As always, players listed must meet Hockey’s Future’s prospect criteria.
11. Josh Harding, G — Minnesota Wild
Height: 6’1 Weight: 193 lbs
The trade of Manny Fernandez opened a spot in the Wild roster, and after three seasons in the AHL, Harding finally earned a full-time job in the NHL. Backing up Niklas Backstrom, Harding began 2007-08 by posting a shutout in his first start of the season. He has more than held his own with the Wild and performed well enough to rank second among all rookie netminders in the NHL in save percentage. With good size and a quick glove hand, Harding is proving he belongs and paving the way towards a long successful career in the NHL. A backup for now, he should develop into a strong starter for the Wild in the future.
12. Karl Alzner, D – Washington Capitals
Height: 6’2, Weight: 210
There are many highly respected defensemen in the CHL, but it would be tough to find one that holds the same status as Washington Capitals prospect Karl Alzner. It is one of the reasons he was named captain of Team Canada for the 2008 World Junior Championship and also why he wears the "C" with the Calgary Hitmen. Outgoing and humble as can be, Alzner’s off-ice personality can translate onto the ice where he is unselfish and exudes leadership. At his size, Alzner is an imposing defender at the junior level and plays a strong two-way game. His numbers dipped a bit this year but most would chalk that up to an incredibly deep Hitmen line-up that does not rely as heavily on their top blueliner as it may have last season.
Oshie has more than established himself as an offensive wizard and a first line center at the collegiate level with the University of North Dakota. But it is his increased involvement in the play, especially on the physical side of things, that has made Oshie a dangerous weapon for the future Blues. Now in his third season of college hockey, the issue of whether he will leave North Dakota early for the NHL becomes more of a focal point in his development. Oshie has little left to prove at the collegiate level and may be competing for a roster spot in St. Louis at this time next season. He is one of the fastest risers in these rankings as he is poised not only to take his playmaking skills to the next level, but also excel early in the professional game.
The extremely talented product of Hull, Quebec has erased any doubts people may have had about his ability to recover from his near season-long injury in 2006-07. Brassard is a difference maker with explosive offensive talents — speed to burn, gifted hands for creating or finishing scoring plays. The 20-year-old has shown a level of feistiness in his game as well. The Blue Jackets gave Brassard a five-game NHL stint in mid-February when he was unable to dent the score sheet, but in the AHL he has been a point-per-game player for most of the season. On a team in need of offense and centermen, it should not be long before Brassard is playing a prominent role for the Blue Jackets.
When Couture is on the ice and is healthy, he is able to display his high-end vision and decision-making abilities that make him so dangerous. In 2006-07, he suffered a leg injury and contracted a viral infection. More concerning, back-to-back concussions early on this season kept him out of the line-up and another mild concussion sidelined him in the last playoff game of the year for the Ottawa 67’s. Still, he shared the regular-season scoring lead for the 67’s. The Sharks already have him locked up to an entry-level contract and would have assigned him to Worcester in the AHL for the remainder of the season if he were healthy. Instead, they are playing it safe and letting him rest and heal.
The tenth overall pick in 2006, Frolik has had two successful seasons with the Rimouski Oceanic in the QMJHL. He led Rimouski in scoring this season with 65 points in just 45 games. The Czech winger has the size, speed, and skill set to make a fruitful transition to the professional game. Florida would surely like to add the winger to the 2008-09 NHL roster if he can make the jump. However, at least half a season in the AHL is a safe bet before he makes the Panthers full time.
Cherepanov is an extremely creative, fluid skating Russian winger, who knows how to finish and loves the attention of having the game rest on his stick. A member of the Russian Super League Omsk Avanguard for the last two seasons, Cherepanov is another high risk/high reward New York Rangers‘ first-round selection. Expected to be an early selection in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, Cherepanov fell to the Rangers at 17th overall, at least in part because of transfer agreement issues. An excellent 2008 WJC, in conjunction with good numbers during his sophomore year in the RSL have increased the anticipation of his arrival in North America. Whether that happens next season or he plays one more year in Russia is still undetermined.
One of the top prospects in the high-scoring QMJHL, the quick skating right winger posted phenomenal numbers during the regular season for the Gatineau Olympiques. Giroux was one of the league’s top scorers at nearly a two-point-per-game pace. He also played a significant role in helping Team Canada win another gold medal at the WJC this past winter. Some thought the Flyers reached a bit when selecting Giroux in the first round of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, but so far the diminutive sniper has proven them right. He has even played in his first two NHL games on an emergency recall towards the end of the season, showing the faith the Flyers have in their 19-year-old scorer.
Setoguchi can be called a prototypical Shark player because of his grit and hardworking style, coupled with skill, talent, and scoring ability. After starting the year with Worcester in the AHL, Setoguchi earned a call-up to San Jose on Oct. 29. From there, he took the league by storm, scoring seven goals in nine games before turning cold. He bounced back-and-forth between the NHL and AHL for most of the year, but is closing the season out with San Jose with over 40 NHL games. Still learning the ropes and finding his way in the NHL, expect Setoguchi to come back next season and be a force with the Sharks now that he has some experience.
20. Kristopher Letang, D – Pittsburgh Penguins
Height: 6’0, Weight: 201
The 21-year-old defenseman struggled to utilize his defensive skills early in the year. As a result, Kris Letang was sent to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL. Letang was recalled by the Pittsburgh Penguins in December where he has played well on the man advantage, at times relieving Ryan Whitney on the first unit of the explosive Penguins power play. He has pleased the Penguins with the improvement of his defensive zone coverage and not at the cost of his offensive game. Letang is being counted on to continue contributing a sound two-way defensive game for the Penguins as the organization pushes forward with bringing the quality of the blueline up to the level of their forwards.
A third-round selection in the 2005 NHL entry draft, the 6’5 defenseman has shown excellent development over the last three seasons. A good skater with excellent offensive instincts, Franson was hampered by concussion problems last season, his last with the WHL Vancouver Giants. He played three seasons for the Memorial Cup winner and was a member of the gold medal winning Team Canada of the 2007 WJC. After continuously working on his defensive play, Franson has had an excellent rookie season for the Milwaukee Admirals, playing in all situations and currently the top rookie blueline scorer in the AHL.
22. Ondrej Pavelec, G – Atlanta Thrashers
Height: 6’2, Weight: 200
Pavelec has played very well in net for the Atlanta Thrashers organization, whether it has been for the Chicago Wolves of the AHL or the Thrashers in the NHL. Early in the year, the 20-year-old Czech netminder was called up to Atlanta due to an injury to starting goaltender Kari Lehtonen. Pavelec won his first two games with the Thrashers, playing a total of seven. He’s been a iron man for the Wolves, and leads active netminders in the AHL in wins with 30. Pavelec continues to project as a starter in the NHL and is ready to play in the NHL as soon a spot opens up for him.
After an up and down rookie professional season for Pogge last year, he has shown much more consistency in his second go-around with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies. Though he has had to share time between the pipes, Pogge has already won more games this season than last year. To go along with the wins, he has improved his goals-against average and save percentage for the Marlies. Pogge has the size many teams crave in goaltenders, and has come a long way since last season in improving his positioning and better picking his spots for puck handling. Pogge is the Leafs goaltender of the future, and that future could be tested as early as next season as a backup to current Toronto starter Vesa Toskala.
24. Jimmy Howard, G — Detroit Red Wings
Height: 6’1 Weight: 204 lbs
In his third pro season, Howard has performed admirably for a Grand Rapids Griffins team that has had its share of ups and downs. His performance earned him goaltender of the month honors and a trip to the AHL All-Star game. Additionally, he earned some call-ups to the big club throughout the year, playing in four games. Howard is a butterfly goaltender with quick reflexes and strong anticipation. His is focused, covers the net well, and has been a difference maker for the Griffins. The Red Wings’ top goaltending prospect is working towards a full-time position in the NHL, where he has the potential to develop into a competent starting goaltender.
The New York Rangers selected the extremely talented offensive defenseman 21st overall in the 2006 Entry Draft. Sanguinetti’s skating and offensive instincts were never in question, but he was not a physical force on the ice and there were issues about his play in his own zone. A member of the OHL Owen Sound Attack for the first three years of his major junior career, Sanguinetti was still struggling defensively when he was traded to the Brampton Battalion last spring. After a very successful stint with the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack after the OHL season was completed in 2007, Sanguinetti joined his new junior team this past fall. He did put the lessons he learned in the AHL to use and achieved solid numbers during the 2007-08 season, but questions about Sanguinetti’s defensive play still remain as he begins his professional career.