For a description of the methodology in these rankings, please see the Introduction. We'll be revealing more of the Top 100 every few days leading up to the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.
Full list of Top 100 NHL Draft Prospects
16. Hampus Lindholm, Defense, Rogle-Allsvenskan
Lindholm got notably better as the season went on, as the big, toolsy defender certainly looked appealing at the end of the season. Lindholm is a high-end skater who excels in the transition game. He is very effective at bringing the puck up the length of the ice and for a man his size his skating ability can be quite eye-popping. He has offensive ability as a puck-mover, as he has pretty good vision and knows how to create plays, be it from outlets or dishes off the rush. However, his pure puck skills are about average, maybe a tad more. In terms of his physical game, he's above average although I've heard some scouts say he's high-end physically, while some say he's about average and doesn't use his body that well. He's bigger than most players and he rubs people off the puck at a notable enough level to be effective in that area of the game. Lindholm's defensive hockey sense is where he needs the most work, as he's not bad in that area but he has his off moments. He does have good offensive instincts and vision, so there is potential that this problem could go away, but he does tend to look a little raw at times with his decisions in his own end or his overall positioning.
Ranking Explanation: This was a ranking I struggled with. Lindholm is more talented than Slepyshev, but I went back and forth on how much more talented he is to make his position possibly put Slepyshev over him. Slepyshev was not a player I saw a lot outside the Under 18s and a guy I outsourced for quite a bit. Even his biggest advocators never really were sold on him enough to sell me on middle-of-the-first-round talent level, and most scouts didn't have him close to therewhether it was doubting true top-end skill or his physical game/work ethic. I see top-end skill and I'm not tremendously concerned about the latter although he needs to gain a lot of muscle. My brain said based on what I've seen of Slepyshev and what I personally think about him he should be ranked over Lindholm and Griffin Reinhart. However, too many flashing lights started going off and I didn't feel I had a large enough sample of positive information on Slepyshev to make that call.
17. Anton Slepyshev, Left Wing, Novokuznetsk-KHL
Slepyshev is one of the rare 17-year-old forwards who has been able to step into the KHL and produce, albeit at a marginal level. His production is along the lines of what elite prospects Evgeny Kuznetsov and Vladimir Tarasenko did in their 17-year-old seasons, though, for example. Slepyshev is an above-average skater who is tremendously agile and is also able to get up to a notable top gear. When you combine his great agility with the fact he has high-end puck skills, he really is a nuisance to check. Slepyshev is very effective at dodging opponents and creating space for himself. I've seen times on penalty kills where he would dance around the opposing zone for 15-25 seconds because several opponents keep missing him. Slepyshev has a plus if not near that shot and he knows it, as he has a shoot-first mentality with the ability to score from way out. He can still make plays and doesn't have tunnel vision, but I wouldn't classify him as a playmaker. Slepyshev's physical game needs some work as while he's average-sized, he's got a bean pole frame and can easily be pushed off the puck. He will show some physical effort, although that at times could be better, and has some defensive value too, but his strength level is way behind where it needs to be.
Ranking Explanation: The two players here I thought were very close talent wise. I like Slepyshev's puck skills just marginally more, Hertl has much better hockey sense, Slepyshev is a much better skater, and Hertl has a much better physical game. For forwards, I deem skating to be more valuable than physical game, so based on those skills, I figured it was nearly a push if not Hertl was marginally better. However, I also think Slepyshev is a high-end shooter which as previously mentioned and elaborated on in other explanations, is a secondary factor I am willing to take into account in close calls. I also have been marginally more impressed by Slepyshev in personal viewings. They both produced tremendously as well for their ages in their respective leagues, so that ended up being a push on that front.
18. Tomas Hertl, Center, HC Slavia Praha- Czech Extraliga
Hertl had a strong showing in his first full professional season in the Czech Republic and an impressive World Juniors, although while playing overseas his ice time was up and down with scouts telling me there were some games where he barely got a handful of shifts. Hertl is a gifted puck-handler who is above-average to plus in that area with good creativity and hand-eye coordination. He has a nice frame and is pretty hard to strip the puck from in the cycle game due to his hands and puck protection abilities. Hertl's physical game is pretty solid all-around as he is strong, with a good sized frame, will go to the net, and doesn't mind getting a little chippy. He thinks the game at an above-average level as he's a gifted playmaker who is instinctual with his vision, and his off-the-puck instincts. He's also a pretty sound defensive forward. Hertl certainly needs work on his skating as he's below average on a good day, but that part of his game usually looks replacement levelespecially his first few stepsalthough his standstill agility and balance are solid. If he cleans up his skating, his raw possession skills are first-line worthy, so if his development goes well, he could be a nice value pick.
Ranking Explanation: At this point in the draft, we're approaching players whose ultimate ceiling is above-average second line/pairing. This was an easy call for me, as I felt Finn and Hertl have roughly the same talent level and around those kinds of ceilings. There were no extra factors that came into play with this match-up as in some of the others. This was a tie talent-wise, so the forward beats the defenseman.
19. Matt Finn, Defense, Guelph-OHL
Finn took a ton of steps forward in his 17-year-old OHL season and really emerged onto the prospect scene. Finn was looked at last year as a fine defensive defenseman, but now has the looks of a great two-way player. He is much more conditioned than last year, which shows up in his skating. Finn is an above-average skater with fluid mobility and good acceleration, but he also doesn't lose a step late in the game even after logging big minutes. Finn is a "pretty" skater as he has natural yet powerful movements. He has above-average puck skills which combined with his skating make him a good puck-carrier coming out of his zone and penetrating the opposing blue line. Finn displays high-end hockey sense, making very quick decisions while his reads remain correct and creative and he always seems to be making things happen with the puck. Defensively, he shows good awareness, is a fine stick-checker, and uses his mobility well to close gaps. Finn isn't that threatening physically, as he's slightly short for a defenseman and has a frame that needs a ton of filling out, but he does work hard and shows the grit needed for a 6'0" defenseman.
Ranking Explanation: There are a lot of close calls at this point in the draft and the marginal decrease in talent starts without drop-offs. By the point you get to beyond the 50th spot, you're splitting split hairs. In another close match-up, I felt this was as close as it gets. I think Finn and Bystrom's hockey sense at both ends are equal, their puck moving skills equal, same for puck skills, skating, and physical game. Flip a coin essentially, and my tie breaker was that I've liked Finn more in viewings.
20. Ludvig Bystrom, Defense, MODO-SEL
Bystrom is a pretty advanced puck-moving defenseman who earned very limited minutes in the SEL this year but really showed his potential to log significant two-way time during international events. His hockey sense is pretty high-end and is evident when you watch him play as he makes so many simple, smart plays consistently all over the ice while displaying a flashy element to his game as well. Bystrom is an effective defender who uses his stick well, is always in the right position, and works hard in the physical element of the game. He isn't that effective in the latter, as he's a little short for a defenseman and really lacks strength, and he looks like he will be around replacement level in the physical game in the NHL. Bystrom is at his best when he has the puck, as he is so poised and instinctive. He has a very low panic threshold and really knows how to evade checkers, find his outlets through tight steams, and if he has a short window to make a play, he normally is able to execute. He does have good puck skills as well and some creativity from the point, but those elements of his game aren't truly dangerous. As mentioned previously, his offensive value is derived from his sense. Bystrom is a fine skater who moves around well for a defenseman and he can join the rush with moderate effectiveness with good bursts of acceleration.
Ranking Explanation: This was yet another close match-up, where a coin flip may have as well made the decision. I would say Bystrom has slightly better puck skills, with slightly worse hockey sense, and is a much better skater with a much worse physical game. The marginal edge to me was just that I've liked Bystrom more in viewings of him and despite his tremendous playoffs, based on when I saw Maatta earlier in the year, I'm not really sold on great offensive upside from him.
Corey Pronman is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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