Considering all the factors involved – position, league, age, to name a few – it isn’t easy to compare prospects across multiple levels. But, because there can be only one Hockey’s Future NHL Prospect of the Year, we set out to make those comparisons.
Several players emerged with tremendous 2014-15 seasons, establishing themselves as top-flight prospects or proving true previously established beliefs in regard to their talent. One, however, stood out more so than the others.
Prospects that competed primarily outside the NHL were considered for this honor. Players that were under consideration in HF’s Calder Poll for the top NHL rookie were not considered for the Prospect of the Year award.
Hockey’s Future 2015 NHL Prospect of the Year
Dylan Larkin, C, University of Michigan (DET)
Dylan Larkin follows in the footsteps of Teuvo Teravainen (CHI) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (WSH), who were the previous two Hockey’s Future NHL Prospects of the Year. And, other than the fact that he plays for a patient Detroit Red Wings organization, it wouldn’t be out of line to suggest Larkin having the same impact in the 2016 NHL Playoffs as both Teravainen and Kuznetsov had in the 2015 postseason.
In fact, the 18-year-old, who had a standout season for the University of Michigan, recently decided to turn pro, joining the Grand Rapids Griffins in the AHL playoffs following a season in which he has already racked up a ton of miles in the air. As a freshman with Michigan, Larkin finished second in scoring with 47 points in 35 games, elevating the play of those around him, specifically former Florida Panthers prospect Zach Hyman, who saw his point total rise from 17 to 54 from his junior to senior season. Larkin is a smooth, at-ease skater and can distribute the puck quite well, evidenced by his team-leading 32 assists. He showcased his goal-scoring ability for the United States at the 2015 World Junior Championship, scoring five goals in five games before a quarterfinal exit. Despite Jack Eichel (2015) receiving all of the attention heading into the tournament for the American team, Larkin was the team’s best – and most complete – player.
Larkin also played with Eichel during the 2015 IIHF World Championship in the Czech Republic. He recorded just one assist in the 10 games he played, but was used sparingly. Upon returning to North America in mid-May amidst questions of his college status, Larkin decided to sign an entry-level deal with the Red Wings, and with the Grand Rapids Griffins still in the AHL playoffs, he joined the team for the beginning of the Western Conference finals. To the surprise of no one, Larkin fit right in, scoring three goals and adding two assists in six games.
Oliver Bjorkstrand, RW, Portland Winterhawks (CBJ)
A third round pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2013, Oliver Bjorkstrand was one of the best goal scorers in the CHL this past season, scoring a whopping 63 goals in 59 regular season games and 13 in 17 playoff games. Bjorkstrand’s best asset is undoubtedly his shot, but he’s an all-around offensive player who is a threat at all times on the ice. He scored four goals in five World Junior Championship games and, following a tough Western Conference Finals loss to Kelowna in the WHL playoffs, joined Denmark for the World Championship, where he went scoreless in three games.
Matt Murray, G, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (PIT)
No goaltender had a greater impact than Pittsburgh Penguins prospect Matt Murray did this season. In his first season as a pro, the Thunder Bay, ON native recorded astounding numbers in 40 games between the pipes; he posted a record of 25-10-3, along with a 1.58 goals-against average and a ridiculous .941 save percentage. Oh, and he also had 12 shutouts. Murray was named the AHL Rookie of the Year in April.
Esa Lindell, D, Ässät (DAL)
A lot of defensemen stood out this season, but none like Dallas Stars prospect Esa Lindell, whose strong two-way game was on display against men in Liiga, the top pro league in Finland. The 6’3″, 198-pound Helsinki native found his comfort level when loaned to Ässät prior to the start of this season. Last year with Jokerit, he scored just twice and recorded five points in 44 games; this season, however, Lindell scored 14 goals and added 21 assists in 57 games. He finished in a three-player tie for most points amongst all Liiga defensemen. Lindell also had a tremendous impact with Finland at the 2015 World Championship, recording six points in eight games while being named one of the team’s Top 3 players.
William Nylander, C/RW, Toronto Marlies (TOR)
Toronto Maple Leafs prospect William Nylander, like Larkin, played – and played well – at more than a few levels this season. He began his season with MODO of the SHL and for 21 games was amongst the league leaders in points – 20 – and ice time. The creative Swede moved to Toronto following the 2015 World Junior Championship to play for the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, where he recorded 32 points in 37 games and was one of the team’s top offensive threats along with Connor Brown.
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