Welcome to the 2014 edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. As we have gone through the Summer of 2014 I featured a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. YOu can find all the articles here. You can also find the 2014 Draftees in our extensive NHL Draft preview, where players were reviewed and ranked prior to the 2014 NHL Draft. For those wondering, the cut-off for what is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 50 NHL games played (including playoffs) or being 25 years old. These are not hard or fast rules though, and I may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
With all thirty NHL teams reviewed (3 prospects per team, plus one sleeper) 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 the reports here are condensed, and that by clicking on the player name you will get a full report.
Top NHL Prospects
30) Nikita Zadorov, D, Buffalo Sabres
Zadorov is best known for his defensive skills. A huge defenceman, he dishes out big hits, and opposing forwards really need to keep their heads up if coming down his end of the ice. He has improved by leaps and bounds offensively since being drafted and is now using his good mobility to allow himself to join the rush and recover quickly. In the offensive end he has a very hard and heavy slapshot, and can let it fly from the point.
29) Griffin Reinhart, D, New York Islanders
Reinhart is already 6’4″ and over 200 lbs. He is a huge presence in the defensive zone. Reinhart is a true shut down defenceman, with excellent positioning in the his own zone, and his big frame and long stick allow him to block shots and effectively cut down passing lanes. He also uses his great size and strength to keep the Oil Kings’ crease clear and to win board battles in the corners. Has a good point shot, but lacks puck poise and vision to be a true top pairing power play guy. Could still be a second unit defender on the power play though.
28) Jacob de la Rose, C/LW, Montreal Canadiens
Bringing size to an organization that needs it, there are also a lot of tools in de la Rose’s toolbox in the offensive zone. He has great stick handling and very soft hands. He goes to the net and can score goals in tight on rebounds and tip ins. He also has a good wrist shot, and his release is decent. He’s an absolute beast on the boards and just loves physical contact, often being the initiator. De la Rose has shown good vision and passing skills as well.
27) Johnny Gaudreau, LW, Calgary Flames
Gaudreau was absolutely electric this year with 80 points in the NCAA action, becoming the first player in more than a decade to do so and running away with the Hobey Baker award. Offensively he has all the skills necessary to succeed: elite speed; great hockey sense; tremendous vision and passing skills; soft hands and great stickhandling; and a superb shot and release. At just 5’8″ tall though, there will continue to be questions about his NHL potential until he can prove to handle the rigours of the pro game. At this point though we wouldn’t bet against him.
26) Haydn Fleury, D, Carolina Hurricanes
Haydn Fleury is a solid two-way defender with good size at 6’3″, and impressive skating. He has good edgework, and solid mobility. A two-way defender, he has the potential to be a shut down player in his own zone, and to run the powerplay at the NHL level. Shows very good vision and passing skill in the offensive zone. Fleury compliments it all with a strong point shot.
25) Derrick Pouliot, D, Pittsburgh Penguins
Pouliot is a skilled offensive defenceman. He is one of the best skating prospects in this series, as he is very fast in both directions and has great acceleration. He also has excellent balance and agility. Pouliot uses his edges extremely well and has good pivots. He is able to change directions quickly. The outstanding mobility is Pouliot’s best asset and helps him in all aspects of the game, whether it be creating offense off the rush, walking the line in the offensive zone and opening up shooting and passing lanes on the powerplay or by helping him to contain opponents defensively.
24) Curtis Lazar, C, Ottawa Senators
It was a near perfect season for Lazar. He again led the Oil Kings to one of the best records in the WHL, and through the playoffs to a second WHL title in his career. He and the Oil Kings topped it all off by winning the Memorial Cup. Lazar is a pure goal scorer. He has an outstanding wrist shot and pro-level release which he uses to beat goalies. He also has an excellent slap shot. Add to this arsenal, the soft hands to finish plays in close and the quick hand eye co-ordination to make delections and pounce on rebounds and you can see why he had so many goals this season. Lazar also plays a rugged game and is willing to hit on the forecheck or battle along the boards, or in the cycle game. Lazar also adds an outstanding two-way game and great faceoff skill to his repetoire.
23) Nathan Beaulieu, D, Montreal Canadiens
Beaulieu’s game is built around his outstanding skating abilities. He has a smooth and graceful stride leading to very good top end speed which he reaches quickly with excellent acceleration. The speed and acceleration is visible in both Beaulieu’s forward and backwards skating. He’s not afraid to rush the puck himself, and is also a solid passer, and has an excellent point shot. Defensively he can use a little bit of polish, but has the skills and abilities necessary to succeed and has come a long way since being drafted. Was a difference maker for Montreal in the final two games of their second round series against Boston adding a transition game to the third pair. Should make the Habs this year and give them another point threat along with P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov.
22) Nikolaj Ehlers, LW, Winnipeg Jets
Ehlers has been nicknamed “The Electric Ehl.” One anonymous NHL scout we talked to this year said, “He’s got an immense amount of skill and creativity, and whoever drafts him will be very lucky. He’s going to be a good player in the NHL.”
Ehlers combines elite skating skill with great hands and he can score in close when he cuts to the net. His stickhandling ability is high-end and he can make moves and control the puck while at top speed. He is absolutely lethal off the rush, and if defenders back off on him to avoid being beaten by his speed, he can use the space to let go a great wrist shot which features an excellent release. His passing skill is also high level, and he has great vision and hockey sense to take advantage of that.
21) William Nylander, C/RW, Toronto Maple Leafs
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, but needs to add some upper body muscle and increase the power. Nylander is an outstanding skater. He has very good top end speed and excellent acceleration and change of pace ability. He uses this to fool defenders off the rush and to open up passing and shooting lanes by quickly changing speeds.
20) Mathew Dumba, D, Minnesota Wild
Dumba is a very talented, but very raw defence prospect. Offensively talented, Dumba has great skating, a tremendous slapshot, smart offensive instincts, makes great passes, and is clearly not afraid to join the rush or take offensive chances. Over his time in Red Deer and Portland, Dumba has shown that he can use these skills and translate them into being a big time offensive weapon both at even strength and on the power play. He’s also known as a big hitter, but can sometimes get himself out of position looking for those hits and will need to learn to pick his spots.
19) Nick Ritchie, RW, Anaheim Ducks
Nick 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 and has the quick, soft hands necessary to score on rebounds and deflections. Ritchie might have the best wrist shot in this draft class. It is tremendously powerful, and features a very good release. It can be in the back of the net before the goaltender even knows that he’s shot the puck. He also is more than willing to drop the gloves at any time.
18) Bo Horvat, C, Vancouver Canucks
Horvat has very good vision, good passing skills, and excellent hockey sense. This makes him an effective playmaker in the offensive zone. He goes to the dirty areas of the ice winning board battles and taking the puck to the front of the net. He also likes to establish his front of the net presence where he can unleash a heavy shot with a good release from the slot, and loves to go top shelf even from in tight. Horvat has good hands and is able to control the puck effectively on the rush or off the cycle game. He protects the puck extremely well, and makes smart plays in the offensive zone. Not the fanciest player, Horvat creates offence through simple, smart, straight ahead plays, and getting to prime scoring areas. He also has outstanding two-way ability.
17) Filip Forsberg, LW/RW, Nashville Predators
Forsberg is a versatile forward, capable of playing either wing position. Some say he’s a power forward in the making, and he certainly tries to play that style of game. He’s willing to hit opponents, throw his body around, and drive the net. Forsberg is not all power though, as he is also extremely skilled. He’s got an excellent shot with a very quick and deceptive release that often fools goaltenders. He is also a very talented passer and is able to threading the needle through sticks and skates, and make crafty saucer passes at times to give linemates high quality scoring opportunities.
16) Anthony Mantha, LW, Detroit Red Wings
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 scores in junior hockey because he is 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, and 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. Needs to show a more consistent effort level in the defensive end of the ice.
15) Alexander Wennberg, Columbus Blue Jackets
Wennberg shows strong ability as both a playmaker and a goal scorer. He has good hands in tight and can score with dekes, tip ins and by pouncing on rebounds. Wennberg has shown a better wrist shot this year, adding power as he has added muscle mass to his upper body, and he’s worked on having a quicker release. Wennberg is also a skilled playmaker, with excellent vision, and pin point passing ability. He can create scoring opportunities for his linemates both off the rush and in the cycle game. Wennberg is not afraid to go to the dirty areas of the ice, and the increased upper body strength has made him more effective in board battles or in front of the net. He also features a well-developed defensive game.
14) Darnell Nurse, D, Edmonton Oilers
The offence that Nurse showed in his draft year, continued to improve this past season, as he set new career highs in goals, assists and points despite playing four less games. Nurse continued to show off his big-time point shot and one-timer, scoring 13 goals. Nurse is extremely effective at keeping his shot low, getting it through and on net, and generating opportunities for rebounds and tip-ins in front of the net. He also effectively utilizes a good wrist shot and release when he doesn’t have time to load up the slapshot. Nurse has terrific size and uses it effectively in his own end. He’s a big hitter who can strike fear into opposing players as they come down his end of the ice.
13) Tomas Hertl, C/RW, San Jose Sharks
Tomas Hertl had a tremendous rookie campaign, despite the fact that it was marred by an injury that cost him over half of it. He was looking like the early leader for the Calder Trophy when a knee injury put him out of action for several months (SIA Profile). Hertl is a big, strong, versatile forward. He is capable of playing both centre and wing, though he played mostly wing in the NHL. He has good passing skills and vision, and can be both a playmaker and a scorer. Hertl is great at working the boards and cycling the puck in the offensive zone. When the puck is on his stick, he shows good stickhandling and puck protection skills, as well as the ability to find and hit an open teammate with a tape to tape pass. Without the puck he is able to find open spaces and has good hockey sense and instincts. In terms of goal scoring, Hertl has soft hands in tight, and has improved his shot since being drafted, as he has more power and a quicker release.
12) Michael Dal Colle, RW, New York Islanders
The first thing you notice about Michael Dal Colle if you watch him for a full game is his stickhandling ability. It might be the best of any player in this draft. His soft hands are absolutely elite and he can do things with the puck that others only dream of doing. Dal Colle has shown an excellent ability to play the cycle game protecting the puck down low, and making quick, smart passes. When given openings he cane drive the net and show off those soft hands in close, and they give him the ability to beat defenders and goaltenders one-on-one. He’s also a power winger who is strong on his skates and also isn’t afraid to bulldoze through a defender if necessary.
11) Rasmus Ristolainen, D, Buffalo Sabres
Ristolainen is a talented offensive defenceman who will help the Sabres generate offense from the backend for years to come. The first thing you notice about Ristolainen is how calm and cool he is with the puck on his stick, at least at the AHL level and in the world juniors. Ristolainen has shown that he is a good stickhandler, who uses his ability to protect the puck to buy him the time necessary to survey the ice and make the smart play, whether that be deciding between making the quick crisp breakout pass from his own zone, or skating the puck up ice himself. He uses the same smart decision making to be a quarterback in the offensive zone, especially on the powerplay. Ristolainen also has a very strong point shot, which he understands is most effective when he keeps it low and on net. He’s also good in his own end and loves to play a rough and tumble game.
Check Back Tomorrow for the Top 10 Prospects. Some great names still remain.
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