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With HF's Spring ranking of the Top 50 NHL prospects now in the books, we'll take a look at some of the players that were on the bubble but ultimately didn't make it into this latest ranking.
A couple of names discussed for possible inclusion were Buffalo Sabres prospect Brayden McNabb and Minnesota Wild prospect Matt Hackett. Both players split time this season between the AHL and NHL, with both turning in strong performances with the NHL club when given the opportunity to do so.
McNabb, a defenseman who spent a good portion of his rookie season with the Sabres' AHL affiliate, the Rochester Americans, took advantage of the Sabres' dire injury situation this season to show that he is very close to being a full-time NHL defender, likely as soon as next season. McNabb still must work on his skating, but he made up for the lack of elite foot speed with some strong physical play while also contributing on offense McNabb's arrival in the NHL will provide another piece to what should become a very formidable top-four defensive grouping for the Sabres.
Hackett, a goaltending prospect in his second season of pro action, helped lead his AHL team, the Houston Aeros, to the playoffs despite that team's offensive deficiency. More importantly, Hackett did not look out of place during short stints with the Wild, leaving the team's fans wanting more. With the Wild headed towards more of a youth movement, it seems likely that Hackett will get his chance sooner rather than later. He has the size that many NHL GM's seem to favor in their goaltenders at this time, and he plays a sound positional game.
As always, a few prospects from the CHL missed the cut, mostly because those three junior leagues still produce a good percentage of the players that ultimately land in the NHL.
One of those players was Quinton Howden, a left wing playing for the Moose Jaw Warriors of the WHL. Howden turned in another strong season for that club, helping to lead the Warriors to the WHL semi-final. Howden's offensive performance was on a par with last season's solid numbers, but his greatest strengths lie more in his speed and defensive ability. Howden will begin his pro career next season in the Florida Panthers' prospect rich organization, most likely in the AHL, but Howden could in time become a leader for the NHL club.
Two players from the OHL were discussed but ultimately landed outside the Top 50. Nicklas Jensen, a winger playing for the Oshawa Generals, and Jack Campbell, a goaltender who split time with the Soo Greyhounds and Windsor Spitfires before making his pro debut with the AHL's Texas Stars, were the two most prominent OHL names considered among the remaining outliers.
Jensen, a prospect of the Vancouver Canucks, is a player with some offensive upside to his game. While he did not improve greatly on last season's numbers in the OHL, Jensen did manage to pot four goals in his first six AHL games while playing for the Chicago Wolves following the Generals' ouster from the 2012 OHL playoffs. In addition to his offensive skills, Jensen has some versatility as he can play either wing, and, once he fills out, should have the size to handle the tougher going in the NHL.
The 2011-12 season may have been a step backward for Campbell as he found it difficult to live up to the hype that has surrounded his game since he was chosen 11th overall by the Dallas Stars at the 2010 NHL Draft. While Campbell's numbers weren't horrible according to junior standards, more is expected from a player of his caliber. Campbell also wasn't able to turn an event that has been a showcase for him in the past, the World Junior Championship, into a positive as Team USA collectively laid an egg at the 2012 edition held in Edmonton and Calgary. Campbell also appeared in his first 12 pro games with the Texas Stars but turned in so-so performances for a team that failed to make the playoffs. Despite his struggles this season, Campbell still has the ability to get his game back on the right track next season in his first full season of pro hockey.
For the QMJHL entrant to this list, winger Tomas Jurco, he's a good prospect who must shine on a roster that boasts several strong NHL prospects. Jurco plays for the St. John Sea Dogs, the defending Memorial Cup champions currently making a run at more QMJHL and CHL hardware. The scoring Slovak turned in another solid offensive regular season and is following that up with an equally productive playoff campaign. Jurco, a prospect of the Detroit Red Wings, possesses good offensive instincts and a strong work ethic as well as the size to handle NHL competition. He'll need some time in the minors, but he looks like another wise selection for Ken Holland and company.
Looking at the NCAA, we find three players that certainly had merits for being considered for inclusion in the this Top 50, but ultimately fell a bit short. Two of these players, Brock Nelson and Danny Kristo, played for the University of North Dakota, while the other, Alex Chiasson, led Boston University in scoring for a second straight season.
For Nelson and Kristo, it is hard to mention one without the other. The two players formed two-thirds of UND's top line that also included Florida Panthers prospect, Corban Knight. That line provided a good bit of the offensive firepower that led the Fighting Sioux to another strong season in the WCHA, although the team ultimately fell short of their goal of avenging a Frozen Four loss in 2011. Both Nelson and Kristo took their games to another level in 2011-12, finishing just two points apart in scoring for the season while showing considerable improvement over their 2010-11 performances. Nelson, a prospect of the New York Islanders, has the look of a goal scorer while Kristo, a Montreal Canadiens future, appears to be more of a playmaker, with the slightly younger Nelson possessing more upside and a build more conducive to the NHL game.
Not unlike Nelson and Kristo, BU right wing Chiasson took his game to another level in 2011-12. He was a driving force in what was his final season with the Terriers, adding 12 points to his point total from the previous season while also earning a berth on Hockey East's Honorable Mention All-Star team. Chiasson, a Dallas Stars prospect, already possesses a NHL-ready frame but could use some improvement with his footwork, something he'll be able to do next season with the AHL's Texas Stars.
Looking to Europe, one player given consideration was Detroit Red Wings prospect Calle Jarnkrok. Jarnkrok is a teammate and linemate of Jakob Silfverberg on the 2012 SEL champion, Brynas IF. While Silfverberg has received most of the accolades, including a spot in HF's Top 50, Jarnkrok has shown himself to be a skilled playmaker with some offensive upside to his game. The fact that he and Silfverberg, along with Minnesota Wild prospect Johan Larsson, have been instrumental in leading their team to an elite championship at a young age suggests that all three players have a bright future in the NHL.
Other players that received brief discussion for this edition of the Top 50 included forwards Alexander Khokhlachev, Zack Kassian, Mark Stone, Austin Watson, Devante Smith-Pelley, Andrew Shaw and Johan Larsson, and defenseman Roman Josi.