Below are players 1-10 on Hockey’s Future’s Top 50 NHL prospects list for Fall 2005. Players ranked 11-25 are found here, and 26-50 are found here. See also players ranked in the forthcoming “best of the rest.”
All players were chosen by a committee of staff members from among those drafted prospects meeting Hockey’s Future’s prospect criteria.
10. Jeff Carter, C, Philadelphia Flyers
Carter jumps seven spots to 10th on the Top 50 list in light of his breakout season in 2004-05. In January he helped lead Team Canada’s juniors to gold while finishing in a tie for most goals in the tournament with seven. Meanwhile, in the OHL he led the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in scoring for the third straight year and, despite his best efforts in the playoffs, they suffered a first round elimination in seven games. That early exit from junior allowed him to join the AHL’s Philadelphia Phantoms where the 20-year-old center helped the team to a Calder Cup championship. In 21 playoff games Carter led all scorers with 12 goals and 23 points as well as a third-best rating of +10. Carter will join the Flyers in 2005-06.
9. Ryan Suter, D, Nashville Predators
Ryan Suter has played for a new team every year for the past few years, the USNTDP, University of Wisconsin, and this past year with the Milwaukee Admirals. With the Nashville Predators top farm team, he registered a +10, while he ran in the middle of the pack among all defensive scorers with 23 points in 63 games. It is highly likely that he’ll be battling for an opening day roster spot with Nashville.
8. Thomas Vanek, LW, Buffalo Sabres
Leaving the University of Minnesota after his sophomore year, Thomas Vanek went on to make his professional debut with the Rochester Americans in the AHL. The 2004-05 season was very productive for Vanek, finishing as his team’s second leading scorer (68 points), second overall in scoring among rookies, first in goals by a rookie (42), second in goals scored overall, and 20th in scoring in the AHL. The Graz, Austria native possesses a lot of skill and has made big strides in the past three seasons. He’ll be a welcomed addition in Buffalo this fall.
7. Marc-Andre Fleury, G, Pittsburgh Penguins
Pittsburgh’s 2003 former first round pick played with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for the first time during the 2004-05 season. It was his first full professional season after spending some time at the NHL level in 2003-04, and Fleury saw the majority of the time between pipes for the Baby Pens. In 54 games, he posted a .901 save percentage and a 2.52 goals against average. Fleury’s game-breaking potential is still there, but the Penguins management will need to be patient with him. He may be the starting goaltending with the Baby Pens for another year, or he could see time as the backup in Pittsburgh.
6. Dion Phaneuf, D, Calgary Flames
It should not come as surprise that Calgary’s future gem remains at the top of the class when it comes defensive prospects. For the third straight year, Phaneuf increased his point total while playing with the Red Deer Rebels in the WHL. He ranked second in goals scored by a defenseman in all of the WHL and was fifth overall in league scoring by defensemen. While playing on the center stage on Team Canada’s 2005 gold medal WJC team, he did nothing but impress on a team that was already stacked with talent. He maintains an impressive level of versatility and ability. He appears to be ready for his professional transition.
5. Nikolai Zherdev, RW, Columbus Blue Jackets
Nikolai Zherdev had a great rookie season when he finally got to Columbus for the 2003-04 season. Surprisingly, he headed back to his homeland to play with CSKA Moscow during the 2004-05 NHL strike ravaged season. Zherdev possesses the ability to wow a crowd. He had a great year n Russia’s top league, posting a total of 40 points in 51 games played. He’ll return to the NHL in the fall for his sophomore season.
4. Evgeni Malkin, C, Pittsburgh Penguins
Evgeni Malkin turned in a solid season with Magnitogorsk Metallurg in the RSL in 2004-05, posting a total of 29 points in 48 games. He also shined in the 2005 WJC for Team Russia, scoring 10 points. He continues to improve and mature and remains among the top prospects in the world. Gaining some muscle, last year’s RSL rookie of the year continued held his own against more formidable talent and size in the league this year. After getting a good look at the forward during international competition this year, fans in Pittsburgh are anxious to see Malkin suit up for the Pens. However it looks as if they are going to have to wait another season. With one more year on his contract with Metallurg, he may fulfill his commitment and remain in the RSL.
3. Kari Lehtonen, G, Atlanta Thrashers
Turning in yet another solid season in 2004-05, Kari Lehtonen backstopped the Chicago Wolves to the Calder Cup Finals. Even though a hot Philadelphia Phantoms squad silenced the Wolves to end their postseason, without his talent and resiliency between the pipes, getting back to the finals for Chicago would have been a stretch. The future star is poised to take a shot at the starting job in Atlanta this fall. Lehtonen will battle his friend and fellow Finn, Pasi Nurminen, when camp opens. Lehtonen’s four-game call-up to the Thrashers during the 2003-04 season was a success, winning every game and posting a .953 save percentage.
2. Alexander Ovechkin, LW, Washington Capitals
Ovechkin had a busy year playing in the Russian Super League (RSL), seeing time with the Russian U-20 at the World Juniors and he was also part of the Russian squad that participated in the World Championships in Austria. He registered 26 points and a +26 in 37 games during the regular season. En route to the league championship with Dynamo in postseason play, he posted five points and a +3 in seven contests. After such a strong performance, he has little to prove in the RSL now. Ovechkin has signed a rookie contract with Washington and will start his NHL career when the puck drops this fall.
1. Sidney Crosby, C, Pittsburgh Penguins
Sidney Crosby is a rare talent and the first player in many years with the potential to become the next hockey mega-star. He quite simply has it all in the skills department and, added to that, possesses a competitive fire that provides the determination needed to become the very best. Through just two seasons with the Rimouski Oceanic he amassed 303 points, 23 more points than Mario Lemieux earned in his first two years in the Q. It’s clear that Crosby is ready to turn pro for Lemieux’s Penguins this fall. In 2005, Crosby won gold with the Canadian World Junior team in his second try, and helped bring Rimouski to the final game of the Memorial Cup where they lost to the powerhouse London Knights.
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