The process of creating Hockey’s Future’s Top 50 NHL Prospects was explained in an introductory article. Below are the prospects ranked 41-50, in descending order, with a brief description of what they bring to the table. In parentheses are the NHL teams who currently hold their rights.
50. Steve Bernier, Right Wing (SAN)
Height: 6’2”, Weight: 233, Current Team: Moncton Wildcats (QMJHL)
The trade last season of Owen Nolan left the San Jose Sharks without a truly talented power forward in their system. The Sharks attempted to address this shortage by selecting QMJHL star Steve Bernier in the first round of the 2003 NHL Draft. The burly Bernier was coming off of a banner season in 2002-03 in which he was a Second Team All-Star in the ‘Q’, so expectations were that the Vanier, Quebec native would solidify his standing as a top player at the junior level during the 2003-04 campaign. Instead, this season has at times been a struggle for Bernier, but he has come on in the season’s second half to show why he is such a highly regarded prospect. The big right wing finished the regular season with 36 goals and 46 assists in 66 games, totals that were both lower than what Bernier had tallied in 2002-03.
49. Maxime Ouellet, Goaltender (WAS)
Height: 6’2”, Weight: 196, Current Team: Washington Capitals (NHL)
It seems as if Maxime Ouellet has been around forever, yet he is only 22. Originally a first round selection of the Philadelphia Flyers, Ouellet is now a top prospect in the Washington Capitals system. The Capitals have so far been content to develop Ouellet slowly, with the Beauport, Quebec native having seen only a limited amount of NHL action. With the Capitals now going with a youth movement, however, it’s expected that Ouellet will be given more of a chance to prove his mettle in the NHL. Ouellet is a butterfly style goaltender, one with enough size to fill the upper portion of the net even when dropping to his knees to cover the lower part of the net.
48. Jeff Tambellini, Left Wing (LA)
Height: 5’11”, Weight: 185, Current Team: University of Michigan (CCHA)
A chip off of the old NHL block, Jeff Tambellini is the son of former NHL forward and current Vancouver Canucks’ VP of Player Personnel Steve Tambellini. The younger Tambellini was one of three first round selections of the Los Angeles Kings at the 2003 NHL Draft, and he is currently a sophomore at the University of Michigan. Tambellini was the CCHA Rookie of the Year in 2002-03, helping lead the Wolverines to the 2003 Frozen Four Tournament. The Wolverines this season are again a top team in the CCHA, but Tambellini has struggled at times to find his scoring touch. The Port Moody, British Columbia native has netted just 12 goals this season compared to 26 in his freshman year, while his plus/minus has sunk to –4 from last year’s +10. The slightly built Tambellini is a player who relies on quickness and a good release to generate his offense, attributes he’ll need to accentuate if he wants to be successful in the NHL.
47. Derek Roy, Center (BUF)
Height: 5’9”, Weight: 188, Current Team: Buffalo Sabres (NHL)
Former Kitchener Rangers star and 2003 Memorial Cup MVP Derek Roy has quickly made a name for himself this season as a NHL rookie. Roy spent the early portion of the 2003-04 season with the Sabres AHL farm team in Rochester, but he has made the most of his time in the NHL since being called up in mid-December. Roy’s contributions have mostly been defensive in nature, so much so that the Sabres decided to trade long-time checking center Curtis Brown at the NHL trade deadline. Roy’s play has not been one dimensional, though, as he has displayed some of the nifty offensive skills that made him a threat in his junior days. The Ottawa, Ontario native appears to be on track to become an effective two-way center in the NHL.
46. Alex Perezhogin, Right Wing (MON)
Height: 6’0”, Weight: 185, Current Team: Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
After a strong 2002-03 season in the Russian Superleague, Alex Perezhogin set his sights on making his mark in North America. The Montreal Canadiens prospect signed a contract with the Habs in the offseason, beginning his pro career with Hamilton of the AHL. Not surprisingly, it took the talented winger some time to become acclimated to the to the style of play on these shores, but Perezhogin appears to be more comfortable with each passing week. The Ust Kamenogorsk, Kazakistan native is on a pace to hit the 20-goal/50-point plateau as an AHL rookie. Perezhogin is adept at both scoring goals and setting them up, and he has a reputation for being a player that rarely takes a shift off. The former Avangard Omsk star is a bit on the skinny side, but he has the talent to eventually be a top-6 forward for the Canadiens.
45. Ray Emery, Goaltender (OTT)
Height: 6’2”, Weight: 203, Current Team: Binghamton Senators (AHL)
Ray Emery’s status has risen dramatically since being selected by the Ottawa Senators in the fourth round of the 2001 NHL Draft, to the point where he is the undisputed goaltender of the future for the Senators. Big, positionally sound and incredibly athletic, Emery has appeared in the AHL All-Star Game in each of his first two years in the league. The only major knock on Emery is his temper, which has led to several fights and several suspensions for careless, often vicious acts of violence. With Patrick Lalime and Martin Prusek currently in front of him on the depth chart, making the Senators roster will not be easy for Emery. But the Cayuga, Ontario native has the tools to eventually oust one of the incumbents, which could happen sooner rather than later.
44. Keith Ballard, Defense (PHO)
Height: 5’11”, Weight: 204, Current Team: University of Minnesota (WCHA)
There are two ways to assess the trading of Keith Ballard’s rights twice in less than one year — either he is a highly coveted prospect who can bring a good return in a trade, or he is simply an average prospect that has some value as a trade add-on. The truth probably lies somewhere in between, though, since there is little doubt that Ballard is a well-regarded defenseman at the college level. The coaches at the University of Minnesota certainly appreciate Ballard’s talents, since they nominated him as that school’s entry for the WCHA Player of the Year award. The Baudette, Minnesota native is considered to be more of an offensive defenseman, but one with a little sandpaper to his game. Ballard’s defensive zone coverage could use some work, while his effort is not consistent from game-to-game, but overall the Phoenix Coyotes appear to have added a solid defenseman to their stable of prospects.
43. Alexander Polushin, Right Wing (TAM)
Height: 6’4”, Weight: 200, Current Team: CSKA Moscow (RSL)
Perhaps the grade for Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Alexander Polushin should be an incomplete, given the early end to his season due to a knee injury. Polushin’s injury was a particularly bad break in light of the fact that he appeared to be settling in to the higher level of play in the Russian Superleague. The big winger was considered a project in his draft year, but he appears to be developing nicely into a solid two-way performer. Polushin’s size makes him difficult to knock off the puck, both in traffic and along the boards, and he has enough offensive polish to be a threat in the opposition’s end. The Kirov, Russia native’s defensive game is already well regarded, so Polushin appears to be a good fit for the North American game.
42. Marc-Antoine Pouliot, Center (EDM)
Height: 6’1”, Weight: 195, Current Team: Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL)
A somewhat surprising first round selection in last year’s NHL Draft, Marc-Antoine Pouliot appears to be developing nicely as a two-way center with some leadership skills. The Quebec City, Quebec native has gone from the outhouse to the penthouse in just one season, as the Oceanic have emerged in 2003-04 as one of the top junior teams after a dismal 2002-03 campaign. Pouliot’s work this season has been somewhat overshadowed by the play of phenom Sidney Crosby, but the rangy center’s contributions have been no less important to the Oceanic’s fortunes. Pouliot’s primary asset is his playmaking ability, but his reputation as a leader has been solidified with his being named Rimouski’s captain this season. In spite of a disappointing WJC camp that was cut short by injury, the Edmonton Oilers appear to have in Pouliot a solid prospect who will one day center one of that team’s top two lines.
41. Brent Seabrook, Defense (CHI)
Height: 6’3”, Weight: 220, Current Team: Lethbridge Hurricanes (WHL)
Chicago Blackhawks prospect Brent Seabrook appears to be a defensive prospect that many NHL teams would love to have, namely a two-way defenseman with a mean streak. Seabrook has a hard shot to go along with some playmaking skills, which are two attributes that make him a candidate to quarterback the power play. The Delta, British Columbia native also is not averse to delivering some punishing hits to opposing forwards, a trait that is hard to come by in today’s NHL. Seabrook’s skating is average, and he is susceptible to being beaten by quicker forwards. The positives outweigh the negatives for Seabrook, however, so the Blackhawks appear to have a solid player for their defensive corps.