Photo: Jonas Brodin is one of several prospects making an impact for first-place Minnesota, having stepped directly into a top-pairing role in his rookie season (courtesy of Kathleen Hinkel/Icon SMI)
The Wild's controlled rebuilding process is entering a new phase this season, introducing its top prospects into the NHL in sheltered roles. Charlie Coyle, Jonas Brodin, Jason Zucker, Johan Larsson, and Mikael Granlund have all made their NHL debuts, with various degrees of immersion and success. The Minnesota Wild has been careful to balance experience and youth this year, but there are plenty of players in the organization who may be asked to grow quickly in the next seasons to make the most of the opportunity at hand.
Photo: St. Louis Blues winger Vladimir Tarasenko got off to an impressive start in his NHL career, making him an easy choice as the NHL's top rookie for January (courtesy of Scott Kane/Icon SMI)
Due to the NHL lockout, January was an abbreviated month, with most teams playing just over half a dozen games. Nonetheless, the Hockey’s Future staff was polled to give their early thoughts on the front-runners for the league's Calder Trophy, which recognizes the NHL's top rookie.
Photo: St. Louis Blues rookie Vladimir Tarasenko, who is ranked second in HF's prospect rankings, is off to a fine start in his NHL career, making him a leading candidate for NHL Rookie of the Year (courtesy of Danny Murphy/Icon SMI)
With the end of the lockout and the abbreviated 48-game season, the opportunities for NHL rookies to make an impression is somewhat limited. Many of the top teams, such as the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings, head into the season with their lineups virtually intact from the 2011-12 season.
Photo: Defenseman Jonas Brodin, who has missed most of the first half of the season with a broken collarbone, is one of the high-profile prospects making their debut in Houston this season. (courtesy of Juan DeLeon/Icon SMI)
Although many people in and around the world of hockey were negatively affected by the 2012 NHL lockout, the Minnesota Wild was no doubt one team that saw a silver lining. With a cluster of players around the same age needing a developmental year or three in the AHL, the lockout saved the team from hard personnel decisions while also giving these young players a great opportunity to learn to play the pro game together at a high level of competition.
Photo: Drafted ninth overall in 2010, Finnish Center Mikael Granlund has made his AHL debut this season. Granlund was widely considered one of the best hockey players not playing in North America. (Juan DeLeon/Icon SMI)
Below is the top-10 section of Hockey's Future's NHL Team Rankings. The teams are ranked in terms of the quality of their overall prospect pool as voted on by the staff of Hockey's Future. For reference, just the top five prospects are listed. To be eligible, a prospect must meet HF's prospect criteria. The rankings are done twice a year.