Hockey’s Future Prospect of the Year, 2011

By Chris Roberts
Photo: One of the top prospects in all of hockey over the 2010-11 season, Ryan Johansen still did not quite do enough to warrant Hockey’s Future’s Prospect of the Year. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)

Despite not always getting the recognition that big-name prospects playing in North America might get, for the second straight season Hockey’s Future Prospect of the Year is a Swede playing in the Swedish Elite League. Last year it was Jacob Markstrom (FLA) who posted career numbers for Brynas IF Gavle before heading to North America; this year, after one of the best season’s by a defenseman in SEL history, it’s fellow Swede and Ottawa Senators prospect David Rundblad who has earned the Hockey Future’s Prospect of the Year for the 2010-11 season. Like Markstrom last year, Rundblad will make the transition to North America this upcoming season, likely to crack the Senators top-six.

To say that Rundblad had a breakout season in 2010-11 is more than an understatement. In his previous two full seasons with Skelleftea HC, the offensive-minded defenseman combined for just 23 points in 92 games. This season Rundblad was able to secure consistent top-four ice-time and his offense flourished, scoring 11 goals and adding 39 assists in 55 games. His production continued into the playoffs where he posted ten points in 18 games.

Rundblad will bring a smooth-skating, offensive-oriented game to Ottawa next season. Given his efficiency on the power-play this season with Skelleftea HC, he’ll likely get the chance to work with fellow Swede Erik Karlsson next season with the man advantage; or he’ll quarterback the second unit, providing the team with a potentially dangerous defenseman on both units.

Honorable Mention

Ryan Johansen

Amidst the post-draft hype, Ryan Johansen had a fairly average start to the 2010-11 season with the Portland Winterhawks, scoring just near a point-per-game when it was expected that he completely dominate the league. By no means was he disappointing at any point during the year, but there was certainly more expected during the first half of the season, especially given the fact he was playing on one of the best offensive team’s in the WHL. Johansen used the World Juniors as a platform to drastically improve his offensive production; in the final two months of the season, he notched 41 points in just 20 games. He finished the season with 92 points and certainly carried that production into the post-season where he led the Winterhawks to the WHL finals before losing to Kootenay. His play has significantly improved over the past two seasons in Portland, and at this rate it seems unlikely that he’ll return there for a third season.

Brad Thiessen

The undrafted Northeastern University grad Thiessen had a breakout year in his second professional season with the Wilkes-Barrie/Scranton Penguins. He split starts with John Curry for much of the year before earning the bulk of starts in the final three months, including playoffs. In 46 regular season games, Thiessen recorded an impressive 1.94 GAA and a .922 save percentage; he also won 35 of those games while posting seven shutouts. In the playoffs, Thiessen did not slow down; though Wilkes-Barrie/Scranton lasted just two rounds in the Calder Cup playoffs, goaltending was not a problem as Thiessen’s bettered his regular season numbers with a 1.67 GAA and a .940 save percentage. More than that, he gave up more than three goals in a post-season game on just one occasion. With Marc-Andre Fleury’s starting role in Pittsburgh cemented and Brent Johnson signed until the end of next season, Thiessen is likely to spend another season in the AHL before he gets his break in the NHL.

Ryan Ellis

With an overtime winner in his final OHL regular season game, Ryan Ellis became the first OHL defenseman to reach 100 points since 1993-94 when Jamie Rivers accomplished the feat. Of his 101 total points Ellis notched a career high 24 goals and led all defensemen with 77 assists, but what’s most impressive is the fact that he reached such numbers in just 58 games, missing several due to international duty for team Canada at the World Juniors where he once again quarterbacked the team’s power-play. Ellis will be remembered as one of the most decorated defensemen in recent CHL history, but despite such success his future is not as certain. He is undersized for a defenseman and may take some time to adjust to the professional game; however, given Nashville’s defensive depth they can afford to be patient with Ellis.