Welcome to the 2017 edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. During the summer, I will feature 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.
I will link 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 2017-18 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 a dark horse to make the NHL. 50 NHL games played or being 25 years old is the cut-off for prospects. These are not hard or fast rules though, and I may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
NHL Organizational Prospect Pool Rankings (Top 10)
Note: If you click on the team name, you will get a link to a full prospect report on that team. The snippets here are just a taste of the information available.
10. St. Louis Blues
Ivan Barbashev got a taste of NHL action last year. He looks to make the jump full time. The team added first round forwards in Robert Thomas and Klim Kostin, putting some top end talent into the system. Oskar Sundqvist and Zach Sanford are two forward prospects added to the pool via trade during the last six months. They join Adam Musil, Alexei Toropchenko, Tanner Kaspick, Austin Poganski and Nolan Stevens in the forward pipeline. Sanford spent most of his time, following the trade from Washington, in the NHL. Sundqvist is also very close to NHL ready. At minimum he is an injury fill-in, but could do more in camp.
The Blues defence has high end talent with Jake Walman, Vince Dunn, and Jordan Schmaltz all high end prospects who are close to NHL ready. Niko Mikkola, Petteri Lindbohm, and Tommy Vannelli add depth amongst the defence. The upside here might be a little limited though. The Blues have a deep, and relatively young defence at the NHL level, and their three top defence prospects all look like good bets to make an NHL impact, so it isn’t too much of a concern today. Look for the Blues to stock the defensive pipeline in future drafts.
Ville Husso is a top goaltending prospect. In goal, the Blues depth consists of Evan Fitzpatrick, Luke Opilka and Jordan Binnington. Its an outstanding group of goalies, one of the tops in the NHL. Overall the Blues have done a tremendous job of drafting for a club that always seems to pick late in the first round. The system remains strong.
There are a number of high quality forwards in the Islanders system. Mathew Barzal and Josh Ho-Sang are elite level prospects who will compete for NHL spots this year. It is understandable that many are down on Michael Dal Colle. However he is merely 21 years old. Dal Colle may never hit the heights that were expected of him when he was drafted, but he can still develop into a top six forward. The Islanders are also looking for a stronger season from Kieffer Bellows. They also have Anatoly Golyshev, and Otto Koivula developing in Europe. Overall forward depth in the system can certainly be improved though.
Ryan Pulock showed strong two-way defensive potential in the 2016 playoffs but couldn’t earn a full-time spot last season. His time is now. Robin Salo, Benjamin Mirageas, and Sebastian Aho were the Islanders first three picks in the NHL draft as they loaded up on defence. The team also has Devon Toews, Mitchell van de Sompel, Scott Mayfield, David Quenneville, and Parker Wotherspoon in the system.
With Ilya Sorokin and Linus Soderstrom, the Islanders have outstanding depth in goal. They are both considered elite goalie prospects.
In Mikhail Sergachev, the Tampa Bay Lightning acquired one of the top defensive prospects in hockey this summer. They further added to the defence core with first round pick Cal Foote. The Lightning have depth in Jake Dotchin, Libor Hajcek, Erik Cernak, Dominik Masin, and Ben Thomas. The Lightning have one of the youngest starters in the NHL in Vasilevskiy, so the fact that they do not have a strong goalie prospect ready to play is not a concern. They do have a solid long-term project in Connor Ingram.
Up front, Brett Howden had an excellent season with Moose Jaw; while Taylor Raddysh impressed with Erie and Team Canada at the World Juniors. Anthony Cirelli was another key member of the Otters and Team Canada. Mathieu Joseph had a breakout season with Saint John, and also played in the World Juniors. Winger Adam Erne had a strong season in Syracuse, but struggled at the NHL level.
General manager Steve Yzerman has built one of the deepest systems in the game. When most teams would have folded due to a season filled with injuries, the Lightning were able to stay in playoff contention until the final weekend of the season. The Lightning added Alexei Lipanov, and Alexander Volkov at this year’s draft. They join Boris Katchouk, Mitchell Stephens, Dennis Yan, and Matthew Peca as notables in the system.
The Canucks have done a really good job of rebuilding their system in recent years. Their top pick of Elias Pettersson is a potential number one centre. He joins top prospect Brock Boeser as a high end forward on the team, while Olli Juolevi anchors the future on defence. Trade deadline additions Nikolay Goldobin and Jonathan Dahlen are strong prospects, while Thatcher Demko is one of the best goalie prospects in hockey.
By drafting Michael DiPietro this year, they have added another top notch goalie to the system. The forward group has some depth now. The trade deadline and draft may have been Jim Benning‘s best work since taking the reins in Vancouver. Kole Lind and Jonah Gadjovich were solid picks up front, while Petrus Palmu was a good late round gamble. Will Lockwood had a solid freshman campaign at Michigan, and Adam Gaudette is excelling at Northeastern.
On defence, Jordan Subban keeps scoring at the AHL level. When will the Canucks give him a shot in the NHL? Guillaume Brisebois also provides defensive depth. Overall though, the Canucks could use another top prospect to join Juolevi on the blueline.
The Hurricanes had an outstanding 2017 Draft, where we gave them an A Grade. Martin Necas fills a huge need as a potential first line centre. Eetu Luostarinen, Morgan Geekie, and Stelio Mattheos are also solid picks down the middle. They join Julien Gauthier, and Nicolas Roy, two top notch power forward prospects. Meanwhile, Lucas Wallmark, Janne Kuokkanen, Aleksi Saarela, Hudson Elyniuk, Valentin Zykov, and Warren Foegele give great depth at the forward position.
The Hurricanes have an outstanding defence group that includes Jake Bean, Haydn Fleury, Luke Martin adds to the great young defence the Hurricanes are building, with a number of graduates already at the NHL level. Further defence prospects include Roland McKeown, Noah Carroll, and Trevor Carrick. In net the Hurricanes also have a good duo with Callum Booth and Alex Nedeljkovic. The Hurricanes added Eetu Makiniemi in this year’s draft.
In Joel Eriksson Ek, Luke Kunin, Gustav Olofsson, and Kirill Kaprizov the Minnesota Wild have four elite level prospects. The only real question amongst the four is when Kaprizov will come to North America. However the quality in the system really falls off after those four. Not having a pick in the top two rounds of this year’s draft did not help.
There are some decent projects up front though, with Jordan Greenway as a potential power forward. Dmitri Sokoloff showed big improvements in Sudbury last year. Ivan Lodnia and Mason Shaw were good picks given where they were taken in the draft. Andrei Svetlakov is another Russian forward that the Wild would like to get to North America. The 21-year-old is signed with CSKA Moscow through the end of the 2019-20 season. Mario Lucia lost time during his first AHL season due to a broken clavicle. The Wild need to see him take a step forward this year.
The Wild’s top goaltending prospect is Kaapo Kahkonen. The Finnish goalie has good size. He is technically strong, with a polished butterfly technique. Steve Michalek had a .919 save percentage in 30 AHL games last season. On defence, Mike Reilly still qualifies as a prospect. Now 24-years-old, he must solidify his spot in the NHL, or risk being passed by younger players. After moving up prospect charts in 2015-16, Gustav Bouramman had a disappointing year in the OHL. He looks to rebound in the AHL. Louis Belpedio was an honourable mention on the NCHC all-star team. He heads back to the University of Miami (Ohio).
It should not be a surprise that the Predators have a very deep prospect group on the blue line. Dante Fabbro is a two-way defender who does everything well. He will spend another year at BU. Alexandre Carrier had a strong year in the AHL last season year. He can really move the puck. Samuel Girard is an undersized, offensive dynamo. Frederic Allard is another smooth skating offensive rearguard from the QMJHL. He moves to the AHL this year. Jack Dougherty is a defensive defenceman coming up through the system. Other defenders to watch include Trevor Murphy, and Joonas Lyytinen. David Poile continued to add to the system, taking David Farrance, and Jacob Paquette in this year’s draft.
Up front, Eeli Tolvanen slipped to the end of the first round. The Predators were thrilled to get a player of his talent at that position. Pontus Aberg and Frederick Gaudreau made names for themselves in the playoffs. Aberg could fill a second line role, while Gaudreau projects as more of a grinder long-term. Vladislav Kamenev is a two way centre who is close to NHL ready, but not quite. Yakov Trenin makes the jump from the QMJHL to AHL. Victor Ejdsell is a big centre the Preds signed as a free agent. He had a monster season in the Allvenskan. We looked at him here. Grant Mismash can play a power forward game. The Predators drafted him this year. Tyler Moy, Rem Pitlick, Justin Kirkland, Patrick Harper, and Anthony Richard provide organizational depth.
While Juuse Saros is a prospect for the purpose of these rankings, he is now a full-time NHL player. Te Predators need another prospect goalie in the system. Konstantin Volkov is a 2016 draft pick who is developing in Russia.
The Devils have really improved their prospect depth in recent years. They are looking very strong up front, and have some excellent depth. They got the first overall pick in the draft and took Nico Hishier. He is a dynamic centre, with outstanding skill. Last year’s first round pick Michael McLeod shows outstanding skating ability and had a huge OHL playoff for Mississauga. Centre John Quenneville had a strong season in the AHL last year and a cup of coffee in the NHL. He hopes to make the team full time.
Jesper Boqvist, Nikita Popugaev, and Fabian Zetterlund also improved the team’s forward depth at this year’s NHL Draft. Blake Speers is another talented winger in the system. He should make the jump to the AHL this season. Joey Anderson is a 2016 pick who had a solid season at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. 2016 second rounder Nathan Bastian had a bit of a disapointing season though, he is young enough that he could bounce back. Brandon Gignac had a decent season in the QMJHL. Meanwhile, Nick Lappin had plenty of time with the Devils last season, and could take a bottom six role this year.
The Devils are also solid in goal where Ken Appleby, Gilles Senn and Evan Cormier provide depth behind top prospect MacKenzie Blackwood. However the defence lacks a top notch puck moving prospect. Damon Severson is young and can take that role at the NHL, but this should be a focus for the Devils as they build their prospect pool going forward. Yegor Rykov has potential but is signed for two more years in the KHL. Steve Santini is a solid prospect, but is more of a defensive defenceman.
Clayton Keller is an elite offensive talent and early season Calder Trophy Candidate. Dylan Strome has the size and skill to be a potential top line centre in the NHL. He is NHL ready now, and all indications are that he will make the Coyotes roster this fall. Christian Fischer plays a power forward style, driving the net, getting in quickly on the forecheck, and battling for loose pucks along the boards. He has really improved since being drafted. Nick Merkley is ready to jump from the WHL to the AHL this year. Up front they also have Ryan MacInnis and Jens Looke; and then added key prospects in MacKenzie Entwistle, and Nate Schnarr on draft day.
On defence, Kyle Wood had an excellent season in Tucson and allowed the team to move Anthony DeAngelo in a trade to the Rangers. They added Pierre-Oliver Joseph, a strong two-way defender who needs to add muscle, in the first round of this year’s draft. Cam Dineen had a disappointing season. He must bounce back from the injury filled year but still has high end talent. Kyle Capobianco and Dysin Mayo are intriguing prospects. 2017 picks Filip Westerlund, Cameron Crotty, and Noel Hoefenmayer provide depth. In net, Adin Hill had a strong season in Tucson, and Marek Langhamer has proven dependable as his back-up.
The Flyers have built a system that is deep at nearly every position. They got the second overall pick in the draft and took Nolan Patrick, who we had as our top rated prospect pre-draft. Winger Oskar Lindblom comes to North America this year and could make an NHL impact. Tanner Laczynski had a strong season with Ohio State. The Flyers also have German Rutsov, Mikhail Vorobyev, Pascal Laberge, and Morgan Frost at centre. On the wing Nicolas Aube-Kubel, Wade Allison, Cole Bardreau, Isaac Ratcliffe, and Matthew Strome all have a chance to develop into NHL players.
The Flyers blue line has been a particular source of strength in recent years with Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere already making NHL impacts. While they are no longer considered prospects, the team still has top prospects on the blue line with Philippe Myers and Travis Sanheim. Fellow defenders Sam Morin, Robert Hagg, and Mark Freidman could become excellent depth pieces.
In goal, Carter Hart is one of the top goalie prospects in the world. Anthony Stolarz, was good in a small sample at the NHL level last year. He should be NHL ready soon. Alex Lyon, Matej Tomek, Kirill Ustimenko, and Felix Sandstrom, provide plenty of depth. The Flyers have the best prospect group in the league. They also own the St. Louis Blues 2018 first round pick (lottery protected), so things could get even better going forward.