Below is the first edition of the Hockey's Future's prospect awards. The winner for each category was determined by the team writer with assistance from the HF staff. The prospects featured in this article belong to the Winnipeg Jets.
The big man on the blue line proved he can be much more than a goon with a much-improved season with the Rangers. Voted best defensive defenseman by the Rangers last season, Sol doubled his offensive totals this year, scoring 15 goals and 38 points in 62 games, while still holding one of the best plus minus ratings in the league. Not shy about stepping in to protect his teammates, the 6'6 enforcer had to curb his pugilistic instincts so he could be available for more vital contributions. Projected as a shutdown player, Sol has a booming shot and the offensive instincts to be so much more than what was projected when he was drafted.
Sol's former teammate Julian Melchiori also improved quite a bit this season, especially after he was traded from Kitchener to Oshawa, and both players are now under contract and expected to start next year in the AHL. Winger Adam Lowry of Swift Current Broncos was on pace to have a breakout year offensively before injury ended his season.
An agile skater with a calm demeanor, Yuen leads the WHL in plus minus rating and is as good as they get in his own end. Playing on a powerhouse Americans team, Yuen is counted on as the shutdown defender and leads the penalty kill. While his offensive game has also shown more of a spark this season, Yuen's play in his own end earns the award of best defensive prospect.
University of Maine captain Will O'Neill has carried his steady blue line play into the AHL and has not looked out of place, as has fellow NCAA grad Zach Redmond, although the latter seemed to tire out as he adjusted to the demands of the pro schedule. Amongst the forwards, Patrice Cormier was counted on as the best defensive assignment against both AHL and NHL opponents.
The Jets seventh overall pick in last year's draft has been on a roller-coaster ride all season long. From the exhilaration of making the Jets out of camp and scoring his first NHL goal to the long bus trips and constant negative attention from opposing players in the OHL, Scheifele has endured and risen above. Intent on becoming a better player, Scheifele has taken on responsibility for both special teams and been the engine that drives the offense for the Colts all season long. His winger Ivan Telegin has benefited greatly from Scheifele's unselfish play and the two promise to be a dynamic pairing for the Jets.
From the blue line corps, hard shooting Paul Postma ranks as the best offensive prospect.
Prospect of the Year: Ivan Telegin, LW, Barrie Colts (OHL)
While Schiefele is the more scrutinized prospect with a higher profile, his winger Telegin emerged as Prospect of the Year. The big Russian scored at will for the Colts and starred with the Russian junior team, establishing himself as a player with a very high upside. While a checking line center with Saginaw, Telegin emerged as a sniper with speed after being traded to Barrie in the off season. His chemistry with Schiefele electrifies the Jets' prospect pool and pushes the big winger into a leading role going forward.
Fastest Skater: Ivan Telegin, LW, Barrie Colts (OHL)
This foot-race was not even close. Telegin has a powerful stride that propels him over the ice at rocket speed. He has been called the fastest skater in the OHL by none other than Dale Hawerchuck. As Telegin adds lower-body strength, he will only get faster and his on ice understanding with top prospect Mark Scheifele will cause headaches for NHL defenders as early as next season.
Defender Zachary Yuen rarely gets to show off his straight-ahead speed but is a very strong and agile skater. Ice Caps center Ben Maxwell is the fastest skater on his team with a very smooth gliding stride.
The power-play specialist still has work to do on the rest of his game, but his heavy and accurate shot is one tool that he has perfected. AHL rookies Zach Redmond and Bill O'Neill have given the IceCaps further weaponry from the point as both have cannons that can intimidate opposing shot blockers. Kitchener Rangers defender Cody Sol has a boomer and was used extensively on the power play this season in order to take advantage of it. Amongst the forward prospects, Barrie Colts stars Ivan Telegin and Mark Scheifele both have hard and accurate shots with quick releases.
Overachiever: Will O'Neill, D, University of Maine (Hockey East)
The big Bostonian wins this award for making the most of his abilities and then pushing himself to be better. Although a limited skater, O'Neill is a fierce competitor and strives to win every battle. He is a vocal commander from the back and exercised his authority as captain of the Black Bears with full authority.
Winger Adam Lowry takes a similar all or nothing approach to the game, pushes himself to the limits of his expectations and then exceeds them.
Underachiever: Daultan Leveille, C, Michigan State Spartans (CCHA)
Even by his abbreviated standards Leveille was disappointing. Setting new lows in all categories, Leveille is another in a long list of first round busts that blot the Atlanta Thrashers draft record.
Boston University's Yasin Cisse can be forgiven for just wanting to be on the ice after having his previous two seasons derailed by injury, but he did very little with his ice time when healthy.
Highest Risk/Reward Prospect: Fredrik Pettersson-Wentzel, G, Farjestad (SEL)
The upside for this goalie is very high, but there is a clear risk that he may settle in to a backup role with the SEL champions and not venture over to North America to continue his development. A strong positional goalie with lightning reflexes, with the proper management he could be a top goalie prospect.
Hardest Worker: Spencer Machacek, RW, St. John's IceCaps (AHL)
The most consistent player in the Jets' prospect pool, Machacek can be counted on to deliver his best effort every shift. Finally able to claim his first NHL goal, in a key game against the Caps no less, Machacek is appreciated by coaches and teammates alike for his lunch-bucket approach.
AHL rookie John Albert, also leaves it all on the ice and his goalie teammate Ed Pasquale has won the starting job with the IceCaps thanks to his hard work in both game and practice situations.
The captain in Moose Jaw has been a rock for the Warriors. A shot blocker and a crease clearer who plays a no-nonsense style, McFaull leads by example on a team known for its physical defenders.
A similar type player with the IceCaps, Arturs Kulda has quietly gone about shutting down the opposition's best forwards in the AHL and working hard to earn more ice time in the NHL.
No one player did more to break away from the prospect pack than the speedy Russian winger with the quick and deadly snapshot. Telegin fired home 35 goals in just 46 OHL games, taking time off to star for Russia at the WJC and in the Subway Series. A powerful skater, Telegin can bull through opponents with his 6'4 frame or blaze past them to get a shot away. He has also been featured on the penalty kill, where his breakaway speed forces opposing blueliners to back up in a hurry when he has the puck. He has developed a rapport with Colts center Mark Scheifele and the two will push very hard to stick with the Jets next season.
In the AHL, goalie Ed Pasquale and wingers Spencer Machacek and Patrice Cormier can be considered to have had breakout years. Pasquale outplayed his veteran keeper mates at times this season and emerged as the Jets' top goalie prospect. Machacek and Cormier made the most of their NHL time this year and seem to have broken through the 'tweener barrier that kept them shuttling back and forth between the Jets and the IceCaps.
Breakout Player for 2012-13: Jason Gregoire, LW, St. John's IceCaps (AHL)
The free agent theft of Gregoire was hailed as a coup for Jets' management, but the former Fighting Sioux star struggled for ice time when he was healthy. The IceCaps fielded a veteran-heavy lineup this year which made it difficult for rookies such as Gregoire and Eric O'Dell to show what they can do. As they returned to form and other players got hurt, both emerged as the star prospects they were expected to be.
Lanky blueliner Julian Melchiori rounded into good form after being traded to Oshawa last year and if he stays as an overager could have a breakthrough year. Swift Current winger Adam Lowry should make a full recovery and return to the board rattling game that made him the Jets' most exciting prospect for the first half of the year.