John Cordes/Icon SMI)
When is an NHL player no longer an NHL prospect? For the NHL, it is after the player has appeared in 25 games in one NHL season. At Hockey's Future, though, we stretch that number to 65 cumulative games since very few players are truly NHL material after 25 games in a single season.
Which brings us to the top player in the Spring edition of our ranking of the Top 50 prospects. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has certainly shown that he is an NHL talent in his injury-shortened rookie season. Were it not for the lesser number of games the Edmonton Oilers' prospect played in due to said injury, he would no longer have been eligible for this list. But, given the fact that Nugent-Hopkins is still listed among HF's top 20 prospects in the Oilers' system, and after much discussion about the merits of considering him a prospect, it was decided that the budding scoring star should be included in this ranking.
And of course, given his inclusion, where else could Nugent-Hopkins be other than at the top position of this list? His talent is undeniable, and he has most likely merely scratched the surface of what is likely to be a long and productive NHL career.
Here, then, is the top 10 prospects in the Hockey's Future ranking of the Top 50 NHL prospects.
1. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C, Edmonton Oilers
Height: 6-0, Weight: 171, Fall ranking – 1
A mid-season shoulder injury is all that slowed Ryan Nugent-Hopkins down in his rookie NHL season. Had he not missed 20 games with the ailment, he likely would’ve easily run away with the rookie scoring title, nor would he have been included in this ranking. That being said, his 52 points in 62 games is nothing to scoff at. Nugent-Hopkins thinks the game at such a high level and, when that is combined with his playmaking skills and vision, you have a player that is on the verge of becoming something very special. As he gets stronger and puts more muscle on his frame, he will become even harder to contain.
2. Brayden Schenn, C, Philadelphia Flyers
Height: 6-1, Weight: 190, Fall ranking – 3
It was a difficult start to the season for Brayden Schenn, who was first felled by a shoulder injury in the preseason and then a broken foot in October. The result of those two injuries meant two conditioning stints in the AHL. But once Schenn was recalled to Philadelphia in January, he didn’t look back and established himself as a regular in the Flyers' lineup. Gritty and hard-nosed, but also blessed with great two-way skills, Schenn has just started to scratch the surface of his vast potential and is only going to get better with more experience.
3. Vladimir Tarasenko, , St. Louis Blues
Height: 5-11, Weight: 202, Fall ranking – 8
Vladimir Tarasenko is not your typical Russian forward. Yes, the cerebral finesse game is there and in full spring. He finished tied for first in the KHL in playoff points. What makes him different from many Russian forwards is that he has a gritty side to his game. He is always in impeccable shape, which allows him to handle a more physical style of game. The questions surrounding this prospect are rarely about his talent, but typically more about when he will come to North America. In terms of ability and conditioning he is ready for the NHL. According to his agent, we will know after the World Championships if he is also mentally ready.
4. Dougie Hamilton, D, Boston Bruins
Height: 6-4 Weight: 193, Fall ranking – 15
Dougie Hamilton is a large, physical, puck-moving defenseman who is a converted forward, which explains much of his forward-like abilities related to his skating and hard shot. He was the OHL’s top offensive defenseman for the 2011-12 regular season and really showed his aggressive, offensive, attacking style with Team Canada at the 2012 World Junior Championship. Hamilton has really improved his defensive play, using a very active stick to break up passing plays, and has worked hard on his defensive positioning although still being guilty at times of chasing the big hit. He's expected to compete for a spot on the Bruins' blueline in September, and could be the eventual replacement for Zdeno Chara.
5. Mika Zibanejad, RW/C, Ottawa Senators
Height: 6-2 Weight: 201, Fall ranking – 14
After playing nine NHL games to start the 2011-12 season, Mika Zibanejad was returned by Ottawa to Djurgården IF Stockholm of the SEL for more development of his two-way game. The versatile forward has excellent offensive skills along with a quick, hard shot, and he likes to play a physical, hard charging game when driving into the high traffic areas of the ice. He scored 13 points in 26 SEL games while playing a third line defensive role and developing his face-off skills. Zibanejad was a key player for Team Sweden at the 2012 World Junior Championship and scored the tournament-winning goal in overtime of the gold medal game against Russia. The 19-year-old Swede needs to continue developing his strength and must learn the tactics of the North American game. The talented forward is expected to challenge for a lineup spot with the Senators next season.
6. Jonathan Huberdeau, LW, Florida Panthers
Height: 6-1 Weight: 171, Fall ranking – 10
What more can be said about Florida’s top prospect and the 2011 third-overall draft pick? Jonathan Huberdeau is among the elite prospects in the world. He is a top-class playmaker with uncanny offensive instincts. On a QMJHL team loaded with talent the likes of which has not been seen in many years, Huberdeau reigns as arguably the best of the lot. Huberdeau makes up for a lack of world class foot speed with tremendous vision, creativity and work ethic. Despite missing all but 37 games for Saint John, Huberdeau still managed to account for nearly 10 percent of his team’s total points by scoring 30 goals and 42 assists (easily the highest point-per-game rate on the team). He lead the QMJHL in plus/minus at plus-53. He scored six game-winning goals and went three-for-three on shootout attempts, with two of those shootout goals being game winners. Huberdeau finished second on Team Canada’s WJC team in total points despite having missed nearly six weeks of hockey leading up to the tournament because of a broken foot. The only thing keeping Huberdeau out of the NHL is his lack of bulk. At 6’1 and 171 pounds, the Panthers thought that he simply was not physically mature enough to withstand the punishment that NHL defensemen dish out on a nightly basis. Expect Huberdeau to do everything in his power to correct that over the summer.
7. Yevgeni Kuznetsov, RW, Washington Capitals
Height: 6-0, Weight: 175, Fall ranking – 18
If this list was based on raw talent alone, an argument could be made for Yevgeni Kuznetsov to be in the top five. There is no need to make an argument, however, when it comes to his blazing speed and deft stick-handling. The shot is there, and so is the passing ability, although at times Kuznetsov forgets that he has linemates. His defensive game still needs a lot of work as well. Kuznetsov led all World Junior Championship players with 13 points. With the Washington Capitals no longer scoring at will, his probable move to North America next season will be more than welcome.
8. Jaden Schwartz, C/W, St. Louis Blues
Height: 5-9, Weight: 179, Fall ranking – 17
A prodigious offensive talent, Jaden Schwartz made his NHL debut with the Blues after completing his sophomore season at Colorado College. He was not out of place alongside the NHL players, but a healthy forward group in the playoffs has relegated Schwartz to the press box thus far in the post-season. With outstanding hockey sense and a quick set of hands, Schwartz projects to be a premier scorer at the pro level. His rather small build is less of an issue because he is an elusive skater and has a great feel for the game at both ends of the ice. Schwartz served as captain for Canada's World Juniors entry and plays a hard-nosed style despite his reputation as a scorer. With the ability to play all three forward positions, the 19-year-old forward stands a good chance of skating in St. Louis again next season.
9. Mikael Granlund, C, Minnesota Wild
Height: 5-10, Weight: 180, Fall ranking – 12
Another undersized but supremely talented forward, Mikael Granlund is one of the most anticipated prospects outside of North America. He is a creative and slick puck-handler, capable of highlight reel rushes and devastating dekes. His vision and passing ability make him a dangerous playmaker, but he has proven to be capable of hitting the net this season by nearly doubling his career SM-liiga goal total with 20 tallies in 45 games. Already a decorated player in the Finnish league and sporting a gold medal from the 2011 World Championships, Granlund served as captain and helped Finland's 2012 WJC squad reach the medal round where they finished in fourth place. The 20-year-old Finn is not a liability in his own end and has the versatility to play any forward position. Adding strength will be key as he transitions to the North American game, but he could potentially slot into a top-six center role with Minnesota next season.
10. Jacob Markstrom, G, Florida Panthers
Height: 6-6 Weight: 196, Fall ranking – 19
Jacob Markstrom started the season with a bang, breaking camp with the big team after backup Scott Clemmensen hurt his knee and posting numbers that solidified his position as one of the top goaltending prospects in the world. Through his first three games, the 22-year-old Swedish-born goalie stopped 87 of 90 shots and posted a 1.28 goals against average. When Clemmensen returned and Markstrom was sent back to the AHL, he struggled to regain the form he showed in the NHL. A minor knee injury kept him out of the lineup for the month of January, but since that time, he has been stellar in the nets for the Rampage. During San Antonio’s April run to the playoffs, Markstrom posted a .946 saves percentage and a miserly 1.73 goals against average while earning eight wins in his last ten starts. Markstrom moves with a quick agility unseen in most players his size. He has outstanding technique and reaction speed, has greatly improved his rebound control, and he has adjusted well to the speed and angles of the North American game. There is little doubt that he will be an NHL player next fall, and he should battle with current Panthers starter Jose Theodore for a starting role in the 2012-13 campaign.
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