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January 12, 2013
From Daigle To Datsyuk
Top 50 NHL Prospects, Midseason

by Corey Pronman

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The following are my Top 50 Drafted NHL Prospects. This is an unusual midseason update, because if there had been no NHL lockout, a lot of these prospects would have been playing and would not have been eligible. Therefore, I will make an updated blog post in a few weeks to reflect some changes. I will post a Top 100 Prospects as usual in the summer. My methods are the same as always for how I acquire information and value players, and described in detail here. However, for drafted prospects, I tend to give some minor preference to success in quality leagues.

My prospect definition is a player who played under 25 NHL games last year or under 50 career games. They also have to age 26 or under. If a player appeared in the KHL, they have to either be signed by an NHL team to be eligible or be no further than their age-22 season in the KHL.

If you have any questions feel free to ask me on twitter (@coreypronman) or email cpronman@hockeyprospectus.com.

1. Evgeny Kuznetsov, Center, Washington Capitals (Previous Ranking: 4): Kuznetsov is having another great KHL season and has all the look of the top drafted prospect in hockey between his elite skating, hands, and ability to create offense. There is really little left to say about him other than asking when will he arrive in Washington.

2. Nail Yakupov, Right Wing, Edmonton Oilers (Previous Ranking: 1): Yakupov did not have a good World Juniors, with NHL sources describing him as "a disappointment" or even "looked like an energy line forward" but weight that against a ton of evidence over the last few years that he is an elite prospect and could produce right away in the NHL.

3. Mikhail Grigorenko, Center, Buffalo Sabres (Previous Ranking: 3): Grigorenko has had an excellent season after an iffy end to the previous one. His elite hockey sense and high-end skill level are always evident and he is the kind of player an offense can flow through.

4. Mikael Granlund, Center, Minnesota Wild (Previous Ranking: 2): Granlund missed some time this season due to an injury, which you never like to see with a smaller player, but it's hard not to be optimistic about his incredible puck skills and offensive hockey sense despite some issues with his game.

5. Alexander Galchenyuk, Center, Montreal Canadiens (Previous Ranking: 6): Galchenyuk has had a good bounceback season after he missed most of the previous one due to an injury. He regained his 16-year-old form and has been even better than that.

6. Jonathan Huberdeau, Left Wing, Florida Panthers (Previous Ranking: 5): Huberdeau did not play well in Ufa, and has not lit up the scoresheet like previous years as he is on a weaker Saint John team. That said, I'm not pessimistic about him yet, especially with how often he has shown the ability the last few years to be a "wow" caliber offensive player.

7. Vladimir Tarasenko, Right Wing, St. Louis Blues (Previous Ranking: 7): Tarasenko may be able to hit the ground running in the NHL as a top-nine if not a top-six forward. He is an incredibly skilled player whose work ethic is at the same level as well.

8. Justin Schultz, Defense, Edmonton Oilers (Previous Ranking: 12): Speaking of hitting the ground running, Schultz started off with a few month sprint in the AHL and has been unusually dominant for a defense prospect in that league. He has high-end offensive ability to go along with solid, albeit not great, defensive skill.

9. Ryan Strome, Center, New York Islanders (Previous Ranking: 9): Strome doesn't have much more to prove at the CHL level. He is still working on fine tuning his off-the-puck work, but from an offensive standpoint, he has been simply dominant.

10. Ryan Murray, Defense, Columbus Blue Jackets (Previous Ranking: 19): I'm a bit late to the party in regards to Murray, but after talking to scouts and watching him play a number of times before his season-ending injury, I've become more optimistic about his future.

11. Dougie Hamilton, Defense, Boston Bruins (Previous Ranking: 8): Hamilton was average at best at the World Juniors, but in the OHL he has been tremendous again. He is a unique player because of his high level of offensive gifts for his size. His decision making could still use some work.

12. Filip Forsberg, Right Wing, Washington Capitals (Previous Ranking: 10): Forsberg was named to the WJC All-Star Team and has been quality in the SEL-2 for a player his age. He has not without his faults, but he has a very high level of skill to go along with a consistent physical effort.

13. Morgan Rielly, Defense, Toronto Maple Leafs (Previous Ranking: 18): At the time of his selection, Rielly was seen as a risk/reward type of prospect but that seems to be trending towards the reward side. He needs to bulk up a ton and his defense needs refining, but his offensive tools are pretty dynamic and he can control a game.

14. Jacob Trouba, Defense, Winnipeg Jets (Previous Ranking: 42): Some may say I am merely making a kneejerk reaction on Trouba based on his great World Juniors, but truth be told, he has been that good in his freshman season at Michigan, too. He is a plus skater and physical player who defends well and the offensive element of his game has started to blossom.

15. Brendan Smith, Defense, Detroit Red Wings (Previous Ranking: 14): Smith was ready to play in the NHL last season, and while he isn't twiddling his thumbs in Grand Rapids, it's time for a new challenge. He has rounded out his game well and knocked out some bad habits. Now let's see how he does in a "full" NHL season.

16. Teuvo Teravainen, Left Wing, Chicago Blackhawks (Previous Ranking: 11): Teravainen started off the season a little slowly, compounded by an injury, but lately has been everything you would expect out of him. He is a great puck handler, great passer, skates well, and despite his size, there is little reason to not be optimistic about him.

17. Jonas Brodin, Defense, Minnesota Wild (Previous Ranking: 16): Brodin unfortunately suffered a significant injury in the AHL so that's not ideal for his development. Otherwise, every sign had been pointing in the right direction. He is an incredibly advanced defenseman for his age.

18. Mika Zibanejad, Center, Ottawa Senators (Previous Ranking: 15): Zibanejad has not had a great season so far, suffering an injury and not producing at an expected level. That said, he is a U20 player making the jump to North American pro hockey, and a transition period is sometimes required. I still have faith in his very high level of talent and intangibles.

19. Hampus Lindholm, Defense, Anaheim Ducks (Previous Ranking: 76): Lindholm however, has not had any issues transitioning to the AHL. He was great towards the end of last season in the SEL-2 and that has carried over well. He is a plus skater and thinker who scouts say can do mostly everything well—although he could work on his shot.

20. Mark Scheifele, Center, Winnipeg Jets (Previous Ranking: 28): Scheifele continues to improve his game and seems to be tracking well as a prospect. He has great offensive hockey sense and he seems to be getting an extra step or two as well. If he can be an average skater, that's all he'll really need.

21. Tim Erixon, Defense, Columbus Blue Jackets (Previous Ranking: 13): Erixon has been solid again in the AHL, with sources praising his two-way ability and puck moving. Despite his good play, he may be caught up in a defenseman logjam in Columbus.

22. Gustav Nyquist, Right Wing, Detroit Red Wings (Previous Ranking: 26): Nyquist has been lighting up the AHL and showing his great puck possession ability, but despite being one of the American league's top players, he will have to wait as Damien Brunner will get the call first to start on a Detroit scoring line.

23. Tyson Barrie, Defense, Colorado Avalanche (Previous Ranking: 33): Barrie just continues to impress, as he has been one of the AHL's most dangerous offensive defensemen and he shows value in his own end as well. When you have a player with his skill level and work ethic, it's a really nice asset to have.

24. Sven Baertschi, Left Wing, Calgary Flames (Previous Ranking: 20): Baertschi is ready to step into the NHL, but it remains to be seen if he can be an effective top-six forward right away, which is a tough feat even for high-end prospects. He is a smaller player, and you have to love his skill and intensity, but we'll see if he can handle the physicality of the NHL.

25. Brandon Gormley, Defense, Phoenix Coyotes (Previous Ranking: 25): My impression is that Phoenix is going to take it slow with Gormley, especially since they are a team that is very deep on defense. Gormley just needs to continue to get stronger and get acclimated to the pro game, and his natural gifts will take care of the rest.

26. Calle Jarnkrok, Center, Detroit Red Wings (Previous Ranking: 27): Jarnkrok has played well in the SEL although I expected an even higher level from him. To be fair, he has been snakebitten with some bad luck. He is a very gifted player with a lot of upside.

27. Jaden Schwartz, Left Wing, St. Louis Blues (Previous Ranking: 21): Schwartz has not smoked the AHL like I would have expected given his talent level, but he has played on a very poor offensive team. Despite average skating and a small frame, there is a lot to love between his high-end puck skills and hockey sense.

28. Kirill Kabanov, Left Wing, New York Islanders (Previous Ranking: 23): It's funny that as I have gradually lowered Kabanov's ranking over the last year or so, I have started to hear NHL sources coming in at or near my level of optimism about his future. Kabanov is a very skilled player who has recently shown an increased level of competitiveness. He was injured early in the season, but should be back fairly soon.

29. Oscar Klefbom, Defense, Edmonton Oilers (Previous Ranking: 78): Prior to a season-ending shoulder injury, Klefbom was really starting to turn a corner over in Sweden. He may never be anything more than solid-average offensively, but he could deliver a lot of defensive value between his size, toughness, and mobility.

30. Griffin Reinhart, Defense, New York Islanders (Previous Ranking: 75): I've started to come around on Reinhart, as I've liked how his mobility has improved and the high level of two-way hockey sense he displays. He did not have a good World Juniors, with one NHL exec coming away pretty unimpressed by him, but many scouts think he can be an excellent defensive player at the top level.

31. Nick Bjugstad, Center, Florida Panthers (Previous Ranking: 24): Bjugstad has been a minor disappointment. While he has been good, he simply has not dominated as was expected. I question if he can be a top-end offensive player when he has to start playing at an NHL pace. His great tools, such as elite size and good offensive skill, are still reasons for optimism.

32. Matt Dumba, Defense, Minnesota Wild (Previous Ranking: 17): Dumba has had a rough season, although he shows flashes of the player from last year. Scouts report that he has struggled with his decision making. Should he get that under wraps, his tools should allow him to get back up my board once again.

33. Alexander Khokhlachev, Center, Boston Bruins (Previous Ranking: 49): Khokhlachev was okay in the KHL, and it was clear he needed to come back to North America when his ice time started to dwindle. He is a very gifted puck handler and passer who has added an extra skating gear to his arsenal, which makes him more desirable as a smaller player.

34. Jon Merrill, Defense, New Jersey Devils (Previous Ranking: 37): Merrill has again missed a large chunk of the start of the season, this time due to an injury. It's kind of hard to move much from my previous ranking with little new data to add to the equation. I really like his hockey sense and puck-moving ability.

35. Vladislav Namestnikov, Center, Tampa Bay Lightning (Previous Ranking: 31): Namestikov is off to a slow start, but he was injured and plays on a very deep AHL team. His second half will be more of a indicator of how he is progressing.

36. Brandon Saad, Left Wing, Chicago Blackhawks (Previous Ranking: 30): Saad has been solid but not spectacular to start the season, but he has been a bit unlucky with the bounces. He hs been unpredictable the last few years, but I'm optimistic about him and his great physical tools.

37. Cody Ceci, Defense, Ottawa Senators (Previous Ranking: 43): Ceci was a surprise as a World Junior camp snub and seems to be a top-of-the-line prospect. He may not be the flashiest player, but he does a lot well and exhibits a high level of two-way hockey sense.

38. Joe Morrow, Defense, Pittsburgh Penguins (Previous Ranking: 35): Morrow got off to a rough start in his rookie AHL season, but has been better of late. His offensive gifts and mobility are great but he certainly needs to bulk up and continue to make his defensive value more appealing.

39. William Karlsson, Center, Anaheim Ducks (Previous Ranking: 60): Karlsson was very average at the World Juniors, but he has been fantastic for a U20 in the SEL. I've heard scouts rave about his upside, and as he continues to get stronger, he will be able to add another element to his game on top of his great puck possession skills and defensive ability.

40. Tomas Tatar, Left Wing, Detroit Red Wings (Previous Ranking: 55): Tatar in his fourth AHL season. He has been lights out but may be caught in a log jam at forward in Detroit despite his great play. He may not be the fastest player, but he is very smart, has good hands, and shows a lot of grit.

41. Jakob Silfverberg, Right Wing, Ottawa Senators (Previous Ranking: 51): Silfverberg was arguably ready to be a top-nine NHLer last season, so it should be interesting to see him this year, likely as a full time top-six forward after a great start in the AHL. He is not a dynamic player, but does a lot well and plays hard.

42. Chris Kreider, Left Wing, New York Rangers (Previous Ranking: 32): This was by far the hardest ranking to make on this list. My scouting brain tells me to put Kreider much higher based on his great physical tools, but the statistician in me looks at his first half AHL production, considers he is a 21-year-old with two shots per game as a shooting forward, and red lights start going off. There are good arguments either to be much more optimistic or pessimistic about him. My impression from talking to scouts is he has been working more on his defense, which may be affecting his scoring output.

43. Tomas Hertl, Center, San Jose Sharks (Previous Ranking: 84): Hertl is one of the best prospects the Czech Republic has produced in recent years and has been fantastic for a junior-aged player in their top league. He has great puck skills, can create a ton of offense, plays hard, and arguably developed an extra step in his stride.

44. Brett Ritchie, Right Wing, Dallas Stars (Previous Ranking: Unranked): Ritchie's report has always been a very toolsy player who was inconsistent, but this season, he has found that consistency. He is an elite physical presence with good hands and has improved his skating as well.

45. Brandon Pirri, Center, Chicago Blackhawks (Previous Ranking: 50): Pirri continues to impress and get better as his pro career goes along. He is very skilled and smart with the puck although he is just an okay skater.

46. Charlie Coyle, Center, Minnesota Wild (Previous Ranking: 48): Coyle has been all right early this season. The big man probably still needs some AHL seasoning before he moves up to Minnesota. He is a powerful forward with a good amount of skill but has some kinks to work out in terms of pace.

47. Rickard Rakell, Right Wing, Anaheim Ducks (Previous Ranking: 34): Rakell was average at the World Juniors, and his points haven't spiked this year with Plymouth, but he has been generating offense and just not getting the bounces. He has really good possession skills and has developed a fine defensive game.

48. Mattias Ekholm, Defense, Nashville Predators (Previous Ranking: 59): Last season's SEL defenseman of the year should be part of a great up-and-coming blueline core for the Predators. Ekholm moves very well for his size, and he has puck moving skill and a big shot.

49. Ryan Spooner, Center, Boston Bruins (Previous Ranking: 54): Spooner is fun to watch as he can really impress you with his skating, puck skills, or playmaking ability. He may not have eye-popping statistics, but he looks like a player who could produce at the NHL level.

50. Kyle Palmieri, Right Wing, Anaheim Ducks (Previous Ranking: 47): Palmieri is just a steady player who can do it all. He has the ability to burst up the wing, make a defender miss, score a mid-distance goal, or show a good checking effort. He is NHL-ready and just waiting for the opportunity.

The rest here are honorable mentions, listed in alphabetical order, and I will rank and profile a few of them depending how many of the above Top 50 graduate to the NHL from the AHL or stay past their five-game trials:

Mark Barberio, Defense, Tampa Bay Lightning
Beau Bennett, Right Wing, Pittsburgh Penguins
Sebastian Collberg, Right Wing, Montreal Canadiens
Brian Dumoulin, Defense, Pittsburgh Penguins
John Gaudreau, Left Wing, Calgary Flames
Rocco Grimaldi, Center, Florida Panthers
Corban Knight, Center, Florida Panthers
Nikita Kucherov, Right Wing, Tampa Bay Lightning
Nicklas Jensen, Left Wing, Vancouver Canucks
Johan Larsson, Center, Minnesota Wild
Brock Nelson, Center, New York Islanders

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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