Boston University center Colin Wilson has been one of the top college players in the nation this season. A Hobey Baker nominee who is leading his Terriers to the Frozen Four. Wilson is a tremendous physical specimen with excellent playmaking ability. He is strong on the puck and on his skates while employing a smart, effective two-way game. Under the tutelage of his father, former NHLer Carey Wilson, Colin has developed first-rate hockey sense and attention to detail. There is a good chance that we could see this Hockey East beast play for the Predators next season.
12. Thomas Hickey, D – Los Angeles Kings
Returning to Seattle of the WHL, Hickey began the season concentrating on his defensive game and proving that he can shut down the top forwards of the league. After anchoring the blueline for Team Canada during the U20 WJC, the Seattle coaches let loose the reins on Hickey and he went on a scoring tear, showing that he still had the skills to lead an offensive rush and to quarterback a power play. Hickey is one of the most well-rounded defensemen in major junior hockey. He does not have the raw skills that a Pietrangelo possesses or the bruising ability of a Bogosian. Hickey instead combines a excellent grasp of both sides of the ice. He will join the Kings minor league system at the end of the major junior hockey season and immediately be an option for the NHL roster.
vanRiemsdyk led his University of New Hampshire club in scoring and helped them upset the University of North Dakota in the NCAA tournament. The pressure to turn pro may have taken their toll on him this year though. Despite excellent numbers in the World Junior Championships, he did not dominate the tournament like many were /hoping for. He has high offensive potential; from his great size to his superb technical skating ability, he can be a complete package offensively. He makes his living in the slot, shielding off defenders and potting goal after goal. He was recently signed to a contract by the Flyers.
After seeing his development go as far as it could in Europe, Backlund brought his game to the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL. Backlund’s transition to the North American game has been seamless; he has averaged over a point per game with the Rockets and was called up to the Flames when injury woes struck the team. Backlund is back in Kelowna for the playoff push and will probably remain there for one more season. However, depending on how contract negotiations go with a few Calgary players, Backlund could find a niche on the team next season. Still only 20 years of age, the Flames have the luxury of patience with Backlund and allowing him to develop in the minor league system before pressing him into action.
With Roberto Luongo set as the goaltender of the Canucks, Schneider will just have to bide his time. He has built on the solid rookie campaign he had last season with Vancouver’s AHL affiliate, the Manitoba Moose and has been among the league’s elite — arguably the best — between the pipes this year. Schneider has good fundamentals and good poise which make him a consistent performer in goal. In the meantime, he is a very viable option in case of emergency. The recently-turned 23-year-old settled in fairly well, in his first taste of NHL gameplay.
Enroth has made his much-anticipated arrival in North America. The quick, athletic goalie has been a bright spot for the oft-injured Portland Pirates of the AHL. Though he is pretty small in stature, the Swede makes up for it with magnificent quickness and lateral movement. In his first North American professional season, Enroth has stolen games left and right for Portland. His AHL success comes as little surprise to those who saw Enroth nearly capture the Elitserien’s rookie of the year award in 2007-08. Getting thrust into nearly every game this season was not exactly management’s plan but due to injury, it was all up to Enroth and he has thrived.
With an aging crop of veterans, on defense in particular, fresh bodies would be a welcome addition for Colorado. Though a breakthrough at the pro level next season is far from certain, Shattenkirk has solidified himself on the Boston University blueline. He has refined his game nicely in the past couple of years, both in the NCAA and in international competition representing the United States. The New York native is a two-way defender, with a fluid skating stride and good overall mobility. Not big, but strong on his feet, Shattenkirk has good intuition, and a high hockey IQ, that makes his less-than-ideal size a non-issue.
McDonagh is the Canadiens top prospect. A first-round draft selection in 2007, McDonagh is a big, powerful blueliner who can provide an offensive punch. Expected to be more of a defensive blueliner when he turns pro, McDonagh is an excellent skater, with good positioning and gap control. The St. Paul, Minnesota native has good instincts and is developing more physical play. He recently completed his sophomore season at the University of Wisconsin, and competed in the 2009 U20 WJCs. Expected to become a first pairing blueliner over the next few years, McDonagh is weighing his options as to whether he will return to Wisconsin for his junior year.
Viewed as a long-term project for the Boston Bruins when they drafted him 16th overall in 2008, Colborne has excelled in his freshman season at Denver University, named to the 2009 All-WCHA Rookie team. Colborne is a center with rare size who is still learning to use his large frame to his full advantage. He works hard along the boards as a player with his mix of size and skill can physically dominate opponents in this aspect. Colborne is considered a pass-first type of player but has shown the ability to put the puck in the net. The Bruins system is flush with young and talented centers so there is no urgency for Colborne to turn professional. As a result, he is expected to return to Denver for at least one if not two more seasons.
The long-awaited arrival of Eller in North America is expected next season. He has little else in the way of challenges left in Sweden and will look to try his luck in the NHL. Eller is just in time to eventually fill in for some of the aging left wings on the St. Louis roster. He often can contribute even when not on the score sheet as Eller will be a good addition to any penalty kill and is adept at the defensive side of the rink. Because there is always a question of how a European prospect’s game with adapt to the North American style and rink dimensions, there are still some reservations about Eller. A quick start to next season will answer those questions favorably.
Perhaps something of an unknown commodity before the New Year, Karlsson has really propelled himself onto the hockey radar. The Swedish defenseman was one of the top players in the WJC. Karlsson is an offensive defenseman who likes to fire the biscuit. He has been playing in the Elitserien and will likely continue to refine his game there until he is ready for the NHL. He lacks size and defensive proficiency but has displayed world-class offensive talent from the blueline. He will get more of an opportunity to develop his overall game in Sweden, but the Senators may have to be patient with this talented defenseman.
The physical defenseman has steadily progressed in the offensive department every year of his development. In his second full season in the AHL, Kindl has shown that he is more than just a thick body battling opposing forwards. Detroit’s top defensemen are not getting any younger and will need to be replaced in the next few years. There are a number of prospects available to begin taking over the reins, but Kindl has the best chance of emerging as an eventual all-star. He needs to develop more of a shut-down mentality on the defensive side before he can take a spot in the NHL, but with the veteran presence in Detroit, this is something that can be learned on the job.
Acquired by the Penguins in a package deal, Tangradi brings a mix of skill, size, and grit along the wing that has been missing in Penguins system since the 1990s. He does his best work down low, using his large frame and superior puck-handling abilities to beat players in the corners and along the boards. Although he has developed a mean streak over the past two seasons, the talented winger is still learning to use his giant frame and reach to his advantage as he has the potential to be unstoppable down low. Tangradi is signed to an entry-level deal but will probably need at least a season in the AHL to improve his skating, particularly his explosiveness. Nonetheless, the belief is that Tangradi can develop into a power forward able to play a top-six role alongside one of the Penguins talented centers.
After splitting the goaltending duties for Canada’s gold medal World Junior squad, Pickard has continued his stellar play for the WHL’s Tri-City Americans. Pickard has little left to prove at the major junior level and has already signed a professional contract. There are a glut of potential NHL goaltenders in the Nashville system, so something may have to give as Pickard looks to take the next step in his development. While it is a very good problem to have for the Predators, for Pickard, he may have to wait his turn.
25. Jon Blum, D — Nashville Predators
A mobile defenseman who is expected to be the Predators future power-play quarterback, Blum possesses elite skating and offensive instincts. In his fourth and final season with the WHL Vancouver Giants, Blum will become a professional in the next two months. A member of the 2009 WJC team for the United States, Blum also suffered a shoulder injury in February. Despite the fact that he missed more than a quarter of the season, Blum finished third among WHL defensemen in scoring. The Giants captain still is in need of some filling out, so it is questionable whether he will be ready to make the jump to the NHL this fall, however, Blum has the potential to be a top-pairing defenseman within two to three years.