Hockey’s Future Top 50 Prospects 11-25, Fall 2007

By HF Staff

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.  Below are prospects ranked 11-25.  Prospects ranked 26-50 can be found here.

11. Peter Mueller

Mueller looks to take a spot on the Coyotes roster this training camp. Phoenix’s most poised prospect, he is expected to have the biggest impact at the NHL level.  After two successful seasons with the Everett Silvertips in the WHL where he was a frequent and a dominant force, it is now time to see if it is all going to pay off. In order for him to make the roster, he is going to have to showcase a balanced game — his above-average offensive instinct and his improved skating. If all goes well for the rookie to be, expect him to be a dark horse in the Calder hunt.

12. Kyle Okposo

Okposo took the NCAA by storm, as he was named to the All-WCHA Second Team and WCHA All-Rookie Team after posting 19 goals and 40 points in 40 games for the University of Minnesota. He did not look like a freshman trying to find his way and get his feet wet as he often centered the Golden Gophers top line. Possessing a great combination of brawn and offensive skill, Okposo could be another Jarome Iginla in the making if he continues to develop into the type of player he’s capable of becoming. While the Islanders were hoping that he might turn pro this season, Okposo decided to return to the University of Minnesota for at least one more season. However, after such a dominating freshman season, it’s clear that Okposo does not need much more time before becoming an NHL regular on Long Island.

13. Marc Staal

This Rangers prospect has the distinction of being the only blueliner produced by the hockey factory known as the Staal family.  Marc is the second oldest of the four boys and looks to become the third to star in the NHL now that his four-year OHL career with the Sudbury Wolves came to an end last spring.  The 6’4, 212 lb defender is NHL-sized, and has the mental make-up and work ethic to take a legitimate run at a roster spot on Broadway this season with the Rangers.  Staal is considered one of the finest up and coming defensemen in the game and most believe he will establish himself as a bona fide top-pairing rearguard in the next couple of years.

14. James vanRiemsdyk

The Flyers selected vanRiemsdyk second overall as he was acknowledged as one of the best all-around players available in the 2007 Entry Draft and as he was one of the few players at the high end with much size.  A true power forward in the making, vanRiemsdyk was a standout at the U-18 WJC last April and amassed 63 points in 42 games with the US National Development Team.  On the international stage, vanRiemsdyk scored 25 points in 12 contests.  The New Jersey born forward is headed to the University of New Hampshire.  Look for vanRiemsdyk as one of the best freshmen in all of NCAA hockey this season.

15. Cam Barker

Combined with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, this gritty defenseman marks the third top NHL prospect skating under the Blackhawks banner.  After beginning the season in Norfolk of the AHL, Barker was called up to Chicago to finish out the season in January.  Barker would score only eight points in 35 games with a plus/minus of -12 before being sent back to Norfolk in time for the AHL playoffs.  His development has been slower than some had initially expected from the former third overall selection, but one should keep in mind that Barker is still only 21 years of age and only just completed his first full season of professional hockey.  He will likely assume an even larger role with the NHL team for the 2007-08 season and could develop into a full-time star by the end of the season.

16. Drew Stafford

One of the most complete players on this list, Stafford made a smooth and significant transition to the NHL last year with the Buffalo Sabres.  The beefy 21-year-old winger compiled 27 points in 41 games with Buffalo and had 44 in only 34 games while on the farm in Rochester of the AHL.  Stafford can do it all — he can skate, pass, play the body, is defensively capable and can score. The University of North Dakota alumnus should help ease the pain for the Sabres as the team adapts to the loss of key roster players from their remarkable 2006-07 season.  By midseason, Stafford is sure to graduate from Buffalo’s prospect pool.

17. Karl Alzner

Expected to be the first defenseman selected at the 2007 Entry Draft, Alzner fell into the laps of the Washington Capitals with the surprising selection of Thomas Hickey by the Los Angeles Kings fourth overall.  The Capitals gained a well-rounded defenseman.  Alzner is more known for his defensive play and his high hockey intelligence than his scoring.  At only the age of 18, he has plenty of time to work on the offensive side of things and is well on his way to being a top-pairing defenseman.  Alzner has been developing in the WHL, which has been known for producing some of the best all-around defensemen in the world.  He is likely to return to the Calgary Hitmen for the upcoming season but could reach the NHL sooner than most other defensemen in his draft class.

18. Alexei Cherepanov

There is no denying the talent level found in the Russian star but opinions vary on whether Cherepanov can put it all together to carve out a lasting NHL career.  The 18-year-old broke Russian Super League records in his draft year but still had to wait until the second half of the first round before hearing the New York Rangers call his name.  Many expected an inspired performance from Cherepanov in the recent Super Series, but were disappointed by his poor showing in Game 1.  Unfortunately a concussion sustained by a questionable hit in Game 2 ended his tournament prematurely.  Scouts are frustrated by Cherepanov’s selective effort during games and worry a lack of positive consistency might be an indication of motivation problems.  With that said, Cherepanov remains as one of the most offensively-gifted goal scorers outside of the NHL.

19. Sam Gagner

Selected sixth overall by Edmonton in the 2007 Entry Draft, Gagner notched an astounding 118 points as a 17-year-old with the London Knights in 2006-07.  He finished second on his team in scoring but showed during the recent Super Series that he definitely was not riding on the coat tails of any London teammates last season.  Gagner arguably gave Canada the most consistent performance during the eight-game series against Russia and lead the tournament in scoring most of the way.  Lacking only physical maturity and little else, Gagner appears well prepared to follow in his father’s footsteps as an impact player in the NHL.

20. Josh Harding

Drafted in 2002, Harding is one of the most professionally experienced players on the list with over 100 AHL games under his belt.  He also has 10 games of NHL experience, including seven in 2006-07.  His numbers at the professional level are astounding and his steady development allowed Minnesota to trade away long-time No.1 netminder Manny Fernandez.  Before being recalled from Houston to the NHL, Harding posted a 17-16-4 record, 2.48 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage.  With the Wild, he tended net for 361 minutes and allowed just seven goals for a miniscule 1.16 goals-against average.  He faced 174 NHL shots and finished with a remarkable .960 save percentage.  The 23-year-old right-catching native of Saskatchewan boasts quick reflexes and a terrific glove.  His positioning is exceptional and he often plays his best at the most important times.  He will back up Niklas Backstrom this season and has the potential to become a solid No.1 goaltender.

21. Cody Franson

Nashville’s top prospect missed significant time with a concussion last year, but still managed a personal best in goals (17), of which 12 came on the power play.  Franson’s 51 points in 59 games ranked him sixth in the WHL among defensemen and he was runner-up for the Defenseman of the Year award.  The 6’4, 205-pound rearguard was not as productive in the playoffs after another headshot, finishing with just nine points in 24 post-season games as Vancouver captured the Memorial Cup.  He also performed well on Canada’s gold medal team at the 2007 U-20 WJCs.  Franson is a skilled puck-moving defenseman with terrific passing ability and a powerful shot.  He has learned to play a more physical game and his defensive skills have steadily improved.  Barring a standout performance at camp, Franson will start in the AHL, but the 20-year-old native of Salmon Arm, BC should be ready to step up in the near future.  

22. Jonathan Bernier

The most obvious deficiency for the Los Angeles Kings last season was in net, but that cannot be attributed to Bernier.  While the NHL team was struggling to keep the puck out of their own net, Bernier was backstopping Lewiston of the QMJHL to their first ever league championship.  Bernier will come into training camp to battle with NHL veterans to make the roster and hopes to show that his solid technique, mature fundamentals and competitive attitude will force the organization to keep him on the roster.  However, it will be more likely that Bernier will return to Lewiston for his final year of junior eligibility.  It will not be long before Bernier earns his position in Los Angeles and begins to take the next step in his development as an elite goaltender in the making.  As such, Bernier is one of the fastest risers in these rankings.

23. T.J. Oshie

A thumb injury early in the season had Oshie struggling out of the gate.  But later, Oshie took off and finished his sophomore campaign strong.  He was among the most valuable players in all NCAA, posting an impressive 52 points in 43 games with the University of North Dakota.  The final six were tournament games and Oshie was at his best, tallying a team-high 10 points.  The 20-year-old native of Mt. Vernon, Washington is a high-octane offensive-minded player possessing tremendous puck skill and skating ability.  A terrific playmaker with an excellent shot, Oshie is dangerous in one-on-one situations and plays a solid two-way game.  With improvements on his overall speed and some added muscle, Oshie could be a crafty, productive No.1 center at the NHL level.  He is heading back to North Dakota for what should be his final NCAA year. 

24. Jakub Voracek

Voracek’s smooth transition from the Czech junior leagues to North America was capped off by his stellar performance in the 2007 QMJHL playoffs, in which he led the Halifax Mooseheads with 24 points in 12 games.  This followed up a sensational regular season that saw Voracek lead all rookies in scoring with 86 points in 59 games.  He was also a star for the Czech Republic at the international stage, appearing in the U-18 and U-20 WJCs.  Voracek’s best assets are his work ethic and competitiveness.  He is elusive, highly skilled, and shifty with the puck.  His one-on-one skills are astonishing and he possesses excellent finishing abilities.  The 18-year-old native of Kladno was a top rated prospect, but slipped to seventh.  Voracek has already signed an entry-level contract with Columbus but will likely return to Halifax to improve on his consistency and defense.

25. Patrick O’Sullivan

O’Sullivan’s drop in these rankings has more to do with the addition of the newest crop of 2007 draftees than his play on the ice.  O’Sullivan is still a top-notch forward prospect with a high offensive ceiling.  After returning from his demotion to Manchester in the middle of the 2006-07 season, O’Sullivan showed marked improvement in his game, both with and without the puck, and earned additional ice time with Los Angeles upon his return.  Due to this improvement, there are still high hopes for his continued development into a top-six forward.  At this point, it is a wait and see with how his development progresses. 

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