The Spring edition of the Hockey's Future ranking of the Top 50 NHL prospects continues with the prospects ranked 11-20. This particular section of the rankings features a bevy of talented defensemen, led by Darnell Nurse and Griffin Reinhart.
The remaining group of talent is headlined by a handful of players who have seen time in the NHL this season, including Teuvo Teravainen, Filip Forsberg, Nikita Zadorov, and Elias Lindholm. Of the 10 players in this section of the ranking, four are new.
11. Darnell Nurse, D, Edmonton Oilers
Height: 6-4, Weight: 192, Fall ranking – 37
Has a perceived snub from the Canadian World Junior team affected Darnell Nurse’s play this season? When the team was announced, the rugged 6’4", 192-pound rearguard had 32 points in 29 games; since then, Nurse has collected just 18 points in 35 games. But one has to look past the numbers to get the full scope of Nurse’s maturation this season. He has been able to maintain his aggressive, hard-hitting style of play while not visiting the penalty box as frequently. In February, for instance, Nurse went 10 straight games without taking a minor penalty. There are still areas of his game that need improvement, but his size, mobility, offensive instincts, and booming point shot should make him a mainstay on the Oilers’ blue line in the near future.
12. Griffin Reinhart, D, New York Islanders
Height: 6-4, Weight: 202, Fall ranking – 32
Griffin Reinhart is not likely to be featured atop a list of budding offensive defensemen when he arrives in the NHL, though that is not to say he is void of offensive capabilities. The bullish, 6’4" blueliner has scored 30 goals through four seasons with the Edmonton Oil Kings and has recorded at least 17 assists in each of those seasons. Of course, that is not what endeared the Islanders to Reinhart when they selected him fourth overall in 2012.
Reinhart's incredible poise in his own end and ability to make the safe, smart pass was on display for a national audience when he suited up for Team Canada at the 2014 World Junior Championship. The team looked noticeably more comfortable with Reinhart in the lineup, as he missed the first few games of the tournament from a suspension which was carried over from the 2013 World Juniors. His physicality and leadership is something that the Islanders blue line is in desperate need of moving forward.
13. Teuvo Teravainen, C, Chicago Blackhawks
Height: 5'10, Weight: 175, Not ranked
Teravainen, an honorable mention on the fall list, was among the biggest risers in the spring ranking after another productive season for Jokerit Helsinki and a gold medal with Team Finland at the 2014 WJC. As captain of the Finnish team, the playmaking pivot displayed his excellent offensive instincts and quick mitts against some of the top prospects in the world. His time in Finland's top pro league, Liiga, with Jokerit has also helped him adjust that game to playing against men. Teravainen recently made his NHL debut and could still add an entirely new chapter to his breakout season before all is said and done.
14. Nikita Zadorov, D, Buffalo Sabres
Height: 6-5, Weight: 228, Not ranked
The hulking defenseman is having a very good year in the OHL with the London Knights following a brief stint in the NHL to start the 2013-14 season. With massive size and good instincts, Zadorov has the tools to be at least a top-four defensive prospect but still needs some seasoning, which is completely normal for a teenage defenseman. He has already scored more points than he did last season while playing roughly half as many games, which is certainly a sign of his good development. He was also very good at the WJC for Team Russia. Zadorov projects to become a sound, physical, defenseman who can play in all situations and contribute offensively.
Mantha is a pure sniper with the natural instincts to find the soft spots around the net and quickly bury his opportunities. He is an excellent skater who uses his size and reach to protect the puck from defenders. The big forward is not the most physical player along the boards, but he is very difficult to handle when driving the net. His two-way game is improving enough to allow him to play on both his team's penalty killing and power play units. But it is Mantha's offensive skills and scoring goals with his hard quick release that will get him to the NHL level.
The knocks against Mantha at the 2013 NHL Draft were his lack of consistency and level of competitiveness, but he has erased that notion in the QMJHL this season by scoring 57 goals in 57 games and posting 120 points. The big winger is likely going to be a top-line player for Red Wings.
A mobile, puck-moving defenseman, Derrick Pouliot has been a standout for a powerhouse Portland Winterhawks team. He has been among the top offensive defensemen in the WHL all season and has also drastically improved his all-around game from where it was two years ago. He will never be mistaken for a conservative, shutdown defenseman, but he has demonstrated a greater level of enthusiasm on the defensive side of the puck in 2013-14, which has allowed him to see more ice time and an expanded role.
Pouliot projects as an offensive defenseman who can play in all situations, but excels in transitioning the puck up ice and controlling the power play from the blue line. He will likely need to refine his game in the minors before making the leap to the NHL but could probably contribute on the Penguins NHL roster early on as an injury fill-in.
17. Elias Lindholm, C, Carolina Hurricanes
Height: 6-0, Weight: 192, Fall ranking – 26
Lindholm was one of eight picks from the 2013 NHL Draft to play in the NHL this season, and, while his rookie season has not been all bad, there were certainly some early difficulties. He injured his shoulder in the Hurricanes summer rookie camp, then suffered another injury setback in mid-October. He was also a healthy scratch on several occasions and sent to the AHL on a conditioning stint. He appears to be a better prospect in the end, however, and seems to have finally settled into a top-nine role with the Hurricanes. Projected as a two-way forward, Lindholm’s overall offensive upside is still somewhat unknown, though he has shown enough flashes of skill to suggest there is untapped offensive potential.
18. Filip Forsberg, LW, Nashville Predators
Height: 6-1, Weight: 186, Fall ranking – 43
Filip Forsberg is a very talented forward who is having a solid season in the AHL with the Milwaukee Admirals while also having spent some time in the NHL both this season and last. Forsberg is a great offensive talent thanks to his technique, skating and excellent shot, but he needs to use his body more effectively and improve his defensive awareness to become an impact player in the NHL. With the Admirals, Forsberg has 10 goals and 27 points in 37 games during his first full season in North America. With some seasoning, Forsberg can become a top-six player for the Predators.
An honorable mention on the Fall Top 50 list, Gaudreau's junior season at Boston College earned him a big jump in the spring ranking. The forward led the nation in goals and points during the regular season as part of one of the nation's most lethal top lines with Kevin Hayes (CHI) and Bill Arnold (CGY). His consistency for Boston College during the regular season was remarkable as he was held scoreless just twice during the regular season and Hockey East tournament. Sublime skills and explosive offensive ability define Gaudreau's game, but even without the puck, he plays with a determination that should serve him well when he eventually begins his development at the professional level.
Beaulieu has fluid skating skills in all four directions and transitions very quickly to the offensive attack. The puck mover sees the ice well, makes a good tape-to-tape outlet pass, and possesses a hard and accurate shot from the point. Beaulieu can take control of a game offensively from the back end and has become his team's leader on the power play.
Beaulieu still needs to mature, be more physical on the puck, and play smarter positionally in the defensive zone. The talented blueliner has shown solid progress in each of his call-ups to the NHL level. If he continues on this developmental pace, he should be a regular on the Canadiens' blue line in the very near future.
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