Welcome to the 2016 edition of “Top Shelf Hockey 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.
NHL Organizational Prospect Pool Rankings (Top Ten)
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.) Vancouver Canucks
The Canucks took the first defenceman in this year’s draft with Olli Juolevi. He becomes the clear leader of a solid group that includes Nikita Tryamkin, and Jordan Subban. Troy Stecher was an excellent free agent pickup and should push for a spot after some time in the AHL. They also have Andrey Pedan, Guillaume Brisebois, and the newly drafted Cole Candella as developing blueliners. Goaltender Thatcher Demko had an excellent career at Boston College. The defence and goaltending are in good shape, but long-term the Canucks must look to add more offensive firepower to their prospect ranks.
The forwards feature Brock Boeser who had an outstanding freshman season at North Dakota, winning the national championship. Up front, the Canucks have a pair of two way centres in Brendan Gaunce and Cole Cassels, but lack a player with top line upside down the middle. The Sedins are not getting any younger, and this must be addressed soon.
In Mikko Rantanen and Tyson Jost, the Avalanche have a pair of studs at forward. They are joined by J.T. Compher who had an outstanding season at Michigan. They also have solid forwards in A.J. Greer, J.C. Beaudoin, Julien Nantel, and Rocco Grimaldi. Its a varied and deep forward pool. On defence the Avalanche feature Chris Bigras, who should make the team this year. The pool also features Cam Morrison, Nicolas Meloche, Will Butcher, Andrei Mironov, Sergei Boikov, and Mason Geertsen moving up through the ranks.
It’s due or die time for former first rounder Duncan Siemens. He needs to prove his worth at the NHL level this year, or will find himself outside the organization. In goal Calvin Pickard was considered graduated due to the fact he is 24-years-old and has secured a full-time spot. The Avalanche will now look to develop Spencer Martin, and Adam Werner between the pipes.
8.) Anaheim Ducks
Shea Theodore, Brandon Montour and Jacob Larsson are high end defence prospects. The blue line group is deep as they are ajoined by Marcus Petterson, Josh Mahura, Andy Welinski, and Keaton Thompson. Up front there are high end prospects in Nick Ritchie and Max Jones who are developing into power forwards. The forward group is bolstered by Sam Steel, Julius Nattinen, Kevin Roy, Nicolas Kerdiles, Stefan Noesen, Nick Sorensen, Ondrej Kase, Deven Sideroff, and Michael Sgarbossa. With John Gibson graduated, the Ducks need to look to find a new goalie prospect over the next couple of years.
The Islanders have drafted highly for a number of years recently and this has built an excellent prospect group. They are talented at every position. Goalie Ilya Sorokin has been excellent in Russia. Defenceman Ryan Pulock played an important role in the Islanders playoff run. The defence may not have any blue chippers beyond Pulock; but has some decent projects in Adam Pelech, Scott Mayfield, Mithchell vande Sompel and Parker Wotherspoon.
It’s the forwards who are the real strength though with Mathew Barzal, Michael Dal Colle, Anthony Beauvillier, Kieffer Bellows, and Josh Ho-Sang all having high end talent. Depth comes in the form of Alan Quine, Anatoly Golyshev and Johan Sundstrom.
The Hurricanes added Jake Bean to a stacked young blue line group. While not counted in this ranking, the Hurricanes graduated Noah Hanifin, Brett Pesce, and Jacob Slavin last year. They also have Haydn Fleury as a blue chipper. Trevor Carrick, and Roland McKeown give the Hurricanes an embarrassment of riches on the blue line. They also have a top notch goaltending prospect in Alex Nedeljkovic. In net, Daniel Altshuller challenges Nedeljkovic for the Canes goaltender of the future mantle.
Upfront no prospect has risen as far in just one year’s team as Sebastian Aho, who went from second round pick to legitimate blue chipper. He is joined by Phil DiGiusseppe, Julien Gauthier, and Nicolas Roy in a group just below that status. Forwards Brock McGinn and Sergey Tolchinskyare also pushing for spots in the lineup. Meanwhile, Warren Foegele, Lucas Wallmark, Aleksi Saarela, and Valentin Zykov might be more long-term projects; but they still have excellent potential.
Even with Shayne Gostisbehere being considered graduated, the Flyers still have arguably the best defence group in the NHL. With Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim, Sam Morin, and Philippe Myers, there are four really good defenders in the system. Robert Hagg may not have developed as hoped, but still has some potential. Mark Friedman just accentuates the vast amount of blue line riches in the Flyers system.
The Flyers defencemen protect a strong group of goaltenders. My colleague Zach Anderson, went over the goalie prospects. There are some legitimate prospects in the group including Carter Hart, Alex Lyon, and Anthony Stolarz. Upfront, Travis Konecny, German Rubtsov, Pascal Laberge, and Nicolas Aube-Kubel are a nice foundation of prospects. Wade Allison, Oskar Lindblom, Taylor Leier, Mikhail Vorobyev, and Tanner Laczynski add depth.
The strength of the Blue Jackets system was on full display in the AHL playoffs, as their affiliate, the Lake Erie Monsters won the Calder Cup. Defenceman Zach Werenski had an outstanding season with Michigan before joining the Monsters for the playoffs. Oliver Bjorkstrand, Sonny Milano, Jonas Korpisalo, Anton Forsberg, played key roles. They also added Pierre-Luc Dubois in the NHL Draft.
Defencemen Gabriel Carlsson, Dillon Heatherington, Ryan Collins, Dean Kukan and Andrew Peeke provide depth on the blue line. Up front Paul Bittner, Josh Anderson, Vitali Abramov, Markus Hannikainen and Keegan Kolesar have all taken steps towards carving out an NHL career. Overall the pool shows high-end talent and depth at nearly every position.
3.) Winnipeg Jets
The Jets drafted a future stud in Patrik Laine, and saw Kyle Connor have one of the best seasons of any player in the NCAA. Centre Nic Petan had a solid season as an AHL rookie. Forwards Jack Roslovic, Jansen Harkins, Joel Armia, Brendan Lemieux, Michael Spacek, and Chase De Leo add real depth. It would not be a surprise if a couple of those forwards make an impact at the NHL level over the next few years.
On defence, Josh Morrissey is adjusting to the pro game. The Jets added defencemen Logan Stanley, Luke Green, and Jacob Cederholm in this year’s draft. They add to an already deep group that includes Jan Kostalek, Jack Glover, and Tucker Poolman. Goaltender Connor Hellebuyck is ready to take over the Jets crease, while Eric Comrie continues to develop as a top goalie prospect.
2.) Arizona Coyotes
The Coyotes put seven prospects on our top 100 list. While most teams search for a solution at centre, the Coyotes have three potential top line centres in Dylan Strome, Christian Dvorak, and Clayton Keller. Wingers Lawson Crouse, Christian Fischer, Brendan Perlini, and Conor Garland all look like potential top six forwards. Nick Merkley, Laurent Dauphin, Henrik Samuelsson, and Ryan MacInnis also have serious NHL potential.
The defence was a bit of an issue heading into the draft, but general manager John Chayka addressed it nicely. Adding Jakub Chychrun, Anthony DeAngelo, and Cam Dineen, all in the same day makes for a serious haul. Previous pick-ups Dysin Mayo, Kyle Capobianco and Kyle Wood are also darkhorses to make some noise. Goal may be a bit of an issue with Louis Dominigue now considered graduated. Getting another talented goalie in the pipeline could become a priority for the Coyotes in the near future.
Auston Matthews, William Nylander, and Mitch Marner give the Leafs three prospects in our top 10. That alone might be enough to have the Leafs listed as having the NHL’s top prospect group. They add to it though with defencemen Nikita Zaitsev and Travis Dermott also cracking the top 100.
Up front, the team also has Kasperi Kapanen, Nikita Soshnikov, and Kerby Rychel knocking on the door to make the roster. Other prospects such as Dmytro Timashov, Yegor Korshkov, and Jeremy Bracco, will continue to develop at AHL and junior levels. On defence the Leafs also have Andrew Nielsen, who had an excellent junior season. Antoine Bibeau and Garrett Sparks are projects between the pipes, but the Leafs could benefit from adding a goaltending prospect. Even without one, the system is far and away the best in the NHL right now.