The Spring edition of the Hockey's Future ranking of the Top 50 NHL prospects begins with the prospects ranked 41-50. The emergence of many new rookies in the truncated NHL season presented the ranking 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.
The bottom section of the ranking saw considerable change from the Fall, with several players rising in the rankings and others falling. There are also several new faces in the bottom part of the ranking, including two players who recently made their NHL rookie debut.
The AHL proved relatively easy for Tyler Toffoli during his rookie pro season. A pure goal-scorer, Toffoli led Manchester in goals before he was called up to make his NHL debut on March 16th, 2013. Skating is not a strong suit for the winger, but he plays with excellent hockey sense and does not hesitate to work along the boards or fight through traffic. It is Toffoli's release that makes him lethal and he has a good feel for finding the space for opportunities. He is likely not far off from making an impact among the top-six forwards for Los Angeles and, considering the talented playmakers he could potentially line up next to with the Kings, Toffoli is in a good position to succeed at the next level.
Blazing fast winger Emerson Etem has not had the most prolific rookie season, but he has earned an extended look in Anaheim. There have been glimpses of his dynamic talent but his first year has not been without some growing pains. Etem's speed makes him noticeable on most shifts, but without the puck on his stick, he struggles to make an impact. His quick, accurate shot has not left him, and as he continues to add strength and adjust to the pro level, he should find more opportunities to use it. Etem has plenty of offensive upside but is still a bit raw in terms of his overall game.
Subban was spectacular in his third full season of major junior hockey, managing the lowest goals-against average (2.14) and save percentage (.934) in the OHL. An exceptionally athletic goaltender, Subban has improved his technique substantially this season and, combined with his already good post-to-post movement and quick reaction speed, has become a dominant force in the OHL.
Having started playing the goaltending position a bit later in life, Subban is a little behind in certain parts of his game compared to many of his contemporaries, meaning he is going to take a little bit longer to reach his potential. In that regard he is an ideal spot with the Boston Bruins organization, as they have a young, successful goaltender already in Tuukka Rask, so Subban can develop at whatever pace best suits him.
Morrow possesses the prototypical skillset for a top four defenseman: exceptional strength and conditioning, powerful skating, good puck-moving ability, and a willingness to sacrifice his body to make a play. His first season of professional hockey saw some bumps in the road as he has had to adapt to a much more structured style of game in the AHL and re-learn how to play defense. The adjustment process took some time, but Morrow appears to have come through it well, and is on his way to being a quality NHL defenseman in the very near future. He projects as a defenseman who can be used in all situations, play 20 minutes or more a game, and contribute offensively.
Rundblad has been slipping down the top prospect list since coming over to North America following his breakout 2010-11 season in the Swedish Elite League. His skating, puck-handling, and shot remain top end, but he has not been able to adjust to the size and speed of NHL forwards on the smaller ice surface. His physical play still leaves a lot to be desired, and his stick-work and positioning in his own end, although adequate, are not enough to earn him the kind of ice time he needs at the NHL level to allow his offense to shine. However, his experience in North America has not been all doom and gloom. Rundblad has been working hard at the AHL level, and has been very productive at both ends of the rink. As he develops his defensive awareness and physicality, he should again get the call to play with the Coyotes, and maybe the next time he can make it stick.
Playing only 10 games in the 2011-12 season before having to shut his season down because of a wrist injury, Bennett was something of an afterthought in terms of being a quality NHL prospect. There was no question about his skill as he was highly regarded in his draft year, and conditioning was not an issue. But his wiry build and small body of work with the University of Denver remained a concern.
Those concerns would prove to be unfounded as Bennett not only quickly adjusted to the professional game but has been an impact forward in both the AHL and NHL. He produced at about a point-per-game pace in the AHL for the start of the 2012-13 season and was called up to the NHL where he has played on the second line and power-play. He has also been quite physically involved, particularly down low and along the boards. He is expected to be a long-term winger for one of the Penguins two star centers.
The SM-liiga's top team during the regular season was Jokerit, in part because of the scoring from Blackhawks' prospect Teuvo Teravainen. A cerebral center who anticipates the play well, the 5'11" Finn continues to find success on the power-play. He skates well, is elusive enough to avoid a lot of checks, and has the hands to make highlight reel plays. He was a primary producer for Finland at the 2013 WJC, but the team's numbers were boosted by their games against lesser competition in the relegation round.
The Blackhawks see a talented, playmaking center, although he has lined up at wing just as often in Finland. He will need to add strength and continue developing his overall game, but Teravainen projects to be another exciting player coming down the pipeline in Chicago.
The difference between Team USA and the rest of the field at the 2013 WJC was John Gibson. An imposing presence in net, Gibson earnd the tournament's MVP award and was also named the Best Goaltender. His play in the OHL has been strong as well, even if it has been limited by his stint with the national team and time missed due to injury.
Gibson's 6'3" frame helps him cover a lot of net, but it is his mental toughness and tendency to shine in big games that make him such a coveted goaltending prospect. The pro level will be a new test for the netminder, but he has the potential to be a top starting goalie in the NHL.
A little spark-plug of a forward, Brendan Gallagher loves to drive to the net and get under the opposition's skin. He possesses good hands and a quick shot, but is also extremely physical down low. He plays the game without fear of anyone and thrives in the high traffic areas.
Gallagher has an infectious attitude both on and off the ice. The NHL rookie winger brings a consistent effort every game. He seems to thrive when his team is down going into the third period and can elevate his game while giving his all trying to score the equalizer. The hard working winger just never gives up.
Merrill has had a difficult time with the Michigan Wolverines over the past two seasons, first missing half of the 2011-12 season to a team-imposed suspension, then missing the first of half of the 2012-13 season due to a cracked vertebrae. He has since come back from the injury and has been effective for a struggling Michigan team, but there are minor concerns over how his development has been affected by missing so much playing time, especially for a defenseman who is used to playing around 20 minutes a game.
Despite the time missed he remains a promising prospect and his ability to move the puck and play smart, systematic defensive hockey should allow him to make a quick transition to the pro game. Whether or not he remains in the %3