Hockey’s Future Top 50 prospects, Fall 2010, 26-50

By HF Staff

26. Cam Fowler – D – Anaheim Ducks
Height: 6-2, Weight: 190

Fowler’s fall on draft-day may reap big rewards for the transitioning Anaheim Ducks. The talented Spitfire rearguard selected twelfth overall by Anaheim was once considered among the top three prospects for the 2010 NHL draft, and Anaheim wasted no time locking-up Fowler to a 3-year-entry level deal in late July. His vision and poise allows him to control the flow of the game, and combined with his great skating ability, he is an intriguing prospect. While he displays unique offensive talent, he also has flaws to his game that will require special attention if he’s to be more than a one-dimensional threat. Fowler will require fine-tuning in his defensive game, while increasing strength and accuracy in his shot will further his offensive game. On top of his natural skill set Fowler is a winner; he has a Memorial Cup Championship, OHL Championship, and World Junior Championship under his belt. Expect the 18-year-old puck-mover to get a long look at camp with Anaheim this fall.

27. Brett Connolly – C – Tampa Bay Lightning
Height: 6-1, Weight: 162

Despite all the talent that Brett Connolly possesses, it is his health and condition that gets most of the attention. He is a shifty forward with high offensive instincts, has great speed, and if it wasn’t for concerns about an injured hip which kept him out for much of the 2009-10 WHL season, he may have garnered some of the spotlight that was reserved for Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin heading into the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. On the ice, he is an equal threat to either shoot the puck or find an open teammate with his slick passing, and while his physical play and defensive game aren’t above average, they certainly aren’t liabilities in terms of his overall game. Connolly may have an outside shot at turning pro this season, but he’ll likely be given another year in junior to prove he has put any injury concerns behind him.

28. Eric Tangradi – LW – Pittsburgh Penguins
Height: 6-3, Weight: 214
The big-bodied power forward brings a blend of size, surly disposition, and a goal-scorer’s touch to an organization bereft of talent on the wing. Having spent his first professional season in the AHL, where by the end of the season he emerged as a force all over the ice, Tangradi will be looking to earn a spot in the NHL for 2010-11. When the 21-year-old is ready to play fulltime in the NHL, it will be alongside Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, where he can use his large frame, baleful demeanor, and offensive touch to create space and scoring opportunities.

29. Mikael Backlund – C – Calgary Flames
Height: 6-0, Weight: 192

A first-round pick for the Flames in the 2007 draft, Backlund has quickly become a player the Flames are going to count on to provide some much needed offensive spark in the next few years. The quick-skating Backlund has an elite skill-set and is a premier playmaker with the ability to see the ice and make passes that other players simply cannot. He also possesses a very good shot with an exceptional release. The 21-year-old appeared in 23 games for Calgary down the stretch and showed glimpses of his potential, but the Flames will want Backlund to assert himself even more for the upcoming season in a hope that the young Swede can bolster a lineup that badly needs some offensive flare.

30. Jack Campbell – G – Dallas Stars

Height: 6-3, Weight: 175

Selected by the stars as the elventh overall pick in the first round, Campbell was the first goalie taken in the 2010 draft and is now the goaltender of the future in the Dallas organization. At only 18 years of age, Campbell is already an impressive combination of size and athleticism. Standing 6’3, Campbell is a big goalie with lightning quick reflexes and the unique ability to be able to make a save even when scrambling in the crease. His technique is sound but when it does break down, Campbell can quickly recover and make himself look big to the shooter. The most impressive part about his game though perhaps is how he has proven to be a big time performer under pressure. At the 2010 World Junior Championships, Campbell entered the gold medal game in relief and was spectacular, holding the fort for the Americans who defeated Canada in overtime. Campbell will play the upcoming season with the two-time defending Memorial Cup Champion Windsor Spitfires where he will look to build upon his already impressive resume.

31. Jeff Skinner – C – Carolina Hurricanes
Height: 5-10, Weight: 197

With the seventh overall pick in the 2010 draft, the Hurricanes were able to add Skinner to their stable, and he instantly became the top forward prospect in the organization. This past season, Skinner was one of the top goal-scoring threats in the OHL, netting 70 markers in 84 combined regular season and playoff games. A hard-working, intelligent player with an elite shot, Skinner has been working with former-Cane Gary Roberts this summer to put on muscle and prepare for training camp with the intent of making the Hurricanes. The team will be wary of rushing the 18-year-old, so it is as likely he plays another standout season in the OHL as it is he makes the NHL roster.

32. Zach Boychuk – C – Carolina Hurricanes
Height: 5-10, Weight: 185

Zach Boychuk doesn’t seem to excel in one area more so than others, however that is a good thing. The soon-to-be-21-year-old is an all around forward with offensive instincts, a high level of hockey smarts, and quick feet. Though he is a bit undersized, he certainly doesn’t play like it, and will consistently knock his man off the puck effectively. He ultimately projects as a top-six forward at the NHL level and it is very likely that he spends a large portion of the 2010-11 season there.

33. Jakub Kindl – D – Detroit Red Wings
Height: 6-3, Weight: 199

After paying his dues in the AHL for three seasons, the Red Wings signed Kindl to a three-year standard NHL contract over the 2010 off-season, meaning he is all but assured to spend the entire 2010-11 season in the NHL. On a deep veteran team however, it will be hard for the puck-moving defenseman to regularly see quality time on the ice. Like many of the defensemen the Red Wings currently have on their roster, the 23-year-old Kind is a mobile defenseman who is plays smart at both ends of the rink, can fluidly move the puck up ice, and jump in offensively when the opportunity arises.

34. Karl Alzner – D – Washington Capitals
Height: 6-2, Weight: 205

Selected fifth overall by the Capitals in 2007, Alzner has spent the majority of the last two seasons with Washington’s AHL affiliate the Hershey Bears, where he helped the team on win two consecutive Calder Cup titles. Although Alzner does not possess the offensive upside of teammate John Carlson, he is nonetheless a mobile puck-mover who can log top-four minutes and is not afraid to block shots or play the body. Like Carlson, Alzner is expected to be a major contributor in Washington for the 2010-11 season and a cornerstone for their defense for years to come.

35. Brendan Smith – D – Detroit Red Wings
Height: 6-1, Weight: 170

After two years of solid but unspectacular play for the University of Wisconsin Badgers, Smith had a breakout season in 2009-10, finishing with well over a point-per-game and tying for sixth overall in the NCAA in scoring. He was a major factor in the team’s run to the NCAA championship in the men’s hockey tournament, being named to the All-West Regional Team. In May, Smith signed an entry-level deal with Detroit. The Red Wings like to take the patient route with their young defensemen, so Smith will likely play top minutes for AHL-affiliate Griffins this upcoming season, where he’ll try to work his way up to an eventual top-four role with the Red Wings.

36. Tomas Tatar – C – Detroit Red Wings
Height: 5-11, Weight: 176

Drafted in the second round of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, this is Tatar’s debut on Hockey’s Future Top 50 Prospects list. Very offensively talented, with great hands and excellent on-ice vision, at age 18, Tatar was the youngest player in the AHL during the 2009-10 season. Although off to a fast start with the Grand Rapids Griffins, he seemed to tire out as the season went along. Stronger this fall and ready for the long North American season, Tatar will compete for a roster spot with the Red Wings, but is all but guaranteed to begin the 2010-11 campaign back in the AHL.

37. Lars Eller – C – Montreal Canadiens
Height: 6-0, Weight: 198

The 2007 first rounder has already two very good pro seasons under his belt, one in Swedish Eliteserien and one in the AHL last year. He also had his first taste of NHL during the 2009-10 campaign scoring two goals in seven games. Eller is a gifted playmaker with a good scoring touch and good instincts. The Denmark native is most likely going to play full time in Montreal this year and might even get some Calder consideration if he is sees frequent time in a top six role or on the powerplay.

38. Evgeny Grachev – C – New York Rangers
Height: 6-3, Weight: 202

Big and strong, Grachev was selected by the NY Rangers in the third round of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. After being named the OHL Rookie of the Year for 2008-09, Grachev disappointed some by his early performance in the AHL last season. After adjusting to the jump to professional play, Grachev began to perform as was expected of a top prospect. He is competing for a roster spot this fall, but expect him to begin the season with the Hartford Wolf Pack of the AHL. He will be watched closely and should be a call-up to the Rangers at some time during the 2010-11 season.

39. Colin Wilson – C – Nashville Predators
Height: 6-1, Weight: 214

After spending his first professional season split between the AHL and NHL, Colin Wilson will look to stick in NHL for good in 2010-11. The 20-year-old possesses many of the ideal traits of a top-six forward, good hands, instincts, and leadership ability, but needs to improve certain aspects of his game such as faceoffs. For a team that finished in the middle of the pack in scoring in 2009-10 and shed more talent than it gained in the off-season, Wilson’s continued progression as an offensive threat will be necessary if the Predators hope to build upon their past success.

40. Jonathan Blum – D – Nashville Predators
Height: 6-1, Weight: 178

A lanky defenseman, Jonathan Blum has all the tools to become a premier offensive defenseman in the NHL: speed, quickness, vision, and of course, an NHL level shot. He has proved himself offensively in junior with the Vancouver Giants, and has already established himself at the AHL level with the Milwaukee Admirals in the 2009-10 season. He is not known for making the big hit, but Blum is rarely caught out of position in the defensive zone and is extremely effective at using his long reach to his advantage in knocking the puck away from the opposition. By all accounts he is NHL ready, but with seven NHL defenseman under contract, and an already young top-four, Blum will have his work cut out to crack the Predators NHL roster.

41. Derek Stepan – C – New York Rangers
Height: 6-0, Weight: 168

Stepan joins the professional ranks this fall, after spending the last two seasons with the University of Wisconsin. After captaining the gold medal-winning US team in the 2010 World Junior Championships and achieving the tournament’s scoring title (14 points in seven games, with a plus-nine rating), Stepan went on to post more than a point a game with the Badgers last season. An excellent puck distributor, with elite on-ice vision, Stepan is expected to join the Rangers roster this fall. If not, he is at most six months away from his NHL debut.

42. Alexander Burmistrov – C – Atlanta Thrashers
Height: 5-11, Weight: 175

Burmistrov was a bit a surprise with a top 10 pick. He was definitely thought to be first round material, but maybe not top 10. The Thrashers however picked up a very good center with him, and also a Russian who is already NHL oriented, more than other players with perhaps more talent. Burmistrov had an exciting 2009-10 campaign with the Barrie Colts of the OHL, with 65 points in 62 games. The native of Kazan, Russia, skated with the Thrashers in the annual rookie camp, and most likely will spend another season with the Barrie Colts. There is still a chance that he plays a nine game stretch in the NHL before getting sent back to the juniors.

43. Logan Couture – C – San Jose Sharks
Height: 6-1, Weight: 195

With 25 regular season games, and an added 15 playoff games under his belt, Logan Couture has quickly developed into a player who is now ready to play an entire NHL schedule. A proven goal-scorer at the junior and AHL level, Couture was required to play more of a defensive game during his time with the Sharks last year but still managed to chip in four goals in the club’s playoff run. A sturdy two-way center, Couture is a strong skater who is hard on the puck in both the offensive and defensive zones. He is able to have both strength and quickness around the goal area and has a natural ability to find loose pucks and put them into the net. The Sharks are already loaded with established high-scoring forwards and the 21-year-old Couture might just be on his way to giving them another weapon.

44. Jonas Gustavsson – G Toronto Maple Leafs
Height: 6-3, Weight: 181

A rocky first year finished on a positive note for 25-year-old Jonas Gustavsson. The highly sought after 2009 free-agent goalie underwent two heart surgeries and battled a groin injury that kept him out for five games. When he did play Gustavsson was very inconsistent, but his consistency showed marked improvement over the second half of the season, specifically when the Maple Leafs acquired veteran Jean-Sebastien Giguere from Anaheim. Through his first 32 starts, Gustavsson posted a 9-13-8 record; with a .898 save percentage and a goals against average of 3.07. In his last 10 games of the season Gustavsson rebounded to a 7-2-1 record, while posting a .916 save percentage and 2.4 goals against. Gustavsson will need to continue his strong play this season if he hopes to take over the starting position from Giguere, whose contract is expiring at the end of the season.

45. Joe Colborne – C – Boston Bruins
Height: 6-5, Weight: 210

In a somewhat surprising move, after two solid seasons with the University of Denver, the Bruins decided the talented forward was ready for the professional game, and signed him to an entry-level contract this past summer, cutting his college career short. Though Colborne is still not entirely polished, the 6’5 center scored at just over a point-per-game clip last season and was one of Denver’s top forwards. Primarily a finesse-based playmaker, Colborne showed improvement last year in becoming a more physically intimidating threat and developing his goal-scoring ability. He’ll need to continue rounding out his game and still has plenty of room to put on size, but it shouldn’t be long before Colborne makes an impact at the professional level.

46. Michal Neuvirth – G – Washington Capitals
Height: 6-1, Weight: 199

After backstopping the Capitals AHL affiliate, the Hershey Bears, to two consecutive Calder Trophies and posting a 15-6 record in the AHL and 9-4 record in the NHL last season, Neuvirth has proved a more than capable goaltender for the Capitals. A butterfly style goalie who demonstrates solid positioning, Neuvirth is also known for his calm composure. The 22-year-old will backup fellow goaltending prospect Semyon Varlamov but will still likely make over 30 starts. If at any point Varlamov falters, Neuvirth will be looked upon to pick up the slack.

47. Nick Bjugstad – C – Florida Panthers
Height: 6-5, Weight: 190

A highly touted college-bound prospect and recipient of the 2010 Mr. Hockey Award which goes to the top high school player in Minnesota, Nick Bjugstad brings to the Florida Panthers a rare blend of size, skill, and grit. Only 18 years old, Bjugstad will join the University of Minnesota in 2010-11 and is expected to play there for several years, as he needs time to physically mature into his massive frame. Even if his offensive abilities never fully translate to the professional levels, he is considered a safe prospect in that his character, grit, and size, will one day allow him to at least fill a checking forward role for the Panthers.

48. Michael Grabner – RW – Florida Panthers
Height: 6-0, Weight: 170

Brought into the Panthers organization from Vancouver as part of a draft day deal, and following an injury abbreviated 2009-10 season, the Austrian winger gets a fresh start with the Florida Panthers for 2010-11. After making some noise with Vancouver last fall, Grabner was sidelined with a high ankle sprain that caused him to miss the middle of the season. He returned and finished the season strong however, playing nine post-season games with the Canucks. A player with great speed, and goal-scoring acumen, Grabner will be expected to immediately contribute in the NHL for the Panthers.

49. John Moore – D – Columbus Blue Jackets
Height: 6-2, Weight: 189

John Moore certainly has the potential to be an impact defenseman at the NHL level, especially on the offensive side of the puck. His smooth skating is easily one of his best assets, while he also possess a slick, accurate shot which he shows no trouble getting through traffic, making him an ideal future powerplay quarterback. He has added size since being drafted and is certainly physically ready to compete in the NHL, however his play in the defensive zone remains the weak point of his game; scouts note that he’s prone for making bad coverage decisions in his own end. Despite this, Moore has first pairing potential, and thus he’ll be given a fair shot in training camp to begin his NHL career this season.

50. Cody Franson – D – Nashville Predators
Height: 6-5, Weight: 213

With 61 games of NHL experience and another four in the post-season, Franson is by most standards, barely considered a prospect anymore. After spending two full seasons with the Milwaukee Admirals of the AHL, Franson spent the majority of last season with the Predators, posting 6 goals and 15 assists. The 23-year-old is also physically gifted at 6’5 and while he does not throw his body around, he does use his long reach and wide wingspan to his benefit. It is Franson’s offensive ability that is most impressive though. He is a capable puck-mover who could fill in on the backend of the powerplay but also has a strong point shot. The Predators re-signed Franson to a two-year standard NHL deal in the off-season, all but securing his spot on the NHL roster for 2010-11.