The Fall edition of the Hockey's Future ranking of the Top 50 NHL prospects begins with the prospects ranked 41-50. The lockout-shortened 2012-13 season left a talented pool of eligible prospects, evident already in the bottom group of players.
As many as five of the prospects in this group are on the verge of cracking their respective NHL lineups full-time during the 2013-14 season, with several others not too far away. The pair of goaltending prospects, John Gibson and Malcolm Subban, are each making their professional debuts during the 2013-14 season and are part of organizations with goaltending depth at the pro level. That said, either of these two netminders could develop into a star goalie in the NHL.
Below are the prospects ranked 41-50 in HF's ranking of the Top 50 NHL prospects. The top 40 prospects will be revealed in groups of 10 each day this week, resuming on Tuesday with the prospects ranked 31-40.
The Minnesota Wild defensive corps went through a makeover during the shortened 2013 season, but perhaps the most exciting change is yet to come. While reliable stalwarts Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin will do their part to anchor the Minnesota blue line, neither player stands out with skill and skating ability quite like Matt Dumba. It is almost impossible not to notice the blueliner at both ends of the ice. The 19-year-old Dumba is an all-purpose defenseman with a reputation for being, at times, too aggressive both with the puck on his stick and in the physical game. Reining in some of his more adventurous tendencies will be important at the professional level, particularly in Mike Yeo's disciplined system.
While Kreider was outstanding in the 2012 playoffs for the Rangers, many are still waiting for the young power forward to rekindle that form. His 2012-13 was a bit of a down year in terms of production, scoring just three points in 23 games with the Rangers. However, there has been a big shift in the tactics and coaching with the Rangers. Lightning rod John Tortorella made way for Alain Vigneault this summer, and it is no doubt hoped that Vigneault can help Kreider break away from a coach who was notoriously hard on him. First, however, Kreider will have to make the NHL roster as he was recently assigned to the AHL. He has the speed and hands to be a top six forward, but his confidence was shaky at times last season.
Forsberg was Washington's 11th-overall draft pick in 2012, but was moved to the Predators in a deadline-day trade last spring. He is a highly-skilled center with good size even though he still needs to get stronger to play his creative game in NHL traffic. He is an agile and speedy skater with a fantastic shot that he is not afraid to use. His play in the defensive zone needs improvement before he can truly reach his potential, but his offensive skills and fluid skating should make him a regular in the Predators lineup this season.
It is rare for an 18-year-old player, let alone a defenseman, to make an NHL roster out of his first training camp. But, following a stellar camp and preseason, that is exactly what Rasmus Ristolainen has done. A mobile skater with good size and a physical style of play, Ristolainen spent the previous two seasons playing against men in the Finnish pro league, and it shows as he plays a smart game and does not appear to make a lot of mistakes. He has good puck-moving ability and, while he may not be an offensive force for the Sabres, he should have no problem getting the puck up and out of the zone quickly. The kind of defenseman that he will ultimately develop into remains to be seen, but Ristolainen has the tools to be the complete package at the NHL level.
45. John Gibson, G – Anaheim Ducks
Height: 6-3, Weight: 210, Spring ranking – 48
Few goaltending prospects had as much success during the 2012-13 season as John Gibson, who continued his strong play in the OHL, dominated for gold-medal winning Team USA at the 2013 World Junior Championship, and emerged as the starter for the bronze-medal winning men's team at the 2013 IIHF World Championship. His development last season against increasingly stronger competition leads him to his rookie pro season in 2013-14 with the Norfolk Admirals. Anaheim is deep in net at the professional level, which will allow Gibson to develop at his own pace. He is an unflappable netminder who seems to have the uncanny ability of being tougher to beat as the stakes get higher. There is little question that Gibson has superstar potential, and if he keeps improving as he did last season, it will simply be a matter of time before he gets a crack at the NHL.
46. Charlie Coyle, C/RW – Minnesota Wild
Height: 6-2, Weight: 202, Spring ranking – 36
A big body with a soft pair of hands, Charlie Coyle made himself right at home in his rookie pro season. He displayed a scoring touch and the versatility to play in any role asked while splitting time between the Houston Aeros and Minnesota Wild. A long reach and 6'2, 202-pound frame help Coyle protect the puck and gain position in the high-traffic areas. He clears room for his linemates and has a savvy understanding of how best to utilize other players on the ice. Although he is still filling out his frame and learning to compete against men, Coyle has the tools and the opportunity to establish himself as a top-six power forward this season in the NHL.
Bjugstad debuted with the Panthers at the end of the 2012-13 season, appearing in 11 games and notching his first career goal. With those milestones out of the way, he has a chance to establish himself as an NHL regular going into 2013-14 with a young Panthers squad. At 6'5 and 215 pounds, Bjugstad is a big, strong forward who protects the puck and displays a good understanding of the game. He is a powerful skater and gets around the ice well for a player of his size. Bjugstad's hockey sense will help him succeed in any role asked, and as he gets more NHL games under his belt, he projects as a top-six center that can make an impact at both ends of the rink.
A rare blend of size and mobility, Simon Despres has gradually established himself as a steady defenseman at the NHL level. His overall game remains something of a project, however. On several occasions he has demonstrated the ability to lay brutal checks, but does not do so with enough consistency to be an imposing presence on the back end. Likewise, he has shown flashes of offensive brilliance, but has not done so with enough consistency to be a regular factor on the score sheet. At the very least, Despres should be a good second-pairing defenseman capable of playing over 20 minutes a game and contributing on both special teams, though it remains to be seen if he gets the opportunity with Pittsburgh, who prefers to play more veteran defensemen.
Following two rough years at the University of Michigan, Jon Merrill, perhaps more than any other prospect, will get a much needed fresh start in 2013-14. Following an up-and-down, three-year career with the Wolverines, Merrill turned pro last spring and appeared in 12 games for the Devils' AHL affiliate in Albany, managing a goal and seven assists in the process. His size, skating, and puck-distribution are already top-notch and, while he will begin the season in the AHL, it should not be long before he gets a call-up to the NHL. He projects as a top-four defenseman who can man the power-play and be used in all situations, but he needs experience and must stay healthy in order to get there.
50. Malcolm Subban, G – Boston Bruins
Height: 6-1, Weight: 188, Spring ranking – 43
Subban will make his professional debut during the 2013-14 season with the AHL's Providence Bruins. After putting together a strong regular season and playoffs for Belleville in the OHL during the 2012-13 season, the goaltender's late-1993 birth date will allow him to try his hand against a higher level of competition during the upcoming season. Subban's agility in the crease makes him capable of spectacular saves, but his technique is still an area that will require some work at the pro level. The 19-year-old goaltender plays with confidence and moves so quickly around his crease that he is an exciting goaltender to watch. Staying healthy and earning starts will be the goals for Subban's rookie season, as the Bruins are fortunate to have enough depth in goal that they have no reason to rush their top goaltending prospect.
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