Hockey’s Future’s Top 50 prospects were chosen by a committee of staff members from among those drafted prospects meeting Hockey’s Future’s prospect criteria. We begin with the bottom of the list.
26. Dustin Boyd
Boyd really started making noise in 2005-06 with a spectacular final season in the WHL. He made a smooth transition to the professional level and played so well with the Omaha Knights in the AHL that Calgary called him up to the NHL. Boyd was called up four times, finishing with 13 games and picking up his first four NHL points in the process. With Omaha, Boyd produced at nearly a point-per-game pace — 27 goals and 33 assists for 60 points in 66 games. The 21-year-old Winnipeg native is a slick playmaker with good poise and offensive vision. Possessing a heavy shot and deceptive acceleration, Boyd has the tools to become a top six forward at the NHL level. Adding strength will obviously help Boyd make the final transition to full-time NHL status, which he should achieve as soon as this season.
27. Steve Downie
Lacking only in maturity and discipline, Downie is becoming a premier scoring agitator in the mold of Darcy Tucker or Sean Avery. A talented offensive player, Downie finished a strong 2006-07 campaign with the Kitchener Rangers, his third team in as many years. His frequent trade activity raised concerns of off-ice issues, but Downie has managed to put those behind him and concentrate on his hockey career. He finished the season totaling 92 points in 45 games. In the playoffs, Downie was a one-man show, boasting an astounding 22 points in nine games. A diminutive centerman, Downie possesses terrific puck skills, patience and attitude. He simply knows how to create scoring chances and make use of his linemates. Downie is already signed with Philadelphia and should be ready to step right in to a full-time NHL position, though it should be a limited role at first.
28. Derick Brassard
Thanks to a viscous blind-side hit during a pre-season game last year, Brassard missed the first five months of the season. He made a full recovery and played terrific hockey upon his return, following up a two-point-per-game season with a 1.79 point-per-game pace (25 points in 14 games). In the playoffs, Brassard was at his best, leading Drummondville with 24 points in 12 games. Brassard has game-breaking natural offensive talent and elite playmaking skills. He possesses tremendous speed, a high-velocity shot, and plays the game with lots of intensity. Bulking up and adding strength is an important step for the 19-year-old’s transition to the pro level and doing so should not be difficult with his decently sized frame. Brassard is an integral part of the Columbus future and is signed to an entry-level contract. He is expected to become a first line center and could crack the lineup this season.
29. Andrew Cogliano
This 20-year-old skating dynamo enjoyed a breakout year with the University of Michigan, then promptly signed an entry-level contract with the Edmonton Oilers. Cogliano’s success will depend largely on his speed and hockey sense which are both world class as he begins his rookie professional campaign. Size is obviously a concern, but the 5’10, 180 lb forward would not be the first to overcome that issue and most feel that Cogliano is a rather safe pick to become at least a regular in the NHL if not a star. A shift to the wing may be in the future for the Toronto native with his ability to blow past defenders on the outside and drive to the net.
30. Michael Frolik
The pride of Florida’s prospect system made a smooth transition to North America. Frolik joined Rimouski in the QMJHL and made an immediate impact with 73 points in 52 games, fourth among rookies. He also starred for the Czech national team at the U-20 WJCs, scoring four goals and six points in six games. Frolik is a highly-skilled playmaker with tremendous vision. He has extremely soft hands and the ability to thread needles with passes. He is an excellent skater with deceptive explosiveness and a quick, hard shot. Frolik has often drawn mild comparisons to Jaromir Jagr, but he must improve on his patience and poise with the puck. His creativity sometimes acts as a detriment as he tries to force passes through closed lanes. Florida is being patient with the 19-year-old Kladno native and he is expected to return to Rimouski for another year of major junior.
31. Cory Schneider
Coming off a spectacular junior year with Boston College, Schneider signed a contract with the Canucks and will begin his pro career in the AHL. Schneider appeared in all 42 of Boston College’s games during the 2006-07 season, and was consistently among the top goaltenders not only in Hockey East, but among all Division I schools. Schneider is a focused and confident goaltender who plays a strong all-around technical game, and he is the type of player who comes through with the big save at a pivotal moment in the game. While he has proven beyond a doubt that he can compete with the best of them at the college level, the next test will be to see if that carries over to the professional ranks. With his track record, there is little reason to believe that Schneider will not find success as a starting goaltender in the NHL.
32. David Krejci
The first of two second-round picks for the Bruins in 2004, Krejci is making a case for himself following a strong rookie performance in the AHL, where he averaged more than a point per game and led his team in scoring for the 2006-07 season. A talented playmaking center, Krejci’s skills and hockey sense are top-notch, and throughout his career, he has consistently been one of the top scorers on his team. If past success is any indication of where he may land in the future, Krejci has the potential to be a big offensive contributor in the NHL. The most likely scenario puts Krejci as a very good second liner for Boston, but if he continues his development, he has enough upside to center the top line.
33. Jimmy Howard
The former University of Maine goaltender currently has two seasons in the AHL under his belt and is poised for one more for 2007-08. While his production during 2006-07 season was not quite impressive, he had a strong showing in the Griffins’ brief playoff run and has earned a couple of brief looks since turning pro in 2005. Howard is a big butterfly goalie who covers a lot of net, where he combines strong hockey sense with good overall technical skills. Rebound control and consistency are areas where Howard could still improve, however he is a talented player with the potential to be a solid starting netminder in the NHL.
34. Nicklas Bergfors
Big things were expected from Bergfors in his second pro season, but he took a bit of a step back with the Devils AHL affiliate in Lowell in 2006-07. In 60 games, he scored 13 goals and 32 points, which represented an eight-point drop from the previous year. His performance at the World Junior Championships was also less than stellar. With all the being said, it should be noted that most 20-year-olds do not already have two full seasons of minor pro hockey under their belt and had Bergfors been playing junior like most players his age, he likely would have been dominating at that level. He is by far and away the most offensively gifted prospect in the Devils organization and has the ability to become a top six forward at the NHL level. New Jersey might just have to exercise a little patience in waiting for him to mature fully. Expect Bergfors to have a bounceback season as he goes into his third minor pro year.
35. Ondrej Pavelec
After two strong seasons in the QMJHL, Pavelec has a contract in hand and will get the opportunity to show the Thrashers what he can do as a professional when he suits up for the Chicago Wolves (AHL) in the 2007-08 season. Pavelec won the Jacques Plante Trophy (best goals-against average in the QMJHL) for back-to-back seasons, and in 2006-07, he finished third in the league among all goaltenders with a .908 save percentage, 2.52 goals-against average and a 28-11 record. The 20-year-old butterfly goaltender is technically sound, calm and focused and he reads plays well. He has had some issues with conditioning, and needs to bring a more consistent level of play, but overall, he is a solid prospect and potential starter in the NHL.
36. Angelo Esposito
While his stock may have dropped significantly prior to the 2007 draft, Esposito could one day turn out to be a steal for the Pittsburgh Penguins, who landed the potential top-line forward at 20th overall. It proved difficult to match his rookie performance in the QMJHL and Esposito’s production went down in the 2006-07 season. There have been questions about his drive and attitude, but it is possible these were blown out of proportion prior to the draft. These things aside, Esposito has undeniable talent. He is a skilled playmaker and an excellent skater with tremendous offensive upside. It is too soon to tell whether Esposito can play alongside Sidney Crosby, but if he applies himself, then the Penguins have added yet another potent offensive weapon to their collection.
37. Leland Irving
Irving has been the silver lining on an Everett squad that has had two consecutive productive WHL seasons. Establishing himself as one of the top goalies in the league, Irving has backstopped the Silvertips into the playoffs over the last two years. Most notably during the 2006-07 season, his solid play helped Everett take home the U.S. Division title and go deep into the playoffs. Though a much stronger Medicine Hat team bested the Silvertips in the league championship, without the solid presence of Irving between the pipes, the team would have never stood a chance. The Calgary Flames are hoping that Irving will continue to develop into the franchise’s goalie of the future. A sustained level of play well past junior will guarantee his spot in the Flames future plans. So far, the early returns indicate that Irving is well on his way.
After returning to Val-d’Or in the QMJHL for the 2006-07 season, Letang looked to balance out his game in order to deliver more consistency on both ends of the ice. Now he is hoping that another season developing with the Foreurs will have given him the edge he needs to capture a roster spot with the Penguins this season. He could head down to Wilkes-Barre of the AHL to further his development and to get consistent playing time. He may find himself as the odd man out due simply to a decent veteran presence on Pittsburgh’s blue line. Once he finds the right balance and rhythm at the pro level, you’ll see a mid-sized (6’0, 190) defender with a lot of pop. Letang definitely has the makings of what should be an extremely effective two-way NHL rearguard.
39. Marek Schwarz
Schwarz has definitely racked up the frequent flyer miles over the last three seasons. After being drafted, he saw stops in Vancouver of the WHL and Sparta of the Czech league before finally settling in with the Blues AHL affiliate, the Peoria Rivermen for the 2006-07 season. All the moving did not rattle his cage, as the Czech goalie kept his development on track. He played reasonable well for his first year in pro and even got a shot with St. Louis. It is not prudent to question the significance of the trade that brought in Hannu Toivonen to the Blues organization — while Toivonen is also a prospect and still has the tools to eventually play in the NHL full time, it is Schwarz who is billed as the long-term solution in net for St. Louis.
40. Logan Couture
As some teams skipped over Couture early at the 2007 Draft in Columbus this past June, Sharks GM Doug Wilson traded up twice to get his man. Couture is a player who had setbacks last year due to injury and illness, though scoring 78 points (26 goals, 52 assists) in 54 games. Regardless, the upside he possesses still makes him a dangerous prospect to have sitting on your shelf. What really sticks out in Couture is his overall level of maturity, his balanced approach to the game, and the fact he has not even hit his prime. Seldom do the Sharks miss their mark when they hone in on a player with these qualities.
41. Eric Fehr
Fehr is part of the Washington Capitals core nucleus of what should become another top young team out of the east. After tearing up the AHL with the Hershey Bears during the first half of the 2006-07 season, he earned a call-up to the Capitals. Thereafter, Fehr got hit with the injury bug and ended up nursing a bad back for the rest of the season. Fehr is going to get his chance to redeem his place with the Capitals because of his size (6’4, 210), skill, and frequency to end up on the scorer’s sheet. It should not come as a surprise if he sticks with Washington this year as he will be looking for vindication after his injury travails of last season.
42. Bryan Little
Emerging onto the Top 50 Prospect list for the first time, this offensive center is possibly the next great scorer to come out of the Atlanta Thrashers’ organization. After concluding his major junior eligibility by scoring 107 points in 57 games for Barrie of the OHL, Little will move his game to the professional ranks this fall. While some might consider Little slightly undersized at 5’10, his playmaking ability more than makes up for it where he can be viewed as the model “new NHL” player. At No. 42 in these rankings, there is room for movement up the list as Little translates his game to professional hockey. Keep an eye on Little as he is sure to be one of the best forwards in the AHL for this upcoming season, assuming he doesn’t surprise at NHL camp.
43. Martin Hanzal
Hanzal made quite the statement during the 2006-07 season as he exploded on the WHL scene, scoring 85 points (26 goals, 59 assists) in 60 games with the Red Deer Rebels. Even as a rookie at 19, the Czech native made an impressive transition to the North American game. He saw action in 19 games with Omaha Lancers in the USHL the year prior, where he had a point a game. Altogether, his performance and progression as a prospect to date more than justifies his place in the rankings. Hanzal is headed to Phoenix with hopes of grabbing a roster spot with the Coyotes for the 2007-08 season. While he’s got the size and talent to put up a fight, a little seasoning in the AHL would not be out of the question before he makes it full time.
44. Justin Pogge
Pogge had his ups and downs as he made his debut in the AHL. He started off the season with the Toronto Marlies quite slowly as he adjusted to the pace of professional hockey, but as he gained confidence and became more comfortable, his workload began to increase substantially. In 48 games, he won 19 games and posted a 3.03 goals-against average and a .896 save percentage. The Maple Leafs goaltender of the future, Pogge has NHL-caliber size, and top-notch puckhandling ability. He is clearly not ready for prime time just yet, but he showed enough last season for the Leafs to justify the trading of Tuukka Rask last summer. Expect Pogge’s numbers to improve significantly in his second year in the AHL.
45. Alexander Edler
The 6’4, 200 lb. Swede was an impact player for the Kelowna Rockets during his single WHL season. Edler made a successful jump to the professional level in 2006-07, having played 22 games with the Vancouver Canucks and 49 more with their AHL affiliate, the Manitoba Moose. That rapid progression up Vancouver’s depth chart has seemingly vaulted Edler past Luc Bourdon in the battle for a roster spot this season. Edler’s offensive skills are what will get him to the NHL but staying there will depend on his ever-improving defensive play. Canucks fans have reason for optimism when it comes to Edler becoming a top pairing defenseman. Coupled with Bourdon, Vancouver has a pair of future anchors on their blue line for years to come.
46. T.J. Hensick
One of the best forwards in college hockey since he joined the University of Michigan four years ago, Hensick debuts in these rankings at No. 46. After leading all NCAA hockey in assists (46) and points (69), in being named as a Hobey Baker finalist for the second time in his career, Hensick joins the Avalanche farm system as their top forward prospect. His diminutive size may play against him as a center, but his combination of vision, skating and passing skills make him one of the best puck distributors from the middle of the ice who is not currently playing in the NHL. Hensick may be the next in a long line of great forwards produced by the Avalanche pipeline. Keep an eye out for Hensick as one of the best centers in the AHL for the 2007-08 season.
47. Benoit Pouliot
History has shown that it is easy to find a physical forward to fill the left wing position, but finding a physical forward with top offensive skills who can play the left side is a rarity. Pouliot fits that description. Taken fourth overall at the 2005 Entry Draft, Pouliot has a high offensive potential. However, his pedestrian 36 points in 67 games with Houston of the AHL during the 2006-07 season has slightly dampened his projection as he was unable to overcome average linemates and a down year for the team as a whole. Despite that, Pouliot has been given a mulligan on that season and holds steady in these rankings after the addition of the 2007 draftees. A bounce-back season in Houston might result in a quick call-up to Minnesota where he hopes to build upon his three-game stint with the Wild last season.
48. Matt Lashoff
After a few minor bumps in the road with illness and injury while he played for the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL, Lashoff propelled himself to the front of the line in a prospect system that is stacked on defense. Lashoff played his rookie season with the Providence Bruins of the AHL, where he led all defensemen on the team in scoring and earned a trip to the AHL All-Star game. A mobile, offensive defenseman, Lashoff has the size, hockey sense and drive to become a top pairing defenseman in the NHL. As a rookie in the AHL, his performance earned him a look in Boston, where he is positioning himself for a roster spot in the near future.
49. Zach Hamill
A player that perhaps did not get the recognition he deserved prior to the 2007 draft, the Bruins selected 18-year-old Hamill eighth overall, and signed him to an entry-level contract shortly thereafter. He has improved steadily in his three seasons in the WHL playing for the Everett Silvertips and went on to lead the league in scoring with a total of 93 points during the 2006-07 season. Hamill is a smooth-skating center with an impressive set of skills, particularly in his stick work and puckhandling. He is a well-rounded player who projects to be a top six forward in the NHL, though he is a couple years from playing at that level.
50. Luc Bourdon
At the junior level, Bourdon has been one of the best in the CHL over the past couple of seasons. He has been a part of Canada’s two most recent gold medals at the U-20 WJC and also appeared in both NHL and AHL games last season. Bourdon’s QMJHL production dipped in 2006-07 compared to his previous season although there was a strong rebound once the playoffs began. Described as a solid two-way defenseman, Bourdon’s weakness might be his mobility which has fallen into question since a 2006 ankle injury. Bourdon’s never been shy about throwing his weight around but is guilty of getting caught out of position after chasing the big hit at times. Regardless, Bourdon is viewed as one of the best future defensemen ready to earn a regular shift in the NHL.
Missing the cut
Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.