The Spring edition of the Hockey's Future ranking of the Top 50 NHL prospects concludes with the prospects ranked 1-10. The top prospect is Florida Panthers forward Aleksander Barkov, who narrowly beat out Jonathan Drouin for top honors in the ranking.
Several prospects remain eligible for the list after missing time with injury during the 2013-14 season. Players like Barkov, Tomas Hertl, and Ryan Murray were all on pace to graduate before knee injuries ended their respective seasons.
1. Aleksander Barkov, C, Florida Panthers
Height: 6-2, Weight: 205, Fall ranking – 8
An all-around center with elite skill level and a propensity for strong defensive zone play, Aleksander Barkov has met the expectations that came with being the number two overall pick at the 2013 NHL Draft. He does not turn 19 until September, but already has 54 NHL games – and 24 points – under his belt. With no Mikko Koivu or Valtteri Filppula available for the Finns at the Olympics, Barkov was given the opportunity to log big minutes down the middle for the eventual bronze medal winners, but he unfortunately suffered a knee injury in a round robin win against Norway.
It is unclear whether or not Barkov will return to the Panthers for the 2013-14 season, but the future is bright for the budding star. He already possesses NHL size with a 6’3", 205-pound frame, and though he has not done so with the Panthers much at all this season, he has had success killing penalties with Tappara of Finland's Liiga. Moreover, his point production at the NHL level should increase as he gets more comfortable in the league and is provided the chance to play with capable wingers.
2. Jonathan Drouin, LW, Tampa Bay Lightning
Height: 5-11, Weight: 176, Fall ranking – 9
Drouin is a slick puck handler with excellent vision, creativity, and playmaking skills. He can operate the power play on the half-wall or from the point and possesses a quick accurate release. He is also a solid two-way player and a good penalty killer at the QMJHL level. His level of competitiveness is extremely high with the puck on his stick, but he can lose focus when the game is not going his way. He still needs maturing and a much better off-ice work ethic in order to take the next step at the NHL level. With his dominance of the QMJHL this year, Drouin should make the Lightning's roster next season.
Having just landed in the NHL after a rocky, injury-plagued season back home in Russia, Kuznetsov has looked comfortable in his first few games with Washington and should develop into a top-six forward for the Capitals. The native of Chelyabinsk, Russia is a very gifted player with impressive puck skills and great skating ability, but he needs to bulk up a bit to bring his game to the next level. He is very creative with the puck, and with time and experience, can become an offensive force for the Capitals.
Trouba is a physical defenseman who can do it all and make it look effortless in the process. He is an excellent skater and puck mover, and possesses a rocket of a shot. His defensive positioning, shot blocking, and gap control have improved with each NHL game this season and he is playing on both of the Jets specialty teams. The 20-year-old has a high level of competitiveness, a solid work ethic, and a real nasty streak, which is drawing comparisons to a young Chris Pronger. One thing is for sure, Trouba is in the NHL to stay and the Winnipeg Jets might have a franchise defenseman.
5. Tomas Hertl, C, San Jose Sharks
Height: 6-2, Weight: 198, Fall ranking – 31
The dynamic young forward burst onto the scene this year with some scintillating performances and examples of top-level skill. Hertl was tabbed as one of the favorites for the Calder early on, but unfortunately, his rookie season was cut short due to a major knee injury. Regardless, he has proven to be a valuable asset to the high-powered Sharks forward group with his keen offensive sense, nose for the net, and fantastic skating. He has the size and the skill to be a real threat for the Sharks for years to come. Hopefully Hertl's knee recovery goes according to plan and he is back at 100 percent since he is definitely one of the more exciting next-generation players currently coming up in the NHL.
Forward Ryan Strome was not expected to see more than a handful of games in the NHL as a first-year pro. The Islanders were fearful of rushing his development and felt he was better served by playing a more prominent role in the minors. That changed, however, when Islanders captain John Tavares went down with a knee injury during the 2014 Winter Olympics. The Islanders recalled Strome immediately following the Olympic break and he has been a factor in their top-nine ever since.
A center with world-class speed and offensive instincts, Strome has an immense amount of NHL potential, but his defensive game and how he plays without the puck remain a work in progress.
7. Ryan Murray, D, Columbus Blue Jackets
Height: 6-0, Weight: 201, Fall ranking – 23
The Blue Jackets are in the midst of a revitalizing youth movement, and Ryan Murray has been at the forefront for the organization. The second overall pick in 2012 has had a very strong debut to his NHL career and is showing all the poise and two-way prowess that was advertised. He is already pushing his minutes into the low 20’s in his rookie season, and will only get better with more experience and comfort at the NHL level. No question, Murray is going to be the anchor of the Blue Jackets blue line for many years with his outstanding offensive and defensive awareness. Unfortunately, Murray went down with a knee injury in early March which required arthroscopic knee surgery.
One of the top defensemen of his birth year, Ristolainen recently raised his stock thanks to a great WJC campaign where he not only won the gold medal with Team Finland but was also named the tournament’s top defenseman and awarded with an inclusion in the media All-Star team. Ristolainen is a very interesting defenseman who joins an NHL body and excellent puck moving skills. With Ristolainen, the Sabres landed another blue chip prospect who can patrol the blue line for years to come. The native of Turku, Finland has already had his first taste of the NHL this season, which includes his first NHL goal.
Gibson has been a winner no matter where he has gone. With a junior career filled with accolades behind him, his professional career has started with the same sort of promise, poise, and potential. He has maintained a .918 save percentage and 2.40 goals-against average throughout his rookie season with Norfolk in the AHL. Even with low goal support, Gibson has kept his cool and maintained a consistent work ethic and playing level. He has always been praised for his methodical approach to games and it is paying dividends at the pro level. Using his size and strong reads, he has built up an 20-15-4 record thus far in his AHL career.
At this rate he is close to challenging for an NHL job, and the Anaheim Ducks have recently cleared up a little of their goaltending log jam by trading Viktor Fasth. The 20-year-old Gibson is arguably the best goaltending prospect out there at the moment, and it will be hard to keep him in the minors much longer.
10. Andrey Vasilevskiy, G, Tampa Bay Lightning
Height: 6-3, Weight: 203, Fall ranking – 24
After an excellent showcase at the junior level, Vasilevskiy finally secured the starting goaltender duties with Salavat Yulaev Ufa and has done very well playing for one of the KHL's best Eastern Conference teams. Vasilevskiy has an NHL body, which certainly will help him in the transition to the more physical North American game, where he will be more exposed to big players crashing and screening the net. Vasilevskiy posted a .923 save percentage with a goals-against average of 2.21 during the regular season, and his numbers are improving during the playoffs. His contract will run out on April 30th so it will be interesting to see if the Lightning will offer him a contract this offseason.
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