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 (20-11)
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.
20. Calgary Flames
The Flames have been patient with Mark Jankowski. He was a controversial draft pick, but has really developed and should take a role in Calgary after an outstanding rookie year in the AHL. However, he is really the only high end forward prospect the Flames have. The team hopes that some of the forwards they drafted in the later rounds of this year’s draft will pan out.
The Flames are very strong on the blue line with Juuso Valimaki, Rasmus Andersson, Oliver Kylington, and Adam Fox. They also have excellent goaltending depth with Tyler Parsons and Jon Gillies. It has taken time, but the Flames prospect pool continues to improve.
19. Ottawa Senators
The Senators have one of the best prospects in hockey in Thomas Chabot. The defenceman had an incredible season, and shows all the signs of being a potential superstar. In Colin White they have another top notch prospect. However, things fall off a bit of a cliff after those two. The reality is that Logan Brown struggled last season, and is not on the same plane as the top two prospects in the system. He needs a bounce back year as questions have begun to emerge. Filip Chlapik currently projects as a third liner. The Sens do have a strong goalie prospect in Marcus Hogberg.
The Leafs were the top rated team in our rankings last year. They graduated more rookies than any club in the league last year, and those rookies led the team to a playoff spot. While there is still plenty of depth in the Leafs system, the fact is that there is not near the high end talent as one year ago. Timothy Lilgegren was a steal for the Leafs, giving them a top prospect at a major position of need. He immediately becomes their top prospect. They also have Travis Dermott, Calle Rosen, Andrew Nielsen, Andreas Borgman, and Eeli Rasanen on the blue line.
Up front Miro Aaltonen, Josh Leivo, and Kasperi Kapanen are fighting for roster spots. Jeremy Bracco, Adam Brooks, Carl Grundstrom, and Frederick Gauthier are intriguing names for future roles. In goal the Leafs will look to Joseph Woll, and Ian Scott.
17. Anaheim Ducks
Brandon Montour proved that he belongs in the NHL with his performance in the playoffs. He adds to a strong young defence in Anaheim. Fellow defender Jacob Larsson is also knocking on the door, and close to an NHL roster spot, but likely will have to wait another year. Regina’s Josh Mahura is a top WHL defender. His teammate Sam Steel was one of the most improved prospects in the world last year, and led the WHL in scoring. He could turn out to be a 2016 draft steal. Winger Max Jones had a strong start to the season in London last year, but injuries and lack of discipline were issues as the year went on. Troy Terry had his coming out party at the World Juniors. Meanwhile, Maxime Comtois is a potential 2017 draft steal. The Ducks lack a solid goalie prospect.
16. Dallas Stars
The Dallas Stars got the top defender in the 2017 draft in Miro Heiskanen and added the top goaltender in Jake Oettinger. While neither is NHL ready today, they are outstanding additions to the system. One player ready to make the jump is Julius Honka. He will provide the Stars with another strong puck mover on the blue line. Centre Roope Hintz has been strong in Finland and makes the jump to North America this season. It is hoped that Riley Tufte and Denis Guryanov take big steps forward this year. 2017 second round pick Jason Robertson lacks footspeed, but has every other talent you would like to see in a young forward. He put up a ton of points for Kingston last year.
At 4th overall, Cale Makar was an outstanding pick by the Avalanche. He gives the team the type of high end puck mover that is extremely valuable in the NHL and that the team desperately needs. Their second round pick, Connor Timmins is another offensive defence prospect who could have gone in the first round. They also have an excellent centre prospect in 2016 first round pick Tyson Jost. Another forward looking to make the jump this year is J.T Compher. He was excellent in the AHL last season, but has needed some time to adjust to the NHL. Defenceman Chris Bigras looks ready to jump to the NHL. Goaltender Spencer Martin is already established as a solid AHL goalie.
The Jackets have a strong young team. With the number of good young players who have graduated in recent years, the system’s depth has taken a hit. That should not be a big concern though, as there is plenty of time to rebuild the team’s depth. Pierre-Luc Dubois had a very slow start to his post-draft season, but came on later in the year. Oliver Bjorkstrand should be a full-time NHLer. An early season injury kept him under the 50 games played mark, and a prospect for the purposes of our rankings. Also on the wing Vitaly Abramov put up a big season in the QMJHL. There are questions about his size. Consistency is the issue for highly talented forward Sonny Milano.
On defence the Jackets have Gabriel Carlsson who is close to NHL ready. Fellow defender Vladislav Gavrikov has high end upside, but is signed long-term in the KHL. Andrew Peeke is a big, hard-hitting, defensive defenceman. This is the Jackets weakest position which makes it so important that they get Gavrikov to come to North America in a couple of years. Daniil Tarasov was a third round pick. He joins Elvis Merzlikins and Matiss Kivlenieks as the Jackets goalie prospect depth.
The Golden Knights took full advantage of some very advantageous expansion draft rules this year, and turned it into a great draft that stocked their system. With three picks in the top 15, they snagged two potential top line centres in Cody Glass and Nick Suzuki. In terms of non-2017 drafted prospects, Alex Tuch, Keegan Kolesar, Brendan Leipsic, and William Carrier provide forward depth.
On defence, Erik Brannstrom and Shea Theodore provide the Golden Knights with two elite puck movers in the system. Meanwhile Nicolas Hague is a big body who can play a defensive game. Jake Bischoff provides depth further down the system. Adding to these young defencemen will be a priority for George McPhee very soon. In net, Maksim Zhukov has excellent athleticism.
12. Buffalo Sabres
In Alexander Nylander and Casey Mittlestadt the Sabres have two outstanding forward prospects, though neither is NHL ready just yet. Cliff Pu was very good in London last year, and continues to develop in the OHL. Marcus Davidsson is a strong two-way centre. The Sabres second round pick easily could have been a first round pick in last year’s draft. Justin Bailey has an outstanding shot, and the big forward could make an NHL impact this year. He will face competition for a spot on the roster from Nick Baptiste and Hudson Fasching.
On defence, Brendan Guhle steps up to the pro ranks this season. Training camp will show if he is NHL ready or needs some AHL time. The blue line is the weakest part of the Sabres system. Casey Fitzgerald, and Casey Nelson, could develop into depth pieces. Will Borgen and Brycen Martin are further down the depth chart and Oskari Laaksonen was a decent draft pick. In net, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen was amongst the best goalies in the draft class, while Linus Ullmark is close to being read for a back-up job.
11. Boston Bruins
The Bruins have a top defence prospect in Charlie McAvoy. He should be a Calder Contender in the NHL this year, after proving that he belongs in the NHL during last year’s playoffs. Fellow defenders Jakub Zboril and Urho Vaakanainen will need development time, but are excellent prospects. Jeremy Lauzon, and Ryan Lindgren add to a very talented, and very deep group.
Up front, Anders Bjork could also make the jump to the NHL after being one of the top forwards in college hockey last season. He faces stiff competition from Jake DeBrusk, Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson and Zachary Senyshyn, amongst others. Centre Trent Frederic had an excellent freshman season at Wisconsin, and looks to improve as a sophomore. Danton Heinen was strong in his first AHL season and has the ability to play centre and wing. In goal, Malcolm Subban must make the jump soon, or be passed on the depth chart.
BUFFALO, NY – APRIL 05: Buffalo Sabres Right Wing Alexander Nylander (70) skates up-ice with the puck during the Montreal Canadiens and Buffalo Sabres NHL game on April 5, 2017, at KeyBank Center in Buffalo, NY (Photo by John Crouch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images).