1. Steven Stamkos, C – Tampa Bay Lightning
While he may not have quite the same impact that 2007 No. 1 pick Patrick Kane had with the Blackhawks last season, Stamkos is still expected to be an immediate contributor on a completely remodeled Tampa Bay Lightning team. Stamkos started last season as the consensus top draft prospect, and lived up to the hype, racking up a scintillating 105 points with the Sarnia Sting of the OHL, before being selected first overall in the 2008 Entry Draft. Stamkos, who has been compared to Steve Yzerman and Joe Sakic, is an absolute wizard with the puck, equally adept at setting up as he is scoring. He is a great skater, plays a sound two-way game and should be a great compliment playing second fiddle to all-star center Vincent Lecavalier this season in Tampa Bay. Expect an immediate impact this year as he should be considered a top candidate for the Calder Trophy.
2. Carey Price, G – Montreal Canadiens
Price earned the opportunity to be Montreal’s No. 1 goaltender in his rookie NHL season, and proved that he was more than capable of the job. Playing net for the NHL’s oldest franchise means considerable scrutiny, however, Price appears to have taken it all in stride. A butterfly goaltender with exceptional reflexes, he reads plays well, and is both poised under pressure and quick to react. He fills the net, both in size and movement, to the point where he makes the job look easy. An up and down postseason performance in 2008 is no cause for alarm. Price is still young and relatively inexperienced and should have a long NHL career ahead of him. The Canadiens have a history of finding exceptional goaltenders and it would seem that Carey Price is the next in that long line.
3. Kyle Turris, C – Phoenix Coyotes
As the Coyotes top prospect, big things are expected from first-year pivot Turris. A clear frontrunner in the Calder chase, the former 2007 Entry Draft pick is ready to take-on a top six role in the desert. The 19-year-old spent just one year at the University of Wisconsin before turning pro. Turris possesses good speed and great stick-handling abilities, which will be crucial on a team that wants its players to be light on their feet and ferocious on the puck. After getting a brief taste of the NHL last year and spending the summer in Phoenix, Turris should hit the ground running.
4. Drew Doughty, D – Los Angeles Kings
The second overall selection in the 2008 Entry Draft is a complete package on the blueline. Smooth skating, offensive skills and a leadership mentality, Doughty joins Los Angeles with a strong possibility of contributing to the NHL squad as early as this season. But even if his more likely return to the Guelph Storm of the OHL is in the cards for this 18-year-old, the future of the defensive corps in Los Angeles is being shaped around the pairing of Doughty with Jack Johnson for the next decade. He is a true franchise cornerstone who is adept at playing in all situations. While he may never become a bruising defenseman in the mold of Chris Pronger, his offensive ceiling is as high as any defensive prospect drafted in recent memory and has earned his high initial position in these rankings.
5. James vanRiemsdyk, LW – Philadelphia Flyers
The Flyers have accumulated quite a startling amount of talent up front over the course of the past few seasons, and one of the headliners of that group is vanRiemsdyk, who is coming off of a fantastic freshman season with the University of New Hampshire. He scored at just over a point-per-game clip (34 points in 31 games), and starred at the World Juniors Championships where he led with 11 points in just six games. Standing at 6’3, 205 lbs, vanRiemsdyk is a power forward in the making. He has good speed for a man of his stature, to go along with superb playmaking skills and great hands. He is set to return to UNH for his sophomore season this year, but it is likely that he will turn professional at the conclusion of the season. While he may need at least a year of minor league seasoning, expect to see him holding down a spot on a scoring line in Philadelphia by no later than 2010-11.
6. Jakub Voracek, RW – Columbus Blue Jackets
Voracek is an extremely intelligent player with keen awareness and pinpoint-accurate passing ability. Voracek drops slightly on the list from a year before but through no fault of his own as the new draftees from the 2008 Entry Draft are added. Voracek’s arrival with the Blue Jackets is getting increasingly close. The Czech forward lived in Columbus over this past summer, training with the Blue Jackets’ strength and conditioning coach, adding significant weight and muscle to his 6’2 frame. Last season, Voracek improved his already superb numbers from the year before, when he earned a long look in training camp. Voracek is a candidate for the Calder Trophy in 2008-09.
7. Kyle Okposo, RW – New York Islanders
The New York Islanders will be having a rebuilding season this year, and right at the heart of that rebuilding process is Okposo. A dynamic, hard-shooting winger with tremendous goal-scoring ability, Okposo was fast tracked from the University of Minnesota to the pros as the Islanders signed him after he finished up playing for Team USA at the World Junior Championships in 2008. He started off with the Islanders AHL affiliate in Bridgeport, before being promoted and finishing the 2007-08 season in New York, scoring five points in nine games. He is all but guaranteed a spot in the Islanders top-six group of forwards this year and should challenge for both the team scoring lead this season as well as the Calder Trophy.
8. Alex Pietrangelo, D – St. Louis Blues
Of the three defensemen drafted at the top of the first round in 2008, Pietrangelo has the outside potential to be the best of the bunch. He may have more offensive skill than Bogosian and a better physique than Doughty — a complete package in a 6’3 frame. But, Pietrangelo is raw. He has the most developmental progress to make before he can realize his full potential. At only 18, he is already making a case for himself to stay on the NHL roster, especially with the season-ending injury to Blues defenseman Erik Johnson. But his lack of readiness may return him to Niagara of the OHL for another season. The sooner he can learn to use his large frame as an advantage on both sides of the ice, the more rapidly he will develop.
9. Jonathan Bernier, G – Los Angeles Kings
Second only to Price on the list, Bernier also comes with the same high expectations of a franchise goaltender as his counterpart in Montreal. While Price already has a great deal of experience in the NHL, Bernier is beginning his first full professional season in 2008. In his short time with Los Angeles in 2007-08, Bernier flashed brilliance while giving up only a single goal in the opening game of the season. this year Bernier appears to be slated for the starting goaltender position in Manchester of the AHL so that he can gain the one portion of his game that is lacking – experience against professional competition. By this time next year, look for Bernier as the starter in net for the Los Angeles Kings.
10. Karl Alzner, D – Washington Capitals
Not as flashy as other defensemen on this list, Alzner is no less important to his team. While he was rock-solid as a two-way defenseman in major junior hockey, it is likely that Alzner will focus more on the defensive side at the professional level and bring leadership to the table. He has a tremendous chance to contribute to the Capitals as early as this season and, as the Capitals rely heavily on their extremely talented forwards for the bulk of their scoring, Alzner will not be immediately looked to for offense. But as he settles onto the roster and continues to grow with each season, eventually Alzner will be one of the best defensemen in all of hockey.