Forward prospects Emerson Etem and Charlie Coyle settle into the middle section of the ranking, but not for lack of talent. Both players lit up the CHL last season, Etem breaking the 60-goal mark for Medicine Hat in the WHL and Coyle using his size and quick hands to fit right in with the high-octane Saint John offense in the QMJHL.
Two Washington Capitals prospects make their top-30 debut in this edition of the ranking. Braden Holtby's incredible playoff run with the Caps earns him a raise in the ranking, and 2012 first-round pick Filip Forsberg is another cerebral offensive player in the team's growing line of Swedish forwards. They join six defensemen holding fast among the players ranking 21-30.
21. Emerson Etem, RW, Anaheim Ducks
Height: 6-0, Weight: 190, Spring ranking – 12
The California-native Emerson Etem has speed to burn and a goal-scorer's mentality. He kept up a goal-per-game pace throughout much of his final junior season with Medicine Hat, finishing with a WHL-leading 61 tallies in 65 games. As the Tigers' best player, Etem played in all situations and evolved into a serious threat to score on both the penalty kill and power play. Although he does not have a traditional skating style, there is no denying that his acceleration and top-end speed are among the best outside the NHL. His average size leaves him to do much of his work on the perimeter, so he will need to continue adding strength to avoid becoming too much of a one-dimensional player. Questions about whether Etem can duplicate his junior success at the next level led to a drop in the rankings, but for a Ducks team that struggled to score goals in 2011-12, Etem could be just the player to turn things around.
With the seemingly omnipresent media storm that engulfed him in the summer having died down, Justin Schultz can now focus on fitting in with a new organization stocked with top-end young talent. Schultz is a high octane defenseman, a true offensive star from the back end. He spent a great deal of time on the power play during his college tenure and displays a good shot and vision. He is an adept skater and has no problem carrying the puck end-to-end. It is widely acknowledged that Schultz has packed necessary pounds onto his slender frame, but adding strength and using his size in the defensive zone will be areas in need of improvement early in his pro career. Regardless, Schultz's game is not perfect defensively and he will never be much of a physical force at the NHL level. That is not likely to be much of an issue, as he should be setting up plays for Edmonton's other offensively-minded young guns for years to come.
23. Braden Holtby, G, Washington Capitals
Height: 6-2, Weight: 203, Spring ranking – 34
If the 2011-12 playoffs were an indication of what to expect from Braden Holtby, the young Capitals netminder is about to be a star goalie in the NHL. His play for the Capitals has been stellar whenever called upon to play. However, there are a couple concerns which need to be addressed before Holtby is handed a Vezina Trophy. Last year with the Hershey Bears of the AHL, he struggled at times and his numbers were his lowest in three seasons with Hershey. While there could be an argument this could be because of the demotion, the Bears roster in front of him, particularly the defense, was not as dominant as it had been in previous seasons. He showed signs of frustration and his aggressive play led to some bad penalties on his part. Nonetheless, Holtby is a skilled goaltender who has a great glove and his puck playing ability is well above average. In addition, Holtby is confident in net and plays well in the clutch. His playoff performance demonstrated his ability to raise his performance in the big game, but maintaining that performance through a full season will determine whether Holtby will be good or great.
24. Filip Forsberg, F, Washington Capitals
Height: 6-1, Weight: 188, Not ranked
One of the stories of the 2012 NHL Draft was Filip Forsberg falling to the 11th overall pick in the draft. Forsberg is a Swedish forward with outstanding offensive instincts, superb puckhandling skills, and good speed. He is not overly big, but the power forward makes up for lack of size with his strength. Forsberg has already been in big games as part of Sweden’s 2012 U20 World Junior Championship team and he served as captain of the silver medal winning U18 team. He will play in Sweden in 2012-13 but is one of the more NHL ready prospects and could immediately be part of the Capitals top-six forwards in the near future. He is a good fit with the Capitals and should feel at home playing with other Swedes like Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson.
25. Charlie Coyle, C, Minnesota Wild
Height: 6-2, Weight: 202, Spring ranking – 18
For the second half of his year, the big physical winger scored at a steady pace and found instant chemistry with centerman Zack Philips (MIN) on Saint John’s top forward line in the QMJHL. Coyle dominated the smaller opposition in the regular season and playoffs for the powerhouse Sea Dogs but missed out winning the Memorial Cup. Coyle has the size, speed, and puck possession skills to dominate down low in the offensive zone while setting up teammates or playing in the high traffic areas. He has the physical skills and maturity to make the jump straight to the NHL, but he will have to start his year with the Houston Aeros for as long the lockout lasts. It could be better for his overall development to spend the full year in AHL learning the pro game under less pressure.
After a stellar junior career, playing four seasons with the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL, defenseman Joe Morrow enters his rookie professional season with relatively high expectations. As a key part of high powered Winterhawks team, Morrow managed over a point-per-game in 2011-12 and was deployed in all situations. He will not be expected to play with such a heavy workload in the AHL, at least not immediately, but expectations are high for Morrow to develop into the type of top four defenseman who can retrieve pucks, start the play up ice, control the puck from the point, and still take care of business in his own end. His skating and ability to move the puck are NHL-ready, and he plays with the poise of a grizzled veteran. But other parts of his game require some fine tuning, particularly his risk control, as he can get caught out of position, and occasionally tries to do too much.
A puck-moving defenseman, Beaulieu has excellent skating ability which allows him to activate quickly in transition to the offensive attack. He has quick hands, good vision of the ice, and the patience to wait for the right opening to develop in front of him. The offensive-defenseman improved his defensive play this season by focusing on his positioning in the defensive zone and being a more physical player. Beaulieu needs to add more size to his large frame and must use smarter positioning in the defensive zone. The talented defenseman will most likely play the whole year in the AHL with the young Hamilton Bulldogs in order to learn the pro game without being under the microscope of Montreal's passionate fans.
Of the several highly-regarded Swedish defensemen selected in the 2011 draft class, Brodin may have been the least known and discussed. However, the mobile, two-way defenseman has the potential of being a solid top-pairing player on the Wild blue line in the years to come. Brodin has a smooth stride and plays with a lot of intelligence in his own zone. He may not be the type of player who will stack up goals and assists, but he makes smart, panic-free plays and possesses a sharp and accurate breakout pass. Brodin will be making the transition to North America this fall with the Houston Aeros. A year in the AHL should allow him plenty of time to adjust to the speed of the smaller ice and more physical nature of the North American game, but his NHL debut is likely not far off.
Another first-round Swedish defenseman from the class of 2011, Klefbom has a tantalizing mix of size, exceptional speed and acceleration, and the physical athleticism that could make him a stalwart defenseman for years to come. Klefbom may be a bit of project defensively, but his development last year in the Swedish Elite League was remarkable and he has been seeing nearly 20 minutes of ice time per game for Farjestad in the early part of the 2012-13 season. Klefbom needs to continue to sharpen his defensive game and positioning, but the rest of the skills are there and he is primed to become a steady and reliable presence on the Edmonton blue line in the near future.
Until Ryan Ellis manages to firmly cement his status as an NHL defenseman, concerns over his height and slight physique, and whether or not they will prohibit him from having a full NHL career, will continue to follow. For his part, Ellis appeared in 32 NHL games in 2011-12, averaging over 14 minutes a game, and seeing considerable time on the power play. If the 2012-13 NHL season was not locked out, there would be a very good chance he would not only be starting in the NHL, but asked to help fill the huge void of ice time left with the exit of long-time Predators defenseman Ryan Suter. Given his unique package of assets, Ellis will never develop into an intimidating, shutdown style of defenseman. He does however have the vision, puck-distribution, and athletic pedigree to run the power play, play well over 20 minutes a night, and possibly put up big numbers from the blue line.