In the final part of our Top 50 NHL prospects rankings, we look at the top 10 spots. Of the ten ranked players, seven were top 10 picks in their draft class and all but two are expected to play in the NHL at some point this season.
The most difficult part of determining the top section of the rankings was settling on a top prospect. Philosophically there were differences among the HF staff, though eventually it was settled Ryan Nugent-Hopkins would be ranked 1A and Adam Larsson 1B. Regardless, it was agreed both are excellent prospects to build a franchise around.
1. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – C – Edmonton Oilers
Height: 6-0 Weight: 176
In drafting Nugent-Hopkins first overall this past June, the Oilers added another future franchise player to a team in the midst of a major youth movement. Coming off a 106 point season in junior with the Red Deer Rebels, there isn’t much left for Nugent-Hopkins to prove at the junior level. There is some concern about his ability to withstand the rigors of a full NHL season at his current weight, but there is no denying his elite vision, playmaking skills, good positioning, and strong play in his own zone. He simply makes those around him better by being a threat every time he has the puck on his stick.
It was a rough year overall for the Devils, but having Larsson, the best defense prospect in the draft, fall into their laps fourth overall this past summer helped ease the pain. He more than held his own the past two years playing for Skelleftea in the Swedish Elite League against men. Calm, cool, and able to play with poise that belies his age, it appears the Devils, who haven’t had a potential franchise defenseman of Larsson’s ilk since the Scott Stevens/Scott Niedermayer days, are going to have him spent the entire 2011-12 season in the NHL. He should settle in as an elite top-pairing defenseman sooner rather than later.
The key piece for the Flyers in the blockbuster trade that sent Mike Richards to the Kings was Brayden Schenn, who finally appears to be ready to crack the NHL level on a full-time basis. A gritty two-way stalwart, Schenn simply dominated and was an unstoppable force at the junior level last season (both in the CHL and at the World Juniors) after starting the year in the NHL with Los Angeles. Schenn isn’t going to be handed a job in Philadelphia, but should at least see several opportunities to play in the NHL as the season progresses.
A prolific junior career – 161 points in 134 games – is likely to come to an end this season as Ryan Johansen should make the jump to the NHL. The immensely skilled playmaker is currently behind veteran centers such as Jeff Carter, Derick Brassard, and Antoine Vermette on the Blue Jackets’ depth chart, but given the fact that he has no more to prove at the junior level, and is ineligible to play in the AHL, he could possibly shift to the wing for the time being. Whatever happens, the consensus is Ryan Johansen already has NHL talent, and in time, should develop into a number one center.
Having played 48 regular season NHL games in 2010-11, the smooth-skating Ekman-Larsson is looking toward making a greater contribution to the Phoenix Coyotes blue line this year. A first-round pick in 2009, Ekman-Larsson is a gifted two-way defender whose effortless skating and tremendous puck-moving ability has drawn comparisons to fellow Swedish rearguards Alex Edler, Erik Karlsson, and even the great Nick Lidstrom. The 20-year-old will be given the chance to play full-time in Phoenix this year and will be expected to take the first steps towards reaching his potential of becoming an NHL all-star defenseman.
While Jonathan Quick currently holds the keys to the starter’s position in Los Angeles, Jonathan Bernier has shown he has the ability to takeover if needed. Bernier established himself as a legitimate NHL goalie last season after appearing in 25 games with the club. While not a full work load, it speaks to the development of Bernier and the coaching staff’s faith in him. The Kings have the luxury of riding the hot-hand in net, and if Quick falters, Bernier can take over without missing a beat.
7. David Rundblad – D – Ottawa Senators
Height: 6-2 Weight: 189
Rundblad turned heads last year after posting 50 points in 55 SEL games for Skelleftea. A tremendous skater and puck handler, Rundblad also possesses a calm demeanor and deadly shot. Though not particularly physical, he shows good defensive awareness and positioning, uses his stick effectively to block passing lanes or strip attacking forwards, and makes fluid outlet passes. On offense, Rundblad shines. He has a hard, accurate slapper, a sniper’s wrist shot, and can deke and dive around defenders with ease. Rundblad needs some time in the AHL to get used to the smaller size of North American rinks, but will probably play the bulk of the 2011-12 season in the NHL as the Sens do not want to risk him going back to Sweden for another year.
Now in his fourth season as a member of the Novosibirsk Sibir in the KHL, Vladimir Tarasenko was the first round selection of the St. Louis Blues in 2010. An exciting, dynamic winger, he skates very well, is strong, and has excellent hands. Tarasenko will likely join the St. Louis Blues for the 2012-13 season where he will be expected to have an immediate impact at the NHL level.
Niederreiter was given a nine game trial last season with the Islanders before being returned to the WHL‘s Portland Winterhawks where he overpowered the opposition and helped lead his team all the way to the WHL finals. The well-rounded power-forward can do it all. Once he fully matures and reaches his potential, his size, speed, and fearlessness on the ice will make him a force to be reckoned with. Expect him to stick in Long Island this season and eventually settle into a top-six forward role in the not too distant future.
Finishing the 2011-12 season with 43 goals, 62 assists, a plus-59 rating, not to mention 30 points in 16 playoff games and Memorial Cup MVP honors, few players saw their stock rise as quickly as Jonathan Huberdeau.
Possessing keen hockey sense, the young center can be electrifying with his creativity, shifty moves, quick skating speed, and great hands. His offensive accolades have a tendency to overshadow his defensive abilities and solid work ethic. He has a slight, lanky frame which will need more muscle mass to handle the rigors of an 82 game NHL season.