Top 50: Saad happy to climb prospect ranks

By HF Staff


Photo: Chicago Blackhawks prospect Brandon Saad overcame a disappointing drop in the draft ranks by turning in a strong 2011-12 campaign (courtesy of CHL Images)




Moving on to the next group in Hockey's Future's ranking of the Top 50 NHL prospects, we again find seven more players that were not included in the last ranking of the top prospects, along with three that were ranked in the Fall version of this list. No team is represented more than once with the group being fairly evenly distributed among the five positions.

Here, then, is the 31-40 grouping of the Spring Top 50 list.

31. Brandon Saad, LW, Chicago Blackhawks
Height: 6-1, Weight: 202, Not ranked

Brandon Saad plummeted to 43rd overall at the 2011 NHL Draft but was still able to make the Blackhawks' opening night roster with a revelatory training camp performance. He was dominant after returning to the OHL, where the versatile winger skated in all situations and was named the Saginaw Spirit's captain. He produced 1.73 points per game in an abbreviated junior season, amassing 34 goals, 42 assists in 44 games. Saad joined Team USA at the World Junior Championships, but struggled to produce along with the rest of the team against stiffer competition. At 6'1 and 202 pounds, Saad is strong on the puck and has a nose for the net. He has good speed and thinks the game well, allowing him to regularly find gaps in coverage in which to unleash his hard, accurate shot. In addition to two early regular season games, Saad also drew into Chicago's playoff line-up for two games after his junior season ended. He is all but assured to stick with the Blackhawks for the 2012-13 season.

32. Joel Armia, RW, Buffalo Sabres
Height: 6-3 Weight: 196, Not ranked

Joel Armia has a good combination of skill, speed and size while having a natural ability to score goals with his quick accurate release. The big winger likes to go straight for the net, can beat defenders one on one and has the patience to hold the puck to find the opening. At the 2012 WJC tournament, he showed some of his offensive abilities but also proved that he has the game to play along the boards and around the opposition's net. Armia needs to add more muscle to his large frame and play with more physicality while improving his overall defensive game to play in the NHL. The Sabres' organization would love for the big scoring winger to play in North America next season, but he will most likely stay in Finland for at least other year.

33. Nick Bjugstad, C, Florida Panthers
Height: 6-5, Weight: 212, Not ranked

The 2011-12 season will likely be seen as the year in which Nick Bjugstad truly came of age as a hockey player. Already highly touted and respected as a prospect, the former Mr. Hockey lifted his game to another level. Bjugstad hit the ice with a quicker step, additional power in his long stride, and even more strength along the boards. He led his team with 25 goals and added 17 assists while centering the Gophers top line all the way to the Frozen Four. Bjugstad is equally capable of playing a power forward role—scoring goals down low and digging pucks out of the corner — as he is sniping one-time power play goals from the left circle or stick-handling through traffic and beating the goalie with a crisp wrist shot. He uses his strength to hold off defenders and control puck possession to gain time for his linemates, and consistently makes good reads and gets the puck to open players. Bjugstad is also a capable defender willing to block shots or use his keen hockey sense to read and disrupt plays in his own zone. Simply stated, Bjugstad is a commanding presence whenever he is on the ice. Bjugstad has not yet decided whether he will return to Minnesota for his junior season or sign on with the Panthers and take his game to the next level.

34. Braden Holtby, G, Washington Capitals
Height: 6-2, Weight: 212, Fall ranking – 28

Braden Holtby looks to be the heir apparent in net for the Capitals. Although he has at times looked average while spending most of the 2011-12 season in the AHL backstopping the Hershey Bears, Holtby elevated his play at the NHL level. In seven regular season games, he posted a 2.42 goals against average and a respectable .922 saves percentage. In the playoffs, the Capitals called on Holtby again after their top two goaltenders went down with injuries. Although he had some troubling moments in the crease in the third game of their first-round series vs. Boston, Holtby responded with a 44-save effort in game four against the Bruins. He has good size and athletic ability, covers the net well and battles for every save. If he can grow out of inconsistency issues, he has the skills and resiliency to become a solid number one NHL netminder.

35 Jakob Silfverberg, RW, Ottawa Senators
Height: 6-1, Weight: 187, Not ranked

Jakob Silferberg's fairytale season reads like a prospect's dreamy checklist. Win Regular Season SEL MVP. Check. Win the SEL Championship. Check. Win SEL Playoff MVP. Check. Join the Senators for the NHL Playoffs. Check. While he has an accurate one-timer and a real nose for the net, it is his defensive game that makes him a truly complete player. The eventual departure of another Swedish right winger, Daniel Alfredsson, should open up a key roster spot for Silfverberg in the top six. For now, his all-around game is strong enough to allow him to play in at least a bottom-six role with the Senators.

36. Carl Hagelin, LW, New York Rangers
Height: 5-11, Weight: 176, Not ranked

It didn’t take long for Hagelin to make an impact at the NHL level as he only needed a short adjustment period in the AHL after a dominant four-year career at the University of Michigan. The Rangers recalled him early in the season and his strong two-way play made it impossible for the team to send him back. The gifted skater scored 38 points in 64 games and his strong instincts and hockey sense allowed the Rangers to feel comfortable playing him with players such as Brad Richards and Marion Gaborik. While he’s likely never going to be a star, he has the makings of becoming a great complementary piece that all winning teams need to be successful.

37 Slava Voynov, D, Los Angeles Kings
Height: 5-11, Weight: 193, Not ranked

One of the main reasons the Kings were willing to part ways with Jack Johnson, Slava Voynov has admirably filled in the void left by Johnson's departure. Since that trade, Voynov has seen his power play time steadily increase to over three minutes per game. Voynov is a skilled offensive defenseman who is slowly improving his positioning on the defensive side of the game. Darryl Sutter has also worked with Voynov on improving the use of his stick to defend. After a solid rookie season, next season the Russian defender will have to prove that he can handle playing more minutes for a full NHL season.

38. Nazem Kadri, C, Toronto Maple Leafs
Height: 6-0 Weight: 188, Fall ranking – 21

Nazem Kadri has excellent creativity, good hands and the natural offensive flair to make spectacular plays but still hasn't fully learned that simple is sometimes the better route. The versatile player can play all three forward positions, skates extremely well and can be a scorer as well as a playmaker. The 21-year-old suffered a knee injury early in the 2011-12 season, preventing Kadri from living up to the organization's expectations for him this season. Kadri needs to gain more muscle mass to both absorb the physical pounding at the NHL level and play stronger on the puck. He must bring a more consistent effort every shift and learn to limit the high risk plays while improving the defensive side of his game to play in the NHL for the Leafs next season.

39. Stefan Elliott, D, Colorado Avalanche
Height: 6-0, Weight: 185, Not ranked

Rookie defenseman Stefan Elliott has already proven to be a capable scorer at the NHL level with four goals and nine points in his first 18 NHL contests for the Colorado Avalanche. He cooled off in the 2011-12 season's second half in a smaller role, finishing with 13 points in 39 NHL games, but there are few questions with regards to the 6'1 and 180-pound Elliott's preparedness when it comes to his offensive game. The smooth-skating blueliner is able to lead the rush and makes smart decisions on the breakout. A capable power play quarterback, he does not hesitate to shoot the puck and is able to get it on net with consistency. Elliott does not yet have the strength or temperament to clear the crease or play the body, but he is reliable in his defensive positioning and utilizes an active stick to disrupt opposing offenses. The 21-year-old Elliott will need to continue adding strength and improving his defensive zone play in order to be more than a power play specialist, but he has the potential of a top-four defenseman.

40. Simon Despres, D, Pittsburgh Penguins
Height: 6-4, Weight: 225, Fall Ranking – 46

Simon Despres has come along way since the Penguins drafted him with the last pick in the first round of the 2009 NHL Draft. He turned pro this year after winning a Memorial Cup with the Saint John Sea Dogs and by all accounts acquitted himself very well as 20-year-old rookie pro, this despite missing time with a knee injury. The majority of his season has been spent in the AHL with the Penguins affiliate in Wilkes-Barre, but he was also pressed into action at the NHL level when the Penguins' blueline was decimated by injuries. The physically gifted rearguard skates very well for his size and shows good skills at both ends of the rink. He was fast-tracked to the NHL this season, but he did not look out of place and could find a full-time job on the Penguins blueline as early as next year.

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