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.
2018 NHL Organizational Prospect Rankings (20-11)
After going through the top 10 prospects of every team in the NHL and giving full scouting reports, we will now be ranking each team’s prospect pools.
Note: If you click on the team name, you will get a link to a full report on that team. The snippets here are just a taste of the information available.
10.) Vegas Golden Knights
In Cody Glass, Nick Suzuki and Erik Brannstrom, the Golden Knights have three blue-chip prospects. Defenceman Nicolas Hague and winger Lucas Elvenes aren’t quite blue-chippers but are close to that status. One through five, the Golden Knights are almost as good as any other team. However, beyond that, the depth really falls off. Slava Demin, Ivan Morozov, Dylan Coghlan, and Ben Jones are prospects worth watching, but each comes with huge question marks. The lack of prospect depth is something that should be expected at this stage of the team’s development. There has been a lot of talk about last year’s expansion draft rules. One area they did not help the Golden Knights, was in building prospect depth. There is a real lack of prospects in the age 21-24 group on the team.
A great draft sees the Wings add Filip Zadina, Joe Veleno, Jonatan Berggren, and Jared McIsaac. Zadina is an NHL-ready sniper on the wing. He was fourth in our draft rankings. Veleno was ranked 12th and inexplicably fell to the bottom of the round. He projects as a two-way centre with excellent skating. We ranked McIsaac, a two-way defender with good size as another first-round prospect. Berggren is an industrious forward who lacks size but does not lack talent. We ranked him 33rd going into the draft. Overall, this draft was a major coup for the organization.
2017 first-round pick Michael Rasmussen had a decent regular season. He absolutely exploded in the playoffs with 16 goals and 33 points in 14 games for Tri-City. The defence core features Filip Hronek, Dennis Cholowski, Gustav Lindstrom, and Vili Saarijarvi. Undrafted signee Joe Hicketts continues to push for an NHL job. The Wings hope that Evgeny Svechnikov takes a step forward this year. He could step up and grab a top-nine spot on the NHL club. In goal, Filip Larsson and Keith Petruzelli lead the way. The Wings have built excellent depth in their system. They need to add a few more elite prospects before their rebuild will be truly successful. The team is well on their way.
The Canadiens issues at centre have been well-documented. They loaded up on centre prospects at the 2017 and 2018 drafts. While that may not provide immediate help, they are well-stocked going forward. Jesperi Kotkaniemi is an elite-level prospect. Ryan Poehling and Jacob Olofsson are just behind that. Depth comes from Joni Ikonen, Jake Evans, Cam Hillis, Allan McShane, and Cole Fonstad. If enough develop, some of these centres may be forced to the wing out of sheer depth. Already on the wing are Nikita Scherbak, Jesse Ylonen, and Will Bitten.
The defence features Victor Mete and Noah Juulsen who should be big parts of the NHL team this year. We are higher on Josh Brook than most. He does everything well and could really develop. After a trade to Regina, Cale Fleury was able to show what he was capable of on a competitive team. The Habs are much stronger on the right side than the left. The issue could be eased if one of Alexander Romanov, Jordan Harris, Jarret Tyszka, Michal Moravcik or David Sklenicka take a step forward this year. In goal, Cayden Primeau might have been the NCAA’s best goalie as an 18-year-old. AHL goalies Charlie Lindgren and Michael McNiven also have potential. The key to the Habs system is their depth at all positions.
7.) St. Louis Blues
In Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou, the Blues had two of the top players in the OHL last year. They both contributed in a big way to Team Canada’s gold at the World Juniors. Thomas was also the OHL playoff MVP. The team also has Klim Kostin. He is a very talented winger. German forward Dominik Bokk rose up draft lists all year long. The Blues also have Samuel Blais, Erik Foley, and Zach Sanford. This gives them both high-end forward prospects and solid depth.
The blue line is also very deep with a very good prospect in Jake Walman leading the way. The two-way defender had an up and down first pro season in the AHL. Former first-round pick Jordan Schmaltz should fight for a spot in training camp. 2018 second-round pick Scott Perunovich led Minnesota-Duluth to the NCAA championship. Other notable defenders are Niko Mikkola, David Noel, and Mitch Reinke. Goaltender Ville Husso is close to NHL ready, and one of the top goalie prospects in the world. The team has great depth in goal with Evan Fitzpatrick, David Opilka and Jordan Binnington in the system.
Goaltender Carter Hart should be a future NHL star and solve the Flyers long-running goaltending issues. Anthony Stolarz, Alex Lyon, and Felix Sandstrom fill out the goaltending depth. Former undrafted free agent Philippe Myers was an absolute steal and is close to taking an NHL job. An injury will keep Samuel Morin on the sidelines to start the year, but he is also close to NHL ready. The two will eventually form a pair of twin towers on the Flyers blue line. Philadelphia added Adam Ginning in the NHL Draft. He is another big defenceman.
Up front, 2017 first-round pick Morgan Frost won the OHL scoring title. This year’s first pick, Joel Farabee was a first line forward on a strong US NTDP squad. With a second first rounder, the Flyers took centre Jay O’Brien. The high school forward didn’t see a lot of games against high-level competition but excelled every time he did. Collegiate forward Wade Allison and OHL star Isaac Ratcliffe are future power wingers. Centre Tanner Laczynski also had an excellent NCAA campaign. Immediate help comes in the form of Oskar Lindblom who got in 23 NHL games last year. Forward depth is the Flyers biggest strength.
The Islanders might have had the best draft of any NHL Team. They walked away with two of our top 10 ranked prospects in Oliver Wahlstrom and Noah Dobson. The team also snagged Bode Wilde, Ruslan Iskhakov, Jakub Skarek, Jake Pivonka, and Blade Jenkins. Over the course of two days, they added high-end quality and depth to the system. Wahlstrom is a sniper on the wing. Dobson is an excellent two-way defender who led his team to the Memorial Cup. Wilde was a top defenceman for the US NTDP. Skarek was one of the top goalies in the 2018 draft. Overall, They received an A+ grade in our 2018 NHL Draft Grades.
The group already included a top goalie prospect in Ilya Sorokin. Winger Kieffer Bellows broke records at the World Juniors. Meanwhile, Joshua Ho-Sang continues to knock on the door of a full-time roster spot. Michael Dal Colle has been a disappointment after being taken fifth overall. He must turn that around soon or be left behind. Puck moving defencemen Devon Toews and Sebastian Aho are also close to making the squad on a full-time basis. Fellow puck movers Mitchell Vande Sompel and David Quenneville provide depth. They also have depth in goal with Linus Soderstrom.
4.) New York Rangers
In Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil, the Rangers have two high-end centre prospects who should be contributing at the NHL level soon. They added another high-end forward with Vitali Kravtsov at the NHL draft. He set records for a teenager in the KHL playoffs. The team also added centre Brett Howden in a trade with Tampa. Depth forwards include Ty Ronning, Vinni Lettieri and Boo Nieves. The high-end forwards are here but depth can still be added.
The Rangers are deep on the blueline where Libor Hajek is the feature attraction. The trade-deadline acquisition had a strong final season in the WHL. They also added Ryan Lindgren, Rob O’Gara, and Yegor Rykov in trades. They previously added Neal Pionk and John Gilmour as undrafted free agents. Both defenders contributed to the club last season. The draft brought K’Andre Miller and Nils Lundkvist. The team also has a top goalie prospect in Igor Shestyorkin. Further down the depth chart Alexandar Georgiev, Adam Huska, Olof Lindbom, and Brandon Halverson provide plenty of competition.
Second overall selection Andrei Svechnikov and 2017 first-round pick Martin Necas are elite level talents. The Hurricanes hope that they can find chemistry together. Winger Valentin Zykov and centre Janne Kuokkanen look close to NHL ready. Other solid forward prospects include Warren Foegele, Julien Gauthier, Nicolas Roy, Morgan Geekie, Lucas Wallmark, Jack Drury, Aleksi Saarela, Stelio Mattheos, David Cotton, Cliff Pu, and Eetu Luostarinen.
On the blue line, Jake Bean could be an outstanding offensive defenceman. He is another elite level prospect. Fellow defender Adam Fox also moves the puck extremely well. Defenders Roland McKeown and Luke Martin also have NHL potential. Trevor Carrick and Michael Fora are further down the depth chart. The Hurricanes don’t have a true top-end goalie prospect but Callum Booth, Jeremy Hellvig, and Alex Nedeljkovic are decent projects.
2017 first-round pick Elias Pettersson had the best season of any drafted prospect not in the NHL last year. He won nearly everything he could possibly win in Sweden. First-round pick Quinn Hughes was ranked third on our draft board. His skating and offensive game are special. Thatcher Demko is a top goalie prospect, who could push for an NHL job very soon. After a disappointing 2016-17, Olli Juolevi bounced back with a strong season in Finland. He would likely make the Canucks out of camp if not for an injury that will keep him out of the lineup early in the year. Jonathan Dahlen was acquired in a steal of a trade with Ottawa. He had a huge year in the Allsvenskan. Goalie Michael DiPietro was one of the best in the OHL. He gives the Canucks an incredible six elite-level prospects.
Just below that level, the Canucks also have forward Adam Gaudette, who was one of the best players in the NCAA last year. In the WHL, Kole Lind had 95 points in 58 games for the Kelowna Rockets. Power winger Jonah Gadjovich had some injury issues. He still put up 48 points in 42 games in the OHL. Other forward prospects include Petrus Palmu, Tyler Madden, Artem Manukyan, and Lukas Jasek. The Canucks blueline depth includes Jett Woo, Guillaume Brisebois, and Ashton Sautner.
1.) Buffalo Sabres
In Rasmus Dahlin, the Sabres drafted a generational level talent. He is the best 18-year-old defenseman that we can remember. He is the top prospect in all of hockey. Defenceman Brendan Guhle proved he is NHL-ready last year. The team also added Mattias Samuelsson in the second round of the NHL Draft. Further down the depth chart Will Borgen, Jacob Bryson and Casey Fitzgerald are solid prospects. The Sabres cleared the decks in goal, leaving room for Linus Ullmark to claim an NHL spot. Finnish goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen is further away but progressing nicely.
They also have 2017 first-round pick Casey Mittelstadt who should be the team’s second line centre this season. He is another elite level talent and a top-10 prospect in the world. Sniper Tage Thompson was added in a trade with St. Louis. Winger Alexander Nylander is very talented but has struggled as a teenager in the AHL. He needs to take a step forward this year. Centres Rasmus Asplund and Marcus Davidsson are legitimate prospects with two-way games. Swedish winger Victor Olofsson was the SHL’s leading goal scorer last year. Nicholas Baptiste and C.J. Smith are further down the depth chart but can contribute at the NHL level.
MONTREAL, QC – JANUARY 05: Rasmus Dahlin #8 of Team Sweden skates the puck during the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship bronze medal game against Team Russia at the Bell Centre on January 5, 2017 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Team Russia defeated Team Sweden 2-1 in overtime and win the bronze medal. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)