Welcome to the 2018 Top Shelf Prospects series. As we go through the Summer of 2018 LWOH will be featuring a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. We will be following the order of the first round of the NHL draft (as if there were no traded draft picks) and you can find all the articles here. Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, we will not be reviewing the players who were drafted in the 2018 draft, as there have been no games since then, and our reports on them will not have changed.
What we 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 2018-19 roster of the NHL team in question. We will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later, or was an undrafted free agent signing who we pick as our dark horse to make the NHL. For those wondering, the cut-off for what is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 50 NHL games played (including playoff games) or is 25 years old. These are not hard or fast rules though, and we may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
Affiliated NHL Prospects: Part 2 (80-61)
After going through each team’s top 10 prospects, and then ranking every organization in the NHL, we now bring you our top 100 NHL Prospects. This was a very difficult list to compile, and there are a number of players who barely missed the cut. There is so much talent coming into the league, hockey fans have a lot to look forward too. With that said, let the debates begin.
One Note, Clicking the Player Name will take you to the team’s prospect page, or his individual draft scouting report.
Johnsson had a dream season. He put up 54 points in 54 AHL games, earning a late-season call-up to the Leafs. In the NHL, he put up two goals and three points in nine regular season games, and a goal and assist in six playoff games. Following the Leafs elimination, he put up 10 goals and 24 points in 16 AHL Playoff games, winning playoff MVP, and leading the Marlies to the Calder Cup. Johnsson is a goal scorer. He has a hard and accurate wrist shot and a very quick release. His one-timer shows good power and accuracy as well. He also has an excellent backhand, and will often take a shot with his backhand when he is buzzing around the zone.
Scherbak is a very good stick handler who is able to make a wide variety of moves at top speed. He also has outstanding vision and great passing skills. Scherbak is also able to utilize these passing skills in the cycle game and works well down low. Scherbak is not afraid to battle in the corners or in front of the net, and plays a gritty style, at least in the offensive end of the ice. He also has an excellent wrist shot and release which helps him to score goals. Add to this high-end hockey IQ and ability to read the game, and you have a potentially dynamic offensive player.
Already measuring 6-feet-6, Hague is a giant on the blue line. His skating is surprisingly quick for a player his size and his stride long and fluid. In his three years in the OHL Hague scored 14, 18 and finally 35 goals. He has a howitzer from the point on the power play. His one-timer was nearly unstoppable by junior goalies. He also can sneak down to the face-off circles and fire a deadly wrist shot with a quick release. The big man shows good defensive instincts for a player his age. He steers attackers to the outside, battles hard in the corners and clears the front of the net.
Greenway makes great use of his 6-foot-5 frame by playing a physical and gritty game in the offensive zone. He creates offence for teammates by winning battles in the corners, forechecking hard, and creating havoc in front of the net. He has a very hard and accurate wrist shot. His release is decent but needs to really be improved if he wants to score goals with it on pro goalies. One advantage is that he does have some soft hands and can make tips in the crease, or good passes to set up teammates. He needs to shoot more.
Merkley has solid offensive skills including very good vision and passing ability. He sees the ice very well and can thread a tape-to-tape pass through the smallest of openings. Merkley has high-end hockey IQ and almost always seems to make the smart play with the puck on his stick. He uses good stick handling and puck protection in the cycle game to extend plays and wait for his teammates to get open. While Merkley is more of a playmaker than a goal scorer, he also has an accurate shot and good release. He started to use that shot more and the results are seen in his increased goal totals. He could still stand to shoot the puck more though.
Fox has extremely good stickhandling ability. He shows poise with the puck at the blue line, being patient, and willing to use his agility to walk the line to open up shooting and passing lanes. Fox has outstanding vision and the ability to feather a pass through the tightest of openings. He can use this ability while quarterbacking the power play, carrying the puck on the rush, or in making a strong first pass to start the rush. He is especially adept at making long breakaway passes.
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. He is also willing to block shots and uses an active stick to cut down passing lanes. He has very good gap control and forces opposing forwards to the outside. When he gets the puck, Larsson moves it out of the zone quickly, starting the transition game. He can also skate the puck out of pressure from forecheckers.
Shestyorkin is a smaller goaltender who relies on his outstanding reflexes to make saves. His technique is raw, but he is lightning quick. He never quits on a play and gets across the crease quickly to make a lot of very acrobatic saves. He tracks the puck well. His glove hand is outstanding, taking away the top of the net. He can stand to work on his angles and challenging shooters. Shestyorkin prefers to play deep in his crease. Over the last few years, he has improved his rebound control. Even when he gives up a rebound, Shestyorkin is good at staying square to the puck and being in a position to make the next save.
Allison plays a simple game, but a highly physical and highly effective one. He is a budding power forward, willing to throw hits on the forecheck, get involved in battles along the boards, and go to the front of the net. Strong and powerful, Allison uses his well-developed frame to dominate against his peers. He will need a little more muscle to do the same at the next level but is well ahead of most prospects his age. Allison has a strong and powerful wrist shot which he gets off with a quick release. He also finds openings to set himself up for a powerful one-timer. Allison scores goals in close to the net with quick hands and the ability to bury rebounds and get tip-ins.
Kostin has the strength and size to play a powerful game, as he is strong on the puck; effective in maintaining possession down low; and difficult to contain when he drives the net. He is also highly skilled, with soft hands and excellent stickhandling ability and a fantastic wrist shot and release. Kostin has the moves to shed defenders to create a scoring opportunity; along with snipers shot to bury the puck once he gets that open. Kostin also has good vision and passing skills. He can make creative plays with the puck, feathering a pass to a teammate through very tight openings.
A strong 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 upper body strength in order to add power to his shot. This will allow him to become a sniper in addition to his current skills as a playmaker. Nylander possesses soft hands and finishes plays in tight to the net. He also has the instincts to get open in the zone and get his shot off. Nylander’s great vision and hockey sense make him a dangerous player. He can thread the needle through small openings when passing to teammates. Nylander’s stickhandling allowed him to protect the puck in junior and will be useful going forward but he must add more bulk to really succeed in playing the cycle game against bigger opponents in the pros.
Listed at 6-foot-3, Husso may not be huge, but he still has good size for an NHL goalie. He plays a strong butterfly technique and shows strong positioning. Husso 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. 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.
Hayton has a heavy shot and a good release. A big reason for his increased goal scoring last year was his ability to get into the right spots and use his wrist shot more often. He also improved his accuracy but can still get better in this area. Hayton is not afraid to get to the front of the net. Once there, he battles hard for position and has the soft hands to finish plays in tight. Hayton scores on tip-ins, quick one-timers and by quickly pouncing on rebounds. Hayton plays a straightforward game. He protects the puck well on the cycle and has soft hands. Hayton looks to keep the puck moving, find the open man, and then get it to the net. He is a smart player, who makes quick, smart plays with the puck.
Dermott’s biggest asset is his hockey sense. His positioning at both ends of the ice is extremely strong. He reads the play well and picks the right times to pinch in at the blue line, to join the rush, or to look to step up and make a hit. With the puck on his stick, he is able to avoid danger with good poise as well as decent stick handling. He uses his vision to make a strong first pass. He can also control the play and quarterback things from the point on the power play. His shot could use more power though.
It was a dream season for Niku. He scored 16 goals and 54 points in 76 games for the Manitoba Moose. This not only put him on the AHL All-Rookie team, it also put him on the league’s First All-Star Team and won him the league’s Defenceman of the Year Award. Niku was also called up for his first NHL game, scoring a goal. He put up a goal and three points in nine games in the AHL Playoffs. Niku has a powerful shot from the point. He uses his lateral agility to walk the line, opening up shooting lanes to get that shot off. Niku understands how to keep it low, and on the net, in order to give teammates opportunities for rebounds, deflections and tips.
Foote is a decent skater given his size. This can get better. He also has solid pivots and edgework which allow him to cover the ice, as well as to transition from offence to defence, and vice-versa. His lateral agility allows him to walk the line, and to open up passing and shooting lanes. Foote is strong on his skates, with good balance and a strong lower body. This helps him in battling for pucks in the corners and in clearing the front of the net. Like most teenagers, there is room to add muscle to his frame, which should only help him as he moves up to the pro game.
While he is undersized, Yamamoto makes up for it with his tremendous skating. His top-end speed is excellent. Yamamoto creates odd-man rushes with his speed and can beat defenders to the outside and cut to the net. Yamamoto has tremendous hands. He is a great stick-handler and can bury goals in tight to the net. He can make quick dekes in very tight spaces, helping him to beat defenders as well as goaltenders. Excellent hand-eye coordination allows Yamamoto to tip pucks on net. He has developed a harder shot, but it could still use a bit more power.
Kupari is an outstanding skater. Kupari is exceptionally fast and has great acceleration. His ability to change speeds is a weapon. He quickly changes speeds in order to get free from a defender or to open up passing and shooting lanes. Kupari is most dangerous with the puck on his stick. He is a tremendous stickhandler and can beat defensemen one-on-one. Pairing this with his skating skills, he is difficult to defend. Kupari also has very good passing skills and excellent vision. Once he opens up a passing lane, he quickly makes a tape-to-tape pass to a teammate. Kupari anticipates plays well and knows where his teammates are going before they make their move. He almost always makes the smart play with the puck.
Veleno has tremendous speed and outstanding acceleration. It is his skating skill that truly gave him a leg up on older competition and earned him the exceptional player status. Veleno is more of a playmaker than a goal scorer. He has great vision, hockey sense, and passing skills. Veleno reads the play well and anticipates where his teammates will be. He uses his speed and agility to open up passing lanes. He also has the ability to put the puck through tight spaces, and make tape-to-tape passes to set up linemates in good scoring areas. Veleno has very good hockey sense and seems to always make the right play with the puck. He needs to add muscle to his frame and get more power on his shot to be a consistent goal scorer. He could also be quicker on his release.
In order to succeed in the NHL as an undersized defenceman, one must be an excellent skater. Brannstrom certainly checks that box. He has outstanding speed in both directions and gets up to top speed quickly, with great acceleration. Brannstrom is also an excellent playmaker. He has outstanding puck handling ability and the poise to control the puck and make plays in all situations. He can use his skating and stickhandling to break the puck out of his own zone and get the transition game started. Brannstrom can create offence both through leading the rush and as a trailer. He also is able to walk the line at the blue line, making smart plays when quarterbacking things from the point.