Below is first part of Hockey’s Future’s top 50 rankings. The top 50 is determined by a committee of HF writers and later vetted by the entire HF staff of over 35 writers. This is the first of five different parts that will be released over the next week.
41. Ryan Murphy – D – Carolina Hurricanes
Height: 5-11 Weight: 176
Hurricane defensemen Ryan Murphy and Justin Faulk both have had good training camps, moving past more veteran players like Bobby Sanguinetti to earn a chance to crack the roster. It’s been Murphy though, who has impressed the most, looking like a defensive version of old Kitchener teammate Jeff Skinner. There is still work to be done – the 18-year-old definitely needs to get stronger – and with seven other NHLers already on the payroll, Murphy is unlikely to see more than nine games in the NHL before returning to the OHL‘s Rangers for the balance of the 2011-12 season. Regardless, his dynamic stick handling, blazing speed, and knack at getting the puck on net from the blue line all point to Murphy having a bright future in Raleigh.
Coming from a talented Portland Winterhawks team in the WHL, Sven Baertschi is a skilled winger who can carry the puck but really excels at getting to open ice. He can be a creative playmaker and a dynamic scorer while also having the grit and determination to play in the high traffic areas. The Swiss born winger is solid defensively and plays on both special teams. He has an excellent work ethic with a real drive to work on all aspects of his game which shows his internal push to be the best. Having only played one season of North American hockey prior to being drafted, the 2011-12 season will be an important one for Baertschi as he takes a starring role in Portland.
While he doesn’t have the panache that many other top prospects possess, Luke Adam brings a consistent game in all three zones. He is a big bodied forward who competes hard in every area of the ice and his hard work results in his name showing up frequently on the score sheet. For his efforts this past season, Adam won the AHL Rookie of the Year. He is the third Sabres prospect in a row to receive the award, following Nathan Gerbe in 2008-09 and Tyler Ennis in 2009-10. Ennis and Gerbe have already begun contributing for the Sabres and it won’t be long until Adam secures his spot in the Sabres top-nine.
If not for a thumb injury suffered early last season, Josefson likely wouldn’t be eligible for the top-50 time around. Following a brief stint in the AHL after recovering from his injury, he spent the last quarter of the season in New Jersey where his play improved by leaps and bounds down the stretch under the tutelage of Jacques Lemaire. The cerebral Swedish pivot has sublime vision and offensive skills while also showing great defensive aptitude. He put on some muscle over the summer and appears ready to take full hold of an NHL job and not look back. He’s a future top-six forward for the Devils and will get a chance to make a big impact early this year with Travis Zajac sidelined for at least two months.
Few defenseman saw their stock rise over 2010-11 as much as Justin Faulk. As a freshman, the thickly built, mobile blueliner helped the University of Minnesota-Duluth win a Frozen Four championship, registering eight goals and 25 assists in the process. Signed to an entry-level deal immediately following his Frozen Four victory, Faulk has been a training camp standout and could very well see some limited action in the NHL for 2011-12. Regardless, expect the stoutly built defenseman to figure prominently into the Carolina top-six for years to come.
A smooth skating, puck-moving defenseman with size, Simon Despres will start his first professional season with the Pittsburgh Penguins, playing for their AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre. Possessing great mobility and a sturdy 6’4 frame, Despres was primarily a shutdown guy in the QMJHL. He does however have the shot and puck-distribution abilities to be a regular offensive contributor from the blue line, an aspect of his game that should continue to blossom with experience. The Penguins tend to slow cook their prospects in the minor-leagues so expect Despres to spend at least one if not two years in the AHL before competing for a regular NHL spot.
A mobile, puck-mover from Sweden, Klefbom brings all the hallmarks of a top-pairing, multi-tooled blueliner to an Oilers system in need of just that. The captain of Sweden‘s silver medal winning U18 team, Klefbom provided leadership and offense from the back-end, something he is expected to replicate for the upcoming U20 WJCs. Already possessing an NHL frame, Klefbom will be expected to play a few more seasons in the SEL where he will work on the finer points of his game, particularly in the defensive end. When he is ready however he will provide the type of defensive anchor the Oilers can build around for the next decade.
48. Emerson Etem – RW – Anaheim ducks
Height: 6-0 Weight: 194
A speedy forward playing for the Medicine Hat Tigers, Etem is starting his third season in the WHL. Coming off a 2010-11 season that saw him manage 45 goals and 80 points in 65 regular season games, not to mention 10 goals and 21 points in 15 playoff games, the 19-year-old will be expected to not only build on his stellar offensive numbers but also take on greater leadership responsibilities. Offense aside, Etem is a stellar two-way player and penalty killer. The only real aspect of his game that needs a major upgrade is his play without the puck.
A former fifth round pick, Matt Calvert‘s stock has been rising at a steady pace for the past few seasons. He managed to parlay a very successful junior career into a spot among the top-six on the Springfield Falcons, and it only took 38 games until he was able to earn a promotion to Columbus. After an electric start in the NHL, he cooled down considerably but was able to stick for the remainder of the season, and has likely cemented his spot in the lineup for the 2011-12 season. Though at 5’9 Calvert is one of the smaller players on the ice, he plays as if he was unaware of the fact. He is also quite speedy and elusive which helps him get through traffic and get off his above-average wrist shot.
A colossal defenseman at 6’7 and 240 pounds, Jamie Oleksiak has experienced a meteoric rise from a year ago. Having started 2010-11 as a freshman with Northeastern, Oleksiak was an awkward looking teenager who had yet to properly coordinate his immense size and strong skating stride. He gradually grew into his frame and by the end of his freshman season, looked the part of a potential top-pairing NHL defenseman. After being drafted by the Dallas Stars 14th overall in 2011, Oleksiak left Northeastern University to join the Saginaw Spirit of the OHL. It will be interesting to see how the towering blueliner adjusts to the rigors of the longer Canadian Major Junior schedule.
Filatov’s spot was heavily debated during the construction of the top 50. Ultimately, it was decided a second chance for enigmatic winger in Ottawa was not enough wash away yet another sub-par season in 2010-11.
There were roughly 30 different players who could have slotted into the bottom 10 rankings and Jonas Brodin was among the 20 who did not make the cut. The mobile defenseman however finished right outside the top 50 and is close enough he could very well appear in the spring edition of the rankings.