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June 4, 2012
Top 100 NHL Draft Prospects
91-100

by Corey Pronman

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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

91. Niklas Tikkinen, Defense, Blues- Jr.A SM-Liiga

Tikkinen was recently converted from forward to defense, and while understandably he currently has struggled in his own end especially for a defenseman with sub-par size, his offensive tools could surprise some people if his transition goes well. Tikkinen shows easy above-average skating ability if not better as he effortlessly picks up speed. He is very effective in transition, bringing the puck through the neutral zone and getting zone entries. I'd say his puck skills are solid-average. I don't see Tikkinen as a true puck dangler but rather his offensive skills come from his vision and passing. He's very aware and calm with the puck along the blue line, showing a prototypical build of a power play quarterback, as he can make passes through tight spaces with little time and really knows how to open lanes up. Tikkinen is the definition of a project pick due to his defensive play and he isn't really that physical, and may not even be worth a contract if he doesn't really pick it up over the next two years. The offensive possession tools though make him appealing, so he's certainly worth a mid-round shot for his upside.

92. Adam Pelech, Defense, Erie-OHL

The brother of former Flames first round pick Matt Pelech is a physical shutdown defenseman who shows good proficiency in being able to play his style of game. He's a smart player in his own end who reads his assignments well, has notably advanced sense of how to manage his gaps and closes on players well with his stickwork and especially his body. He can kill penalties very effectively and overall has the looks of a tough minutes high defensive zone start type of player. Pelech is a very gritty defenseman with a solid frame who shows a high level of aggressiveness and should do pretty well in the physical aspect of the game at the highest level. He has an okay skill level as he's more of an effective first pass player than a skilled puck handler or rusher. Pelech has good awareness and will jump into the rush when he senses something, but overall he's a low-offense projection type of player. His skating is a notable weakness as he has an awkward stride and doesn't extend properly through most of his motions although his gap control is good because of his hockey smarts.

93. Mikko Vainonen, Defense, HIFK- Jr. A SM-Liiga

Vainonen is not a really gifted from an offensive standpoint as he won't be the kind of player who makes a seeing eye pass coming out of his own end, or leads a rush up the ice, but he's a solid, mobile defender who will deliver on some lower-tier value. Vainonen has good size at about 6'3" and over 200 lbs, he uses his frame well and as displayed by his weight, he has a decent amount of muscle and strength for a player his age. Vainonen is also pretty mobile for a big defender, showing average to solid-average speed and four-way movements that is quite good for a player his size. He closes his gaps well, is smart with his positioning and stickwork, and overall has the build of an effective defensive defenseman. That being said, Vainonen has a little bit of touch with the puck, but it's more being able to make basic maneuvers or the odd move as opposed to above-average skill. I also don't see Vainonen as anything beyond a basic puck mover.

94. Ben Johnson, Center, Windsor-OHL

Johnson had an okay first OHL season but played well considering he made the jump from high school hockey to the major junior ranks this season. It is very hard to project what Johnson could be in the pro game, as he has one tremendous skill in his skating and nothing else about his game really stands out to a significant degree. He's a high-end mover who is agile with a powerful first few steps that let him gain a lot of ground with little effort, and when he's on, he simply jets all across the rink. Johnson will play a fine physical game and shows spurts of being an energy forward who will forecheck hard, drive the net, and take his assignment with the body effectively. Johnson will show flashes of offensive creativity and there is some skill to his game, but he's still pretty raw and doesn't show that often enough. He's the kind of player worth a flier, as there is skill to his game that could come together, and if not, he's more likely the kind of player who becomes a bottom-six forward.

95. Trevor Carrick, Defense, Mississauga-OHL

Carrick did not have the kind of great season points-wise you would like to see, but scouts have consistently sung praises for him. He's an above-average skater who moves with ease in all four directions and is able to generate a good first step off his backward movements. He has the ability to join the rush very effectively but won't always be that aggressive in joining the offense. Carrick has an average-sized frame but is notably physical. While he's not a mean punisher or anything, he consistently finishes his checks hard, wins the majority of battles he is involved in, and protects the front of his own crease pretty well. Carrick has puck-moving skills beyond simple outlet passes, as he can move it up moderate distances and will show power play ability despite his poor counting numbers. He doesn't have much puck skills, though, and when he's handling it outside of straight line movements, he can look quite rigid. Carrick does fine in his own end and that's more where he'll be leaned on at the pro level considering his size and ability to close gaps efficiently.

96. Mikko Lehtonen, Defense, TPS- Jr. A SM-Liiga

Lehtonen doesn't really have the standout tools you typically want when drafting a small defenseman, but I see enough solid or above-average parts to his game that despite not having great upside he still is a pretty decent prospect. His best trait in my opinion is his hockey sense as he's a true above-average thinker. He won't wow people with great vision, but the more you see him, the more you appreciate all the little things he does around the ice. He's always in position, uses his stick well, makes a lot of good plays with the puck, and his decisions are quick. Lehtonen certainly does also have some puck-moving upside as he shows good poise with the puck, and will flash an above-average distribution here and there. He also has solid mobility and speed that will allow him to pinch up and help in the attack. Lehtonen's clear liability is his size, as he's about 5'11" and is likely to top out as a replacement-level physical player in the North American pro game.

97. Lukas Sutter, Center, Saskatoon-WHL

Yes, there's yet another Sutter on the way into the NHL ranks. The son if Rich Sutter gets praised regularly within the industry for what some scouts call "the old Sutter work ethic" in regards to his intangibles, on-ice determination, and overall physical game. His character shines through at both ends, as he's a relentless forechecker who hits hard and protects the puck very well. Lukas also backchecks diligently and is pretty impressive in the defensive end and on the penalty kill. It's hard to see him as a true scorer in the pro ranks as he's more of a bottom-six talent, but he does have some offensive touch with the puck, more of an okay hand-eye guy than a creative puckhandler of any sorts. His best offensive asset is his vision, as he has solid hockey sense and can certainly make some plays with the puck, and can even flash above-average talent in that department here and there. One area of contention amongst scouts I've talked to is his skating, as some like his mechanics and skating output, while others see him as a bit of a clunky mover who doesn't generate much speed. I lean a little to the latter, although I have seen some nice flashes from Sutter in that area.

98. Brian Cooper, Defense, Fargo-USHL

Cooper is one of the rare effective two-way defensemen who are measured at 5'10" or under. This is mainly due to the fact he is a very tough player who doesn't shy away from physical contact and can land bone-crushing hits. He's an intense, hard-working player who gives it his all in the corners and when it comes to getting back to cover up on his rushes. He's an above-average skater with good top speed, agility, edge work, and first step power. His skating allows him to lead rushes, engage off the blue line effectively for pinches, and evade pressure very well when getting forechecked. Cooper is a pretty good passer—although just an average puckhandler, who makes a fine outlet, transitions the puck up the ice efficiently, and controls a power play pretty well. He can mix a nice slapshot in there from the point. Defensively, he closes gaps well and makes good overall reads, but his size does hurt him and it's hard to see how much defensive value he will have in the pro game. The other issue I have with Cooper is he has a tendency to try and do too much and his puck decisions could use some improvement.

99. Emil Lundberg, Left Wing, Sodertalje-Allsvenskan

Lundberg had a decent year over in Sweden's second-tier pro league, being the second highest scoring U-19 player, even ahead of elite draft prospect Filip Forsberg, although he is nearly a full year older than him. Lundberg has a big frame with a good amount of muscle on it and plays a power forward game. He's aggressive on the forecheck, plays the body well, wins most of his board battles due to his strength level and physical dimensions, and is very effective at planting himself in the high percentage areas. He has average offensive ability, with fine hand-eye coordination but don't expect him to be the kind of player to dangle through opponents. Lundberg gets his offense through his okay skill level and work ethic. The major flaw to his game is his skating, though, which grades at about replacement level. He has very heavy feet off the line, with a stride that has some mechanical flaws and his weight kind of holds him back off his first steps, although in full stride, his skating can look all right.

100. Tanner Richard, Center, Guelph-OHL

Richard crossed the pond after going undrafted last season and showed enough skill in a significant role in the OHL that he surely will get picked this time around. He's not a standout player in any aspect, but he's average or slightly above-average in several areas. Richard's creativity and offensive hockey sense are what help drive his points as while he's not blessed with superb hand-eye coordination, he's smart with how he maneuvers with the puck with the ability to make the odd defenseman miss here and there. He's also a solid if not a tick better passer who just finds ways to make a decent play every shift. Richard is a hard-working individual in both ends who doesn't mind getting involved in the rough stuff, and his determination makes him an effective penalty killer. He's a decent skater at best who doesn't really have an explosive top gear but moves well enough that he should be able to keep pace with a pro-level transition game.

Corey Pronman is an author of Hockey Prospectus. You can contact Corey by clicking here or click here to see Corey's other articles.

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