The Fall edition of the Hockey’s Future ranking of the Top 50 NHL prospects continues with the prospects ranked 21-30. This particular section of the rankings is led by 2014 NHL Draft pick Michael Dal Colle, one of several recent draft picks to make their top 50 debut.
Below are the prospects ranked 21-30 in HF’s ranking of the Top 50 NHL prospects. The top 50 prospects will be revealed in groups of 10 each day this week, resuming on Thursday with the prospects ranked 11-20.
21. Michael Dal Colle, LW, New York Islanders
Height: 6-2, Weight: 184, Not Ranked
During the run-up to the 2014 draft, a front-running pack of four eventually emerged, but the fifth name in most draft projections was the Oshawa Generals’ Michael Dal Colle. While he might not be a player that a team can build around, he is a very strong bet to provide value in a team’s top-six. His skill level with the puck is always evident and he is a force with it, using his size and speed effectively. Dal Colle’s strongest point is his ability to buy time by using those puck skills. He was a force in his draft season for the Generals in the absence of Scott Laughton (PHI) and ended up leading his team in scoring by a comfortable margin. Dal Colle may not crack the Islanders lineup this season, but with his natural strength he is not far off from doing so.
Kucherov did not last long in the AHL before earning his call-up to Tampa Bay last season after tallying 24 points in his first 17 AHL games. His speed allows him to get past defenders and his sniping abilities allow for picking apart opposing goaltenders. Kucherov had a strong preseason, finishing with seven points (6G, 1A), which placed him among the top scorers. He still needs to work on his consistency, but his raw talent will allow him to play a larger role with Tampa Bay this season, possibly alongside Steven Stamkos as he has in some preseason action.
While Wennberg’s numbers will not jump out at you when you are looking at the stat column, his 21 points in 50 games with Frölunda in 2013-14 is actually quite impressive for a young player. At age 19, Wennberg was able to rack up 16 goals in the highest level of Swedish hockey. That is nothing to scoff at. The Swede is a naturally gifted offensive talent with an ability to make players around him better. His IQ and vision are two incredibly strong assets and, if he can translate the goal-scoring and playmaking skills over to North America, look for Wennberg to have many high scoring seasons on a young and talented Columbus squad. He works hard and has a decent level of defensive ability, as well, which is always smiled upon in the new NHL.
The Hurricanes will need a lot to go right for them to return to the postseason for the first time since 2009. Among them will be the growth of Elias Lindholm. Coming over from Sweden to the pros presented some challenges, such as competing against the best competition in the world, as well as adjusting to playing on the smaller rink. Shoulder and wrist injuries also slowed his transition. Yet Lindholm showed glimpses last year of the type of difference-maker he may one day become. He made plays with his great stickhandling and smart two-way play, showing he made strides in the final two months of the season. Now entering his sophomore season, Lindholm has experience to build off of to help him continue his development.
Even in a Pittsburgh Penguins’ prospect pool that is stacked on defense, Derrick Pouliot stands out. An energetic, puck-moving defenseman, Pouliot spent the last four years playing for the Portland Winterhawks under newly-hired Penguins head coach, Mike Johnston. Pouliot is extremely skilled with the puck, especially when it comes to transitioning the puck into the offensive zone. He is a natural fit for the point on the man advantage, and is equally adept at distributing and shooting the puck. Pouliot will start the 2014-15 season in the AHL, but should eventually see some time in the NHL. New head coach Mike Johnston coached Pouliot in juniors and will employ a similar system in Pittsburgh as he did with Portland. So Pouliot, at least in theory, should have a fairly smooth transition to the pros.
William Nylander is a very skilled forward with slick puck skills and the offensive acuity to be a very productive forward in the NHL one day. The Maple Leafs are no doubt pleased to add a player of his offensive skill to the fold. Nylander may have little left to prove in his native Sweden, but his game will probably not translate immediately to North American hockey. He will need to work on his strength to be able to compete effectively, and his decisions will need to come more quickly. While some of the creativity is inevitably worked out of a young natural’s game by NHL coaches, Nylander should be able to develop into a very productive pro if he can adjust his skills to his team’s needs.
After bursting onto the North American scene last year with the Erie Otters, Burakovsky continued to build excitement with an impressive off-season at the Capitals developmental camp. It was there that the team decided to experiment with the flashy forward at center. The hope is that the high-scoring Swede can improve his efforts in the defensive zone and possibly resolve the Capitals’ second-line issues. Burakovsky’s creativity and top-six talent are very evident, but if he strives to become a more complete player, he will quickly earn the trust of new head coach Barry Trotz. Whether that development takes place in Washington or the AHL this season, expect Burakovsky to bring his skill and personality to the rink every day.
While teammate Eric Gelinas wowed the Devils with his offense, Merrill garnered much praise for his smart play on both ends of the ice. It was in early 2014 when the rookie started to find his groove. Game in and game out, his confidence rose, along with his ice-time, which included appearances on the special teams. After the Olympic break, Merrill was averaging around 20 minutes a night and was considered the team’s best defenseman on a few occasions. Credit Merrill’s maturation over the years for his strong play. It was not long ago that the former Michigan Wolverine dealt with off-ice issues that questioned his commitment. Those concerns were quickly put to rest last season as Merrill was fully engaged and got stronger as the 2013-14 campaign progressed. With the Devils transitioning to a young blue line, look for Merrill to establish himself in the team’s top-four.
Although Nikita Zadorov started the 2013-14 season in the NHL, Buffalo was too inexperienced to compete effectively, leading to the big defender being returned to London of the OHL where he would be under the tutelage of Dale Hunter. There, Zadorov set personal highs, putting up 30 points in 36 games. He played extremely well for Team Russia at the World Juniors and was named to the tournament’s All-Star Team. Zadorov has plenty of strength already but naturally needs to continue to hone his physical conditioning and his overall game. Though his skating is indeed good for a young man of his dimensions, it could also be better. Zadorov is an imposing figure who could develop into one of the most intimidating top-four defensemen in the league.
30. Haydn Fleury, D, Carolina Hurricanes
Height: 6-3, Weight: 207, Not Ranked
The second defensemen taken in the 2014 NHL Draft, Fleury has the ideal size and temperament of a shutdown defender. A player who moves well for his size and is strong on his skates, he scored eight goals with 38 assists and was +15 in 70 regular season games on a Red Deer team that missed the WHL playoffs in 2013-14. The combination of Fleury, 2011 first-round pick Ryan Murphy, and 22-year-old Justin Faulk gives the Carolina franchise some of the most talented prospects on the blue line since they re-located from Hartford prior to the 1997-98 season.
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