Top 50: Chris Kreider on the verge of NHL stardom after incredible postseason performance

By HF Staff
Chris Kreider - New York Rangers

Photo: Chris Kreider's mix of blazing speed, a formidable frame, and outstanding hockey sense rank him among the top forward prospects in the NHL. (courtesy of Will Schneekloth/Icon SMI)

Winger Chris Kreider, already coming off a NCAA National Championship with Boston College, put on a show in 18 playoff games for the New York Rangers. The lockout will keep him from making an immediate impact for the Rangers in 2012-13, but like defensemen Brendan Smith and Brandon Gormley behind him, Kreider should benefit from significant ice time in the AHL rather than the pressure of making an immediate impact in the NHL.

Five 2012 draft picks cracked the top 20 in the Fall ranking. The run on defensemen early in the draft, especially the four WHL products taken in the top-10 picks in Ryan Murray, Morgan Rielly, Griffin Reinhart, and Matt Dumba, resulted in another surge of blueliners in the Top 50 ranking.

Below are the rest of the prospects ranked 11-20.

11. Chris Kreider, LW, New York Rangers
Height: 6-3, Weight: 230, Spring ranking – 19

Even before the lockout delayed the start of the NHL season, Kreider's name was on everyone's shortlist for the Calder Trophy even though he has yet to play a regular season game. The 21-year-old burst onto the scene during the Rangers' playoff run, where in 18 playoff games, the former Boston College standout scored five goals, two assists and established himself as a future star in the Big Apple. Possessing an impressive combination of size and speed, Kreider has the attributes to play both a power game and a skill game. His straight-line speed for someone his size makes him scary for opposing defenders, and his hard, quick release keeps goaltenders on their toes.

12. Ryan Murray, D, Columbus Blue Jackets
Height: 6-1, Weight: 198, Not ranked

Ryan Murray is not the flashiest prospect on the planet, but he plays a safe, smart game and is mature beyond his years. Not only was he the captain of a young Everett Silvertips team last season, but he also played for Team Canada at the World Juniors and the World Championships, a feat unheard of for a player so young. Murray gets around the ice with relative ease and always seems to make the right play, be it breaking up a play defensively with his high-hockey IQ or making a safe simple outlet pass to start an offensive rush. The Blue Jackets have had problems recently developing their high-end prospects, but they shouldn't have a problem with the low-maintenance Murray as he should quickly become a top-four defenseman in the NHL for the foreseeable future.

13. Ryan Strome, C, New York Islanders
Height: 6-0, Weight: 190, Spring ranking – 11

Strome has a very complete skill set including good hands, excellent vision, and a quick release on his shot. The two-way centerman is an excellent skater with fast acceleration that he uses to blow past defenders. The first -round pick is very reliable in his own zone and can play in a shutdown role and on both of the specialty teams. Strome has started this season with the Niagara Ice Dogs in the OHL but could be called-up to the Islanders if an NHL season is salvaged this year. He will definitely be chosen to play for Team Canada at the WJC, provided the talented forward has not captured a starting spot in New York’s lineup. Strome will eventually form a solid one-two punch down the middle with John Tavares.

14. Brendan Smith, D, Detroit Red Wings
Height: 6-2, Weight: 198, Spring ranking – 16

Brendan Smith was able to find playing time on a Red Wings squad that had a solid corps of blueliners in 2011-12. This season, ice time should not be hard to find for Smith at all after the departure of two centerpieces on the Detroit defense, including one of the greatest defensemen to ever lace up the skates in Nicklas Lidstrom. Luckily, Smith has all the tools to step up and make an immediate impact in the NHL. A tall but not overly-heavy defenseman, Smith is a very smooth skater who does not shy away from physical contact. He has good offensive instincts and can both pass and shoot well, but he has a tendency to rush the puck when a pass would suffice. This could be troublesome at the NHL level, but if Smith can show that he has reined in his game a bit, he should be a true top-four defenseman in Detroit very soon.

15. Brandon Gormley, D, Phoenix Coyotes
Height: 6-2, Weight: 196, Spring ranking – 17

About to begin his professional career, Gormley will not have to worry about trying to make the Coyotes thanks to the lockout, but he will be getting his first full AHL season under his belt. A first-round, thirteenth-overall selection in 2010, Gormley continues to develop into a top-pair defenseman that is capable of logging a ton of minutes and contributing at both ends of the ice. The 20-year-old is an intelligent blueliner who possesses tremendous smarts with and without the puck. Although he is a quality in-zone defender, the best part of his game may very well end up being his potency on the power play where he is an excellent passer as well as having a hard, accurate shot.

16. Morgan Rielly, D, Toronto Maple Leafs
Height: 6-0, Weight: 190, Not ranked

Like much of the 2012 draft class, Rielly missed a significant part of the season due to injury. In his case, a knee injury limited him to just a handful of games at the start of the season. The blueliner fought hard to rehabilitate his knee and eventually returned to the Moose Jaw lineup for the playoffs, where he appeared in five games and tallied six points. Although his return had little overall impact on the Warriors’ playoff run, Rielly was able to once again display the speed and mobility that had piqued the interest of NHL scouts coming into his draft year. He brings a considerable amount of skill, speed, quickness, and offensive ability to the ice, an array of tools that may propel him into the top spot among defensemen in what was an incredibly deep blueliner class of 2012.

17. Mikhail Grigorenko, C, Buffalo Sabres
Height: 6-3, Weight: 200, Not ranked

Grigorenko is a big natural centerman who is a slick playmaker with excellent vision scoring ability. He had an excellent rookie season in the QMJHL but struggled in the second round of the playoffs, leaving many people questioning the talented center's consistency, work ethic, and desire. The Russian-born forward struggled through an ankle injury in the WJC, a shoulder injury into February, and then mononucleosis during the QMJHL playoffs. The talented rookie still had 10 points in 11 playoff games while being sick for most of the postseason. Grigorenko has the size, offensive skills, and skating speed to possibly make the Sabres' lineup this season if NHL camps open. It might be better for his overall confidence and development to play another year at the junior level for the Quebec Remparts under head coach Patrick Roy.

18. Griffin Reinhart, D, New York Islanders
Height: 6-4, Weight: 206, Not ranked

A key cog in the Edmonton Oil Kings run to the Memorial Cup, Griffin Reinhart showed great progression as a prospect over the course of the WHL regular season and playoffs, leading to him being selected fourth overall by the New York Islanders this past summer at the 2012 NHL Draft. He impacts the game at both ends of the rink with his complete package of size and skill. Reinhart gets around the ice well for a player of his size but could improve on his foot-work and quickness, especially when defending. He is slowly gaining more confidence in his offensive abilities as a puck-handler and is learning when to activate and join the attack. His primary weapon offensively is a bone-crushing slap shot. He is only going to get better as he physically matures and should be a fixture on the Islanders' blue line for years to come.

19. Matt Dumba, D, Minnesota Wild
Height: 6-0, Weight: 184, Not ranked

The phrase “worth the price of admission” isn't given out to just anyone, but the phrase absolutely applies when it comes to new Minnesota Wild defense prospect Matt Dumba. He plays with boundless amounts of energy and explosiveness in all facets of the game. Not a big defenseman, he is fearless, at times reckless with his body, and very capable of altering the complexion of a game with bone-rattling open-ice body checks. He is a smooth-skater who's very comfortable with the puck on his stick. He can rush the puck with a lot of bravado and act as a power-play triggerman with a pulverizing and accurate one-timer. His 20 goals for Red Deer last season is proof of just how deadly his shot can be. Dumba plays like a wild, untamed colt at times and is slowly learning how to rein in his energy and better defend by not taking himself out of the play in search of a big hit. The Wild have a young, burgeoning group of prospects and Dumba looks poised to lead the way on the blue line in the not-too-distant future.

20. Jacob Markstrom, G, Florida Panthers
Height: 6-6, Weight: 196, Spring ranking – 10

Jacob Markstrom was able to show he is NHL ready in his time with the Panthers last season. Even with San Antonio of the AHL, he continued to show he was a dominant goalie and ready for the next challenge of his career. One characteristic that most top end goalie prospects share is a high level of confidence. Markstrom shows a real level of comfort and confidence on the ice, which is important when the mental part of the game can be the biggest drawback for young goalies. Currently, there is no spot for Markstrom on the NHL roster and the Panthers are committed to having him play a full season in the AHL. No matter where he plays, a full year of injury-free hockey is most important to Markstrom’s development. He will be the first call-up for Florida in 2012-13, but it is only a matter of time before he gets a chance to take the reins.


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