The Spring edition of the Hockey's Future ranking of the Top 50 NHL prospects continues with the prospects ranked 21-30. This particular section of the rankings is led by dynamic young forward Nikita Kucherov, who is one of several promising young forwards playing for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The rest of the middle group is a mix of players who are excelling at their respective competition levels, even in the cases of rookie pros like Jon Merrill and Brandon Gormley. Including Kucherov, there are six new names in this particular section of the ranking.
21. Nikita Kucherov, RW, Tampa Bay Lightning
Height: 6-0, Weight: 165, Not ranked
Though he started the season in the AHL, Nikita Kucherov made it next to impossible for the Tampa Bay Lightning to keep him there as he notched 13 goals and 11 assists in his first 17 pro games. Recalled to the NHL in late November, he wasted no time in making an impact, scoring a goal on the first shot of his first NHL shift. He has been in the NHL ever since, and while he has gone through some hot and cold streaks, he is still having a solid, all-around rookie season.
Kucherov is a very interesting prospect with speed to burn and excellent sniping ability, which combines a lethal shot and a great nose for the net. He will be expected to take on a bigger role with the Lightning next season.
22. Jon Merrill, D, New Jersey Devils
Height: 6-3, Weight: 209, Fall ranking – 49
The 2013-14 season has been a baptism by fire for Merrill, who has spent the majority of his rookie pro season in the NHL. He has been mostly solid in his own end, and has averaged almost 19 minutes in a second or third-pairing role. A puck-moving defenseman by trade, Merrill has not shown up on the score sheet with great regularity this year, but nonetheless carries the puck with confidence and mostly does a good job of moving the play up ice. Merrill does have numerous parts of his game he needs to work on, however. Like many rookies, he is prone to mistakes and at times tries to do too much, though these are issues that can be fixed with proper coaching.
Back in the OHL for his final season of eligibility, Scott Laughton has done exactly what the Flyers had expected from him when they made him one of the team’s last cuts. He already has five games of NHL experience from making the Flyers’ 2012-13 opening night roster, but he has since excelled with the Oshawa Generals. This season, the Oakville, Ontario product has found the back of the net 40 times in 54 games while also adding 47 assists – both career highs.
Given his NHL experience and leadership abilities – he has captained the Generals this season – Laughton was also chosen as the captain of the Canadian World Junior team, but posted only one assist in seven games. His offensive capabilities may not be enough to land him on a first line in the NHL, but with the ability to kill penalties and play a sound, two-way game, he should have no problem making an impact for the Flyers in the near future.
The Boston Bruins have arguably the most desirable goaltending situation in the NHL. Not only do they boast one of the league’s top goaltenders in Tuukka Rask, but they added another top-flight prospect in Malcolm Subban when they took him with the 24th overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft. The second oldest of the Subban brothers, the goaltender completed an impressive junior campaign last year with a career-best .934 save percentage through 46 games. This year, in his first pro season, Subban has been a solid option between the pipes for the Providence Bruins. He has played in 27 games as a backup to Niklas Svedberg, posting a 13-8-4 record to go along with a .919 save percentage and a 2.34 goals against average.
Known for his athletic prowess and his ability to make highlight reel saves, Subban will be allowed plenty of time in the AHL to work on his puck tracking skills and positioning, before potentially filling a role as Rask’s backup in Boston.
Wennberg is a very solid prospect who is getting better every year and showed some evident progress during the 2013-14 season. He played against a higher level of competition this season, following a move from Djurgarden to Frolunda. The move paid off, as Wennberg managed 16 goals in 50 games while playing a fairly prominent role for that team. He was also strong at the 2014 World Junior Championship, where he helped Sweden to a silver medal.
Wennberg great vision of the ice and playmaking ability makes him a prospect to watch for the next couple of years. He has a contract in Sweden which runs through the 2014-15 season, meaning he will likely cross the Atlantic for the 2015-16 season.
Prince Albert Raiders rearguard Josh Morrissey has been a model two-way blueliner for the Raiders in 2013-14. Already known for his skating and offensive ability, he finished first in goals (28) and second in points (73) among defensemen during the WHL's regular season. He never went more than two games without scoring a point for the Raiders, but the defender also helped his team in its own end. Not an imposing presence at 6'0" and 183 pounds, Morrissey still showed more of a willingness to play the body this season. With an entry-level contract already under his belt, Morrissey can focus on continuing to round out his game as the Raiders continue leaning on him in all situations.
With the Canucks turning their eyes toward the future, Horvat has had a smashing season in the OHL with the London Knights. As an alternate captain for the London, he had 74 points in 54 games with London this year, a pace far exceeding his previous seasons. The center has continued to show exceptional two-way ability, leadership qualities, and in-game intelligence. All of the above skills realistically project him as a quality second-line center, much in the vein of current NHL forward Ryan Kesler. His versatility and maturity could see Horvat suit up for the Canucks as early as 2014-15.
28. Brandon Gormley, D, Phoenix Coyotes
Height: 6-1, Weight: 185, Fall ranking – 33
Gormley is a solid, two-way defenseman with good mobility who can add offense with his precision passing skills and his hard, accurate point shot. He possesses good patience and poise with the puck and makes the smart decisions on whether to pass, hang on for the opening or carry it up ice himself. Gormley has sound defensive instincts, good positioning and can play on both specialty team units, but will need to get physically stronger and add more toughness to his game in order to maximize his NHL potential. Gormley will have a chance to crack the Coyotes’ starting NHL roster as early as next season.
Matt Dumba’s 2013-14 season began in the NHL with Minnesota but, although sticking with the team from opening night and into December, he dressed for only 13 games. His stint with Team Canada at the 2014 WJC did not go much better with just one assist in seven games.
The Wild reassigned Dumba to the WHL after the tournament, where he had a huge season with the Portland Winterhawks and helped the team earn its second straight U.S. Division title. Despite this strong showing, it is still hard to project the kind of player he is going to be at the NHL level. The freewheeling style that the Winterhawks employ has done no favors for Dumba's need to develop his defensive game. That being said, he still boasts some of the best offensive ability, skating, and puck movement of any young NHL prospect at defense. He still has time to physically mature and adjust to the next level of play, as well. With that in mind, Dumba remains one of the more promising defensive prospects out there, despite possessing a few question marks.
Lazar is a solid, all-round player and a capable goal scorer with an NHL-caliber release on his shot. He can also play the shutdown role against the opposition's best forwards and is very reliable without the puck. The two-way center possesses excellent hockey sense and plays on both specialty team units. He is a heart-and-soul kind of player with excellent leadership skills and a solid work ethic. The 19-year-old is versatile enough to play any of the forward positions and in all key situations. His potential is that of a top-six forward, but he is so coachable that Lazar can be inserted anywhere throughout the team's lineup. It is simply a matter of more development and time before the center is in an Ottawa Senators uniform, most likely in the very near future.
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