The Fall edition of Hockey's Future's ranking of the Top 50 NHL prospects begins with the prospects ranked 41-50. The addition of the 2012 NHL Draft picks to an already diverse and talented NHL prospect pool presented the committee with a formidable challenge. The result is a diverse group of prospects at different stages in their development, from those on the verge of NHL stardom to project players who are still years away from helping their NHL club on a nightly basis.
No part of the Top 50 ranking saw more change than the 41-50 spots, where six members of the 2012 draft class made their debut, including two defensemen who were drafted in the top 10.
The newest member of the Penguins’ ever growing stable of mobile defensemen, Derrick Pouliot is the most offensively gifted defensive prospect Pittsburgh has had in their system for many years. He does not have ideal size for his position, but possesses an extremely strong lower body and wide base, making him difficult to knock off the puck. He is also quite durable, having missed only six regular season games over the past two seasons. In order to one day succeed at the professional level, Pouliot will have to develop a more explosive first step, and simplify his game slightly, as he occasionally tries to do too much. He remains a long-term project at this point, but has the pedigree and innate understanding of the game to one day be an offensively dynamic top four defenseman in the NHL.
No player probably benefitted more from the 2012 U20 World Junior Championships than goaltender Andrey Vasilevskiy, who posted a .953 save percentage and two shutouts in five starts for Team Russia. Possessing prototypical size and athleticism for his position, Vasilevskiy has a strong glove side, good anticipation, and generally good technique. The big Russian remains far from a finished product however. His post-to-post movement needs improvement as does his blocker side. He also sometimes has difficulty recovering from bad goals. Expect Vasilevskiy to spend two more seasons in Europe before making the trip to North America.
The name Subban used to refer to the tough-talking, fluid, and talented Canadiens defenseman P.K., but after a stunning coming-out party at the NHL draft combine, the Subban name now just as often refers to P.K.’s younger brother Malcolm. The 24th overall pick in the draft, Subban was the second goaltender drafted last summer. He is extremely quick post-to-post, and although his pure technique lags behind many of his contemporaries (he began playing goaltender only six years ago), his remarkable reaction speed and athleticism gives him tools to overcome technical deficiencies and cover mistakes while he continues to improve on form. Following his junior career, the younger Subban will join the Bruins organization ready to step into what has become a recent legacy of talented netminders and sets up plenty of future grudge matches with his older brother in the longstanding rivalry between the two original six teams.
Though he signed an entry-level deal in June, 2012, forward Joel Armia decided to play one more season in the SM-liiga with his hometown team Assat Pori. An opportunistic scorer with good size, Armia has excellent stick-handling ability and can move the puck well in tight quarters. He is not a particularly dynamic skater, and lacks explosiveness, but he can still effectively drive to the net and win puck battles. Projected as a power forward with some goal-scoring ability, Armia will have to add strength in order to play his brand of hockey in North America.
A naturally-gifted goal scorer, Tyler Toffoli will have the task of proving he can produce at the pro level as well as his gaudy junior numbers indicate. The winger's work ethic and the strides he took in rounding out his game during his career with the Ottawa 67's have put him in a good position to make his pro transition a successful one. That said, Toffoli is neither the fastest nor strongest prospect, and he could have trouble finding open ice to convert looks into chances. His quick release and accurate shot should nonetheless make him a power-play factor from the start. Even if he has to work his way up the Manchester Monarchs' lineup over the course of his rookie season, Toffoli's nose for the net will make him a threat on each shift.
Now in his third season of North American hockey, Robin Lehner needs to establish himself as a starting goaltender. He split starting duties at the AHL level in 2011-12 to mixed results, though he did look sharp in five NHL starts, managing a .935 save percentage and one shutout. Lehner possesses good athletic ability for his size and moves quickly in the crease, but his greatest asset is probably his personality. He usually remains calm under heavy attack and does not typically get rattled by a lot of traffic in his crease. Looking to the future, Lehner must work on his rebound control and generally improve the overall consistency of his game.
Drafted 17th overall in the 2012 draft, skilled Czech center Tomas Hertl instantly became the Sharks' best prospect. A talented playmaker, he boasts great offensive awareness, vision, and a quick pair of hands. Hertl uses his size well and will not shy away from battling for loose pucks in the corners or taking punishment around the net. His skating acceleration is an area in need of improvement. A leader on the score sheet for the Czech WJC team last year, the versatile forward will be among the returning players expected to shoulder the offensive load this time around. Along with gaining another year of experience in the top professional league in the Czech Replublic, Hertl will play valuable minutes in 2012-13 as he readies to eventually join the San Jose organization.
As a shoot-first winger with an accurate shot, Ty Rattie formed a potent combination with the highly-skilled Flames' prospect Sven Baertschi in their time with the Portland Winterhawks. With Baertschi turning pro in 2012-13, there will be pressure on Rattie to continue producing. His skating has never been a strength, but it has become less of a hindrance for a player who can already use his smarts to find open scoring positions. Playing minutes in all situations for the Winterhawks has also helped him round out his defensive game but a blistering shot and pinpoint accuracy are still the tools that will get him to the next level. Another junior season is ahead of him, but Rattie is yet another offensively-talented winger developing for the Blues.
A powerful, all-purpose defender, Jacob Trouba spent the 2011-12 season as the primary shutdown defenseman for the USNTDP and both the U20 and U18 teams at the international level. While he certainly proved to be capable of using his size, powerful skating, and hard-nosed style to be a dominant shutdown defenseman, that picture is only the surface of Trouba's potential. He also has a booming shot and the puck skills to both pass the puck on the breakout or skate it out of the zone himself. Trouba's decision-making is still considered somewhat raw, but his presence is always noticeable on the ice. His offensive upside has yet to really translate into points at any level yet, but the Jets hope they found a mobile, top-pairing defender capable of making an impact in all situations.
Teravainen is a crafy Finnish forward who was ranked among the top forwards heading into the 2012 draft. The run on defensive picks in the first round led to Teravainen sliding to Chicago at 18th overall, where the team was more than happy to snatch up another highly-skilled player for an already deep system. A lethal playmaker, he boasts vision, creativity, and the passing ability to make plays that no one else sees coming. Despite his lack of strength at this stage of his career, his quick hands and elusive skating ability help him control the puck well and avoid taking big hits. After graduating to Jokerit's top team in the SM-liiga midway through his draft year, Teravainen will line up at center and on special teams in the top professional league in Finland for 2012-13. His skill and hockey sense could have him competing for a roster spot with the Blackhawks within two to three seasons.