Hockey’s Future Top 50 Prospects Fall 2005: 26-50

By HF Staff

The Los Angeles Kings placed the most prospects on Hockey’s Future’s Top 50 NHL prospects list for Fall 2005, with four. Eight teams have three prospects on the list: Pittsburgh, Washington, Chicago, Florida, Carolina, New York Rangers, Anaheim, and Minnesota. Five teams have no prospects on the list.

All players were chosen by the committee from among those drafted prospects meeting Hockey’s Future’s prospect criteria.

50. Shawn Belle, D, Dallas Stars
No one has ever questioned Shawn Belle’s tools. There may be no blueline prospect out there that better combines strength and skating ability as Belle. The Blues dealt the Edmonton native to the Dallas Stars last summer, only one year after using a first round selection on him. The concern with Belle has long been his hockey sense. After four full years with the Tri-City Americans of the WHL, Belle has shown improvement in the mental aspects of the game. While he may never put his skating ability to great use offensively, he is more than capable of being a strong defensive presence who can skate the puck out of the zone with ease. One turning point for Belle was the WJC, where he flourished when health concerns with Cam Barker and Brent Seabrook forced him into a more prominent role.

49. Al Montoya, G, New York Rangers
Selecting a goalie in the top ten of the draft for the second time in four years, the Rangers nabbed the University of Michigan star with the sixth overall pick in last summer’s draft. A talented and athletic goaltender, Al Montoya was coming off a stellar sophomore campaign in college, and a heroic performance at the WJC. This past season was a different story, as the Chicago native faltered both with Wolverines, where his .895 save percentage symbolizes his struggles with the college powerhouse, and particularly defending his country’s title at the WJC. Generally a confident if not cocky goaltender, Montoya loves to handle the puck. The Rangers also have Henrik Lundqvist coming up, so they can afford to be patient with this high-potential netminder.

48. Shea Weber, D, Nashville Predators
Although he was already arguably the best positional defenseman in the Western Hockey League, it wasn’t until the second half of the 2004-05 season that Nashville Predators prospect and Kelowna Rockets blueliner Shea Weber had his coming out party. A key contributing member to the 2005 Canadian Junior Team, Weber formed the top defensive pairing along with Calgary Flames prospect Dion Phaneuf, helping Team Canada earn its first gold medal of the 21st century. Weber parlayed the success from Team Canada towards his own Kelowna squad. Finishing with a career-high 41 points, Weber helped lead the Rockets to the WHL Championship, and third consecutive Memorial Cup berth.

47. Alexander Steen, C, Toronto Maple Leafs
On a talent-laden locked out SEL MoDo squad, Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Alexander Steen was still able to find a niche within the organization and contribute offensively. The 6’0, 183lb Steen finished sixth in scoring with 17 points in 50 games on a team that boasted the likes of Peter Forsberg, Marcus Naslund, Mattias Weinhandl and the Sedin twins. Steen’s nine goals also placed him fifth in team scoring. He will likely sign a rookie contract and begin play with the Toronto Marlies this fall.

46. Petteri Nokelainen, C, New York Islanders
While he does not possess overwhelming offensive talent, the New York Islanders were sure enough in Finnish forward Petteri Nokelainen to select him 16th overall in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. After scoring just eight points in 40 games in his draft season with SaiPa Lappeenranta of the Finnish league, in the locked out 2004-05 season, Nokelainen displayed a fair improvement in his offensive game, more than doubling his offensive output to 20 points in 52 games.

45. Mike Cammalleri, C, Los Angeles Kings
Statistically speaking, no one was more of a scoring threat in the American Hockey League in 2004-05 than Manchester Monarch and Los Angeles Kings prospect Michael Cammalleri. Leading the AHL in his third professional season in goals with 46, the undersized forward also finished second to former Canadian Junior teammate Jason Spezza in points, just eight shy of the Senators forward with 109 points in 79 games. Cammalleri, officially recognized as the 2005 Willie Marshall Award winner for most goals in a season, will likely continue his career with the Los Angeles Kings next season.

44. Rostislav Olesz, C, Florida Panthers
Playing alongside the likes of David Vyborny, Martin Havlat and Petr Nedved on Sparta Praha, the two-way forward was surrounded by a plethora of NHL caliber talent. Playing in his first season with Sparta, Olesz recorded respectable numbers in 2004-05, including 13 points in 47 games, while being buried deep on the offensive depth chart. Still, though, the skill level Olesz not only played with, but practiced day in and day out will only help to serve the future Florida Panther as he continues to develop his offensive game. It’s the same offensive talent that was on display in the 2005 World Junior Championships, where Olesz lead the Czech Republic in points with 10, en route to finishing among the top five in the tournament in scoring, helping the Czechs capture the bronze medal.

43. Andrew Ladd, LW, Carolina Hurricanes
Since being selected by the host Carolina Hurricanes fourth overall in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, Calgary Hitmen forward Andrew Ladd has come under fire for questionable offensive upside. Despite already possessing a style that will allow him to easily translate to the professional level, criticisms grew as the Maple Ridge, BC native failed to duplicate the offensive success that saw him named the runner up to the WHL’s Rookie of the Year in 2003-04, voted top rookie second to only 2005 draft eligible Gilbert Brule. Ladd has not yet been signed by Carolina.

42. Andrej Meszaros, D, Ottawa Senators
Selected by the Vancouver Giants in the 2004 CHL Import Draft, Ottawa Senators prospect Andrej Meszaros spent the 2004-05 season in the Western Hockey League, finishing among the top 15 defensemen in scoring with 41 points in just 59 games. The totals also placed him among the top six in rookies in the WHL. The smooth skating 6’0, 195 lb defenseman, who was selected 23rd overall in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft by Ottawa is eligible, although not guaranteed to return to the Giants lineup for the 2005-06 season.

41. Antoine Vermette, C, Ottawa Senators
After primarily being considered a potential two-way forward with somewhat modest offensive potential, Binghamton Senators center Antoine Vermette is quietly making people believe that he can evolve into a more legitimate offensive threat. With 73 points in 78 games with the AHL club in 2004-05, Vermette has showcased himself enough to get a chance at the top lines in Ottawa season. He played 57 games in the NHL in 2003-04.

40. Cam Ward, G, Carolina Hurricanes
The most valuable jewel in the Hurricanes’ goaltending prospect crown, Cam Ward was expected to transition directly from junior to the NHL, but with the lockout he underwent a year of seasoning in the AHL with the Lowell Lock Monsters. There he went far in proving that Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford was correct in assuming his NHL-readiness. Ward played in 50 regular season games and had a .937 save percentage, the best mark for any goalie in the league, and a fourth best 1.99 goals against average. Although not quite as effective in the playoffs, Ward’s extensive minutes between the pipes in his rookie AHL season has improved his chances of success in the NHL even more.

39. Brent Seabrook, D, Chicago Blackhawks
Seabrook is coming off his best season of an excellent WHL career with the Lethbridge Hurricanes. He had 54 points in 63 games to lead Hurricanes defensemen in scoring, and in the playoffs the 20-year-old had a goal and an assist before the team was eliminated in five games. He joined the AHL’s Norfolk Admirals and played in the last three regular season games and all six of the team’s playoff games, chipping in with one assist. The two first round eliminations aside, Seabrook did taste victory in January with Team Canada’s World Junior team. He almost didn’t get the chance for the medal, however, when he was injured in an intersquad game shortly before the tournament began. He recovered quickly and was able to play in five of the team’s six games, contributing three assists to the cause. Seabrook is a tenacious defender in his own end with good size who is capable of putting up decent offensive numbers from the blueline, especially due to a powerful shot.

38. Anze Kopitar, C, Los Angeles Kings
The Los Angeles Kings had the good fortune of having a consensus top six draft pick fall right into their laps with the No. 11 pick in the draft. Many NHL teams shied away from Kopitar because of his inexperience against top competition and the fact that no Slovenian player has ever made it to the NHL, but the Kings seized the 6’4 elite offensive prospect. He’s not the fastest of players, but has good control of his body for someone his size. Great hands and wrists make him an extremely dangerous player in the offensive zone where he can finish or create opportunities for his teammates. Demonstrating the same dominance against the premier of the SEL as he has against the junior league will go a long way in pushing Kopitar even further up the rankings.

37. Mikko Koivu, C, Minnesota Wild
Wild fans had eagerly anticipated Koivu’s North American debut season in 2004-05 and they weren’t disappointed. Despite missing almost a month due to an appendectomy, Koivu finished third in team scoring and had the second most goals for the AHL’s Houston Aeros with 48 points in 67 games (20 goals). The native of Turku, Finland and younger brother of Montreal Canadiens center Saku, showed that he is not far off from making an impact in the NHL as a two-way center, and his talent, along with a 6’2, 205 lbs frame, make him more than capable of fulfilling his potential.

36. Bobby Ryan, RW, Anaheim
Bobby Ryan is a big kid who brings a solid effort every night and contributes offensively. The 6’1, 213 lb forward selected second overall behind only phenom Sidney Crosby in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. He is a prototypical power forward, who thrives down low and in the corners. He is strong on the puck and works effectively in traffic. Through it all, Ryan has shown that his dedication and determination is unchallenged. Ryan will more than likely continue to develop with the Owen Sound Attack for at least one more season.

35. Anton Babchuk, D, Chicago Blackhawks
Standing at 6’5 and weighing just over 200 pounds, this 21-year-old blueliner is able to contribute on both ends of the ice. Babchuk has a big point shot and is a physical defender. In 2004-05, the Kiev, Ukraine native had eight goals with Norfolk, three of which were on the power play, and added 16 assists in 66 games. One area of concern this year was his plus/minus rating of -15, which was tied for worst on the team. Another problem might be related to the nasty edge he sometimes shows. In the Admirals’ second playoff game, Babchuk, frustrated in a losing cause, reacted to hecklers in the stands by throwing a full water bottle their way which struck a seven-year-old boy. Babchuk was suspended and didn’t appear again before the team was eliminated by the Philadelphia Phantoms. Expect the Blackhawks to give him a long look when the next NHL campaign begins. In 2003-04 Babchuk played five games for the Hawks and had two assists.

34. Anthony Stewart, RW, Florida Panthers
Stewart’s stock dropped somewhat in 2004-05 when he failed to build on his strong play from the previous year. At the 2004 World Juniors, Stewart had 11 points in a standout performance, while in 2005 he only managed three goals and an assist. In his final season as leader of the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs, Stewart led the team in scoring with 67 points in 62 games but failed to best the 70 points he collected in 2002-03. After Kingston failed to make the playoffs, Stewart played ten games in the AHL for San Antonio and had a goal, two assists and a +1 rating. Although his development seemed to slow this season, Stewart is strong in physique and brings more to the table than just scoring. He has signed a rookie contract for 2005-06.

33. Lauri Tukonen, RW, Los Angeles Kings
The physical forward continued his development in the top league in Finland during the 2004-05 season. Despite the influx of NHL talent, Tukonen continued to find a regular shift on the third and fourth lines. With the expected return of veteran talent to the NHL, Tukonen will look to the up-coming season for a chance to ascend to the top scoring lines and improve his production as a result. His 10 points in 43 games is an improvement over last season but still not indicative of the offensive skills he possesses. Coupled with his thick body and strong play along the boards, Tukonen is a true power forward prospect for the Los Angeles Kings.

32. Nik Kronwall, D, Detroit Red Wings
Having played 20 NHL games with the Red Wings and 25 with Grand Rapids in 2003-04, this Stockholm, Sweden native had a superb second season in North America in 2004-05. Kronwall led Grand Rapids and all AHL defensemen in scoring with 13 goals and 40 assists in 76 games, and at season’s end he was awarded the Eddie Shore award for AHL’s most outstanding defenseman as voted by the media and AHL players. The 24-year-old Kronwall, who has always been heralded as having excellent offensive skills, heard concerns over his small frame and occasional defensive zone lapses, but his exceptional performance in the beefed-up AHL during the lockout should dispel those concerns.

31. Gilbert Brule, C, Columbus
A native of North-Vancouver, homegrown Gilbert Brule played a significant role with the Vancouver Giants in his sophomore season. With a tough act to follow in 2003-04 after winning the Western Hockey League’s Rookie of the Year, Brule followed up a 60-point campaign by scoring 87 points, good enough for a top five finish in the league. A mix of pure aggression, finesse and finish, the 5’10 Brule was selected sixth overall in 2005 by Columbus. He will return to junior this fall.

30. Mike Richards, C, Philadelphia Flyers
Richards finished his OHL career on a fairly good note as the captain of the Kitchener Rangers, collecting 11 goals and 17 assists in 15 playoff games before the team was eliminated by the eventual Memorial Cup winning London Knights. Like teammate Jeff Carter, who Richards won a gold medal with at the World Juniors in January, Richards then joined the Flyers AHL affiliate and appeared in 14 games, scoring seven goals and adding eight helpers on the way to a Calder Cup championship. Richards has proven himself to be a leader and a big talent. He’s an outstanding defensive forward but is able to produce on offense as well with durability being the only question mark at this point.

29. Robbie Schremp, C, Edmonton Oilers
Because of a suspect attitude, Rob Schremp saw his name selected at the 2004 NHL Draft lower than his talent alone would project. He would have a year to prove his doubters wrong and by some accounts he did. In his first full season with London after a trade with Mississauga last year, Schremp continued his OHL offensive explosion, scoring 41 goals and 90 points. He also helped his team win the Memorial Cup, registering six points in four games. Schremp was also a member of the USA squad who took part in the World Junior Championship, scoring five points in seven games. Schremp might exactly be what the Oilers need in a first line center, with his size and stellar scoring abilities.

28. Eric Fehr, RW, Washington Capitals
Fehr wanted to be the best player in the WHL and he made a statement when he won the Bobby Clarke Trophy as the WHL scoring leader with 111 points, and the Four Broncos Memorial Trophy given to the league’s MVP. He has been getting better and better each season in Brandon, and should develop into an excellent power forward for the young Capitals. Due to a large number of returnees, Fehr couldn’t get a roster spot on Team Canada in 2005. However, his talent is undeniable and his frame is exactly what the NHL looks for in a big and gritty scoring winger. The Winkler, Manitoba, native should be in Hershey next year to improve his defensive awareness and adjust to the pro game.

27. Henrik Lundqvist, G, New York Rangers
Lundqvist has been nothing but spectacular in his four seasons in the Swedish Elite League. Drafted in the seventh round by the New York Rangers in 2000, the Frolunda goaltender possesses all the tools to become the Blueshirts future starting goaltender. He’s also a regular of international tournaments, having represented Sweden in the World Championships over the last three years. Lundqvist is expected to report to the Rangers AHL affiliate club, the Hartford Wolfpack, and it might not take too much time before he finds himself playing in the NHL. However, nothing is a given and he will have to battle it out with fellow rookie Alvaro Montoya.

26. Patrick O’Sullivan, C, Minnesota Wild
Patrick O’Sullivan’s fall into the second round of the 2003 draft was due not to lack of talent, but questions about how well he’d bounce back after family problems. The Minnesota Wild snatched up the center 56th overall, which is looking like a sharp move for the young franchise. Over his four years in Mississauga, O’Sullivan has matured as a player, and now displays strong leadership qualities. This past season he was impressive once again, leading the Ice Dogs with 90 points in 57 games, 40 more than any one else on the team. Ready for the professional game, O’Sullivan could still use more strength on his slender frame, but he could be in Minnesota sooner rather than later, having signed a rookie contract for 2005-06.

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