26. David Krejci, C — Boston Bruins
Height: 5’11 Weight: 192 lbs
After a slow start in Boston and a brief assignment to the AHL, and it looks like Krejci has found a permanent home in the NHL. Over the course of the season, he has improved tremendously, and as he continued to gain both confidence and experience, he has earned increased ice time. Krejci is an excellent skater with a strong sense of timing and is gifted in his ability to get the puck to his teammates. Krejci was called upon to center the top line this year during injuries, where has exceeded expectations. He has demonstrated that he is capable of playing with the best, and if he continues to build on that late-season success, Krejci could develop into one of the premier playmaking forwards in the NHL.
27. Thomas Hickey, D – Los Angeles Kings
Height: 5’10, Weight: 195
Hickey was a surprise to many as the fourth overall selection in the 2007 Entry Draft by the Los Angeles Kings, but he has shown why he is a top defensive prospect this season. Smooth on his skates and gritty despite a still developing physique, Hickey has the offensive skill set that others in his draft class lacked. He has taken on a larger leadership role with his major junior team and, while he has not eclipsed his offensive production from last season, has demonstrated a more well-rounded game that should lead to a quicker pro transition. Hickey would benefit more from increased time in the weight room and appears to be the perfect offensive compliment to Jack Johnson on the blueline for Los Angeles.
The former Barrie Colt standout spent 2007-08 split between the NHL and the AHL‘s Chicago Wolves. With the Thrashers, Little has produced in spurts. Little plays a proficient two-way game and may have been with the Thrashers longer if not for the addition of Mark Recchi earlier this year. The fact that Little contributes so much defensively will translate to bigger minutes and more responsibility than virtually all his age would receive. There is little doubt that 2008-09 will see Little with the Thrashers on a full-time basis.
29. TJ Hensick, C – Colorado Avalanche
Height: 5’10, Weight: 187
Coming off an electric senior season at the University of Michigan, Hensick has made a great impression as a rookie pro this year. After starting the season with AHL Lake Erie, Hensick earned a call-up when the Avalanche was hit with injuries to its top players. Having split time now between both teams, Hensick has settled in and fared very well with Lake Erie. He has come a long way in such a short time and has some finer points in his game to round out before next season begins. However, the playmaking centerman will definitely be looked at to join the Avalanche full time very soon.
McDonagh joined the University of Wisconsin this season and looked good, though his team had a down year. He was paired with senior Jamie McBain (CAR) for the majority of the season and did not look out of place while logging top minutes as a freshman. Noted for his skating and poise under pressure, the solid two-way defenseman was also able to show some glimpses of his offensive capabilities this season. McDonagh probably will not make it through four seasons in Madison before being called upon to join the defensive ranks in Montreal.
Combining a large frame with pure scoring skills, Berglund is an imposing force from the center position. He has been the leading goal scorer for his age group the last two seasons in the second tier of the professional leagues in Sweden, not far off from where Anze Kopitar was in his development and stature in his age group before taking Los Angeles by storm. But while Kopitar was physically ready to step into an NHL rink and dominate, Berglund may yet require some growth before crossing over to North America. With a little strength and conditioning, and rounding out the rough edges, it is more than conceivable that St. Louis will have the best, young one-two punch from the center position outside of Pittsburgh in a couple of years.
The younger of the two Kostitsyn brothers currently on the Montreal Canadiens roster, Sergei Kostitsyn is a wizard with the puck, who tends to be more of a playmaker than a goal scorer. Always a threat when he has the puck, Kostitsyn’s two-year major junior career with the OHL London Knights was marked by incredible offensive production. Expected to play his entire 2007-08 rookie season with the Hamilton Bulldogs, Kostitsyn was so impressive in 22 AHL games that he was called up to the NHL team in December and has never returned to Hamilton. Kostitsyn is currently among the top 10 rookies in NHL scoring and will be a mainstay in the Montreal lineup going forward.
Boyd, a Calgary Flames third-round selection in 2004, had four excellent seasons with the WHL Moose Jaw Warriors before beginning his professional career in the fall of 2006. The center has great offensive instincts, with excellent vision and puckhandling skills. In the 2006-07 season, Boyd was seventh among AHL rookies in scoring. The talented playmaker also had a stint last season with Calgary, recording two goals and two assists in 13 NHL games. A lot was expected of Boyd coming into the 2007-08 season, however, he began the year as a member of the AHL Quad City Flames. Despite a slow start, Boyd was called up in November and has since played with the NHL club. Not yet a force in NHL play, Boyd remains the top prospect in the Flames organization with a tremendous amount of potential for the future.
Matthias has improved his game for the third consecutive season and should step right onto on Florida’s roster next fall. He has the size, skill and a left-handed shot that Florida needs. Even though he left his OHL Belleville Bulls mid-season for the World Juniors and for a brief emergency call-up to Florida, the pivot actually did more this year in fewer games. Back with the Bulls, he has been good enough to be ranked among the top 25 scorers in the OHL. Matthias has had a rough patch to work through during the playoffs after battling tonsillitis and now mononucleosis. He is an impact player and his stock continues to rise.
35. Brandon Sutter, C — Carolina Hurricanes
Height: 6’2 Weight: 171 lbs
Pedigree aside, young Brandon Sutter is proving himself a worthy talent in his own right. The Hurricanes’ top draft pick in 2007 (11th overall) played for the struggling Red Deer Rebels for his third consecutive season, where he led the team in scoring. Sutter also earned a spot on Team Canada’s roster for the WJC, where he played an integral role in the team’s gold medal run. He has a big frame and plays a strong two-way game, but it is his exceptional work ethic that will carry that success to the next level. Sutter is on the verge of turning pro, and while he will need continued hard work to reach his potential, it appears he has all the tools for a long, successful NHL career.
As a freshman with the Michigan State Spartans, it was unclear how much of an impact Jeff Petry would make for the defending NCAA champions. However, Petry received a ton of ice time early on and has been a fixture on the power play all season. The reigning USA Hockey Junior Player of the Year has racked up points in his freshman year, turning 20 in December, with the Spartans. The offensive skills he showed in the USHL have not been seen to the same extent, but with his NHL-caliber shot and passing abilities it will likely just be a matter of time and confidence. Projected to be a top-pairing defenseman as a professional, Petry has all the traits of an impact player.
Selected sixth overall in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, Montoya is now in his third professional season. Although yet to appear in an NHL game, the former collegiate standout netminder has an excellent skill set – good lateral movement, solid positioning, and strong puck-handling. The questions about him concern consistency, and the fact that he missed a significant amount of time over his first two seasons to several injuries. Traded to the Phoenix Coyotes from the New York Rangers on Feb. 26, Montoya has been reunited with the now Phoenix GM Don Maloney. The move to Phoenix is an opportunity for the mercurial goaltender, as Montoya was unlikely to become the No. 1 netminder in New York in the near future.
A former member of the USNTDP, Shattenkirk recently completed his freshman year at Boston University. A Colorado Avalanche first-round 2007 NHL Entry Draft selection, Shattenkirk is a blueliner with very good hockey sense, excellent offensive instincts, and very responsible play in his own zone. He was recently named to the Hockey East All-Rookie team. Shattenkirk’s 14 points in league play were sufficient to tie him for first among rookie defensemen in Hockey East. Shattenkirk is expected to play at least one more season of collegiate hockey prior to beginning his professional career.
Certainly some of the shine has worn off of the Canucks’ 2005 first-round selection as Bourdon has failed to live up to the lofty expectations he created for himself with a strong performance at his first Canucks camp. Injuries in the QMJHL may have played a role in that — a significant loss of playing time can slow development — but Bourdon still seems to be progressing towards a NHL career. The physical play that he is renowned for is still clearly evident as is the ability to chip in offensively, albeit not at the NHL level so far. Bourdon’s ice time with the Canucks this year has been due to multiple injuries to the Canucks roster but it is providing the New Brunswick native with valuable experience. All in all, Bourdon continues to develop and that gives hope to the organization that once considered him a lock to be a cornerstone of their lineup.
While his offensive potential has yet to be fully recognized while playing in the second tier in Sweden, Backlund has more than fulfilled expectations on the international scene. Limited ice time and struggles offensively have been roadblocks in the young Swede’s development. But when the bright lights of the 2007 World Juniors Championship shone, Backlund rose to the occasion as one of Team Sweden‘s strongest players with seven points in six games. Strong and aggressive with developing two-way skills, Backlund is a boom or bust player who might continue the long tradition of Swedish centers coming to North America. Backlund is still a number of years away from leaving his native country and needs to translate the offensive wizardry he has shown in international play to a more consistent level during the regular season.
It is hard to believe that Bergfors is just wrapping up his third pro season this year. Upon first glance at his overall numbers, one would assume that he has not had the best 2007-08 season. However, Bergfors did make the New Jersey Devils opening night roster and had he not suffered an injury to his shoulder in his first NHL game, he may have been able to make an impact. That shoulder injury, coupled with a second injury to his other shoulder resulted in a very slow start for Bergfors, but he has come around nicely for the Lowell Devils as the AHL season comes down the stretch drive. The supremely skilled Swede is the Devils most talented prospect, and at 21 years of age, still oozes potential. He should be in contention again next season for an opening night roster spot on a Devils club that really could use an infusion of offense up front.
Not known for their prowess on draft day, the Maple Leafs may very well have pulled of a heist with the selection of this Russian sniper in the second round of the 2006 NHL draft. After leading Mettalurg Magnitogorsk in goals with 27 last season, Kulemin picked up right where he left off this year. Kulemin likely would have made a significant impact in the NHL with the Leafs this season, however he chose to remain in his native Russia for one more season before turning to the NHL next year. With major changes expected in Toronto next season, it would be quite a surprise if Kulemin did not make the team. He could step in right away as a top six forward and be a strong candidate for the Calder Trophy.
43. Leland Irving,G – Calgary Flames
Height: 6’0, Weight: 176
The Calgary Flames goaltender of the future has done his best to showcase his great talents. Irving starred for Team Canada during the Super Series against Russia where Team Canada was 7-0-1 in eight games. In the three games that the 19-year-old netminder played for Canada, Irving only let in four goals. Irving attempted to win another World Juniors Championship gold medal with Team Canada in December, but was cut from the team as Canada selected Jonathan Bernier and Steve Mason. Calgary’s first round pick in the 2006 draft has been strong in net for the WHL Everett Silvertips. Irving will be hard pressed to be anything but a backup in Calgary with Kiprusoff protecting the net, but good fortunate might shine on him and land him a starting job somewhere in the NHL.
The epitome of a late bloomer, Purcell joined the Los Angeles Kings as an undrafted free agent, signing after a single season with the University of Maine in which the Kings battled several suitors to ink Purcell to an entry level agreement. As a 22-year-old rookie, he has taken the AHL by storm, leading all rookies in total points and was the overall point leader for much of the first half of the season. The Kings came calling and Purcell responded with a modest three points in his first 10 games with Los Angeles. It should not be long before Purcell is logging top-six forward minutes for the Kings and has been compared favorably to former King Bernie Nicholls. A relative unknown last season, Purcell has certainly made a name for himself and earns a spot as a top NHL prospect.
While Ryan Miller is firmly entrenched as Buffalo’s No. 1 netminder, he is due to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of next season. The Sabres obviously will try their hardest to keep him in the fold, but should he depart, the Sabres appear to have a capable replacement coming up the system in Jonas Enroth. What Enroth lacks in size, he makes up for in quickness, agility and cat like reflexes. The Swedish netminder moved to the Swedish Elite League this season after a dominant year in the Allsvenskan League and has not missed a beat, posting a stellar 2.13 goals against average and .932 save percentage. He also posted impressive numbers at the World Junior Championship this past winter for Team Sweden, putting up a 2.33 goals against average and .905 save percentage.
The move from amateur to professional hockey is often a difficult transition for a defenseman and Kindl has experienced his setbacks with Grand Rapids. While his offensive production is down in his first season in the AHL, he has gradually improved in other aspects of his game at every step of his development to date. Kindl is still raw and has the combination of size and skill that is coveted on defense. A prime example of the value of potential over current production, Detroit can wait on Kindl’s adjustment period as there is no need to press him into duty any time soon. The remainder of Kindl’s game must catch up to his physical play and could potentially turn him into one of the toughest puck distributing defensemen in the NHL, poised to inherit the blueline from Nicklas Lindstrom upon retirement.
It appeared that Fehr was ready to make the jump full time to the NHL this season, however a significant back injury forced him to miss the majority of the first half of the hockey season. Once he was ready to return to the line-up, the former Brandon Wheat Kings star had a tune up in the AHL with Hershey before being promoted up to the Capitals in February. The solidly built right winger has a nose for the net and natural goal scoring ability, and now that he appears to be completely healthy again, Fehr should emerge as a top six winger for the Capitals as soon as next season which might prove to be a make or break year for Fehr.
48. Steve Mason, G — Columbus Blue Jackets
Height: 6’3 Weight: 186 lbs
Mason has matured into a solid starting goaltender at the junior level and is making a case for himself as a legitimate NHL prospect as well. In the 2007-08 campaign, he continued to be among the top goaltenders in the OHL and his performance earned a spot on Team Canada’s roster for the WJC. Mason has tremendous size and quick reflexes, but it is his poise and leadership that have made him an asset to his team. A third round pick in the 2006 entry draft, Mason is easily the top goaltender in the Blue Jackets’ system and has the potential to be a starter in the NHL someday.
49. Nick Folgino, LW – Ottawa Senators
Height: 6’0, Weight: 190
Foligno made the Senators roster right out of training camp due to an injury to Dean McAmmond, but since then he has become quite familiar with the travel itinerary from Binghamton to Ottawa, having been up and down the AHL/NHL shuttle on a regular basis this season. With Binghamton likely to miss the post-season in the AHL, expect Foligno to be recalled for the Senators regular season stretch drive and post-season run. The all-weather winger should be able to crack the Senators line-up on a full time basis and eventually emerge into a standout two-way winger with the ability to put the puck in the net on a regular basis.
Jumping between multiple levels of professional hockey in Sweden this season, Eller brings a balanced attack and two-way game to the table from the left wing position. The native of Rodovre, Denmark is also a veteran of the international circuit, having anchored the Danes in a number of tournaments since a very young age. What Eller may lack in high offensive potential, he makes up for in intangibles and attention to the defensive side of the rink. There is room for growth in his game and a dynamic scorer to compliment his two-way game is not out of the question. Still only 18 years of age and playing at a high level in one of the best leagues outside of the North America, St. Louis can afford to wait on his development but also be encouraged by his long-term potential as a top-six forward.
Honorable Mention: Taylor Chorney (EDM), Steve Downie (PHI), Petri Kontiola (CHI), Mark Mitera (ANA), David Perron (STL), Karri Ramo (TB), Mason Raymond (VAN), Jiri Tlusty (TOR), Ivan Vishnevskiy (DAL), Ty Wishart (SJS).