Hockey’s Future Top 50 prospects, Spring 2009, 26-50

By HF Staff

26. Jonathan Bernier, G – Los Angeles Kings

A disappointing start to the season has dropped Bernier in these rankings. After watching Jonathan Quick earn the call-up to Los Angeles, Bernier fell into a trap of inconsistent and lack-luster play. Unfortunately, this trap would last for a significant portion of the Manchester Monarch’s season before he finally turned things around. He would find his game again and settle into more consistent play, but two years in a row of inconsistency in the beginning of the season does raise some eyebrows. Bernier is still a top prospect and the more likely candidate to be the top goaltender in Los Angeles long term. Eventually, it will be more beneficial for him to spend some more time in Manchester and be brought along slowly as he demonstrates that he is ready for each step in his development first.

27. Ondrej Pavelec, G – Atlanta Thrashers

Despite not having as positive an experience in his NHL call-up this season as last season, Pavelec’s game has progressed with the Chicago Wolves of the AHL. On average, Pavelec has been facing more rubber than nearly any other goaltender in the AHL. In spite of all the shots coming his way, Pavelec has put up very respectable numbers and is developing the mental toughness that comes with being barraged with shots game in and game out. Pavelec could make the permanent jump to the NHL as early as this fall, if the starter position opens up.

28. Alex Goligoski, D – Pittsburgh Penguins

Goligoski was pressed into early NHL duty this season due to injuries, and he did not disappoint. Still, Penguins coaching staff wanted to assure Goligoski would be put in positions to succeed and therefore the young defenseman was primarily used on the power play where his puck distribution and smooth skating could most benefit the team. As the season wore on, Goligoski saw more time in even strength situations before being sent back to the AHL. It is fair to say that while his stay in the NHL should be considered a success, he has plenty of room to improve defensively. The native of Minnesota remains on the top of the Penguins call-up list and will compete for a full-time NHL roster spot next fall.  

29. Viktor Tikhonov, RW – Phoenix Coyotes

With the exception of a broken hand earlier in the season, not much has slowed Tikhonov’s development and rise within the organization. He made a smooth transition from the RSL, playing in only four AHL games this year. Even though the lines constantly continue to be juggled in Phoenix, the rookie has kept his head down and played a really consistent game. The expectations have been high from the onset as a first-round pick, and Tikhonov is answering the call. Only 20, he is wise beyond his years. The best young two-way minded player on the roster outside Martin Hanzal, Tikhonov is going to be yet another bright spot for the franchise once the line-up is stabilized.

30. Artem Anisimov, C — New York Rangers

The 20-year-old Russian-born Anisimov is a scoring center who has been a member of the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack this season. Currently ranked as the top prospect in the  Rangers’ organization, Anisimov was selected in the second round of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. His draft stock fell that year because there was some question as to whether he would play in North America. Now well into his second season playing in the AHL, Anisimov is currently in the top ten in league scoring. An excellent face-off man who is very responsible defensively, Anisimov is expected to be a top-six forward in the NHL next season.

31. Shawn Matthias, C – Florida Panthers

In junior hockey, Matthias made continual progress from season to season as a role player and point producer. Expected to smoothly transition to the pros this season, Matthias’ mediocre performance this year was surprising. The work ethic that was a staple of his game seemed to slip significantly, sparking debate about the 21-year-old’s true potential. Matthias played most of the season with the AHL Rochester Americans and just 16 games with the Panthers. The expectations set on Matthias, however, were in all likelihood unfair, as is deciding his future based on his rocky start. Time will be the best medicine for Matthias, for whom the 2009-10 season will be a show-me year. 

32. Logan Couture, C – San Jose Sharks

In four years with the Ottawa 67′s, Couture has been a top-three point-getter, twice leading the club. The former ninth overall selection in the 2007 NHL draft, Couture is a talented offensive player who can be very effective in all three zones. When the London, Ontario native is on top of his game he can be a dominant player, but that is not always the case. Either by way of injury or because he cannot shift into that next gear, Couture has sometimes left a little to be desired. This season, however, has been quite a sensational campaign for him. He has been a very smart, skilled and hard worker in all three zones as he helped Ottawa become one of the best teams in the OHL.
 
33. Simeon Varlamov, G — Washington Capitals

The 20-year-old Varlamov is in his rookie season in North America. After several years in the Yaroslavl Lokomotiv system, the Russian-born netminder has been a member of the AHL  Hershey Bears for most of this season. Since joining the Bears, Varlamov has had both six-  and seven-game win streaks. Varlamov has been called up to the NHL twice this season and won three of his four games. Drafted by Washington in the first round of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, Varlamov has an excellent glove hand, controls rebounds well, and plays with a lot of confidence. Varlamov is the Caps goalie of the future and will battle for an NHL roster spot next fall.

34. Max Pacioretty, LW – Montreal Canadiens

After one season in college, Pacioretty has split this season between the Hamilton Bulldogs of the AHL and the Montreal Canadiens. Proving he can play his gritty style against men, Pacioretty has been an energy boost for a Canadiens team that went through the motions during a few stretches this season. When Pacioretty is not providing energy for the Canadiens, he is while contributing offensively for the Bulldogs. The fact that Pacioretty has the ability to be a spark plug who plays a top-six role and the Canadiens have few forwards under contract for next season will help him in his pursuit to take the next step in his development.

35. Jacob Markstrom, G – Florida Panthers

On any given night, the pressure is on a 19-year-old Markstrom to be excellent, playing for his hometown club, Brynas. Among others in the SEL this season, the team bears the unfortunate distinction of being the second worst in terms of goal scoring. Though able to advance to the playoffs, their postseason was abruptly cut short, as they were eliminated in the first round, swept by Farjestad BK. Markstrom played only in what was the fourth and final game of the series. Similar to the regular season, the team was unable to score, and their woeful offensive output was their downfall. As a goaltender, Markstrom is an unusually complete package at a young age. He possesses all the attributes sought after in a quality netminder. Still under contract with Brynas for one more year, the Panthers will most certainly attempt to lure the Swedish star across to North America soon as they can.

36. Zach Boychuk, C – Carolina Hurricanes

Boychuk got his first taste of NHL action this year, spending two games with Carolina before being returned to Lethbridge of the WHL. Despite battling through some injuries during his 2008-09 campaign, Boychuk had a very effective year. The somewhat diminutive forward has exceptional goal-scoring ability for a center and displays extremely quick acceleration to get him out of dangerous spots. In addition to playing with both the Hurricanes of Carolina and Lethbridge, Boychuk had a very good WJC tournament with Team Canada. Boychuk should get a long look at Carolina’s training camp next year after his brief audition last October. 

37. Jordan Eberle, C – Edmonton Oilers

Eberle recently rose to the top spot in the Oilers’ prospect pool. The 18-year-old has top offensive instincts. He also possesses the ability to effectively anticipate the play, and has magical hands at his disposal. Standing at 5’10, these are his best assets. Skating in the WJC, Eberle’s timely goals made him a hero of sorts for Team Canada. Eberle scored the goal that was essential to preserve Canada’s current streak of gold medal wins in the tournament. The Oilers’ first-round draft pick last June, Eberle signed an entry-level contract on March 23, and should join the AHL’s Springfield Falcons before season’s end. 

38. Jake Gardiner, D – Anaheim Ducks

Playing on a middle of the road team at the University of Wisconsin, Jake Gardiner fared very well as an incoming freshman. He and fellow first-year Badger Derek Stepan (NYR) had big impacts on the team. Playing on the top defensive pairing, Gardiner also picked up a wealth of knowledge from junior Jamie McBain (CAR). It showed at the end of the year, when Gardinere was named to the All-WCHA rookie team. The former Minnesota prep star still has some work to do with the Badgers, but it is safe to say he is going to be a fast riser if he continues to develop at this rate.

39. Brian Elliott, G – Ottawa Senators

With all the things that have gone wrong on the ice in Canada’s Capital City this year, at least the Ottawa Senators rookie netminder Elliott has surfaced amid the wreckage. After opening up this season solid for the franchise’s AHL team in Binghamton, the franchise decided to roll the dice on their former 2003 ninth rounder. The gamble has paid off, as Elliot has continued to impress. While the rest of the team’s output has been eerily bi-polar, the former Wisconsin Badger has been consistent between the pipes. There is no doubt he has turned into a prized asset and Elliot is truly one of the main reasons why Ottawa has not slipped into the abyss of the Eastern Conference.  

40. Michael Del Zotto, D — New York Rangers

The New York Rangers first round pick, 20th overall, in the 2008 Entry Draft, Del Zotto is one of the top defensemen in the OHL. An offensive blueliner with excellent vision and skating ability, Del Zotto patrols the blueline with a bit of an edge. Although the 18-year-old has a chance to win a roster spot on the NHL team next fall, what is more likely is a return to the junior level for one more season. The Rangers are hoping  that Del Zotto will use that time to develop into a premier power-play quarterback, as well as play for Canada in the 2010 U20 World Junior Championship.

41. Tyler Cuma, D – Minnesota Wild

Things were looking up for Cuma this year. He was so close to making the Wild, so close to making Team Canada’s WJC team and so close to putting together a stellar year back in the OHL with the Ottawa 67’s. However, Minnesota’s top blueline prospect suffered an MCL injury and had to have season-ending surgery on his knee. Opportunities were lost this year, but Cuma is not going to let this hold him back when he hits the ice next season. As long as he comes out of his rehab 100 percent, Cuma is going to be an early favorite in Minnesota in the next camp as the next addition to their blueline.

42. Brandon Sutter, C – Carolin Hurricanes

Sutter’s on-ice progress was thwarted early in the season by a concussion that he suffered in an open-ice hit from Doug Weight. He battled extremely hard to get back into game shape and still managed to play a considerable number of games for the Hurricanes. Since his return from the injury, Sutter has proven that he is head strong beyond his years as he is one of the Hurricanes top penalty killers and face-off men. The jury is still out on Sutter’s ability to put up high point totals in the NHL, but his shut-down ability, incredible positioning and hockey sense make him at least a game breaker from the defensive side of the puck.

43. Evgeny Grachev, C/LW – New York Rangers

Since coming to North America in the fall of 2008, Grachev has been one of the most offensively productive players in major junior hockey. After being selected by the New York Rangers in the third round of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, Grachev joined the OHL Brampton Battalion last fall. He then completed the regular season as the top-scoring rookie in the league. Although he was drafted as a center, since joining the Battalion  last fall, Grachev has played on the left wing. Currently the top power forward prospect in the Rangers organization, Grachev is expected to turn pro this summer. Although there is a possibility that the winger will become an NHL roster player next fall, it is more likely that he will start in the AHL.

44. Luca Sbisa, D – Philadelphia Flyers

The Philadelphia Flyers were ecstatic when Sbisa impressed right out of the gate this fall. After earning a starting spot heading into the season, Sbisa was doing a fine job for the most part. But many look at the return of fellow defenseman Randy Jones as the point in the season when things started to slow for the young Italian. He fought to stay relevant and in the rotation, but the club opted to send him back to major junior hockey with the Saskatoon Blades of the WHL. The move was not a knee-jerk reaction to his diminished play, rather quite the opposite. Philadelphia wanted to get their top defensive prize consistent playing time instead of scratching more times than not. As for proof Flyers management is still high on him, Sbisa will be a likely addition when the playoffs start for the Flyers.

45. Jonathan Quick, G – Los Angeles Kings

While rookie goaltenders Steve Mason and Pekka Rinne have stolen the headlines, Quick has quietly been the only reason the Kings remained in the playoff discussion for as long as they did in 2009. When the Kings offense disappeared, it was Quick who stepped up his game and kept them in the hunt with a goals-against average and save percentage that are both well above the league average. Quick was always viewed as an athletic goaltender with a ton of potential but no real indication of how much of that potential he would eventually develop. Given the chance to shine in Los Angeles, Quick has shown how  far he has come in his development and has not looked back, emerging as a legitimate NHL starter despite less than two years experience in professional hockey.

46. Mattias Tedenby, LW – New Jersey Devils

After starting the season with HV71 in the Elitserien, Tedenby was sent down to the second division to get some consistent playing time. After making a strong impression with Oskarshamn – as well as being a force for Team Sweden at the WJC’s – Tedenby’s rhythm got him promoted back to HV71. He did not stop there, as the 2008 draft pick continued to impress during the playoffs. The young forward’s on-ice talent is there, but his determination and poise throughout the year has really raised his stock. In addition, his ability to elevate the standard when the stakes are high is a welcomed sign back in New Jersey. There is no doubt that attitude and approach will get him in a Devils sweater, the only question is when.

47. Kyle Beach, LW – Chicago Blackhawks

The skinny on Beach is that he is big, he is menacing and he can play hockey. And while everyone has witnessed a real lack of emotional control on the ice at times, Beach still gets the job done. But his stock has taken a huge hit because of those emotional outbursts. When needed, Beach can be one of the best players in the WHL, but he needs to figure out what he wants from his career beyond major juniors. Playing with an edge is one thing he does well. However, there is really no need to reinvent the antics that others have already offered up over the past years. If he can cage that emotion, he is going to be a sure hit.

48. Chris Stewart, RW – Colorado Avalanche

Stewart did not originally think of hockey for his career, but he has made up for lost time. The brother of the Florida Panthers’ forward Anthony Stewart, Chris is an outstanding power forward who played junior hockey for the OHL Kingston Frontenacs. A high-risk pick when drafted in the first round of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft by the Avalanche, Stewart has thus far proven the Avalanche right in their choice. After a solid, but not exceptional rookie professional season with the AHL Lake Erie Monsters during 2007-08, Stewart had an excellent start as a member of the Monsters this season. Brought up to the Avalanche in December, Stewart is very strong on the puck, with soft hands, and good skating for his size. Not afraid to drop the gloves when necessary, Stewart is expected to be on Colorado’s second line for the next several years.

49. Nick Petrecki, D – San Jose

Known as a mobile but very physical presence along the blue line, Petrecki led all NCAA hockey players in penalty minutes by a margin of nearly 30 percent in the 2008-09 season. While his physical play is the most lauded aspect of his game, Petrecki has shown a knack for moving the puck up ice and has delivered offensively in high-pressure situations for Boston College in the past. With his focus this season on improving his overall defensive play, Petrecki has been decidedly less involved with the offense this season. The New York native is still considered to have a great deal of untapped offensive potential and with further development, could become a complete defenseman for the San Jose Sharks.  

50. Brian Lee, D – Ottawa Senators

After making the Senators NHL roster out of training camp, Lee has spent the bulk of the season being shuttled between there and the Senators’ AHL affiliate in Binghamton. Although Lee possesses a great deal of offensive upside, he lacks the puck-moving abilities of a power-play quarterback and is not physical enough to play a primarily defensive role. He does however have a good first pass and plays with enough poise to be considered a safe option for most situations. Lee has good NHL size and despite not playing an overly physical brand of hockey, he does block a lot of shots and has shown a willingness to throw the body. The main concern for the 22-year-old is that he has yet to fill a particular role for a struggling Senators organization. Still, Lee’s skating and ability to move the puck up the ice assures he will remains an NHL regular.