The Fall edition of the Hockey's Future ranking of the Top 50 NHL prospects continues with the prospects ranked 11-20. NHL success is at a premium as we break into the top 20 with a group made up mostly of players primed for an NHL breakout.
Prospects like Jonas Brodin, Justin Schultz, Jakob Silfverberg, and Brandon Saad are already familiar names to NHL fans, while the likes of Valeri Nichushkin and Morgan Rielly represent the next wave of talented players making a splash in the big leagues.
Below are the prospects ranked 11-20 in HF's ranking of the Top 50 NHL prospects. The top 10 prospects will be revealed in Friday's edition, with the Honorable Mentions to follow next week.
11. Valeri Nichushkin, C/LW – Dallas Stars
Height: 6-4, Weight: 196, Not ranked
Contrary to popular post-draft hyperbole, Valeri Nichushkin is not the second coming of Evgeni Malkin. They both have massive frames, laser-beam shots, and are great skaters, but what is going to keep Nichushkin from being the next Malkin is his lack of playmaking ability. This is not to say that Nichushkin does not excel in other areas and cannot carve out his name as one of the NHL’s best. Nichushkin plays a very simplistic hard-nosed game, and is not afraid to throw his body around. At the lower levels he steam-rolled his opposition on his way to the net, and while that worked quite well against smaller opponents, he will need to expand his repertoire at the professional level to remain successful. Nichushkin is going to be a very special forward if he can learn to play with and complement his fellow forwards.
12. Jonas Brodin, D – Minnesota Wild
Height: 6-1, Weight: 168, Spring ranking – 21
The way Brodin quickly adapted to the NHL and handled himself last season was one of the season’s surprises. The Swedish defenseman was paired with Ryan Suter, proving to be one of the better defensive pairs in 2012-13. He is a smooth skater that can carry the puck into the fray. It is his confidence and decision making which puts Brodin’s skills above players in his age group. He uses an active stick to create takeaways and pressure the puck handler. In his second year with Minnesota, he will again be depended upon to provide safe, reliable play in his own end while looking to improve upon his offensive abilities.
13. Justin Schultz, D – Edmonton Oilers
Height: 6-2, Weight: 185, Spring ranking – 7
Justin Schultz became not just one of the defensive stars of the future, but a defensive star of today by ranking 12th in points by a defenseman last season. The big but not overly physical rearguard plays a very mature puck possession game. He leads the rush, he shoots hard, his passing is very crisp and on point. He does everything he is supposed to do and more on the offensive side of things, but his defensive game is still in need of improvement. While the young talent surrounding him certainly influences his offensive production, Schultz’s skill set is strong enough that he would be a dangerous weapon on any team’s blue line.
14. Morgan Rielly, D – Toronto Maple Leafs
Height: 6-0, Weight: 205, Spring ranking – 9
Rielly is an elite prospect with a variety of offensive talents – excellent skating, great vision, a good first pass, and creativity with the puck from the blue line. He improved his two-way game and became more reliable in the defensive zone. The talented blueliner still needs to bring more physicality down low to play at the NHL level. The 19-year-old will have to return to the WHL for another year if he is unable to maintain a spot with the Maple Leafs for the 2013-14 season. If he does return to Moose Jaw, Rielly should dominate at the junior level and is a lock for Team Canada's defense corps at the 2014 WJC. It is simply a matter of time and more experience before the smooth puck-mover is operating Toronto's power-play.
15. Jakob Silfverberg, RW – Anaheim Ducks
Height: 6-1, Weight: 197, Spring ranking – 30
Silfverberg gets to start over this season with a drastic change of scenery from Ottawa to Southern California. He was the central piece in the Bobby Ryan trade this summer which landed the Ducks a first-round selection and both Stefan Noesen and the big Swedish winger. The Ducks are hoping that Silfverberg can continue to be as effective a hockey player as he was in his rookie season with the Senators. He put together a stellar 19-point, plus-rated rookie campaign and proved to be an all-around player capable of responsible and effective play in all three zones. He has a high work rate and intensity, which lends to his ability to play anywhere in the top-nine for the Ducks. He is not the most physical of players which, under the old Ducks system of Randy Carlyle could have hurt him, but with Bruce Boudreau it will not be a problem.
16. Jacob Markstrom, G – Florida Panthers
Height: 6-6, Weight: 196, Spring ranking – 12
Despite the inclusion of Stanley Cup-winning goaltender Tim Thomas on the Panthers goaltending roster, Markstrom looks to be a full-time NHL goaltender at long last. The 23-year-old netminder has tremendous size and athleticism to match his solid technique and quickness. At 6’6, Markstrom takes up a lot of space in the nets just by being in the right position, but what makes him special is his quickness and ability to recover position to stop rebound attempts. One area of concern has been early-season consistency. Playing alongside a tireless worker like Thomas, who has a storied history in professional hockey, could help Markstrom polish those final few rough spots in his game.
17. Brandon Saad, C/W – Chicago Blackhawks
Height: 6-1, Weight: 202, Spring ranking – 29
Saad is a strong skating power forward with good hands that creates scoring chances by driving hard to the net. His versatile game allows him to play anywhere in the Blackhawks' top-nine and in all key situations. The two-way forward possesses good vision, playmaking skills, and can read the play well due to his excellent hockey sense. He needs to be more consistent using his speed and size to open space for his teammates. The Calder Trophy finalist has the work ethic, character, and leadership skills to be a huge asset for Chicago in the near future.
Big things were expected of Baertschi right out of the gate in Calgary, but his rookie season did not go as planned. The undersized but talented two-way forward has explosive speed, good hockey sense, and an offensive toolkit found on only the most exceptional of young prospects. Unfortunately, much of his offensive pedigree went unnoticed until the final seven games of the season where he potted nine points and looked comfortable in the limelight. If those final games are any indication of his ability and talent at the professional level, Baertschi will be just fine. With the departure of Jarome Iginla last season, Baertschi will be among the forwards asked to lead the Flames' new era.
After years of dominating juniors, Strome hopes to one day make a seamless transition to the NHL. That day will not be in the present, however, as Strome has been sent down to the AHL to begin his pro career. Still, when he finally does make the Islanders lineup, he could bring an offensive spark as a middle forward. He is not the biggest player on the ice, but he is one of the fastest players. On top of that, he is difficult to knock off the puck. He can thus operate in traffic and is a talented playmaker with quality vision. His stick-handling is also on an elite level. An attribute Strome has shown in the past is the ability to contribute on nights that he struggles. New York hopes he does not face a steep learning curve, but he must prove he deserves to earn top minutes.
The Swedish center provided quality depth for the Senators in his first season as a full-time NHL player. Offensively, he finished with seven goals, 13 assists for 20 points and a plus-nine rating. Creative with the puck, he could find room to operate or drive through bodies towards the goal. Zibenajed’s swift skating also allows him to be effective at both ends of the ice. Opposing teams took note of the youngster’s commitment to getting back on defense, pestering the on-rushing player on the back-check. The offseason acquisition of Bobby Ryan could further enhance the 20-year-old's development as a top-six forward in the organization, but that pairing will happen at a later date as Zibanejad will begin the 2013-14 season in the AHL.
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