The New York Islanders have been frequent holders of high draft picks in recent NHL Drafts. But, while the effects on the team's in-season performance resulting from the lofty drafting positions have so far been negligible, there does appear to be some hope on the horizon for the Islanders.
One bright spot is the top player in this next-to-last grouping in HF's ranking of the Top 50 NHL prospects, Ryan Strome. Another prospect that is thought to have a bright future but has struggled under those expectations is the last player in this group, Nino Niederreiter.
In between those two Islander prospects is a 11-20 group that leans heavily towards forwards, with seven players coming from the forward ranks, and three defensemen rounding out the group. All players in this group were previously ranked in the Fall edition of the Top 50.
Below is the 11-20 group in HF's Spring ranking of the Top 50 NHL prospects.
11. Ryan Strome, C, New York Islanders
Height: 6-0, Weight: 183, Fall ranking – 22
Ryan Strome is a dynamic offensive talent who makes his presence known every time he steps on the ice. A dazzling player with the puck on his stick, he displays the vision, explosive skating ability, and quick hands of a premier play-making center. He has also shown the ability to put the puck in the net himself this season for Niagara, where he ranked third with 30 goals in only 45 games and led the team with 1.48 points-per-game. Not overly strong, Strome instead relies on his speed and hockey sense to make plays at both ends of the rink. The 19-year-old forward has produced on big stages this season, pacing Team Canada's offense for much of the WJC and leading the pack during the IceDogs' OHL playoff run. Strome did not play in a game after sticking with the Islanders out of training camp, but his NHL debut is not far off.
12. Emerson Etem, RW, Anaheim Ducks
Height: 6-0, Weight: 194, Fall ranking – 48
Simply put, Emerson Etem flat out dominated the WHL circuit this season, becoming the first WHL player to hit the 60-goal mark in 11 seasons. He finished the year with 61 goals and 107 points in 65 games for the Medicine Hat Tigers. He did have an underwhelming showing at the World Juniors, but he wasn’t the only American to underachieve there. One of the best skaters outside of the NHL, Etem not only uses his speed to score, but also uses it to aggressively forecheck and pressure the opposition into making mistakes. There might be a slight adjustment period for Etem when he turns pro next season, but it seems like it’s only going to be a matter of time before he’s frequently lighting the lamp at the NHL level.
13. Sven Baertschi, LW, Calgary Flames
Height: 5-10, Weight: 181, Fall ranking – 42
If not for a pair of injuries, there is not much doubt that Sven Baertschi would have led the WHL in scoring. The Portland Winterhawks star scored a mind-blowing 94 points in only 47 games and even got a chance to show his skills at the NHL level, scoring three goals in five games when the Flames ran into injury problems and needed an emergency recall. Baertschi is far and away the most skilled prospect the Flames have had in quite sometime. He’s equally adept at setting up goals as he is at finishing, and makes those around him better. He competes hard despite his small stature and is not afraid to get his nose dirty. He might need some AHL seasoning, but he’s got a bright future and has the makings of becoming an elite NHL point producer in the future.
14. Mark Scheifele, C, Winnipeg Jets
Height: 6-2, Weight: 184, Fall ranking – 23
Trying to carve a path to the NHL can be difficult, but having to carry an extra burden—especially one not of your own making—makes the trek that much harder. For Mark Scheifele, getting drafted 7th overall in 2011 brought with it scorn and derision from some commentators who believed that the Jets should have selected the curiously available Sean Couturier instead. While the comparisons will hang around Scheifele for a while, he has done his best to dismiss the notion that he did not deserve to picked as high as he was. Scheifele scored one goal in seven NHL games at the start of the season before being returned to his junior team. He was a point-per-game player for Canada’s bronze medal team at the World Junior Championships. He logged 23 goals and 40 assists in 47 games for Barrie in the OHL, then added another 12 points in 13 playoff games. Looking past his size, strength, and puck possession skills, what you get to is the kind of player that loves the game in a way that energizes his teammates and fans. Scheifele will carry that enthusiasm into the Jets locker room this fall, where he will join a cadre of talented, youthful players such as Evander Kane, Alex Burmistrov, and Zach Bogosian.
15. David Rundblad, D, Phoenix Coyotes
Height: 6-2, Weight: 190, Fall ranking – 7
Expectations were high for David Rundblad heading into his first season of hockey in North America after being named the SEL's top defender in 2010-11. After he made the Senators roster out of camp, Ottawa needed more immediate help offensively and traded the gifted defender to the Phoenix Coyotes in exchange for center Kyle Turris. The 21-year-old Rundblad spent a majority of his season with Portland in the AHL following the transaction, but he still boasts a high offensive ceiling. The Swede's vision and passing ability make him a threat at any time and he can also unleash a heavy, accurate shot from the blue line. He skates well and is capable of leading the rush as well as running the power play. At 6'2, he also has a sizable frame and a solid build. More attention to his defensive game will be necessary if he is to become a complete defenseman, but Rundblad's offensive skills put him head and shoulders above most other blue line prospects.
16. Brendan Smith, D, Detroit Red Wings
Height: 6-2, Weight: 195, Fall ranking – 36
There is not much to dislike about this all-around defenseman with size. Brendan Smith had another strong season in the AHL, but his NHL debut was even more impressive as he contributed at half-a-point per game despite only averaging around 15 minutes of ice time. Big, mobile, and physical, Smith is very close to being ready for the NHL. He can still improve on the smaller details of his game, like his pivots. With at least one of Nicklas Lidstrom, Brad Stuart, or Kyle Quincey potentially departing from the Detroit Red Wings next season, Smith will get his shot at a permanent NHL roster spot.
17. Brandon Gormley, D, Phoenix Coyotes
Height: 6-2 Weight: 190, Fall ranking – 29
Brandon Gormley has the patience and calmness with the puck to make the smart decisions on whether to pass, hang on for the opening or carry it himself. The talented two-way defenseman has sound defensive instincts and plays with a maturity far beyond his age. He's a solid puck mover with good mobility who can add offense with his precision passing skills and hard, accurate point shot. Gormley finally received the chance to represent Canada at the 2012 WJC tournament where he was named the best defenseman of the tournament for his excellent play in the shutdown role and on both specialty team units. The all-round defenseman will need to get physically stronger and add more toughness to his game in order to maximize his NHL potential. Gormley will have a chance to crack the Coyotes' NHL roster when he starts his professional career next season.
18. Charlie Coyle, RW, Minnesota Wild
Height: 6-2 Weight: 205, Fall ranking – 25
It has been an adventurous year for Charlie Coyle, who chose to leave Boston University in early December of 2011 to dedicate himself to hockey full-time in the QJMHL with the powerhouse Saint John Sea Dogs. He struggled to produce for Team USA at the 2012 WJC tournament where they finished seventh and out of the medals. Since arriving in Saint John, the big physical winger has scored at a steady pace and has found instant chemistry with center Zack Philips on the team's top forward line. The success helped the offensively talented forward to receive a three-year NHL entry level contract from the Wild. Coyle has the size, speed and puck possession skills to dominate the down low in the offensive zone while setting up teammates or playing in the high traffic areas. He has the physical skills and seems ready for the jump to the professional level next season.
19. Chris Kreider, C, New York Rangers
Height: 6-2, Weight: 201, Fall ranking – 27
Winning the National Championship with Boston College would make for a fairly complete season for any prospect. Not for Chris Kreider. Skipping the AHL and the NHL regular season, he has made the jump straight to the NHL playoffs and has not missed a beat. After almost cashing in on numerous chances in his first three playoff games, he managed to score the game-winning goal in Game 6 against the Ottawa Senators. Kreider is a complete package of size, quickness, smarts, scoring and passing ability that is coupled with a respectable defensive game. His offensive skills may not be elite, but he will contribute in different ways on the ice.
20. Nino Niederreiter, LW, New York Islanders
Height: 6-2, Weight: 205, Fall ranking – 9
Nino Neiderreiter had the kind of rookie season that he probably would prefer to forget. After starting the year on the injured list and missing the first month of action, Niederreiter played three games before hitting the press box as a healthy scratch. After scoring a goal in his second game back on the ice, Niederreiter suffered a concussion and missed another two weeks of games. Then his season took a turn for the worse. Niederreiter, the 5th overall pick of the 2010 draft, played the rest of the season for the Islanders without a single point, a 49-game drought. It should come as a testament to the kind of talent that Niederreiter possesses, not to mention the Islanders' lack of NHL-caliber depth, that he was allowed to suffer through such a stretch. Niederreiter is a hard-working player at both ends of the ice, moves well on his skates, and can be incredibly strong with the puck. However, the big questions going forward will be how quickly can he recover from his struggles this season and whether he can rebuild the confidence he will need to become a top-six winger for the Islanders.
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