11. Mikael Backlund, C – Calgary Flames
Height: 6’0, Weight: 205
On a seemingly ever changing roster with the Calgary Flames, Mikael Backlund has seen several NHL cups of coffee this season and scored both his first NHL points. He is having a very good season in the AHL so far and considering the Flames’ thin forward lineup and dearth at center, should get quality NHL ice time in 2010-11. Backlund’s two-way abilities make him an appealing prospect who can play an important role with the Flames for years to come.
12. Evander Kane, LW – Atlanta Thrashers
Height: 6’2, Weight: 190
Drafted fourth overall in 2009, Kane made an immediate impact out of training camp, playing as a third-line forward. He brings to the Thrashers organization a blend of speed, grit, and goal-scoring instincts that has so far complimented their team well. He has also played on the Thrashers second penalty-killing unit. The 18-year-old’s strong rookie season was cut short however in early March when he broke his foot while blocking a shot.
13. Nazem Kadri, C – Toronto Maple Leafs
Height: 6’0, Weight: 177
London, Ontario native Nazem Kadri was selected seventh overall last summer. Kadri fills a void in the Maple Leafs organization in that he has the ability to put up serious offensive numbers. He showed this flair during the 2009 World Junior Championships where he was one of Canada’s main weapons. He does have issues with his game that will need to be addressed at some point if he is to be a reliable forward at the NHL level. Poor decision-making along with an inability to consistently execute one-timers are of the most notable. Look for Kadri to make a serious run at cracking the Toronto lineup next fall.
14. Jordan Eberle, C – Edmonton Oilers
Height: 5’11, Weight: 184
A center who scores as much as he creates plays, Eberle is in his fourth and last season with the WHL Regina Pats. Leading the WHL in scoring, Eberle has played fewer games than most of the other top scorers due to his participation in the 2010 WJCs. It was his second year with Team Canada and this year he was named Tournament MVP. Eberle is currently Canada’s all-time leading goal scorer at the U-20 WJCs. A 2008 first round NHL Entry Draft selection of the Edmonton Oilers, the smallish forward, with great vision and good hockey smarts, is expected to compete for a roster spot on the NHL team next fall.
15. Zach Boychuk, C – Carolina Hurricanes
Height: 5’10, Weight: 180
Boychuk is part of the Hurricanes youth movement. Drafted because of his speed and creativity with the puck, the 20-year-old has shown the typical struggles of an offensively-minded forward in his first full season of professional play, particularly away from the puck. Having already had a taste of NHL play, expect the forward to compete for full-time duties starting in 2010-11. He’s not far away from contributing.
16. Jon Blum, D – Nashville Predators
Height: 6’1, Weight: 180
Blum is a rookie blueliner with Nashville’s AHL affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals. A former CHL Defenseman of the Year, a California native who played for four years on the Vancouver Giants’ blueline, Blum has excellent speed and very good hockey sense. When those qualities are combined with Blum’s playmaking abilities, Blum is one of the top defensive prospects out there. Although Blum still needs to increase his size and strength, the former first-round selection is projected to be a member of Nashville’s top defensive pair for years to come.
17. Colin Wilson, C – Nashville Predators
Height: 6’1, Weight: 215
Wilson signed a contract with Nashville after his successful NCAA championship run with Boston University. He began the year with the Predators, but has played out most of his games in the AHL. It took some time for Wilson to get his game going. In January, however, the 20-year-old’s point production exploded. Wilson is a future top-six forward with good hands, instincts, and leadership ability – the traits of a team captain. Expect Wilson to compete for a full-time spot with the Predators in 2010-11.
18. Evgeny Grachev, LW – New York Rangers
Height: 6’4, Weight: 220
Selected by the NY Rangers in the third round of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, Grachev was considered to be a steal by organization brass. The OHL Rookie of the Year for 2008-09, Grachev adjusted well to the North American game and was very impressive in Rangers training camp. Currently a member of the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack, Grachev got off to a slow offensive start this season. However, his size, strength and scoring ability make Grachev’s success seemingly inevitable. Expect him to compete for a roster spot in New York next fall.
19. Tyler Ennis, C – Buffalo Sabres
Height: 5’9, Weight: 163
Another undersized, immensely skilled forward in the Buffalo Sabres system, Tyler Ennis has seen his stock rise meteorically in his first AHL season. From the onset of the 2009-10 season, Ennis was an offensively impactive player for the Portland Pirates, battling for loose pucks along the boards, contributing regularly on the man-advantage, and playing tenaciously at both ends of the ice. In November, Ennis made his debut with the Sabres and managed to score a goal. More importantly though, the 20-year-old showed he can compete at the NHL level. Expect to see Ennis competing for a full-time NHL job in 2010-11.
20. P.K. Subban, D – Montreal Canadiens
Height: 6’0, Weight: 206
Assigned to the Hamilton Bulldogs out of training camp, P.K. Subban initially struggled to adjust to the faster, more structured style of play in the AHL. The period of adjustment was brief however as Subban has been offensively stellar for most of the 2009-10 season and was even rewarded with a two-game NHL stint in February. With soft hands, strong skating, and deft puck-moving ability, the 20-year-old blueliner has all of the tools to be the Habs power-play quarterback of the future. With so many veteran defensemen currently under contract in Montreal, expect Subban to get his first real chance at making the NHL out of training camp in 2011-12.
21. Dmitry Kulikov, D – Florida Panthers
Height: 6’1, Weight: 183
Kulikov is one of a handful of 2009 draftees to jump straight onto the NHL circuit. Though he is not likely to contend for the Calder Trophy, the defenseman has done an admirable job acclimating thus far. Certainly, the somewhat unconventional decision to play in North American junior hockey has sharpened the 19-year-old’s learning curve. Kulikov is a bright, smooth-skating defender and an adept puck mover and power-play quarterback. As a member of the Panthers, he has already demonstrated his vision and ability to create offense with the man advantage. Kulikov missed 14 games due to an injury, but is back with the team and healthy.
22. Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson, LW – Edmonton Oilers
Height: 6’1, Weight: 200
Edmonton did not hesitate drafting the young Swede from Norrkoping in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft and it has paid off as Paajarvi-Svensson is one of the Oilers top prospects. He is playing a prominent role with his Elitserien team Timra IK and has already improved his stats from last year. His style of game is predicated around utilizing his game-breaking speed and creativity with the puck. His contract with Timra IK will run out in April 2010 but it is still unknown when he will come to North America.
23. Erik Karlsson, D – Ottawa Senators
Height: 5’11, Weight: 165
It looks as though the Ottawa Senators have found their future power-play quarterback in young Swedish defenseman Erik Karlsson. A product of Frölunda’s senior squad, Karlsson made his NHL debut this season. After splitting the first part of the season between the AHL and NHL, the 20-year-old has cemented himself on the Senators blue line. He gives Ottawa a true offensive defenseman who can distribute the puck up ice and reliably get the puck on net while on the power play. As he logs more NHL games, Karlsson will no doubt learn to be a more reliable and stable presence on the Senators’ blue line.
24. Jonas Gustavsson, G – Toronto Maple Leafs
Height: 6’3, Weight: 181
It has been a rough rookie season for Gustavsson who, until signed by the Maple Leafs over the summer, was widely considered the best goaltender not playing in North America. He has suffered through some poor defense, an injury, and now the acquisition of Jean-Sebastian Giguere, whose veteran experience has relegated Gustavsson to backup duties. The 25-year-old is aggressive enough and talented enough to win back the starting position, but his progression into the North American game is coming along slowly.
25. Luca Sbisa, D – Anaheim Ducks
Height: 6’1, Weight: 190
A few months after being drafted by Philadelphia, defenseman Luca Sbisa thought he had already found his place in the NHL. Due to some injury issues on the blueline, Sbisa stepped in and performed well before being injured and eventually returned to the Lehtbridge Hurricanes of the WHL. He was then traded to Anaheim in the offseason as part of a blockbuster deal. He played only a few games with the Ducks before they too felt Sbisa could use more seasoning in the WHL. He is an unbelievably smooth skater with plenty of speed and vision to match. If he gets his defensive play in order, he will be a formidable defenseman at the NHL level.