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.
Top 25 Prospect Rankings
Jakob Chychrun is already at 6’2″ and still growing, he also is a very good skater. Add in good vision, strong passing skills and a bomb for a slap shot and he has all the tools to be an offensive force. He has high-end hockey sense and seems to make the right play most times. Chychrun starts the breakout effectively, either with a strong first pass, or by avoiding forecheckers and skating the puck out of his own end. He has good stickhandling skills and can lead the rush. Chychrun is also strong on the power play walking the line effectively to open up passing and shooting lanes.
Pulock’s slap shot is an absolute rocket. He also has fantastic one-timer which make him an extremely feared shooter on the power play. His shot was measured over 100 miles per hour. Other AHL teams are certainly shading their penalty kill to try to minimize Pulock’s shot at this point, but despite that, he still managed to put a bunch in the back of the net. A natural power play quarterback, Pulock makes smart crisp passes and sees the ice extremely well. He also understands the importance of getting the puck on net, and is able to utilize a good wrist shot and quick release when teams try to take away his big bomb. On the rush, he has decent stick handling and can be the lead man with the puck or can join the attack as the trailer.
Timo Meier has great hockey sense and gets to the open areas of the ice. He sets up to finish chances with an excellent shot and release. He has a very good arsenal of shots. Meier has an excellent snap shot, strong wrist shot, and very good one-timer. He can be very effective off the half-boards on the power play. Meier is also a very physical player, establishing his position in the slot and winning board battles to create offence. He has the good hand-eye co-ordination to tip in pucks and pounce on rebounds. He gets in quickly on the forecheck and can punish opposing defencemen with hits behind the net. Meier also has good vision and passing skills, and the smarts to make a good pass when he is working the cycle.
Clayton Keller can be a pure sniper. His snap shot and wrist shot are lightning quick, heavy and deadly accurate. Keller also has a good one-timer, and strong backhand. He uses his skating skills to make plays, creating passing lanes where he can make a tape-to-tape pass. Defenders must respect his speed, and when they back off to protect the net, he can pull up to use the defender as a screen and fire it on net, or create an opportunity to set up a teammate. Keller’s stickhandling is smooth and he can beat defenders one-on-one both on the rush, and in the cycle. He extends plays allowing his teammates time to get open. His hockey sense is extremely well developed and he makes smart plays with the puck. Keller has excellent vision, and can thread a pass through the tiniest of openings to set up a scoring chance.
Boeser is a pure sniper who has a tremendous one-timer. He also has a hard wrist shot with a hair trigger release. He has the hockey sense and ability to find holes in the opposing defence and set himself up for a shot. A good skater and puck handler, Boeser also has the ability to create openings for himself or others. He can also be a play maker, with good vision and solid passing skill. Boeser has a low centre of gravity and cycles the puck well now, but should be even better in time if he can add muscle. He forechecks hard and can punish defencemen in the corners with hits if they don’t move the puck quickly. Boeser also has the soft hands necessary to finish plays in close to the net.
Mikhail Sergachev can do it all in both ends of the rink. He is good with the puck on his stick, showing stickhandling poise and great passing skill. He effectively starts the rush with good breakout passes, and can also break down the defence with good passes on the power play. Sergachev has high-end hockey IQ, and makes the smart play with the puck on his stick. He has a strong slap shot and an effective wrist shot, both of which he can use to score from the blueline. He keeps the puck low and gets it on net, even through heavy traffic, allowing his teammates to set-up screens, get tip-ins, and pounce on rebounds. Sergachev’s offensive game is among the best of any blueliner in the 2016 draft class, and he could be a power play quarterback in the NHL in just a few short years.
Jost has great hands, as well as the ability to stickhandle in a phone booth. Jost is an excellent playmaker. He protects the puck extremely well, extending plays, allowing teammates to get open. Once that happens he can feather a pass through a small opening, putting it tape-to-tape to create a scoring chance. Jost can also be a a goal scorer. He has a very quick release, which helps to fool goalies. He could stand to add more power to his wrist shot; though this is another area that can improve with increased muscle. He is also willing to go to the net, where he uses excellent hand-eye co-ordination to tip in pucks, or pounce on rebounds. Jost battles hard in front of the net and in the corners. This is another area where more muscle would help though, in order to play that style at higher levels.
Theodore’s skating is at an elite level and defines his game. He has excellent speed and acceleration, and this allows him to lead the rush, or to join as a trailer and then get back to the defensive responsibilities in his own end. Theodore is developing into an excellent offensive producer. In addition to his skating ability, he has great stick handling and excellent poise. Couple this with very good vision and passing abilities and Theodore is a key play maker. He can set up teammates both off the rush, and when quarterbacking the power play. On top of it all Theodore has developed an excellent slap shot and one timer and can score from the point on the power play. He gets the puck on net, even through traffic.
An excellent playmaker, Nylander has the ability to handle the puck as well as make precise passes while moving at top speed. His wrist shot features a quick release, but he must add some upper body strength in order to add more power to that shot going forward. Once he does it will allow him to become a sniper in addition to his current skills as a playmaker. Nylander already possesses the soft hands to finish plays in tight to the net, as well as the instincts to get open in the zone and get his shot off. Nylander’s great vision and good hockey sense also make him a dangerous player when the play is in the offensive zone. He almost always makes the right play with the puck, and can thread the needle through small openings when passing to teammates.
Juolevi’s strong two-way game is based on his strong skating ability. He has very good speed in both directions, and good acceleration. His pivots are crisp and his edge work is very solid. This allows him to quickly transition from offence-to-defence or vice-versa. This skating allows Juolevi to cover a ton of ice, and to be able to join the rush, or make pinches at the blueline and still get back defensively. Adding core strength would allow Juolevi to improve his balance and be stronger on the puck, as well as better at winning battles in the corners.
Dvorak has really blossomed as an offensive player. He has a very good wrist shot and an excellent release. He gets the puck off very quickly, freezing goalies. Before they know what happened, the puck is in the back of the net. He also has the soft hands to finish in tight to the goal. Dvorak can also be an effective play maker. He uses good patience, vision and passing skill to set up teammates. Dvorak plays a fearless game as he is not afraid to handle the puck in traffic, to battle on the boards, or to get to the front of the net. He has very high hockey IQ. Dvorak reads the play extremely well. He makes the smart plays both with and without the puck.
Aho is more of a playmaker than a goal scorer. He has excellent stickhandling ability and protects the puck extremely well in the cycle game. He can also beat defenders one-on-one on the rush. When Aho sees a passing lane, he is able to take advantages. He makes crisp tape-to-tape passes to teammates and sets them up for good scoring chances. Aho has very high hockey IQ. He reads the play extremely well, anticipating the actions of his teammates. Aho can score goals. He has a strong and accurate wrist shot that he just does not use quite enough. He could be a little bit more selfish and shoot the puck more. Aho is also not afraid to get his nose dirty in front of the net or in the corners.
Murray’ legs are extremely quick and he shuts down the bottom of the net well. He has very good reflexes and he shuts down the five hole rapidly and effectively, avoiding a major problem area for most tall goaltenders. He takes away the top of the net with a strong glove and blocker. Murray has strong rebound control. He has improved this aspect of his game each year. He is strong positionally and comes far out of his net to cut down angles and reduce the amount of net that the shooter has to look at. Murray is almost always square to the shooter and recovers quickly to square up again on rebounds. His side to side movements are very good, but not quite great, this is one area where he still has room to improve in future years.
Connor is an excellent play maker who has the vision to spot the open man, and the skill to make tape-to-tape passes through tight areas. He is extremely poised with the puck on his stick and can slow the game down and wait for a seam to open up to make that pass to a teammate. He stickhandles well in traffic and avoids defenders. Connor also shows a very good wrist shot and release. Most importantly he learned to use that shot as more of a weapon this year. This opened up his game, and kept defencemen guessing. He still maintained the ability to be an excellent playmaker in the process. Connor has good hockey IQ, usually making the smart pass, and also looking to get open when he doesn’t have the puck.
Pierre-Luc Dubois is a power forward with a powerful skating stride. He fights through checks as he takes the puck to the front of the net. He has excellent lower body strength and balance, allowing him to win board battles, and establish position in the slot. Dubois is hard to knock off the puck. He protects it well using his body as a shield in the cycle. He has excellent hockey sense and gets himself open in good areas. From there Dubois can unleash an excellent one-timer. He has the hand eye co-ordination to get tip-ins and knock in rebounds. Dubois has a long reach, and combines that with strong puckhandling skill. He also has good vision and the passing ability to be a play maker off the wing or at centre.
Tkachuk has very good positioning and high-end hockey sense, and the puck seems to follow him around the ice. He understands how to find open spots in the defence. Tkachuk has an excellent shot and release, as well as a soft touch in close to the net, making him a real goal scoring threat every time he is out on the ice. He has the hand eye co-ordination necessary to tip in pucks, and the quickness to pounce on and bury rebounds. It’s Tkachuk’s playmaking that has been really impressive this season though. He has excellent vision, the patience and poise to slow the game down and wait for opportunities, and the skill to put the puck through the tiniest of openings. He cycles well and wins battles along the boards to extend plays and create even more opportunities.
Rantanen is a big player who plays a power forward style of game. At 6’4″ he has the ideal size that NHL teams crave. He works extremely hard along the boards and is extremely effective at winning battles in international tournaments in his age group. He may not throw huge hits, but he uses his size effectively in the corners and in establishing position in the offensive zone. Rantanen also drives the net hard and can finish in close. He could stand to work on his shot though, as he could use more power but already has a very good release. This is not to say that his shot is bad, its not and is actually quite good already; but it could be elite with a little work.
Werenski possesses high-end offensive ability with good passing skills, and strong puckhandling. He can quarterback things from the blueline. Werenski is calm and poised with the puck. He has excellent stickhandling ability, which uses to start the transition game, or control the puck at the point on the power play. He also has a very good slapshot, as well as excellent vision and passing. Offensively his hockey IQ is very high, and Werenski makes intelligent plays with the puck. He seems to be a step ahead of the play at times. He has outstanding speed, which gives him the ability to join the rush, or pinch at the blueline and still be able to cover up defensively at the NCAA level.
An outsanding skater, Provorov is also very good stick handler who protects the puck extremely well. He has the poise to control the puck at the blue line, and be the power play quarterback. He has good passing skills and vision, as he can make crisp tape-to-tape passes. Provorov has both a very good wrist shot, with a quick release as well as a strong slap shot from the point. Provorov is extremely good at moving laterally to open up passing and shooting lanes. He is a smart player who seems to always make a good play with the puck on his stick. In his own zone, he is extremely adept at avoiding fore checkers and makes a great first pass. Provorov shows outstanding defensive skill as well.He has the potential to be a really good two-way defenceman.
Mitch Marner may be a little undersized, but that doesn’t stop him from playing a gritty game and getting to the front of the net or battling for pucks in the corners. He is relentless on the fore check, getting in quickly and causing turnovers. He has developed a stronger shot over the last couple of years, and has an excellent release. That said, it is Marner’s outstanding vision and playmaking skill that make him a top prospect. He controls the puck extremely well, and can extend plays on the cycle giving his linemates time to get open. He is an absolute magician with his stick handling ability, making plays in the tightest of spaces.
Jesse Puljujarvi has very good size and plays a game based on his size and strength advantages. He isn’t a huge hitter, but he uses his body to protect the puck and his strength and leverage to win board battles or to position himself in front of the net. Puljujarvi is excellent in the cycle, controlling the puck on the outside and looking for opportunities to pass to a teammate or drive the net. He also is extremely skilled with soft hands, good stickhandling, and an excellent shot and release. His long reach is a real asset in protecting the puck. He has all the skills to be a top power forward and goal scorer. Puljujarvi though can do it all, also playing the role of play-maker off the wing. He has excellent vision and the ability to thread tape-to-tape passes through the tightest of openings.
Strome has an outstanding wrist shot, and great release. He also has very good hands in tight and can be a sniper. Strome also has the ability to be a playmaker with great vision and passing. He uses his size to protect the puck in the cycle game. Strome is great at working down low, extending plays and waiting for an opening to take the puck to the net. He can also wait for for a linemate to get open and make the tape-to-tape pass. Strome has high-end hockey IQ, and seems to make the right play with the puck, or can find openings in the defense to set himself up for a one-timer. He is not afraid to battle for loose pucks. If he wins the battle he can quickly get the puck to an open teammate. He is not afraid to drive the net.
In the offensive zone, Nylander shows off outstanding hands, and incredible stickhandling ability. He can control the game with the puck on his stick, and protects it well. He is an outstanding playmaker with great vision, and can pass the puck through the eye of a needle. His shot features a quick release, and good accuracy. Nylander is an outstanding skater. He has very good top end speed and excellent acceleration and change of pace ability. Nylander uses this to fool defenders off the rush and to open up passing and shooting lanes by quickly changing speeds. He also shows very good agility and the ability to get around defenders one-on-one.
Laine has a heavy shot, with an excellent release and that will help him score goals now, and at the next level. He is a high volume shooter who puts things on net whenever he gets the opportunity. His shooting arsenal is diverse, with a good wrist shot, snap shot and one-timer. While he is a shoot first type of player, Laine also has very good vision and the ability to pass through small openings. He does get involved physically and can throw some huge hits on the forecheck, but this is something he only does occasionally. Most of the time he is content to apply pressure, create turnovers, and get involved with, and win, board battles. This may be even more effective in terms of gaining and maintaining possession than throwing those huge hits.
Auston Matthews is an exceptional skater. What sets Matthews apart from other dynamic skaters is that he also has soft hands and the stickhandling ability to make plays while moving at top speed. He has the vision and passing ability to be a dynamic playmaker in the NHL. He spots open teammates and can make those tape-to-tape passes when they are in good scoring areas. Matthews also has high hockey IQ, making the right decision with the puck, and finding openings when he doesn’t have it. He possesses an accurate wrist shot and snap shot and pairs these with a quick release that makes them even more effective. Not just a finesse player, Matthews has the size to fight through checks, and has the powerful stride to drive the net and score goals and make plays in tight as well.