Continuing with our countdown of the Top 50 NHL prospects, we look at the 11-20 grouping. Six of the players in this section started the season in the NHL and several look to be locks for the entire stretch. The grouping also features nine first round picks including four from 2011.
Sean Couturier is a big, solid two-way centerman who has excellent vision, playmaking skills, a quick release, and a high hockey IQ. The big-bodied forward does not play a punishing physical game but can shield the puck with his body to set up a play. He has such a smooth skating style that his overall speed is deceptively quick but he could still improve his first few steps. The 18-year-old is also a solid defensive presence and can play just as well on the penalty kill as the power play.
Couturier signed an entry-level contract on September 21, 2011 and has since made his NHL regular season debut with the Flyers.
Arguably one of the best prospects outside of North America, Granlund has not only showcased his talents in the SM-lilga, but also this past summer on the world stage. His lacrosse style goal at the World Championships in Slovakia wowed fans and made its rounds on YouTube. Those who have watched Granlund develop over the years weren’t surprised at his display of skill. The 19-year-old has been one of SM-lilga’s top point producers over the last two seasons. The only questions that surround Granlund are how he’ll handle the rigors of the North American pro game. Minnesota Wild fans will have to wait for Granlund to make his mark in the NHL however, after he signed a one-year extension in Finland with HIFK.
The second-overall pick in the 2011 NHL Draft, Landeskog is described as a Swedish forward who plays a North American style of game. His size and skill combined with his willingness to play a strong, physical game had the 18-year-old pegged as the most NHL-ready forward in the draft. He has also been talked about as future captain material. His maturity both physically and mentally along with being a natural leader at such a young age makes Landeskog a good bet to stay with Colorado this year where he should compete for the Calder Trophy.
The hot prospect in this year’s entry draft, Zibanejad was selected by the Ottawa Senators sixth overall in the draft. A strong two-way center with very good size, Zibanejad enjoys using his body to both protect the puck and in hitting along the boards. The young center does not shy away from the physical game and his work ethic is one of the best among all prospects. After spending the 2010-11 season as a member of the Djurgardens IF Stockholm of the SEL, Zibanejad will spend at least the beginning of the 2011-12 season with the Senators in the NHL.
The Bruins were more than satisfied to select Niagara defenseman Doug Hamilton with the ninth selection in this past June’s entry draft. Hamilton, a 6’4 rearguard with all-around talent, is at least another year away from making the NHL, but it is clear he has the potential of a number one defenseman. Hamilton has fantastic mobility and the speed to transition quickly to catch up to players when he gets beat, however that is not very often. He is a former winger and it is not hard to notice when he rushes with the puck up the ice; he reads offensive situations about as well as he does in the defensive end, and has an improving playmaking ability. Should the Bruins lose Zdeno Chara in the next few years, they likely won’t skip a beat if Hamilton reaches his potential.
Near the end of last season, Jonathon Blum seemed to have cemented his spot on the Predators blue line. This season, he’ll be expected to carry an increased role with the departure of Cody Franson. An explosive skater, Blum also possesses elite offensive instincts which make him a constant offensive threat from the blue line. His defensive positioning and stick work has been improving over the past few seasons, but they could both use a little more fine tuning if he is to become an elite defenseman.
17. Jared Schwartz – RW – St. Louis Blues
Height: 5-10 Weight: 193
Jaden Schwartz will be hard pressed to top a freshman season that saw him manage 47 points and a point-per-game average of 1.57. His late season play pushed Colorado College to a surprising third place finish at the WCHA tournament and NCAA tournament berth, where the team demolished defending champ Boston College before losing to the University of Michigan.
Schwartz has elite offensive instincts, a hard accurate shot, and excellent playmaking skills while using his skate speed to create open space. He can play all three forward positions and can play the point on the power play. The small forward plays an aggressive style but must increase his strength and improve his defensive play to compete against the bigger players at the NHL level.
After a 2010-11 season that saw him play a starring role in Russia‘s gold-medal victory at the WJC not to mention a strong season with Traktor in the KHL, Evgeny Kuznetsov has quickly become one of the top offensive players not currently playing in North America. The young Russian already possesses the size and skill to play in the NHL but will remain in Russia for at least one more year. When he does decide to begin his career in North America, Kuznetsov will give the Washington Capitals an embarrassment of riches, joining talented forwards Nicklas Backstrom, Marcus Johansson, and Alexander Ovechkin.
Markstrom has shown no lasting effects from the knee injury and subsequent surgery that brought a premature end to his 2010-11 season. Further, he seems to have fully acclimated to the North American style of game and smaller ice surface. Going into the fall camps, popular consensus had Markstrom returning to the AHL to get more experience and ice time, but expected Florida backup, Scott Clemmensen, had knee surgery just days into camp. Markstrom won the battle to replace Clemmensen, and will be the Panthers backup to Jose Theodore to start the season. The Panthers staff will decide if Markstrom sticks with the big club once Clemmensen returns, but this is a big opportunity for Markstrom to prove that he already has what it takes to belong in the NHL.
Gudbranson’s game is best described by one word, mean. He is punishing, big, tough, and skates well for a man his size. Gudbranson has added offensive skills to his steady defensive presence, and is ready to bring his two-way game to the NHL. Questions may still exist regarding his offensive decision-making, but there is no doubt that in his own end, Gudbranson is a force that opponents will grow to fear. He has a crashing shot from the point that will generate a lot of goals for the forwards down low cleaning up rebounds, but his ferocious hits and willingness to drop the gloves with anyone will be the hallmark of his game.