Jake Gardiner tops first grouping of HF’s Top 50 NHL prospects

By HF Staff
Photo: Florida Panthers‘ prospect Nick Bjugstad comes in at #46 in Hockey’s Future’s ranking of the Top 50 NHL prospects (courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)

Out of a pool of 900 or so NHL prospects, how do you select 50 as the cream of the current crop? It’s not an easy task, but one that we undertake every six months at Hockey’s Future.

And it is now time for the Spring, 2011 edition of HF’s ranking of the Top 50 NHL prospects. The committee charged with compiling this list looked primarily at the prospects that HF writers have ranked among the top five for each of the 30 NHL clubs, eventually whittling down the list to the final order that will be released over the next several days.

This time around, we’ll be splitting each article into groups of ten and releasing them in descending order. We’ll also include an article that outlines some of the players left out of the rankings, either as an honorable mention or as a result of the player being deemed to be a graduating prospect.

The series of articles begins with this one, dedicated to prospects 41 through 50. It is this group more than the other groups of 10 that experiences the most fluctuation and re-arrangement, given the fact that many players that could be deserving of inclusion end up being left on the outside looking in. It’s never an easy call, but the group has to make a decision on who stays and who goes. And who stayed?

Starting at #50, New York Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh makes his return to this list after last appearing at #39 in the Fall, 2009 version of the rankings. McDonagh has changed teams since that last Top 50 appearance, having been traded by the Montreal Canadiens to the Rangers in the interim. The heady McDonagh has impressed during his time with the Rangers this season, and seems poised to move his career to another level.

Next in line at #49 is left winger Jeremy Morin, a prospect of the Chicago Blackhawks. Morin was originally drafted by the Atlanta Thrashers in 2009, but was moved to the Blackhawks in a multi-player deal made just prior to last year’s NHL Draft. The Auburn, New York native is making his first appearance in HF’s Top 50 rankings, based in part on his good showing at the 2011 Under-20 World Junior Championship earlier this year.

Moving on to #48, we find defensive prospect Stefan Elliott, currently of the WHL‘s Saskatoon Blades. Elliott, a draft pick of the Colorado Avalanche, has taken his game to another level this season, playing a key role in leading the Blades to the top of the WHL. The presence of Elliott and fellow WHL defender Tyson Barrie in the Avalanche’s system no doubt made it a bit easier to move defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk to the St. Louis Blues at the trade deadline.

Sitting at #47 is right winger Tyler Toffoli of the OHL‘s Ottawa 67’s. Toffoli is property of the Los Angeles Kings, who drafted the Scarborough, Ontario native in the second round of the 2010 NHL Draft. Toffoli turned in an outstanding regular season for the 67’s, tying for the league scoring title with Kitchener Rangers forward Jason Akeson.

Moving up one position, to #46, from our last edition of the Top 50 is Florida Panthers prospect Nick Bjugstad. Last year’s recipient of Minnesota high school hockey’s Mr. Hockey award turned in a solid freshman season for the University of Minnesota. Bjugstad also played well at the 2011 Under-20 WJC’s, but there certainly is room for Bjugstad’s game to grow over the next couple of seasons.

Our pick for #45 on this list, Pittsburgh Penguins prospect Eric Tangradi, is no stranger to the HF Top 50. This is the left winger’s fifth appearance in the rankings, although he has dropped down from the 28th slot since the Fall Top 50 was published. Tangradi’s second pro season has featured his first extensive NHL action with the Penguins, but the big winger is now recovering from a concussion.

Looking at #44, we find University of Denver center Drew Shore. Shore, the second Florida Panthers prospect in this grouping, turned in a fine season for the Pioneers, more than doubling his offensive output from his freshman season. This is his first appearance in HF’s Top 50 rankings, but with continued improvement he could rise much higher than his current position.

Our choice at #43 is another first-timer, center Andrei Loktionov. The Russian is the second Los Angeles Kings prospect in this group. Loktionov has shown plenty of promise in the AHL, but he’s been bitten by the injury bug the past two seasons and will miss the remainder of the 2010-11 season with a shoulder injury.

We find our first goaltender in this group at #42, Jake Allen of the AHL‘s Peoria Rivermen. The Fredericton, New Brunswick native is a prospect of the St. Louis Blues, the team that drafted him in 2008. Allen has turned in a strong rookie season for the Rivermen. He struggled somewhat at the 2011 WJC, but is proving his mettle in the AHL this season.

Topping off this group at #41 is Toronto Maple Leafs prospect, Jake Gardiner. Gardiner, a defenseman, was originally drafted by the Anaheim Ducks but was acquired by the Leafs prior to this year’s NHL trade deadline. Gardiner had an outstanding season at the University of Wisconsin and recently signed his first NHL contract with the Leafs.

Next: Prospects 31-40