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 (31-21)
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.
Daniel Sprong is a legitimate prospect and could even make the Penguins this year. However, he is the only solid skater in the Penguins pipeline. There are some longshots further down the system, but they are mostly projects or players with limited upside. Tristan Jarry and Filip Gustavsson are good goaltending prospects. However their value is mitigated by the fact that goaltending prospects are notoriously hard to project, and the fact that the Penguins already have an excelleng young starter in the crease. Good, but unproven goalie prospects just doing have as big of a value as solid skaters.
In Alex DeBrincat, the Blackhawks have a winger with high end potential. However, a lack of size raises questions about whether or not he will be able to reach that potential. Gustav Forsling is pushing for a spot on defence, but also faces questions about his size. Henri Jokiharju was a nice first round pick, but is a ways away from being NHL ready. Years of drafting late, combined with a number of prospects making the Hawks last year has really weakened this system.
Ilya Samsonov is one of the best goaltending prospects in the world. However, there are questions about when he will be ready to leave the KHL. Jakub Vrana had an outstanding 2015-16 season. He wasn’t quite as good last year, but still remains a top prospect. Christian Djoos has taken over as the team’s top defensive prospect. Madison Bowey was once thought of as a sure-fire NHL but has seen has value slip. They have had a tendency to trade away picks and prospects in recent years.
28. San Jose Sharks
The Sharks will start to see some massive turnover upfront over the next few seasons. Patrick Marleau is gone and Joe Thornton is not getting any younger. It could be Timo-time this year as Timo Meier is close to NHL ready. Danny O’Regan will also fight for a spot. First rounder Josh Norris will need some time. On defence the Sharks hope that Joakim Ryan can continue to progress and make an NHL impact. The system is really weak beyond him at the back end. They also lack a top notch goalie prospect.
The Canadiens traded away top prospect Mikhail Sergachev this summer. While there is no stud on the blue line, the depth there is still decent with Noah Juulsen, Victor Mete, Brett Lernout, and four picks from the 2017 NHL Draft. Upfront some work needs to be done. Charles Hudon will push for a spot on the big club. Nikita Scherbak improved in his second AHL season, but must do even more in his third. Ryan Poehling and Joni Ikonen were nice picks this year.
The Canadiens deepest position is in goal. Charlie Lindgren is one of the AHL’s best goalies, and Michael McNiven was the CHL goalie of the year. Falling down the depth chart is Zach Fucale. He must have a big season this year. Meanwhile, Hayden Hawkey also had a strong season in the college ranks. While the Habs have some of the best goalie depth of any organization, goalie prospects remain unpredictable and do not carry the same value as forwards and defencemen.
26. Winnipeg Jets
Kyle Connor heads to training camp, on the heels of his impressive AHL performance and looking to crack the lineup on a full-time basis. The Jets got another strong forward with Kristian Vesalainen in the first round of the draft. Jack Roslovic had a strong first season with the Manitoba Moose. While the forward group remains strong, the Jets could use help on the blue line. Newly signed Tucker Poolman is their top ranked defenceman. Finnish defenceman Sami Niku also has potential. In goal, they would like to see Eric Comrie take a step forward in his development.
25. New York Rangers
Upfront the Rangers are strong. Pavel Buchnevich still qualifies as a prospect, and the team added Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil in the first round of this year’s draft. In goal, Igor Shestyorkin plays an unorthodox style, but is one of the top goalie prospects in the world. Unfortunately, he is signed in the KHL through the 2019-20 season. The Rangers hope that Anthony DeAngelo makes the jump to NHL contributor on the blue line, while Sean Day will continue his development.
The Kings might have got the NHL Draft’s biggest steal when Gabriel Vilardi slipped to 11th overall. He adds a true high end prospect to their group. While he might not crack the roster this year, Adrian Kempe is pretty close to NHL ready, and should seriously challenge for a job in training camp. The Kings also added to their forward group with a strong second round pick in Jaret Anderson-Dolan. On defence, Kale Clague is one of the WHL’s best defencemen. The Kings signed a top goalie prospect in Notre Dames Cal Peterson, who refused to sign with the Buffalo Sabres.
23. Edmonton Oilers
The Edmonton Oilers have an excellent young team, having graduated a number of top prospects in recent years. However the system is now a little thin. In Jesse Puljujarvi, they still have one of the best prospects in all of hockey, and he saves them from finishing even lower in the rankings. They also made a solid first round selection with Kailer Yamamoto. These two gives the team strong wing depth to pair with their excellent young centres in the future. On defence ,they will look for Ethan Bear and Caleb Jones to continue to take steps forward. They start their pro careers this season. Goaltender Laurent Broissoit may be ready to be an NHL back-up.
22. Florida Panthers
Getting Owen Tippett was a real coup for the Florida Panthers on Draft Day. He slipped lower than expected. Tippett gives the team a sniper with high end potential. Centre Henrik Borgstrom returns to college after an excellent freshman season. He won the National Championship with the University of Denver. Winger Adam Mascherin also improved his stock last year with a strong OHL campaign. Add in Jayce Hawryluk and the forwards have good potential. However the defence group is thin beyond Ian McCoshen. The Panthers are hoping Samuel Montembault can make the jump from the QMJHL to AHL successfully, in goal.
The Wings made a curious first round pick with Michael Rasmussen. He scored a lot of points on the power play last season, but questions surround his five on five production. Their top prospect is Evgeni Svechnikov. He has elite level skill. It will be up to the Wings development staff to make sure he reaches his high potential. Tyler Bertuzzi was the best prospect on the AHL Champion Grand Rapids team. The Wings have Filip Hronek on the blue line. He projects as a potential second pair defender. Meanwhile, Dennis Cholowski took a little longer to adjust to the college game than many hoped. He will need to take a step up this year. The Wings have depth in goal with Jared Coreau, Keith Petruzelli, Matej Machovsky, and Filip Larsson.