots in the defence where teammates can set him up. He also can score in tight to the net, with soft hands, and the ability to get rebounds, tip-ins and bang home passes in tight.
Buchnevich is able to play all three forward positions which is a major plus for any prospect. He’s a pure sniper, with a fantastic wrist shot and snap shot. They are both powerful, accurate, and feature quick releases. He also has a very good one timer. Buchnevich is often able to force defenders to give him space due to his skating and it as at this point he can unleash is shot on the rush. Buchnevich has good stick handling skills and protects the puck very well. He’s not afraid to go through traffic and take the puck right to the net in order to get chances. Buchnevich is a skilled play maker as well, he is very creative and is willing to try things that most players wouldn’t have the skill level to dream about.
Matheson had a solid season with the AHL’s Portland Pirates putting up 20 points in 54 games. He joined the Panthers late in the season, playing in three regular season games; and scoring an assist in five playoff games. He also played in 10 games for Team Canada at the World Championships scoring six points and winning a gold medal. Matheson is an excellent skater. His stride is extremely smooth, and very powerful. He has a great first step, and excellent acceleration which helps him reach top speed extremely quickly. He has excellent edge work, agility, and pivots. This sublime skating helps him in all aspects of his game.
Fleury is a solid two-way defender with good size at 6’3″, and impressive skating. He has good edgework, and solid mobility. His long and smooth skating stride lets him generate good top end speed and he is able to cover a lot of ice in just a few strides. Fleury has decent puck handling skill and good vision and passing ability. He makes a strong first pass to start the transition game, and also has the poise to quarterback the power play from the blue line. While not having a huge point shot, it isn’t bad either. Fleury’s shot gets through the shooting lanes.
(editor’s note… somehow when we were assembling the list, Vrana was mistakenly removed…. this lead to us picking an extra prospect as well…. Our bad… Vrana should have come in at this point).
Vrana is an outstanding skater. He has very good top end speed, but its his elite acceleration and change of pace ability that really sets him apart and allows him to beat defenders one on one. Vrana is a natural centre. However he has also spent a lot of time on the wing, especially in the AHL. He has the versatility to play all three forward positions. His stick handling is excellent, he has a wide variety of moves and is very good at protecting the puck. Vrana has very good vision and the passing skills to be a creative play maker. His wrist shot is very strong and accurate, and he has the type of lightning-quick release that often fools goaltenders.
Vesey has good size, and plays a power forward game. He is a quick skater, with good acceleration and top end speed. Vesey has a powerful stride which allows him to fight through checks and drive to the front of the net. When he gets there, he has the soft hands to finish in close. He can also stand in front of the net, provide a screen and get tip-ins and rebounds. From further out, Vesey has a hard and accurate shot, that he gets off quickly. He protects the puck extremely well, with good stickhandling, and uses his body as a shield to play the cycle game. Vesey is well balanced and hard to knock off the puck or beat in a board battle. He is a good two-way player and NHL ready.
Bjorkstrand is a natural sniper who has very heavy wrist and snap shots, as well as an excellent one-timer. His shooting arsenal features an excellent release which he uses to fool goaltenders when he is coming down the wing on a rush, or after setting up in the offensive zone. He has a real knack for getting open either by trailing slightly behind on rush; or by finding the soft spot in the defence to unleash his vast shooting arsenal. A tad undersized, he has outstanding stick handling and is tough to knock off the puck. He is also very shifty and is able to avoid checks. As a result, he can buy time for his teammates to get open.
Zacha has the size and skills to be a power forward. He also possesses elite skill to be a sniper, or a top playmaker. He really can do it all. Zacha has the power to get through checks and drive the net, as well as the soft hands necessary to finish in close. His wrist shot is elite. He shows great power and a hair trigger release. He also has a very hard and accurate one-timer. While Zacha is a shoot first type of player, he does show the vision and passing skills to be an very good play maker as well. He gets in quickly on the fore check and absolutely punishes defenders with hits in the corners and behind the net. He has the size and stick handling to protect the puck in the cycle game and maintain possession.
Barzal has incredibly soft hands and great stickhandling. He protects the puck extremely well, and works well in the cycle game. He has very good hockey sense, and almost always makes the smart play. These skills alone would make him a dynamic offensive threat, but when you add in his great shot, quick release and excellent vision and play-making ability he is the total package as an offensive player. He does need to use that shot more, and would score more goals if he was a little more selfish. He has shown the willingness to play in the dirty areas of the ice, and shows flashes of adding a power game to his offensive finesse and skill after adding some weight this off-season. If he continues to grow and add that game, the sky is the limit for him both in the NHL.
Samsonov has the ideal size that teams are looking for in goaltenders today at 6’4″ and 203 pounds. Samsonov makes the most of that size, coming out to challenge on plays, and reducing the amount of net that forwards have to shoot at. He is very athletic, and never gives up on a play, resulting in him being able to make some ridiculous saves. Samsonov has strong legs, and gets side to side across the crease quickly and efficiently. He plays a tight butterfly and his legs kick out quickly to take away the bottom of the net. He has a fast glove hand and blocker as well.
Big and strong, Logan Brown can be a dominant player below the hash marks. He has a powerful stride, protects the puck and takes it to the front of the net. Brown has the soft hands to finish plays in close to the net, and also has a powerful shot from further out. He does not seem to use that shot enough though, preferring to play the role of playmaker. Brown uses his size and strength to protect the puck in the cycle game, extending plays in order to allow teammates to get open. His long reach is a real asset in protecting the puck and keeping possession. Brown has the ability to put the puck on the tape, and make saucer passes to get it through traffic in order to set up teammates.
Sanheim takes charge of the play and leads rushes for the Hitmen, as well as joining as a trailer. He has the stick handling and the skating skills to move the puck out of danger in his own zone, and transition to the attack and lead the rush. He also makes a smart first pass and can be key to starting the transition game. Sanheim is also a very good passer from the blue line, showing poise in handling the puck, making smart offensive reads and creating scoring opportunities. He’s developed his upper body strength since being drafted, and has a much harder slap shot from the point. It still won’t be characterized as a bomb, but Sanheim has ability to get it through to the net effectively.
Jake Bean has great puck control and combines with his skating skill to elude forecheckers and move the puck into good areas to start the rush. He can lead the rush himself, or can make a strong pass to get the transition game going. He shows poise with the puck in the offensive zone, and he walks the line well in the offensive zone opening up those passing and shooting lanes. His slap shot is hard and accurate, while his wrist shot features a quick release and he uses it effectively to get pucks on net quickly and through heavy traffic. He has very good vision and passing skills, able to thread the needle to set up his teammates for good scoring opportunities. Bean might be the most dynamic offensive blue liner in the 2016 draft class.