The process of creating Hockey’s Future’s Top 50 NHL Prospects was explained in an introductory article, and the start of the list, prospects ranked 41-50, can be found here. Below are prospects 40-31,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.
40. Ron Hainsey, Defense (MTL)
Height: 6-3, Weight: 211, Current Team: Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
Montreal Canadiens defensive prospect Ron Hainsey has had his chances to make the NHL club over the past couple of years, but has yet to gain a foothold in the big league. A first round selection in 2000, Hainsey is currently in the AHL providing solid offensive production for the Hamilton Bulldogs. He is known around the league for having a somewhat cocky attitude, one that may be hindering more than helping Hainsey’s development. The Bolton, Connecticut native is mobile and has good hockey instincts, but his overall game lacks polish. There is no question that Hainsey possesses some intangibles that make him an intriguing defensive prospect, but it remains to be seen how much more time and money the Habs will invest in developing him.
39. Jared Aulin, Center (WAS)
Height: 6-0, Weight: 192, Current Team: Portland Pirates (AHL)
Originally a second round selection of the Colorado Avalanche, Jared Aulin is now a part of his third organization with his trade from Los Angeles to the Washington Capitals at the NHL trade deadline. Aulin is currently on injured reserve with a shoulder injury, and has been since September, so his place on this list is based on potential alone. The Calgary, Alberta native is considered an offensively gifted player with the potential to be a first- or second-line playmaking center. Aulin may ultimately lack the size to be the Caps’ top center, but his talent is too highly regarded to leave him off of this list.
38. Scott Upshall, Left Wing (NAS)
Height: 6-0, Weight: 187, Current Team: Milwaukee Admirals (AHL)
Nashville Predators prospect Scott Upshall may never light the lamp in the NHL, but he’ll never be accused of not trying. The feisty Upshall was the Predators first round selection in 2002, based more on his constantly running motor than a high skill level. The Fort McMurray, Alberta native is not without his talents, however, as he is tough to knock off the puck, and is willing to go into the corners regardless of the size of the opposition. Upshall has spent most of the 2003-04 season with the Predators AHL farm team in Milwaukee, where injuries and a lack of playing time have conspired to limit the left winger to just 22 games played. The Predators have shown themselves to be a very patient team when it comes to developing players, so they won’t rush Upshall to Nashville before his time.
37. Niklas Kronwall, Defense (DET)
Height: 6-0, Weight: 180, Current Team: Detroit Red Wings (NHL)
A broken right leg suffered in January has shortened defenseman Niklas Kronwall’s rookie season in the NHL. The Stockholm, Sweden native was making a positive impression following his call-up to the Detroit Red Wings, so the break was unfortunately timed. Kronwall is not the prototypical lanky NHL defenseman, but is instead a smart and talented rearguard in a compact package. The former first round pick will never put players through the boards, but he has enough untapped offensive potential to be a threat in the offensive zone. Kronwall may have to bulk up some to handle the tighter traffic in the NHL, but his talent level should carry him to a long career in the NHL.
36. Eric Fehr, Right Wing (WAS)
Height: 6-3, Weight: 190, Current Team: Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)
Brandon Wheat Kings scoring star Eric Fehr may be sitting at No. 36 on the charts, but he is almost certainly climbing with a bullet. Fehr has had a breakthrough 2003-04 season at the junior level, yet he won’t turn 19 until next September. The Winkler, Manitoba native nearly doubled his goal total of last season, ending the season as one of only three WHL players to hit the 50-goal plateau. Fehr led the Wheat Kings in scoring this season, and was eighth overall in the WHL in total points. The once lanky winger, who was the Washington Capitals first round selection in last year’s draft, has added some weight to his frame, which has made him tougher to handle at the junior level. Fehr has a nose for the net, as his goal total would attest, and he seems to have a knack for scoring important goals. If Fehr can continue his rapid development, the Capitals may have found their eventual successor to former Caps scoring star Peter Bondra.
35. Pavel Vorobiev, Right Wing (CHI)
Height: 6-0, Weight: 194, Current Team: Norfolk Admirals (AHL)
Few players in recent years have rocketed up the charts during their draft year like Pavel Vorobiev did in 2000. The Karaganda, Kazakhstan native went from being an unknown mucker to a top prospect, and the Chicago Blackhawks finally selected Vorobiev 11th overall. A complete player with scoring potential, Vorobiev has played 18 games with the Blackhawks this season, but the majority of his 2003-04 season has been spent in Norfolk of the AHL. Not unlike Predators prospect Scott Upshall, Vorobiev is a grinder with more desire than overall skill. While it is unlikely he will ever be a first line scorer, Vorobiev should be an excellent second line player considering his all-round game, and should play full time in Chicago next season.
34. Chris Higgins, Center (MTL)
Height: 5-11, Weight: 188, Current Team: Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
Montreal Canadiens prospect Chris Higgins got an early taste of the NHL this season, appearing in two games for the Habs at the start of the 2003-04 campaign. Higgins was then sent down to develop his game with the Hamilton Bulldogs of the AHL, where he is having a good rookie season. Higgins is the steadiest forward in the Canadiens farm system, with the former Yale star gaining a reputation for his leadership, heart, versatility, and finely tuned defensive instincts. The Smithtown, New York native has good speed and a knack for delivering hard hits, and is a potential 25-30-goal scorer in the NHL. Although smaller in stature, Higgins nonetheless is an excellent two-way prospect, and has the potential to one day become a team captain.
33. Robert Nilsson, Center (NYI)
Height: 5-11, Weight: 181, Current Team: Leksand (SEL)
One of a handful of players on this list with NHL lineage, New York Islanders prospect Robert Nilsson is the son of former NHL offensive star Kent Nilsson. The younger Nilsson has many of the same offensive skills that his father displayed, but there may be an edge to Robert’s game that was missing from the elder Nilsson’s arsenal. The young Swede (by way of Calgary, Alberta) is a playmaking center who is likely to create goals rather than score them. In spite of his small build, Nilsson isn’t afraid to throw his body around, although he is by no means a disturber. Nilsson spent the 2003-04 season with Leksand in Sweden’s top league, so he is getting a taste of a higher level of hockey at a young age. While it is possible that Nilsson could move to North America next season, it seems more likely that he’ll continue developing in Sweden.
32. Lukas Krajicek, Defense (FLA)
Height: 6-2, Weight: 185, Current Team: San Antonio Rampage (AHL)
Former Peterborough Petes star Lukas Krajicek can’t decide whether to wear spurs or golf cleats this season, as he has been back and forth between San Antonio and Florida several times. The Prostejov, Czech Republic native is suffering the inevitable growing pains that most offensively inclined defensemen go through, with some of Krajicek’s mistakes being both spectacular and confounding. The talented Czech has all the tools to be a productive offensive rearguard, possibly talented enough to produce 40-50 points a season. Krajicek may still need some time in San Antonio next season, but given the youth movement taking place on the Florida Panthers roster, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him stick with the big club next season.
31. Carlo Colaiacovo, Defense (TOR)
Height: 6-1, Weight: 188, Current Team: St. John’s Maple Leafs (AHL)
Toronto native Carlo Colaiacovo has spent the majority of the 2003-04 season in the AHL with the St. John’s Maple Leafs. In addition to giving NHL announcers more time to practice the pronunciation of Colaiacovo’s last name, the time in the AHL also has helped the young defenseman develop the skills that will make him a solid, all-around rearguard for the parent club in Toronto. Colaiacovo has been productive offensively for St. John’s, where he has been counted on to play in all situations while logging a large amount of ice time. While the Leafs in recent years haven’t been known for developing defensemen, they should have a good one in Colaiacovo.