Brace Hemmelgarn/Icon SMI)
The Edmonton Oilers possess some good, young talent in the forward ranks, including last year's first overall selection, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and budding offensive star Jordan Eberle. But the Oilers also possess some impressive prospects in the defense corps, including the top player in this grouping of HF's ranking of the Top 50 NHL prospects, Oscar Klefbom.
Klefbom has moved up the rankings since his first Top 50 appearance in the Fall edition of this list. The Swedish defender is joined by four other prospects in this 21-30 grouping that appeared in the previous release of the Top 50. This group is heavy on defensmen, with eight of the 10 players being defenders. Five of the eight defensemen were chosen in the 2011 NHL Draft.
We'll now take a look at the prospects that populate the 21-30 group of the Spring ranking.
21. Oscar Klefbom, D, Edmonton Oilers
Height: 6-3, Weight: 201, Fall Ranking – 47
Oscar Klefbom is still very raw at this stage of his development, but he is blessed with a tremendous amount of skill and potential. He played in 33 games for Farjestad of the Swedish Elite League this year and also played a major role in helping Sweden win the gold medal at the 2012 World Junior Championships. He is an offensively gifted blueliner with above average puck skills and mobility. He has the tools to eventually develop into a power-play quarterback and has great instincts when in the offensive zone. The rawness of his game mostly revolves around his play away from the puck, but that is something that can be taught as he progresses as a prospect. The Oilers devensive group is currently a work in progress with Klefbom being a main piece that can help turn that weakness into a strength.
22. Nathan Beaulieu, D, Montreal Canadiens
Height: 6-3, Weight: 195, Not ranked
Nathan Beaulieu has almost textbook power skating skills with a solid, balanced base which allows the puck-moving defenseman to activate so quickly in transition to the offensive attack. He has quick hands, good vision of the ice along with the natural abilities to know when to attack or hold back slightly, waiting for the right opening to develop in front of him. The offensive defenseman has improved on his defensive play, positioning in the defensive zone, and has concentrated on being a more physical player this season. Beaulieu needs to add more muscle mass to his large frame, learn to change the shooting lanes to get his hard point shot through traffic on goal, and must avoid puck watching around his team's net. As the talented defenseman develops his overall game, there's an excellent chance that he can be a high profile player on the Canadiens' defensive group in the near future.
23. Ryan Ellis, D, Nashville Predators
Height: 5-10, Weight: 172, Fall ranking – 37
The Predators top defensive prospect, Ryan Ellis, has had quite an eventful season, splitting it between the AHL and the NHL. Producing almost at will at the AHL level, the Predators did not take long to call him up. Part of one of the deepest groups of defensemen in the NHL, Ellis only played sporadically during the NHL regular season. Nevertheless, he has shown that he can handle the rigors of the NHL despite lacking the more desired NHL-ready physique while still playing his puck-possession style of game.
24. Ryan Murphy, D, Carolina Hurricanes
Height: 5-11, Weight: 176, Fall ranking – 41
Ryan Murphy may not be the biggest guy on the ice, but on many nights in the OHL he has been the best. Murphy possesses remarkable offensive instincts and the skills to match. To top it off, he can motor. OHL coaches recently named Murphy the best skater in the Western Conference for the second year in a row, the top offensive defenseman (he was second in 2010-11), and placed him second for stickhandling (behind consensus top-ranked 2012 draft prospect Nail Yakupov). His combination of speed, agility, puck skills and lethal shot make Murphy an offensive threat whenever he is on the ice. In early November, Murphy sustained a concussion which kept him out of the Kitchener Rangers' lineup for a month, ultimately costing him a spot on Canada’s Under-20 World Junior squad. Once he returned, however, Murphy showed few ill effects from the injury as he tore off a string of 12 January games in which he scored five goals and added 16 assists. Although Murphy lacks the kind of size and defensive prowess that would launch him straight into a top-pairing role in the NHL, he has the hockey smarts to develop the defensive skills he will need. Ultimately, Murphy has the potential to become a decent defender with power play and offensive skills to rival most blueliners in the league.
25. Justin Schultz, D, Anaheim Ducks
Height: 6-2, Weight: 185, Not ranked
Justin Schultz remains one of the less frequently discussed defensive prospects. Yet the accolades keep piling up and now it is time to take notice. For two consecutive seasons he has led all WCHA defensemen in points and earned the honors of Hobey Baker Finalist, First Team WCHA and Defensive Player of the Year. Schultz is mainly known for his creativity on the offensive side of the game and even led the Badgers in goals. While not physical, he has improved his defensive play as of late. He is close to being ready for the NHL.
26. Joe Morrow, D, Pittsburgh Penguins
Height: 6-1, Weight: 206, Not ranked
The Portland Winterhawks finished the regular season with the third best record in the WHL and were far and away the most powerful offensive club in the league. So, on a team that includes many top prospects and highly ranked 2012 draft-eligible players, defenseman Joe Morrow still manages to stand out. Not only was he the top offensive defenseman for that club, he finished second among WHL defensemen with 64 points despite playing in only 62 games. Morrow currently leads the WHL in playoff scoring by a defenseman with another 12 points through 13 games. Morrow plays every game situation, and can do whatever is asked of him, whether leading a breakout from his own zone, or shutting down the opposing team's top scorers. Morrow really can do it all; if he was a part of a different organization without the kind of defensive depth that the Pittsburgh Penguins enjoy, he could already be playing in the NHL.
27. Jon Merrill, D, New Jersey Devils
Height: 6-3, Weight: 209, Fall ranking – 34
Jon Merrill’s season didn’t exactly start the way he or the Devils wanted to as he was suspended by the University of Michigan indefinitely for an off-ice incident. He joined Team USA for the World Juniors in what was his first live game action of the season, and it wasn’t until after the tournament was over that his suspension was lifted. When he returned, he picked up right where he left off from his freshman season, displaying a calm, cool demeanor on the ice while showing off his elite two-way skills and power-play quarterbacking ability. While he’s likely to return to Michigan for his junior year, it won’t be long before he’s patrolling the Devils' blueline. The Devils are sorely lacking in players of his ilk so, as long as he keeps his head on straight, the sky is the limit for Merrill.
28. Gustav Nyquist, LW, Detroit Red Wings
Height: 5-11, Weight: 185, Not ranked
Detroit's top forward talent on the horizon is Swedish prospect Gustav Nyquist. The 22-year-old winger was named to the AHL All-Rookie team for his 58 points in 56 games for Grand Rapids and still saw action in 18 regular season games with the Red Wings. Nyquist is a skilled playmaker and plays confidently with the puck on his stick. He is a swift skater and not shy about sticking his nose in the dirty areas. A dependable defensive player, Nyquist's determined style made him well-suited for checking duty during his stints with Detroit. Despite playing a limited role in many of his games, the rookie was not riding any coattails in Detroit and stood out in his opportunities to skate with the scoring lines. A potential top-six point producer, Nyquist's energy and defensive acumen could also fit in a checking role in Detroit as soon as next season.
29. Kyle Palmieri, RW, Anaheim Ducks
Height: 5-11, Weight: 193, Fall ranking – 38
Kyle Palmieri has above average speed with explosive four-step acceleration, good puck handling skills to make plays in high traffic areas, and a natural scorer's quick, accurate release. The talented scorer has sound hockey sense and has worked hard to improve his two-way game at the professional level this season. He saw far more NHL action with the Ducks this year, yet was still the leading goal scorer on the Ducks' AHL farm team, the Syracuse Crunch, for the regular season. Palmieri will need to add more muscle mass and improve his defensive zone positioning to stay at the NHL level. The offensively skilled winger has risen on the organization’s depth chart and will likely find a lineup spot in the Ducks' top-nine forwards at the start of next season.
30. Jonas Brodin, D, Minnesota Wild
Height: 6-1, Weight: 166, Not ranked
Swedish defenseman Jonas Brodin makes his debut in the Top 50 following another steady season in the Swedish Elite League and a formidable performance for the gold medal-winning Swedes at the 2012 World Junior Championships. Brodin is a good skater who moves well laterally, allowing him to cover a lot of ice. He often draws the tough match-ups and already has two years of pro experience under his belt. Although not a terribly productive player in the SEL, he plays with poise and makes sound decisions with the puck. His offensive ceiling may be limited, but his understanding of the game means he is not a liability in either end. There is room to add strength to his frame, but Brodin's reliability at both ends should make him effective in his North American debut next season.
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