26. Alexei Cherepanov, RW – New York Rangers
Cherepanov was stolen by the Rangers 17th overall at the 2007 draft due to concerns about the transfer agreement between Russia and the NHL. While he did not have quite as solid a season in his second year with Omsk in the RSL compared to his draft year, his 15 goals and 27 points in 46 games is not anything to be ashamed of. Cherepanov is a remarkably talented offensive winger with tremendous puck skills. He is quick and has good instincts in the offensive zone. He is a one-dimensional player at this stage of his development, but it is a very good dimension. He has enough talent to play in the NHL right now, but he is stuck in a contract with Omsk for the time being. The Rangers will find a way to get him to North America soon, and when he arrives, Cherepanov should make an immediate impact on Broadway.
27. Ryan McDonagh, D – Montreal Canadiens
McDonagh finished his freshman season with the University of Wisconsin, where he played a significant role on a team that had its share of struggles. A first-round draft pick of the Canadiens in 2007, McDonagh is one of those players who does everything well. His speed and skating ability are tough to match, but he has also got size and strength on his side. He generally makes good decisions on the ice, and is strong in one-on-one play. Because he is in college, the Canadiens will have the option to bring him along slowly if they choose not to offer him the chance to join the professional ranks sooner. Easily the best defensive prospect in Montreal’s system, McDonagh has all of the traits of a potential top pairing defenseman in the NHL.
28. Derick Brassard, C – Columbus Blue Jackets
Brassard is a creative forward with top-notch vision and awareness. He made his living last season in a playmaking role with the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL, finishing the year with over a point per game average. Brassard does have a scoring touch, though, which will only help his cause as he tries to crack the Blue Jackets lineup this fall. His work will certainly be cut out for him, competing with highly touted Jakub Voracek. He has also made efforts to increase his grit and has demonstrated he has some battle in him as well.
29. Kyle Beach, C – Chicago Blackhawks
Minus the rumors and the speculation surrounding Kyle Beach‘s demeanor, you will find a gritty two-way forward who will be a force for the Blackhawks for years to come. He is going to fit in well with Chicago’s scheme because he can skate with top talent and produce, as well as take out the garbage when needed. Whichever line he ends up skating with once he gets to the Windy City, his linemates are going to love his physical presence and dogged determination. He is going to be able to punish the opposition down low as well as free up space for the more skilled players.
30. Shawn Matthias, C – Florida Panthers
Matthias has made continual progress each of the last couple years, the 2007-08 season was no exception, nagging injuries and all. Matthias fell a mere one point short of the top 20 in scoring in the OHL, with 53 games played. More than just scoring, Matthias was a key special teams player as a top two-way center. Matthias plays a gritty, hard-working game and utilizes his size in the style of a power forward. Built solidly, with a strong foundation of versatility, Matthias should be able to transition to the professional game more fluidly than his smaller counterparts. He could join the Panthers as early as this season.
31. Brian Lee, D – Ottawa Senators
With the departure of Wade Redden and Mike Commodore via free agency and the recent trade of Andrej Meszaros to Tampa Bay, Lee has a prime opportunity to make a big impact in Ottawa this season. After a solid professional debut that saw him score 25 points in 55 AHL games and included a brief six-game NHL trial, Lee appears to be ready for the next level. A jack of all trades but master of none, Lee is a little more slanted to the offensive side of the game. He is, however, gradually learning to use his 6’3, 205 lbs to his advantage, which is helping him improve his defensive zone play. Lee’s best assets are his mobility and his shot from the point. Lee is all but assured a spot in Ottawa’s top-six group of defensemen this season and should be able to put up more than his share of points with the Senators other blueliners not possessing much offensive skill.
32. Logan Couture, C – San Jose
Citing an inability to stay healthy, many feel that the Sharks may have missed the mark on Logan Couture. However, the jury is still not out on the young pivot. Couture is still a valuable piece in San Jose’s plans. He has been a force in the OHL with the Ottawa 67’s when he is on the ice. And though he has been sidelined at times, the 19-year-old hasn’t let that stop him. He has an outside chance to make the Sharks this year, but reality suggests that he is headed back to the 67’s for his final year in the junior ranks. One more solid year in Ottawa will help Couture fine-tune some rough spots and prove that he is a legit contender come next fall.
33. Bryan Little, C – Atlanta Thrashers
Little spent the majority of last regular season in Atlanta with the Thrashers, playing 48 games, then joining the Chicago Wolves for their Calder Cup run. Little was a solid contributor during the playoffs as the team’s No. 2 center behind AHL scoring leader Jason Krog. He was the third highest scoring rookie in the playoffs, with eight goals and 13 points in 24 games. And yet, by Little’s own admission to Hockey’s Future, he still was not playing as well as he could have. Little is a better NHL player than an AHL player due to his superior vision, and he should continue as the Thrashers No. 2 center.
34. Sergei Kostitsyn, LW – Montreal Canadiens
After beginning the 2007-08 season with the Hamilton Bulldogs in the AHL, Sergei Kostitsyn joined his older brother Andrei in Montreal and has not looked back since. His finest performance came in the playoffs where he was a key contributor on offense with a total of eight points in 12 games. A gifted playmaker, Kostitsyn also has the ability to find the back of the net. He plays a gritty game, and perhaps more impressive than that, despite his offensive capabilities, he is also responsible in his own end. He will have the opportunity to build upon a solid rookie debut and play a bigger role for the team. For a seventh-round draft pick, the younger Kostitsyn is a true steal for the Canadiens.
35. David Perron, RW – St. Louis Blues
Perron was a surprise fixture in the Blues line-up during the 2007-08 season. Joining the team immediately after being drafted, Perron never looked out of place as one of the youngest players in the league and is expected to build upon his remarkable season. Top line duties are not out of the question for him as the Blues roster takes on a younger look with prospects beginning to vie for playing time. Perron is only three games away from graduating from prospect status and has established himself as a top line contributor in the NHL. As he gains experience, his role with the team will continue to grow.
36. Jeff Petry, D – Edmonton Oilers
After posting 18 goals and 45 points in the USHL, Petry went on to Michigan State University where he had a strong freshman season, posting three goals and 21 assists in 42 games. Petry brings an intriguing skill package to the ice; he is capable of playing on the power play, has a booming point shot, has good positioning and plays with a physical streak. The two-way defenseman needs to further refine his game but has the potential to eventually emerge as a top-pairing defensive prospect. With the Spartan roster experiencing some turnover this coming season, Petry should take the next step in his development and be called upon for more responsibility on the team.
37. Devin Setoguchi, RW – San Jose Sharks
When Setoguchi hit the ice for his NHL debut against the Dallas Stars during the 2007-08 season, the eager right winger started it off with a bang. He would score two goals in that game and ride a four-game goal streak a month later. He might have leveled off during his introductory year, but was still able to make a solid transition even though lofty numbers did not follow. Setoguchi remained focused, using the veteran players to help him learn the ropes and get ahead of the curve. With that year under his belt – which included playoff experience – Setoguchi will definitely be expected to expand his role, which the gritty forward is ready for.
38. Jhonas Enroth, G – Buffalo Sabres
Buffalo’s top goaltending prospect will get the opportunity to begin his North American career in 2008-09, most likely with the organization’s new AHL affiliate, the Portland Pirates. The Sabres are set in net for the year, leaving very little opportunity for Enroth to make an impact in the immediate future. That does nothing to diminish the fact that he can be counted among the most talented goaltending prospects in the world. He is a classic butterfly style goalie who has both an exceptional glove hand and quick reflexes. Enroth is also a consistent performer who will come up big for his team.
39. T.J. Hensick, C – Colorado Avalanche
An offensive dynamo at every level of hockey he has played, Hensick was called up around mid-season to the big stage in the 2007-08 season and held his own, posting 11 points in 31 games. His near point-per-game average while with Lake Erie of the AHL demonstrates some of his ultimate potential. Hensick’s greatest asset is his skating which is now of premier importance in the NHL. His ability to move quickly and deft puck handling skills make him difficult to contain in the offensive end of the rink. Hensick will be given every opportunity to start the 2008-09 season with the Avalanche and could fill in for the lost production of Peter Forsberg or an aging Joe Sakic.
40. Mikael Backlund, C – Calgary Flames
Backlund had a strong 2007-08 season in Sweden with the 2nd division club Vasteras, and took his game to another level at the World Junior Championships. Backlund is a supremely talented center who has great hands and top-notch puck skills. The Flames have not had a forward prospect with this much potential come along in quite some time, and while he could surprise and make the team this season, he is likely going to be best served by spending one more season developing in Sweden. The 2009-10 season should be his NHL coming out party as the organization has been patient with his development.
41. Cory Schneider, G – Vancouver Canucks
The Canucks have one of those fortunate dilemmas when it comes to goaltending. Not only do they have one of strongest and consistent netminders in Roberto Luongo, but they also have a solid prospect in Cory Schneider waiting in the wings. After a great career with Boston College, the 22-year-old stepped right into the AHL with the Manitoba Moose and put up solid numbers for a rookie. He has even been impressive in training camp, but his chances of making the squad are slim. It is not a knock against the Massachusetts native either. In order to stay sharp and ready for his time, he needs to see consistent minutes.
42. Alex Goligoski, D – Pittsburgh Penguins
From his successful college career at the University of Minnesota to his 38-point regular season debut in the AHL, Goligoski has been productive at every level of hockey he has played. After his 28 points in 23 games en route to an appearance in the Calder Cup Finals, the soft-handed mobile defenseman showed he may be one of the best defensemen not playing in the NHL. The left-hander has a smooth stride, and a third gear that allows him to join the rush. He has a soft outlet pass, can settle down and redirect a pass with ease, and has a powerful but accurate point shot. With the initial glut of NHL level defensemen in the Penguins system, Goligoski looked to initially start the 2008-09 season in the AHL. However, with long-term injuries to offensive defensemen Ryan Whitney and Sergei Gonchar, the time for Goligoski looks to have begun.
43. Jiri Tlusty, C – Toronto Maple Leafs
Drafted 13th overall in 2006, the Kladno standout made the shift to the OHL where, after posting 34 points in only 37 games, he joined the Toronto Marlies at the end of the 2006-07 season. Tlusty made his NHL debut in 2007-08 where he scored 10 goals in 58 games. While his physical play, strong skating, and knack in the faceoff circle have made the transition to North American hockey easy, Tlusty is an offensively minded, goal scorer, projected to be a top-six forward. Barring any major setbacks, the talented prospect from the Czech Republic will remain on the Toronto Maple Leafs roster for the 2008-09 season.
44. Joe Colborne, C – Boston Bruins
When you are mentioned in the same breath as Joe Thornton, it says enough on its own and tells you just how much talent the 6’5, 190 lb Colborne possesses. The Bruins selected the playmaking wizard with the 16th overall pick at the 2008 Entry Draft after Colborne dominated the Alberta Junior Hockey League with Camrose to a tune of 33 goals and 57 assists in 55 games. Colborne still has plenty of filling out to do, but the Bruins will give him plenty of time to do just that, along with getting stronger and learning to use his big frame more to his advantage. He is scheduled to attend the University of Denver this fall as he begins his collegiate career. Boston will likely let him spend two or three years in college before thinking about enticing him to turn professional. If he is able to reach his full potential, the Bruins should have a top-line playmaker on their hands.
45. Max Pacioretty, LW – Montreal Canadiens
After a strong freshman season with the University of Michigan where Pacioretty tallied more than a point per game, the Canadiens decided to offer the gifted young forward a contract. Now he will have the opportunity to shine with the Hamilton Bulldogs of the AHL. Pacioretty has both size and grittiness which, combined with strong offensive capabilities, makes him a force on the ice. He should benefit tremendously from the higher level of competition and, if he takes off quickly, he could even see some time in Montreal while still in his first season of professional hockey. If he pulls it all together and progresses as anticipated, Pacioretty will become a top-six power forward in the NHL very soon.
46. Keith Yandle, D – Phoenix Coyotes
After sticking with Phoenix for the majority of the 2007-08 season, the Coyotes brain trust is content in giving young blueliner Yandle a starting position in their defensive core. It is not that much of a surprise, as Phoenix has been fast-tracking the New Englander since they picked him up in the fourth round at the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. And after sending Keith Ballard and Nick Boynton to Florida this summer, the door is wide open and full of opportunity for the rear-guard to press on. Yandle has shown the ability to adapt to each new level with success. He showed some youthful mistakes last season during 43 games in the league, but the franchise loves his skating, puck-handling ability, and his innate offensive instincts.
47. Lars Eller, LW – St. Louis Blues
There is little that Eller cannot be trusted to do. He can regularly contribute to the scoresheet as well as play a solid defensive game, experienced on both the power play and penalty kill, and is known as a hard worker on and off the ice. Eller will continue to develop in Sweden for at least one more season and is expected to play his first full season in the SEL at the age of 19. Also a veteran of the international tournament scene, Eller’s resume outside of North America is impressive. When he decides to move his game to the NHL, St. Louis will look to him to be the two-way forward stabilizing the second line.
48. Chet Pickard, G – Nashville Predators
For Pickard, having to play second fiddle to Price before the 2007-08 season with the Tri-City Americans of the WHL is not looking so bad after all. Pickard saw success in minimal outings during Price’s last year in major juniors. However, he erased all doubt last year, when he proved that the Americans could survive without Price. Pickard stepped up and literally stepped out of Price’s shadow, posting a Tri-City franchise record for wins. He also posted spectacular numbers en route to winning the WHL and CHL goaltender of the year honors. There is no need for the Predators to rush Pickard, as they are content with their situation in Nashville.
49. Cody Hodgson, C – Vancouver Canucks
Though he is not overly big or overly quick, Hodgson is an extremely strong all-around player at a young age. The 18-year-old can put the puck in the net and make plays with the puck, as well as being responsible in his own zone. Hodgson is smart as well as clever on the ice, controlling the puck well and making good decisions. The Canucks took Hodgson with the expectation that he could be integrated in their lineup in the not-too-distant future. The first step will be to build on his scoring outputs from a year ago, as he begins the 2008-09 season with the OHL’s Brampton Battalion.
50. Cody Franson, D – Nashville Predators
Franson is another in an increasingly long line of well-groomed blueliners to come out of the Nashville system. Franson was bested only by Goligoski in rookie scoring among AHL defensemen this past season. Franson has also added to his already imposing size, now standing 6’5 and weighing well over 200 pounds, to go along with his offensive ability. With a spot on the Predators blue line up for grabs next season, the NHL may not be out of reach for Franson. If he does not stick in Nashville, much will be expected of him in his return to Milwaukee.