Hockey’s Future Top 50 Prospects Spring 2006: 26-50

By HF Staff

The New York Rangers placed the most prospects on Hockey’s Future’s Top 50 NHL Prospects list for Spring 2006, with four. Five teams have three prospects on the list: Pittsburgh, Washington, Carolina, Nashville and Anaheim. Three teams have no prospects on the list: Tampa Bay, St. Louis and Phoenix.

All players were chosen by a committee from among those drafted prospects meeting Hockey’s Future’s prospect criteria. Below are players ranked No. 26 to 50, along with an alphabetical list of those who just missed the cut.

26. Brent Seabrook, D – Chicago Blackhawks

Chicago Blackhawks 2003 first round draft pick Brent Seabrook cracked the NHL line-up in his rookie pro season. Part of a young Chicago defensive corps, the 20-year-old defenseman is a bright spot on the struggling team, leading in plus/minus at +7. Seabrook missed 13 games after suffering a sprained left knee Dec. 21, but the now reactivated youngster still leads all active Chicago defensemen in scoring with five goals and 15 assists in 44 games. Seabrook figures to become a Scott Hannan-like defenseman who is physical, very good defensively, capable of moving the puck, plays a lot of minutes and leads by example.

27. Niklas Kronwall, D – Detroit Red Wings

Kronwall is back in action after missing the first 52 games of the season due to a Dan Hinote hip check that resulted in damage to his ACL and MCL. Coming back from the surgery Feb. 1 against St. Louis, Kronwall tallied two assists. The Swede had three assists in three games so far and appears to be back on track to becoming a top pairing defenseman for Detroit. Playing for Grand Rapids during the lockout, Kronwall led the AHL in defenseman scoring with 13 goals and 40 assists. Had it not been for the NHL lockout, the 25-year-old blueliner would have graduated from this list a year ago.

28. Patrick O’Sullivan, C – Minnesota Wild

O’Sullivan finished fifth in OHL scoring in 2004-05 with 31 goals and 59 assists, 40 more points than any of his Mississauga teammates. Minnesota’s second round pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft has had no trouble transitioning from major juniors to the AHL. His 28 goals and 27 assists after 50 games places him tied for seventh in the league in overall scoring, first among rookies. The Houston Aeros center was named the AHL Rookie of the Month for January after scoring nine goals and nine assists in 13 games. Twenty-one as of Feb. 1, O’Sullivan is a strong contender for AHL Rookie of the Year. He’s also a strong candidate to provide the Wild with some needed scoring in 2006-07.

29. Gilbert Brule, C – Columbus Blue Jackets

The 18-year-old Brule cracked the Blue Jackets roster out of training camp, but the 5’10, 175-pound scrappy WHLer fractured his sternum in his second NHL game. After missing 13 games Brule came back and scored two goals and an assist in his first four games back, and then suffered a broken leg against Minnesota Nov. 30. He was reactivated Jan. 18 and sent back to the Vancouver Giants. The sixth overall pick of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, Brule has nine goals and five assists in his first 13 games back in the WHL, where he finished third in league scoring in 2004-05. Despite a difficult 2005-06, Brule now has some experience for Columbus and should be back in the NHL next season.

30. Cam Barker, D – Chicago Blackhawks

Barker recently helped Team Canada win gold in the 2006 World Junior Championship, finishing second among defensemen for scoring with six points in six games. The powerful blueliner is a formidable presence in his own end, which, when combined with his offensive ability, could make him an outstanding top defenseman someday. Barker impressed in camp and had a brief one-game stint with the Blackhawks before he was returned to the Medicine Hat Tigers. He was ranked in the top ten for scoring defensemen in the WHL two consecutive years. Before Barker went down with an ankle injury near the end of January, he had accumulated 18 points and 63 penalty minutes in 25 games.

31. Andrew Ladd, LW – Carolina Hurricanes

Ladd began his pro career with the Lowell Lock Monsters, playing in 16 games with a total of 12 points before he was promoted to the Carolina line-up in November. At 6’2 200 lbs, he has the size and strength and the high-energy style of play to become a top power forward. Ladd’s got a highly developed hockey sense and strong playmaking ability that make him valuable in both ends of the ice. He was chosen fourth overall in the 2004 Entry Draft. Ladd totaled eight points in his 17 games with the high-flying Hurricanes.

32. Rotislav Olesz, C – Florida Panthers

At only 20 years of age, Olesz is known for his maturity and work ethic, while his defensive awareness makes him a valuable asset on the penalty kill. He is strong, agile, and a decent skater, and while he could stand to take more shots at the net, he is a player with very few weaknesses to his game. The young forward has been with the Panthers since the beginning of the 2005-06 season, logging a lot of minutes and has posted 12 points in 36 games.

33. Jussi Jokinen, C – Dallas Stars

Jokinen cracked the Dallas lineup out of camp and quickly made an offensive impact for the team. A skilled forward with excellent hockey sense, Jokinen is versatile and quick on his skates. The Dallas rookie only missed one game, and has compiled 36 points (11 goals, 25 assists) in 57 games. He has averaged a little over 13 minutes per game while on the top line and is sixth on the team in scoring. He is best known, however, for his shootout prowess.

34. Alex Perezhogin, RW – Montreal Canadiens

This quick, goal-scoring winger is considered one of Montreal’s top prospects. Originally drafted in the first round of the 2001 Entry Draft (25th overall), Perezhogin played numerous seasons for Omsk Avangard in Russia, as well as 2003-04 with Hamilton (AHL). He made his NHL debut on Oct. 6 against the Rangers, scoring his first career NHL goal and averaging about a point a game in the next six games. His game cooled down and after scoring only a goal and an assist in the month of December, he was reassigned to Hamilton. Perezhogin compiled two assists and eight penalty minutes in 11 games with Hamilton before he was once again recalled to Montreal at the end of January.

35. Eric Fehr, RW – Washington Capitals

Fehr has made a successful transition from juniors to pro in the 2005-06 season, beginning with the Hershey Bears (AHL), a performance that earned him a second recall to Washington. The first round draft pick from 2003 has scored 46 points in his 51 games with the Bears, and compiled a total of 49 penalty minutes. With natural scoring ability and a powerful shot, Fehr has the potential to be a top line power forward for the Caps, adding to an already impressive forward crop for Washington which includes Ovechkin and Semin.

36. Marc Staal, D – New York Rangers

After being selected in the first round of the 2005 draft, defenseman Marc Staal has seen a steady rise in his stock. Currently enjoying his best year to date with Sudbury of the OHL en route to be named to the All-Star team, this steady defenseman combines size with mobility to create a menacing force on the blue line. With the recent graduation of Fedor Tyutin to the Rangers, Staal is the next in line among defensemen coming down the pipeline for the recently resurgent Ranger system. Staal displayed his tremendous skills at the 2006 U-20 WJC where he was named the best defenseman in the tournament.

37. Ray Emery, G – Ottawa Senators

In his last year of eligibility as a prospect, Emery reappears on the Top 50 list at No. 37. Emery is already paying dividends for the Senators as the backup and heir apparent to Dominik Hasek on the NHL roster. Emery started the 2005-06 season going 6-0-0 with a 2.23 goals-against average and a save percentage of .923 but has cooled off to 9-4-1 and a .888. Emery may not steal a game with catlike reflexes or acrobatic saves as Hasek has, but his solid and smart play will bring consistency between the pipes nevertheless.

38. Al Montoya, G – New York Rangers

Montoya is enjoying a great rookie season in the AHL for the Hartford Wolf Pack. After leaving the University of Michigan early to sign a contract with the Rangers, he has assumed the regular starting duties with Hartford, going 17-5-1 with a 2.47 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage. With one Ranger goaltender in the Top 10 of this list already starting in New York, there might not be much room for Montoya moving up the ladder of the Rangers system. But for now, the Rangers have the best one-two prospect punch in net of all NHL organizations.

39. Milan Michalek, LW – San Jose Sharks

Although Michalek has found a regular shift on the San Jose Sharks, his luster as a top prospect is beginning to fade as he continues his fall down the charts. Michalek is still young and developing, but the level of progress he ultimately will achieve has come into question. Twenty-three points in 55 NHL games is respectable for a 21-year-old rookie, but of the first nine picks in the very deep 2003 draft, Michalek arguably has the least amount of available top-end potential. Regardless, this two-way forward is still a valuable commodity to any organization.

40. Lauri Tukonen, RW – Los Angeles Kings

Similar to Michalek one spot ahead, Tukonen is a two-way forward in the making. Already possessing physical defensive abilities, Tukonen is working on his offensive game and being more consistent with the body. Nearly making the Los Angeles Kings out of training camp, Tukonen was assigned to the Manchester Monarchs and has developed into a legitimate top-six forward at the AHL level. Twenty-four points in his first 37 professional games is a good start, especially for a 19-year-old rookie. But Tukonen must still learn to score with regularity and bring consistency to his defensive game before he becomes the next in a growing list of forward prospects homegrown by the Kings.

41. Wojtek Wolski, LW – Colorado Avalanche

Beginning the season on the Colorado Avalanche roster, Wolski scored six points in his first nine games, including a three-point performance against Calgary, before being sent back to the OHL for further development. Despite having to spend another year in the juniors, Wolski has already proven more at the NHL level than nearly every other player in major juniors. Wolski would carry this momentum to his familiar home in Brampton. His 79 points in the first 41 games of the year is enough for ninth in the OHL. He was recently named the OHL Player of the Month for January.

42. Robert Nilsson, LW – New York Islanders

Floundering a bit in Sweden, Robert Nilsson took the perfect opportunity to cross the pond and find renewed playing time in North America. Making the Islanders straight out of training camp, Nilsson spent his first 25 professional games in the NHL before spending a short stay in Bridgeport of the AHL. After scoring 22 points in 23 games for Bridgeport, Nilsson would soon find himself back up with the NHL club, perhaps this time to stay. He has six points in 27 games with the Islanders.

43. Anze Kopitar, C – Los Angeles Kings

The Kings have quite a few talented young forwards in the organization, but none have the complete package that Kopitar possesses. He impressed the Kings so much during training camp this past fall that they attempted to get him to turn pro and play in North America for the 2005-06 season. Kopitar resisted the offer and returned to Sweden to play in the SEL for Sodjertale and so far, the 18-year-old Slovenian has more than held his own. Kopitar has registered seven goals and nine assists through 41 SEL games as one of the youngest players in the entire league. Kopitar may not be the best skater, but his size/skill package is so advanced for a player of his age that he could be playing hockey in Los Angeles next season.

44. Petteri Nokelainen, C – New York Islanders

Nokelainen, the Islanders top pick in the 2004 NHL Draft made the opening night roster with a strong training camp and preseason and was taking a regular shift on the fourth line until he sustained a knee injury in the early part of November. He still remains out of action with patella tendonitis and has missed 39 games due to the injury. In the 12 games he suited up for, he scored a goal and an assist. Nokelainen is mostly known for his defensive prowess, but he showed the ability in Finland last season to contribute offensively as well. While not as spectacular as some other prospects on this list, Nokelainen’s stellar two-way game is something that cannot be overlooked as a future Selke Trophy hopeful.

45. Brad Boyes, C – Boston Bruins

After finishing 11th overall in AHL scoring in 2004-05, this former Leafs and Sharks farmhand has finally found a home in Boston. Boyes is quietly putting together a strong rookie season with the Bruins and sits fourth in rookie scoring behind Ovechkin, Crosby and Svatos. Boyes has suited up for every Boston game to this point, and currently sits third in team scoring with 16 goals and 28 assists in 58 games. His +10 rating leads the team. Boyes’ offensive skills and uncanny hockey sense have made his adjustment to the NHL an easy one and it looks like he is going to be a top line playmaker and offensive stalwart with the Bruins for years to come.

46. Alexander Radulov, RW – Nashville Predators

The supremely talented Radulov had a great North American debut in the QMJHL with the Quebec Remparts and this season has elevated his game even more. Radulov has easily surpassed his 75-point total of last season and currently sits one point away from the QMJHL scoring lead with 105 points in only 46 games. Included in that total are 38 goals (15 of which have come on the power play) and a gaudy +36 rating. Radulov also played in the WJC for Team Russia and helped lead them to a silver medal showing. Even more recently, Radulov signed an entry-level contract with the Predators. Offensively, there is not much that Radulov cannot do and his energy level and commitment to improving his all around game is impressive.

47. Carey Price, G – Montreal Canadiens

After being drafted fifth overall in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft by the Montreal Canadiens, Price returned to Tri-City of the WHL for the 2005-06 season and was being looked at as a prime candidate to be the No. 1 goaltender for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships. Though Price did not make the team, he has still done nothing to dispel the notion as the future No. 1 goaltender in Montreal. Price had a good training camp and preseason with the Canadiens and possesses all the tools to become a top-notch netminder. His numbers with Tri-City are not great by any stretch, but on a struggling Americans team, he has often been left out to dry. Price has won 16 games, posted a 2.88 GAA and .907 save percentage to go along with three shutouts through 42 games.

48. Luc Bourdon, D – Vancouver Canucks

Bourdon has lived up to the billing as the 10th overall selection in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft and the Canucks are more than pleased with how he has progressed up to this point. Bourdon did not look out of place in a few preseason matches with Vancouver and nearly made the Canucks opening night roster, one of the last cuts. The multi-talented blueliner played a key role in leading Canada to a gold medal at the WJC and now he hopes to help lead his new QMJHL team, the Moncton Wildcats, to a Memorial Cup. Bourdon has three goals and 25 assists for 28 points in 30 games so far this season and he continues to display the traits the Canucks hope will be on display for them on their backline in the very near future.

49. Roman Voloshenko, LW – Minnesota Wild

Voloshenko has made as smooth a transition to North American hockey as the Wild had hoped. Despite being one of the league’s youngest players at the age of 19, Voloshenko has unleashed his offensive talents on AHL goalies this season with 24 goals, second best for AHL rookies behind fellow Wild prospect O’Sullivan’s 28. There is no doubting the offensive gifts this Belarusian has and the Wild hope over the next season or two he can learn to play a complete game, something of a necessity if you want to play a regular shift for the defensively oriented team. Voloshenko again participated in the WJC for team Russia in Vancouver where he put on display his dizzying array of puckhandling skills and big league shot and helped the team to a silver medal.

50. Shea Weber, D – Nashville Predators

After Weber’s coming out party at last year’s WJC, the Predators expected big things from the rugged and offensively gifted rearguard in his first pro season and so far he has not disappointed. With the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals, Weber has displayed an all around game. Weber leads all rookie defensemen in the AHL with 11 goals and 14 assists for 25 points and even earned a brief three-game look with the Predators at the midway point of the NHL season where he looked very poised and comfortable. The Predators have a wealth of strong prospects on the blue line, but Weber is hands down the best of the bunch not named Suter.

Just Missed the Cut

Keith Ballard (PHO)
Matt Carle (SJ)
Valtteri Filppula (DET)
Igor Grigorenko (DET)
Josh Harding (MIN)
Jiri Hudler (DET)
Mikko Koivu (MIN)
Andrei Kostsitsyn (MON)
Brian Lee (OTT)
Justin Pogge (TOR)
Benoit Pouliot (MIN)
Tuukka Rask (TOR)
Jeff Tambellini (LA)
R. J. Umberger (PHI)
Marek Zagrapan (BUF)

No Longer Eligible

Dustin Brown (LA)
Brent Burns (MIN)
Michael Cammalleri (LA)
Trevor Daley (DAL)
Christian Ehrhoff (SJ)
Steve Eminger (WAS)
Marc-Andre Fleury (PIT)
Nathan Horton (FLA)
Ryan Kesler (VAN)
Lukas Krajicek (FLA)
Derek Roy (BUF)
Fedor Tyutin (NYR)
Antoine Vermette (OTT)
Nikolai Zherdev (CLB)

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