The Top Five potential diamonds in the rough among NHL prospects

By Craig Fischer
Anton Forsberg - Columbus Blue Jackets

Photo: Columbus Blue Jackets rookie goaltender Anton Forsberg recently received his first NHL start but has spent most of the the 2014-15 season with the AHL’s Springfield Falcons (courtesy of Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)

 

The farther down the NHL Draft order you go, the less chance you have of ever playing in the NHL, let alone being productive. It gets to the point where, come the seventh round, only the most die-hard of fans have heard of you, and the most common reaction to your draft announcement is, “who?”.

 

Most of these young kids never rise out of the bottom. The odds are stacked against them. But there are a few who do; the late bloomers, the small kids, the rink rats, the kids that were barely scouted; the hockey players unwilling to give up on their dream no matter what anyone else says. The kids that make it from seventh rounder status, they’ve got a chip on their shoulder, and they’re worth watching and worth remembering.

 

This week, the Hockey’s Future Top 5 takes a look at the best current NHL prospects selected in the seventh round of the NHL Draft. Join us as we try and showcase the next Ondrej Palat and Pavel Datsyuk.

 

5. Viktor OlofssonBuffalo Sabres

 

Viktor Olofsson (who? Haha) is a speedy winger with an excellent offensive skill set. He currently sits second in the SHL in points among skaters under the age of 20. Only teammate William Nylander has more, and he was taken 173 players ahead of Olofsson in last year’s draft. The big knock on Olofsson, and likely the reason he went unranked by NHL Central Scouting, was his lack of size and non-projectable frame. It wasn’t for a lack of exposure as he was a 18-year-old playing for MODO. At 5’7” and 157 pounds, a lot of teams struggled to project Olofsson as an NHL-caliber player. And while he’s still a long ways off, his production in the SHL and recent growth spurt (he’s listed at 5-11) have scouts excited. Look for Olofsson to be one of the offensive leaders on Sweden’s U20 WJC team at the end of the month.

 

4. Alexei MarchenkoDetroit Red Wings

 

Taken 205th overall at the 2011 NHL Draft, Alexei Marchenko is on the cusp of becoming a solid NHL regular. Having already played for the Red Wings last season, Marchenko currently bides his time in Grand Rapids where he’s slowly developed a little bit more offensive acumen than he was originally expected to have in North America (he was a point-per-game player in the MHL). One of the quiet leaders in Grand Rapids, the 22-year-old Marchenko is a strong skater, and plays an above average possession game. Like a lot of young Russians drafted out of the MHL, limited exposure and the Russian factor were strong reasons for Marchenko’s fall during his draft year where he was ranked 25th among European skaters by Central Scouting.

 

3. Tyler GraovacMinnesota Wild

 

Tyler Graovac is one of those players that always seems to be talked about in a positive light. He’s not the most skilled or talented player, but he’s almost assuredly the hardest working player on the ice whenever he plays. Graovac is a terrific skater, and a physical two-way forward with a good amount of grit. He was actually a Team Canada World Junior invite in 2011, and arguably deserved to be on that team. The reason he deserved to make that squad is the same reason he’ll end up making the NHL – he does whatever it takes to win. Up until recently, Graovac’s offensive numbers have been pretty meager, but he’s been a stud for the Iowa Wild nearing close to a point-per-game pace. Graovac is a great example of a kid with limited skill that works harder than everyone else to get what he wants.

 

2. Andreas JohnsonToronto Maple Leafs

 

Johnson is a scoring threat, and one of the best danglers not currently in the NHL. Last year’s SHL Rookie of the Year (he beat out Alexander Wennberg, and Kevin Fiala, to name a few) came out of nowhere to surprise the hockey world. He is a mix of playmaker and scoring threat not often seen in even first round talents. How Johnson fell so far in his draft year is a bit of a head-scratcher. He wasn’t exactly undersized at 5’10”, and he was a terrific skater with a great toolkit, and he put up solid numbers in the Swedish junior league. NHL Central Scouting had him ranked 33rd overall in 2013’s final rankings, so it’s not like he was off the radar. Andreas Johnson is the true meaning of a diamond in the rough who must have been in some pretty deep grass when Toronto stumbled upon him.

 

1. Anton ForsbergColumbus Blue Jackets

 

The only goalie to make the list, Anton Forsberg, checks in at number one. The 6’2” modified butterfly goaltender is a natural talent who has slowly refined his goaltending repertoire over the past few seasons. He’s still very raw, and the technical side of his game is not as advanced as his athleticism, but having already made his NHL debut, Forsberg looks poised to show the world he shouldn’t have been taken so late. Coming off of an AHL Goalie of the Month award, Forsberg has been incredible so far this season for Springfield. Not much was known about Forsberg when he was drafted, and he’s still a bit of a mystery, but the sheer fact that he’s outdueling prized prospect Oscar Dansk (widely considered a Top 50 prospect) for the starting position in the AHL speaks to his immediate skill set and potential.

 

Honorable Mentions

 

Marek Langhammer, Rushan Rafikov, Ondrej Kase, Jyrki Jokipakka, Christian Djoos

 

Who do you think is the best diamond in the rough prospect? Are we missing anyone in our top 5? Share your thoughts and opinions in the comments below.

 

Follow Craig Fischer on Twitter via @fgiarc