Hockey’s Future Top 50 Prospects, Fall 2009 11-25

By HF Staff

Prospects ranked 26-50 can be found here.

11.    T.J. Oshie

Right out of college, Oshie came into the Blues training camp ready for NHL action and made the team in a top-six role. Though not big at 5’11, his energetic style of hockey has served him well in St. Louis as he finished sixth on the team in scoring last year in just 57 games. With a full season on the horizon, Oshie will be looking to take a bigger role in the offense. With a talented young core coming up around him, he will be able to fully utilize his skill set for years to come. The questions for Oshie now are only how far the 22-year-old can take the Blues.

12.    Tuukka Rask

Rask is a butterfly goalie who moves well laterally and has a better than average glove. A big-game netminder, the Finnish native loves pressure, and has shown that he can perform at a high level during his last two seasons with the AHL Providence Bruins. With the Vezina winner, Tim Thomas, currently firmly entrenched between the pipes in Boston, it is unlikely that Rask will assume the No. 1 duties anytime soon. At this point, the 22-year-old looks to have won the backup spot, but Rask’s chances of becoming the No. 1 in Boston over the next few years are slim.

13.    Lars Eller

Eller completed his first full season with Vastra Frolunda (SEL) and was quite impressive. His extraordinary point totals this season made him the highest-scoring junior-aged player in the Elitserien. The Dane has represented his home country in the U20 World Junior Championships three years in a row, where he has performed more than admirably. Eller is a savvy two-way winger. While he will still need time to adjust to the North America rink, the 2007 first rounder will be competing for a permanent roster spot on the St. Louis Blues this season.

14.    Thomas Hickey

Already knocking on the door of the NHL, Hickey just concluded his tenure in major junior hockey and is positioned to not only join the professional ranks, but contribute minutes to the Los Angeles Kings in some capacity this season. The offensive defenseman spent the two years since being drafted fourth overall in 2007 working on the defensive side of the rink to develop into one of the more well-rounded defensive prospects out there. His great vision makes him an asset on the power play while his grit makes him an on-ice leader. Hickey will be an integral part of the recent youth movement in Los Angeles.

15.    James vanRiemsdyk

vanRiemsdyk drew some criticism for a good but not dominant WJC performance, and some began to doubt his legitimacy as a top prospect. However, vanRiemsdyk has responded with a huge offseason and a strong push to jump directly to the NHL this season with the Flyers. vanRiemsdyk has always been regarded as a very skilled player who doesn’t use his size to be a big physical force, but he seems to have bought in to what he needs to do to get to the next level. Whether or not he makes the team out of training camp, it’s very clear now that it won’t be long until vanRiemsdyk is a fixture at the NHL level.

16.    Karl Alzner

While Alzner doesn’t have much of an offensive game, he is still a rock of a defenseman that Washington can build around. The top pairing is likely in the future for Alzner because of his defensive prowess and leadership. Having spent half a season with Washington, Alzner is already situated to begin the season in the NHL where he will likely remain for the remainder of his career. Strong, with good instincts, the 21-year-old defenseman will have a short learning curve, but his lower offensive potential holds him down in this list. Regardless, the Capitals will rely upon him as their future on defense.

17.    Oliver Ekman-Larsson

Ekman-Larsson was a very late riser onto the scene for the 2009 draft, and with a strong performance at the U-18 World Championships he cemented himself as a top-10 pick. His strong skating ability and good outlet passing have drawn some comparisons to Nicklas Lidstrom. While that’s a very challenging compliment to live up to, Ekman-Larsson shows all the tools to be a franchise defenseman for the Coyotes. He’s about to start his second season with Leksand IF in the Swedish Allsvenskan. Playing in this league against men allows Ekman-Larsson to advance his physical game. His on-ice maturity and natural instincts will go a long way in helping him adjust to the NHL when the time comes.

18.    Jacob Markstrom

In Swedish netminder Markstrom, the Florida Panthers see the potential successor to starter Tomas Vokoun. Drafted 31st overall in 2008, Markstrom is one of the best goaltending prospects in the league. He is a typical butterfly-style goaltender and standing at 6’3, uses his height very well to take away the top portion of the net. He is also agile and has a razor-sharp glove hand. Rebound control has been one of Markstrom’s problem areas, however, and is something he will need to work on. Expect to see the Swede make the jump to North America in 2010.

19.    Colin Wilson

Having proved all that he could in college hockey, culminating with a national championship with Boston University, Wilson signed a contract with Nashville during the offseason. Considered a true “gamer” for his dedication, instincts and high level of competitiveness, opposing teams will be hard pressed to keep him off the score sheet. Wilson has a strong opportunity to open the season in Nashville, given the number of available roster spots. Even if an assignment to the AHL is in his future, it is more a matter of when and not if Wilson will contribute to the Predators in his career.

20.    Mikael Backlund

With a new entry-level contract with the Calgary Flames, Mikael Backlund is ready to begin his North American professional career. He played well in Sweden for a number of years before joining the Kelowna Rockets. There, in the WHL, he managed over a point per game, and now looks to continue his road to the NHL with the Flames organization. The 20-year-old remains a solid player in every zone but is most dangerous when given time with the puck close to the net. He has the vision and creativity to pass it or shoot. In an organization of some aging forwards, he could find himself with a lot of playing time in the near future. If he performs well in the AHL, it will be tough for the Flames not to call him up if their offense needs fire power.

21.    Tyler Myers

Potentially the next Zdeno Chara? It’s not completely out of the question in the future for the 6’7, 220 lb Myers, who had a breakthrough third season in the WHL for the league champion Kelowna Rockets. He was dominating at times, especially during the post-season, often controlling the game and both end of the rink. While not spectacular offensively, Myers progressed exponentially in that regard this past season, and appears to be gaining more confidence in that aspect of his game. Combine that with his size, physical play, skating ability and defensive prowess, you can see why the Sabres are so excited about having Myers in the organization. On another team, the 19-year-old might not be rushed to the next level so quickly, but it won’t be a surprise to see Myers stick with Buffalo this year.

22.    Jonathan Bernier

Disappointed after being passed over by Jonathan Quick for a promotion to Los Angeles midseason, Bernier took some time to find his game again with Manchester of the AHL, reminiscent of the funk he experienced after being sent back to major junior hockey early in the 2007-08 season. As in 2007, Bernier eventually found his head and finished the season as one of the best goaltenders in the AHL. The organization is confident in Bernier’s ability to be a top netminder in the NHL. With a year of professional hockey already under his belt, this may be the coming-out season for Bernier to prove his worth at the top level.

23.    Cory Schneider

Schneider excelled in his pro debut in the AHL last year, earning goaltender of the year honors, while leading the league in goals against average and save percentage. With good size, composure, positioning and sound butterfly technique, there aren’t many weaknesses to Schneider’s game. The only thing currently stopping Schneider from starting right now at the NHL level is Roberto Luongo. And with Luongo locked up long term in Vancouver, Schneider’s best bet to start in the future will probably end up being with another organization. He’s got a good shot to be Luongo’s backup at worst this season, but don’t be shocked to see him used as trade bait for a team in need of a No. 1 netminder this year.

24.    Ondrej Pavelec

Pavelec has a good size, strong athleticism and flexibility. The 22-year-old displays solid focus and mental toughness, and challenges the shooter well. Pavelec does sometimes over-commit to shots and still needs to work on is his consistency. Pavelec spent most of the last two seasons with the Atlanta Thrashers’ AHL affiliate, the Chicago Wolves, as their starting goaltender, and saw action in 12 of the Thrashers’ 2008-09 games when Atlanta starter Kari Lehtonen was injured. Pavelec is expected to challenge for a starting NHL spot this season, and if Lehtonen is traded, could take that position.

25.    Evgeny Grachev

Grachev is a prototypical power forward, who was drafted in 2008 as a center, but spent much of the 2008-09 season playing on the left wing for the OHL Brampton Battalion. At 6’3, 212 lbs, he can occupy whatever space he chooses and has the ability to make things happen in front of the net. Grachev is expected to play the wing in the NHL. At 19, Grachev may not play with the New York Rangers the entire 2009-10 season, however, even if he starts the season as a member of the Hartford Wolf Pack, he is expected to become a mid-season call-up to the NHL team.