The Fall edition of the Hockey's Future ranking of the Top 50 NHL prospects continues with the prospects ranked 31-40. While this group is populated primarily by defensemen, the group is led by Sharks top prospect Tomas Hertl.
While Hertl is poised for a breakout campaign if he maintains his spot in San Jose's top-six, Brendan Gallagher and Beau Bennett are also in line to have similar impacts in the NHL during the 2013-14 season.
The defensemen in this section also project as difference-makers, whether it is soon or a few years down the road. More offensively-oriented players like Brandon Gormley and Derrick Pouliot are ranked alongside tough-to-play against bruisers like Griffin Reinhart and Darnell Nurse.
Below are the prospects ranked 31-40 in HF's ranking of the Top 50 NHL prospects. The top 30 prospects will be revealed in groups of 10 each day this week, resuming on Wednesday with the prospects ranked 21-30.
31. Tomas Hertl, C – San Jose Sharks
Height: 6-2, Weight: 198, Spring ranking – 35
Hertl is an excellent two-way forward with a blue collar work ethic and a lot of skill. He thrives along the boards with his size and strength, and can be a difficult opponent in one-on-one battles. His physical game is quite mature having played against men for all of last season, and he is not going to shy away from the tough stuff, perhaps to a fault. Given his supporting cast, and the likelihood that he will play on a scoring line in San Jose, Hertl has a real shot at carving out a name for himself in his rookie season and should be considered a dark horse for the Calder Trophy.
32. Griffin Reinhart, D – New York Islanders
Height: 6-4, Weight: 205, Spring ranking – 13
Reinhart may not have all of the offensive flash or crushing physical play that some of the other top defensive prospects in the game display, but he is a gifted, well-rounded player who can do everything. Reinhart captained the Edmonton Oil Kings to a WHL conference championship last year and is a valuable leader on the ice. He provides offensive support when necessary, and logs heavy, tough minutes all over the ice. Reinhart combines strength, size, skating, and intelligence to play a safe but foundational defense in his own zone. He can play a physical game when the opportunities arise, but he does not put himself out of position to do so. Reinhart could become a steady, top-pairing defenseman in the NHL. He projects as the type of player that Islanders fans will enjoy never noticing, and one who opponents will hate lining up against.
33. Brandon Gormley, D – Phoenix Coyotes
Height: 6-1, Weight: 187, Spring ranking – 23
In many other organizations, Brandon Gormley would be in contention for an NHL job. But because he is in Phoenix – stacked behind the likes of Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Keith Yandle, and Michael Stone – he is having to bide his time in the AHL for now. Gormley is only entering his second season of professional hockey, but he has taken positive steps already. His offensive game has translated fairly well as he has that keen eye for outlet passes and offensive opportunities, but the defensive game is a work in progress. Considering how deep Phoenix is on defense, he will likely have at least another year to polish up his defensive zone work in the AHL before forcing the hand of Phoenix management. He will be in a for a battle either way with the talent ahead of him, and for Phoenix, all they can do is hope that the cream will rise to the top.
Lehner heads into the 2013-14 season having firmly established himself as the Senators goaltender of the future. He will begin the year as the backup to workhorse veteran Craig Anderson, but should see a fair amount of starts of his own. Standing at 6'4 and over 220 pounds, Lehner's greatest asset is his size and athleticism, which he has learned to use to his full advantage over the past couple of seasons. He is also very experienced for a 22-year-old, having already played three full seasons at the professional level. Like many talented goaltenders, Lehner's own mind can sometimes be his worst enemy. He can get easily agitated, which has affected his game. That said, even if he remains hot-headed throughout his career, he carries himself with enough confidence and has enough skill that it is only a matter of time before he is an NHL starter.
35. Brendan Gallagher, RW – Montreal Canadiens
Height: 5-8, Weight: 175, Spring ranking – 49
Brendan Gallagher is the type of player you love to have on your team but hate to play against. Standing at only 5'8, Gallagher is a small, thickly built forward who has perfected the art of agitation. He finishes all of his checks, battles hard in the corners, but also possesses enough offensive talent to complement a skilled center. Expectations are high for Gallagher headed into the 2013-14 season. His high motor and competitive style assure that even if he is not able to match last year's offensive pace over a full NHL season, he should still be a very effective NHL forward.
36. Nathan Beaulieu, D – Montreal Canadiens
Height: 6-3, Weight: 191, Spring ranking – 24
Beaulieu has all of the tools to be a top-four, puck-moving defenseman for Montreal. He is a smooth skater, is extremely good at shooting and distributing the puck, and has the type of vision needed to run the power-play. Though not overly physical, he has good size, a long reach, and is strong on the puck. He sometimes lacks urgency in his own zone, an aspect of his game that must improve if he is going to be an NHL regular. Beaulieu will start the 2013-14 season in the AHL, but if injuries hamper the Canadiens blue line, he could receive a call-up.
37. Darnell Nurse, D – Edmonton Oilers
Height: 6-4, Weight: 185, Not ranked
The second defenseman drafted in 2013, Darnell Nurse is a mobile, well-rounded defenseman with a huge 6'4 frame. What makes him such a tantalizing prospect is how he uses that combination of size and skating. Nurse plays with a mean streak and never passes up an opportunity to take a shot at the opposition. He is such an effective physical presence that he can dictate the flow of the game. Although not the most offensively skilled defenseman, Nurse's hockey IQ allows him to contribute in any situation. Another year in junior as a leader for Sault Ste. Marie is in store for Nurse in 2013-14, but he projects as just the type of tough, load-bearing blueliner the Oilers have lacked.
38. Oscar Klefbom, D – Edmonton Oilers
Height: 6-3, Weight: 201, Spring ranking – 22
Swedish defenseman Oscar Klefbom lost some ground in HF's Top 50 prospects ranking, but it was not due to poor performance like some other prospects. Klefbom's 2012-13 season was instead cut short by injury, which robbed the blueliner of the valuable experience of a final pro season in Sweden before making the transition to North America. Now, the two-way defender is tasked with both returning to game action after a long absence and doing so in a different country on a smaller ice surface. Klefbom's size and excellent mobility should help ease that transition, however; he has good instincts when the puck is on his stick and he should eventually be able to contribute in any situation. He will open the 2013-14 season in Oklahoma City, but an NHL debut for Klefbom is not out of the question this year.
39. Derrick Pouliot, D – Pittsburgh Penguins
Height: 5-11, Weight: 195, Spring ranking – 38
Derrick Pouliot is a talented, mobile defenseman with good vision, a creative mind for the game, and the ability to run the power-play. He is not overly large, but is stoutly built and strong on the puck. His hockey IQ is very high and he can be very deceptive in how he transitions the puck up ice and creates offense from the blue line. Just 19 years old, he will spend one more year with the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL. He projects to be an offensive defenseman in the NHL who can play in all situations and log over 20 minutes a game.
40. Beau Bennett, RW/LW – Pittsburgh Penguins
Height: 6-2, Weight: 207, Spring ranking – 46
Selected 20th overall at the 2010 NHL Draft, Bennett was 6'1 and 173 pounds in his draft year which created concerns over whether he could become strong enough to play professional hockey. Since then, Bennett has added about 30 pounds of muscle and demonstrated he can not only play in the NHL, but excel at a high level. His spot on the Penguins 2013-14 NHL roster is in ink, though precisely where in the lineup he plays – on the first, second, or third line – remains to be seen and will likely vary throughout the year. Bennett is a solid two-way player with excellent hockey sense and a creative mind for the game. Though he is best suited to play in the top-six, his creativity and game-breaking ability allow him to be a factor in any role that he is placed in.
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