The Fall edition of the Hockey’s Future ranking of the Top 50 NHL prospects continues with the prospects ranked 11-20. Leading this portion of the rankings is Nikolaj Ehlers, who is one of two Winnipeg Jets prospects in this group.
The 11-20 section of the rankings also features two prominent goaltending prospects, John Gibson (ANA) and Andrey Vasilevskiy (TB). Edmonton prospect Leon Draisaitl joins Ehlers as the only 2014 NHL Draft picks in this section of the rankings.
The top 50 prospects will be revealed in groups of 10 each day this week, finishing on Friday with the top 10.
11. Nikolaj Ehlers, LW, Winnipeg Jets
Height: 5-11, Weight: 163, Not Ranked
Ehlers is a superb skating talent whose offensive gifts are readily apparent. He must now continue building an overall game but could eventually develop into an elite NHL player. Winnipeg’s first round pick (ninth overall) in 2014 came from a Halifax Mooseheads team that thoroughly dominated the QMJHL for much of the season. By no means was its star, Jonathan Drouin (TBL), a one-man show as Ehlers used his draft season to exploit competition overly concerned with stopping Drouin by putting up 104 points in 63 games. The “Dashing Dane” is still a bit slight of frame, and he probably needs to get stronger to be an effective pro. His defensive game will need work to get up to NHL standards, too, but Ehlers may just belong to that small group of players for whom defense is rarely an issue.
12. Darnell Nurse, D, Edmonton Oilers
Height: 6-4, Weight: 192, Spring Ranking – 11
To go along with the wealth of talent already in the NHL, the Edmonton Oilers have two potential cornerstones in Darnell Nurse and Leon Draisaitl in the pipeline. Nurse in particular has matured an incredible amount over the last year, and his enormous presence on the blue line is something Edmonton desperately needs right now. He is a hard-hitting, hard shooting, in your face, defenseman with offensive instincts and developing mobility. Nurse will start the 2014-15 season on the Oilers NHL roster and should get a nine-game audition before any final decisions are made as to where he will play the season.
13. Leon Draisaitl, C, Edmonton Oilers
Height: 6-1, Weight: 209, Not Ranked
Draisaitl had a breakout year in his second season of major junior hockey and was a man amongst boys at times for the Prince Albert Raiders. The WHL’s fourth-leading scorer with 105 points, he represented Germany at both the 2014 World Juniors and World Championship tournaments. While his size and prototypical power forward frame immediately grab attention, he has fantastic awareness and plays with great composure. Draisaitl has significant offensive instincts and is the type of player that makes those players around him better. He should fit in well with the group of high-profile, high-end forwards that Edmonton has drafted the past few seasons. Like Nurse, Draisaitl will begin the 2014-15 season with the Edmonton Oilers, where he will have a nine-game audition before any final decisions are made.
If you watched the Edmonton Oil King’s march to the Memorial Cup title last season, one could have easily mistaken the 6’4, 202-pound Reinhart for a man playing amongst boys. His bullish figure even makes him standout amongst the Islanders defensemen. He brings a calm demeanor to match his physical side, but he can chip in offensively every now and then. Reinhart may lack pro experience, but his safe, responsible stay-at-home style is exactly what the Islanders need to complement their bevy of skilled, offensively gifted players. Because of several injuries along the blue line, Reinhart will start the 2014-15 NHL season on the Islanders 23-man roster and could see a regular shift in the third defensive pairing.
15. Andrey Vasilevskiy, G, Tampa Bay Lightning
Height: 6-3, Weight: 203, Spring Ranking – 10
Vasilevskiy emerged as the top goalie for Ufa Salavat in the KHL playoffs as a 19-year-old after splitting time with one-time Los Angeles Kings prospect Alexei Volkov during the regular season. In 18 playoff games he was 9-9 with one shutout and had a 1.99 goals against and .934 save percentage as Ufa reached the conference finals. Vasilevskiy was outstanding for Russia in the 2014 World Juniors, leading his team to a bronze medal win over Canada. In six games he had a 1.83 goals-against and .933 save percentage. Signed to a contract by the Lightning in May of 2014, he will skate in the AHL for his first season in North America. A first-round selection in the 2012 NHL Draft, Vasilevskiy continues to be considered one of the top young goaltending prospects – with the ideal size and athleticism needed to compete at the NHL level.
16. John Gibson, G, Anaheim Ducks
Height: 6-3, Weight: 210, Spring Ranking – 9
Gibson took an average Norfolk team in the AHL last season to an 8th seed and first round upset of the top-seeded Manchester. He was an elite goaltender in the 2014 Calder Cup Playoffs and it showed after he was called up and thrown right into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. After Frederik Andersen opened the Ducks preseason with a shutout, Gibson was handed the keys for the next three games and was simply average – allowing at least three goals in each of his starts. The Ducks remain extremely high on Gibson however, and he is expected to battle with Andersen for starting duties throughout the 2014-15 season. He brings a ton of athleticism to the goaltending position and he seems to remain extremely calm under pressure.
Ristolainen was not the only Sabre to struggle last season, but transitioning to the world’s top league was not an easy adjustment for the highly-touted Finn, either. The Sabres were indeed wise to send him to Rochester of the AHL where he put up a respectable 20 points in 34 games. Ristolainen is a player whose superior size and skill occasionally meant being able to cover himself when a mistake was made, but a top-pairing NHL defenseman will not have that luxury many times. The AHL seasoning was a good thing for Ristolainen and he should show improved decision-making when he rejoins the Sabres. Ristolainen is still one of the top defensive prospects in the game, a very promising blend of size and skill who should offer plenty of offensive upside as his team improves around him.
18. Josh Morrissey, D, Winnipeg Jets
Height: 6’0, Weight: 183, Spring Ranking – 26
Morrissey made his pro hockey debut with the Jets’ AHL affiliate, the St. John’s IceCaps, at the end of the 2013-14 season after performing as one of the top two-way defensemen in the WHL in his third season with the Prince Albert Raiders. A team captain for the Raiders, Morrissey led all WHL defensemen with 28 goals and had 45 assists despite missing time mid-season with a groin injury. In 20 playoff games, he scored two goals and seven assists. Not an imposing presence at 6’0″ and 183 pounds, Morrissey has nevertheless shown a great willingness to play the body. His offensive instincts and skating ability made him one of the final cuts in Winnipeg’s training camp, and it seems only a matter of time until Morrissey is an NHL regular.
There is no shortage of hype and scrutiny surrounding Johnny Gaudreau, although the gifted forward’s lack of size could be his undoing at the pro level. But, with Calgary’s desperate need for goal-scoring, they will give the man called ‘Johnny Hockey’ a long look this season. Despite his diminutive size, the 2014 Hobey Baker winner has shown that he can protect himself on the ice and create scoring chances in the blink of an eye. His blistering speed and high hockey IQ will present a variety of challenges for opposing defenders to contain him. Regardless of how Gaudreau’s venture towards NHL stardom goes, it will be captivating to watch.
Filip Forsberg endured a challenging first pro season in North America in 2013-14 but seemed to grow from the experience. He struggled during the first half of the last season, bouncing between the NHL and AHL. He was one of the top forwards for the Admirals over the second half of the AHL season, however, and was rewarded with a late season call-up by the Predators. Forsberg is a very talented forward who is technically-skilled, skates well, and has an excellent shot. He must continue to develop and learn to use his strength and size more effectively. Forsberg will begin the 2014-15 season in the NHL and should start the year in a top-six role.
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