The 31-40 spots in Hockey’s Future’s Top 50 prospect rankings feature players who were all ranked in the Spring edition, though many saw a great deal of movement from their previous spots. The 2012 NHL Draft can be partially to blame for some of the prospects moving down the list, as there are numerous new faces at the top of the rankings, but two players in particular, Mark Scheifele (WPG) and David Rundblad (PHX) saw a dramatic drop from their previous spots.
Much of the reason for the drop of those two fairly prominent prospects is due to the players’ performances versus the expectations heaped on them. For Scheifele, he was expected to dominate for the stretch of the 2011-12 season, and while he showed flashes of dominance, particularly early in the season, his effort was wildly inconsistent in the second half of the season. There were also concerns regarding his conditioning, as his production dipped by almost 50 percent following 2012 World Junior Championships.
With Rundblad, there were concerns that, after a full season viewing of him playing in North America, the offensive ability he displayed in the SEL, might not translate well to the NHL style of game. His game could still fully adapt to the North American game but there are concerns that his offensive game simply is not suited for the faster, more physical style of hockey in North America.
A dominant 2012-13 season for both of the players could see them skyrocket up the Spring ranking. The same can be said for the rest of the prospects ranked 31-40 this time around.
After an impressive 2011-12 regular season that saw him play 18 games in the NHL regular season and another three in the post-season, Simon Despres has proved he is an NHL caliber defenseman. The question now is what kind of NHL defenseman. A gifted athlete, Despres’s unique combination of size, fluid mobility, and anticipation make him a natural shutdown defenseman. He does however possess excellent puck-distribution, an underrated shot from the point, and has developed an ornery streak in his own end. Currently he projects as a number two or three defenseman who, while not spectacular in any one facet of the game, is capable of playing 20-30 minutes a night, shutting down opposing forwards, and starting the play up ice.
32. Mark Scheifele, C, Winnipeg Jets
Height: 6-2, Weight: 184, Spring ranking – 14
Mark Scheifele certainly has NHL ready size and it appeared that he had an NHL ready game coming out of the Winnipeg Jets' training camp in 2011. Even though he was sent back to the OHL's Barrie Colts after seven regular season NHL games, Scheifele put up huge numbers in his second OHL season. He was not as dominant in performances for Canada at the WJC and his OHL production slipped after the tournament. He was also not particularly impressive in his 10 games with the St. John's IceCaps in the AHL playoffs, although some of that can be attributed to a more limited role. Scheifele has improved his scoring touch, which nicely complements his already fantastic passing skills. He has good vision and on-ice awareness, and though he does not use his size to be a bruiser, it should help him endure the punishment of the pro game. Whether he is able to develop into a consistent scorer at the pro level is the primary reason for Scheifele's slide in the rankings.
33. David Rundblad, D, Phoenix Coyotes
Height: 6-2, Weight: 190, Spring ranking – 15
The best defenseman in the Swedish Elite League for the 2010-2011 season, Rundblad endured some hardships during his first pro season in North America. After cracking the Ottawa Senators lineup out of training camp, the 22-year-old struggled in 24 games and was unable to find the comfort zone that would allow him to play his game. When at his best, Rundblad is an elite offensive-defenseman capable of racking up points and quarterbacking the power play. In the defensive-minded Phoenix system, however, he will have to improve his one-on-one and in-zone play if he hopes to crack the lineup with any consistency, let alone play a prominent role.
Half of his sophomore season at the University of Michigan was wiped out due to a team-imposed suspension, but when he returned to the ice, Jon Merrill picked up right where he left off as a freshman. He instantly made the Wolverines blue line better with his calm, steadying influence, picking up 11 points in 19 games in the process. He is an all-situations defenseman with high level hockey smarts and he processes the game so easily that sometimes it appears that he isn't even trying. Merrill does have a sizable frame, but prefers to defend with finesse and stick-work. The Devils have a plethora of defensive prospects in the organization, but Merrill tops the charts as a future top-pairing minute muncher.
Kyle Palmieri has been a top scorer in the AHL for the last two seasons. During recalls last season for the Ducks, we saw glimpses that Palmieri will be ready to make the next step to the NHL. Palmieri has nothing else to show in the AHL and needs to show if he can make that transition to the NHL. Still just 21 years old, the Ducks are going to give him all the opportunities to succeed by likely playing him alongside top-six talent. He has good speed, and with his ability to accelerate and good puck-handling skills, he does a good job getting into positions to score. He has a quick and accurate shot but it equally adept at setting up other players. Expectations will be high for Palmieri when the lockout ends and he will have to demonstrate that he can be a scoring forward at the NHL level.
There is little doubt that Ryan Murphy is one of the most offensively explosive prospects on defense. He is an outstanding skater with superb offensive instincts. Murphy has the ability to move the puck, possesses an outstanding shot, and can make defenses pay for the smallest mistakes, however is at his best when leading a team’s power play. One of the drawbacks is his size, which is far from prototypical for an NHL defenseman. He sustained a concussion last season which further adds to the concern that at his size, the aggressive style of play makes him a high injury risk. The blueliner plays bigger than his size in his zone, but takes too many risks and is still a liability at times in his own end. There are not many players as exciting to watch as Murphy, but his long-term success will depend on his ability to improve his defense while maintaining his offensive dominance.
Saad will make his professional debut in 2012-13 following another dominant OHL performance in which he averaged 1.73 points per game. His excellent speed, strong frame, good shot, and awareness in the offensive zone made him a hard player to handle at the junior level. In a pair of regular season games and two playoff games with Chicago in 2011-12, Saad showed that he can think and play the game with the Blackhawks' best forwards. The concerns in his draft season regarding his compete level came up again last year following a subpar performance for Team USA at the WJC. When he is willing to crash the net and use his strength to win puck battles, Saad has the potential to be a star in the NHL. The Blackhawks won't wait long before giving him that opportunity.
It seems the Detroit Red Wings have once again found a diamond in the rough. Taken with the 121st overall pick in 2008, Gustav Nyquist fits the mold of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, late-round draft picks who evolved into top-line talent in the Detroit organization. Nyquist plays a committed two-way game with scoring flair. He has great vision and thinks the game at a higher level than most of his peers, which benefits his game on both sides of the puck. Though not a center, Nyquist's greatest skill is distributing the puck. He is able to create scoring chances for teammates seemingly at will. Nyquist should see even greater NHL success in the near future as he continues to adapt to the more physical style of play when he opens the season in Grand Rapids.
Bjugstad made the choice over the summer to return to the University of Minnesota, and as the NHL lockout stretches on, it seems more and more likely he made the right decision. Bjugstad plays an aggressive style of offense, battling in the corners and driving the puck to the net or snapping off laser shots from the circles. Bjugstad will wear the “A” of an alternate captain, center the top line, and lead a deep and talented Golden Gophers team in what will likely be another run to the Frozen Four and a possible national championship. He was also recently named the preseason player of the year for the WCHA, and will in all likelihood make a solid bid for the Hobey Baker Award in what will almost certainly be his final year of NCAA hockey.
40. Jakob Silfverberg, RW, Ottawa Senators
Height: 6-1, Weight: 187, Spring ranking – 35
The 22-year-old Jakob Silfverberg had a phenomenal season with Brynas in the Swedish Elite League in 2011-12 scoring 24 goals and totaling 54 points in 49 games. At the conclusion of the season, he was named the league's Most Valuable Player and then joined the Ottawa Senators for two playoff games. Silfverberg plays with maturity and has a projectable NHL frame. He is fully capable of playing a smart two-way game but has the speed, shot, and overall hockey sense required to play on a scoring line in the NHL. Until then, he will benefit from significant minutes in the AHL during the lockout with Binghamton.