In the final installment of Hockey's Future's Top 50 prospect rankings we look at the top 10 spots. Seven players from the previous ranking maintained their status with the top group, but there are several prominent new additions, most notably 2012 first overall pick Nail Yakupov (EDM).
Prospects ranked on the Spring list including Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (EDM), Brayden Schenn (PHI), Slava Voynov (LAK), and Dmitri Orlov (WAS) were not considered for this list, though they still technically qualify by HF's Prospect Criteria. The belief among the staff was that those players proved through last season and post-season, beyond a reasonable doubt, to be NHL quality talent. All are expected to have long careers in the NHL with the potential to be cornerstones for their respective franchises.
We wrap up the Fall Top 50 ranking with the top 10 prospects below.
1. Nail Yakupov, RW, Edmonton Oilers
Height: 5-11, Weight: 185, Not ranked
The first-overall pick from the 2012 NHL Draft, Yakupov is well on his way to becoming a superstar in the NHL. An electrifying talent, the Russian-born winger possesses the game-breaking ability that makes him a threat to score every time he is on the ice. A dynamic skater and puck-carrier with a devastating release, Yakupov is as lethal as they come as an offensive player. The CHL Rookie of the Year in 2011, he took very little time to assert his dominance during his two-year junior career with the Sarnia Sting. It was there that he proved fully capable of thriving in the North American style of play, leaving little doubt that he was the best draft eligible player in 2012. He now joins a group of Edmonton Oilers phenoms that have fans giddy with the thought of the team returning to their dominance of the 1980's.
2. Vladimir Tarasenko, RW, St. Louis Blues
Height: 6-0, Weight: 202, Spring ranking – 3
Vladimir Tarasenko is set to make his NHL debut in 2012-13 after what must seem like an eternity of waiting to Blues fans. His bevy of offensive moves are bolstered by strong skating and a tenacious work ethic. Tarasenko is not afraid to go into the corners or carry the puck to the net, and he has the size and strength to do so. He tied for fifth in goals during the KHL regular season in 2011-12 and then was a top-five scorer in the post-season. Competing against professional players in the KHL for four years should have Tarasenko primed to make a smooth transition to the pro game, where the Blues believe he has a chance to earn a spot on their top line.
3. Dougie Hamilton, D, Boston Bruins
Height: 6-5, Weight: 199, Spring ranking – 4
Dougie Hamilton is the complete package and not surprisingly the top defensive prospect at Hockey's Future. He simply dominated the OHL with Niagara to the tune of 72 points in only 50 games last season, while also performing at the top of his game for Team Canada at the 2012 U20 World Junior Championships. Hamilton is an athletic, mobile, and all-weather workhorse capable of playing in all situations. As his junior numbers attest, he is comfortable jumping up into the play and making an impact when the puck is on his stick. He is still fine tuning his defensive game and slowly learning how to use his gargantuan frame to his advantage, but he can be a dominant one-on-one defender at times. Hamilton is a potential superstar in the making for the Bruins, but he will skate with Niagara as long as the lockout lasts.
Huberdeau can be electrifying with his creativity, shifty moves, and quick skating speed. The game-breaking forward possesses great hands and playmaking skills, which are complemented by his high hockey IQ and offensive vision. His defensive abilities, solid two-way play, and excellent work ethic are too often overshadowed by his offensive talents. The young star, however, still has a slightly lanky frame, which will need more size and strength to handle the physicality of an 82 game NHL season. Huberdeau has all-star potential, a strong compete level, and desire to play in the NHL, but the 19-year-old will be left in the QMJHL for the 2012-13 season as long as the lockout lasts. The highly-skilled forward projects as a top-line player for the Panthers in the very near future.
Despite returning to Sweden, Zibanejad left little doubt that he is ready for the NHL after playing nine games with the Ottawa Senators to begin the 2011-12 season. The center possesses the combination of size, two-way smarts, and individual skill that is coveted at the NHL level, making him one of the top forward prospects in hockey. With nearly 70 pro games under his belt in the Swedish Elite League, Zibanejad is the brightest and best of an impressive group of Ottawa Senators prospects hoping to make an impact in the near future. A versatile player, he can line up at center or on the wing and can be both a major offensive contributor and a complete two-way player.
Yevgeni Kuzentsov can quickly catch everyone’s attention with his ability to dominate a game. With outstanding speed, a great shot, and incredible stick-handling ability, there is little doubt that Kuzentsov could be a top-line forward in the NHL. The question remains not only of when he will play in the NHL, but also if he will ever play in the NHL. The uncertainty of whether he will play in North America likely holds him down a few notches in the ranking of future NHL prospects. Kuznetsov is signed to play the next two seasons in the KHL where he continues to display his growing skills on a regular basis. The Capitals have said they are committed to waiting for Kuznetsov, even if it means waiting until 2014.
St. Louis Blues fans got a sneak preview of the future when Jaden Schwartz debuted in March 2012. In seven NHL games he had two goals and one assist. More of a distributor than sniper, Schwartz has great vision and a high hockey IQ, which allows him to make highlight reel passes with regularity. He is tough to knock off the puck, frequently skating through defenders in the neutral zone and creating scoring opportunities via odd-man rushes. Schwartz averaged a little under 12 minutes per game in his first NHL stint and should see an increase in that number on a St. Louis squad that struggled to score in 2011-12. The lockout could benefit Schwartz by giving him the opportunity to adjust to the pro level in the AHL with Peoria.
Galchenyuk is a big playmaking centerman who has the high-end offensive talents to produce on his team's top line. The talented center has excellent offensive skills, vision, and hockey sense along with an ability to make the difficult plays look easy. He has character and work ethic as well as a strong commitment to be the best. The 18-year-old will need to improve his four-step acceleration, strength, physicality, and defensive zone positioning to be successful at the NHL level. The first-round pick could be a second-line centerman but that is most likely only to start his career in order to shelter him from the huge pressure of playing for the Montreal Canadiens. The knee injury and lack of game experience this past season has slowed Galchenyuk's overall development so it might be better for the team's number one draft pick to take his time developing in the OHL.
The Flames haven't had a lot to be excited about prospect-wise lately, but that has finally changed with the addition of Swiss star-in-the-making Sven Baertschi. The electrifying winger is coming off a simply sensational WHL season for the Portland Winterhawks, scoring at a two-point-per-game clip and dominating on a nightly basis. He was even dominant in a brief emergency NHL call-up, scoring three goals in five games. An elite offensive talent, Baertschi's strengths are his quickness, puck-skills and blistering shot. For a smallish, European-born forward, he competes hard and is not afraid to get his nose dirty. The future is very bright for Baertschi and the sky is the limit for his long-term potential.
Granlund finally made the commitment to cross the Atlantic and join the NHL ranks just in time for the breakdown in labor talks to delay the NHL debut of his considerable talent. Long considered one of hockey’s top prospects, Granlund will eventually add dynamic and creative offense to the Minnesota lineup. Although some have criticized Granlund for being too slow, too small, or simply too fragile, the truth is that although he may be limited in some physical aspects, he is one of the most electrifying players in the world and will quickly become a fan favorite in the twin cities and beyond. Granlund will begin the season in the AHL, where in his first exhibition game action for Houston he posted four goals and an assist. That performance is only a sign of things to come for the young Finnish phenom.
Next: Honorable Mentions