Nine of the 10 players featured in the 31-40 spots of the Hockey's Future Spring ranking of the Top 50 NHL prospects were also ranked in the Fall edition, though there has been some significant movement throughout the grouping. Much of the movement has to do with how some of these players have dealt with adjusting to a new level of competition this season, with some excelling and others struggling.
The biggest riser of the group is goaltender Robin Lehner (OTT), who has been exceptional in the AHL this season and equally remarkable since being called up to the NHL, where he has helped an injury-depleted Ottawa squad maintain a spot in the playoffs
31. Robin Lehner, G – Ottawa Senators
Height: 6-4 Weight: 225, Fall Ranking – 46
The first thing that comes to mind when Robin Lehner is talked about is his extremely high level of competitiveness. He has a drive and desire to win that is rivaled by few. He is in his fourth season of professional hockey and has had success in both the AHL and NHL, including a Calder Cup with the Binghamton Senators. He still has issues giving up soft goals periodically, and his five-hole needs work. But because he never gives up on a play, he has the tendency to make saves of a highlight reel fashion. He tends to have temper issues but he has calmed down in recent years and stays better focused on the game. There is little doubt that Lehner has the potential to be a good starting goalie at the NHL level.
Armia, with the puck on his stick, is an exceptionally dangerous forward. He has the ability to cut through a defense, especially one-on-one, generate mesmerizing moves that freeze defensemen and goalies, and then wire a wrist shot from any angle. His production in Finland's top league this season was second only to Aleksander Barkov among players under 20 years of age, and his 19 goals put him just outside of the league's top ten goal scorers. He has good size at 6'3" and 205 pounds, and he has all the tools to be a top-six forward in the NHL.
The flaws in Armia's play so far have centered on consistency, the tendency to disappear at times during games, and the lack of a physical game. Those drawbacks, however, can be rectified through coaching and determination. Once Armia joins the Buffalo organization in North America, and proves that his game can translate onto a smaller ice surface, he could quickly become one of the most talked-about prospects in the game.
Mark Scheifele is one of those players who is not quite ready for the NHL but too good for the CHL. After going pointless in four games for the Winnipeg Jets this season, Scheifele was sent back to Barrie where he continued to dominate in the OHL for the third straight season. He has tremendous goal-scoring ability and is the type of player who always seems to be in a prime position to take advantage in the offensive zone. Along with upgrading his defensive game, Scheifele needs to improve his strength and balance, as he gets knocked down too often. He will see some time in the pros, either the AHL or NHL, once his junior season has come to an end.
Gustav Nyquist is a 23-year-old prospect from Sweden who played college hockey at Maine. His successful career continued when he joined the Grand Rapid Griffins at the end of the 2010-11 season. In his first full year with the Griffins, Nyquist had 58 points in 56 games. He continued that point-per-game rate this season and has been among the top AHL scorers all year. He has had several cups of coffee with the Red Wings over the last two seasons, typically seeing limited ice time. Nyquist has demonstrated himself to be a creative playmaker that plays well at both ends of the ice. He appears to be NHL-ready, with the ability to play on the top two lines as well as the power-play, and should get that opportunity sooner rather than later.
Hertl is very strong on the puck and thrives in the high traffic areas of the ice. A versatile playmaker, he can play all forward positions and has the physical board game to match his offensive skills. The big Czech center has good skating quickness and agility along with an excellent hockey sense which allows him to make offensive plays and rapid decisions with the puck. He plays against men on a nightly basis and was Team Czech's best player at the 2013 WJC tournament.
Hertl plays a North American style game and could quite easily make the jump to the NHL. He needs improvement in his four-step acceleration and stride technique to give him even more time and space to use his elite offensive skills at the NHL level. It will not be too long before the talented center is driving hard to the opposition's net for the San Jose Sharks.
Coyle made his NHL debut in early February, and went five games before registering his first point. Since then, he has begun to see more success in a puck possession role and, as a result, he has started appearing on the scoresheet. Although he starts most of his shifts in the offensive zone, he is doing so against quality competition and generating a lot of positive results. He has good size and is a smart player, but he still needs to work on his skating and round out his game in order to reach his potential as a power forward.
37. Jacob Trouba, D – Winnipeg Jets
Height: 6-2 Weight: 196, Fall Ranking – 49
Among the best all-around defensemen in the 2012 draft class, Jacob Trouba has earned a big jump in the Spring ranking with a smooth transition to the college game and a dominant performance for Team USA at the 2013 WJC. With a 6'2" frame and a defense-first mentality, Trouba has proven difficult to play against at any level. His long, powerful strides help him make plays with the puck, and that mobility also helps him cover more space in his defensive zone. Not shy about the physical aspects of the game, the defender has the temperament to succeed as a shutdown defenseman. Trouba's offensive game is also quite respectable, his blistering point shot in particular. Adding strength and reining in some of his more aggressive moments will be keys to his development, but he has the potential to develop into a do-it-all top-pairing defenseman.
A product of the powerhouse Portland Winterhawks organization, Derrick Pouliot recently completed his third full season in the WHL. Pouliot is an offensive defenseman by trade, capable of moving the puck up ice with ease and getting it to his forwards. He can also quarterback a powerplay and is a threat to score from the point. He possesses much more than a good offensive game, however. The stoutly built defenseman plays with a cranky side to his game, and is not afraid to drop the gloves if the bell rings. Defensively, he is an excellent skater with a very active stick. Despite taking a lot of risks up ice, Pouliot is fast enough and has the spatial awareness to quickly get back into position.
He remains about a year away from making a contributions at the professional level, but is expected to be an impact player when he does.
Bjugstad is an NHL center in waiting. He has matured into a coveted mix of size, skill, and skating that every NHL team wants down the middle. The towering forward can score from a distance with either his slapshot or quick-release wrist shot, but he can also score down low by using his giant frame to create space. Opposing defenders often seem unable to move Bjugstad off of his spot, much less knock him off the puck. Bjugstad likewise uses his strength and hockey intelligence to disrupt opposing play, and whether on the forecheck or in his own zone, he is responsible and capable.
Conacher has had to show that his small frame would not prevent him from playing hockey at the highest level. Following a 2011-12 season in the AHL where he would lead the league in goals with 39 and help lead the Norfolk Admirals to the Calder Cup, Conacher would get inked to a two-year entry-level deal. In 2012-13 he continued to tear up the AHL until the NHL season began, and has since been a member of the Lightning. He is currently among the league leaders in points by a rookie and a likely finalist for the Calder Trophy.