Many of the players in the middle section of the Hockey's Future 2013 Spring ranking of the Top 50 NHL prospects have experienced excellent growth over the past season and have risen in the ranks as a result. Among the most notable is Minnesota Wild defenseman Jonas Brodin, who has played well for the Wild in a shutdown role alongside Ryan Suter.
Brodin is not alone however. Winger Jakob Silfverberg has helped an injury-depleted Ottawa Senators team stay in the playoff hunt while Brandon Saad has been a fantastic complement to Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews.
21. Jonas Brodin, D – Minnesota Wild
Height: 6-1 Weight: 170, Fall Ranking – 28
In his first season of North American hockey, Brodin has shown himself to be one of the best young puck movers in the game. The 19-year-old blueliner missed close to three months of the season to a broken clavicle, appearing in only nine AHL games before he was called up to Minnesota. Since joining the Wild, Brodin has been thrown to the wolves. He leads all rookie defensemen in average ice time and routinely skates in defensive situations against the opponent's best forwards. He has fantastic vision and awareness, but what has been most impressive is his confidence and smart decision-making, both of which are far above average for a player his age.
If he is not there yet, the young Swede is close to being a cornerstone on the Minnesota Wild blue line for many years to come.
Once thought of as a project, Oscar Klefbom looks destined to be an extremely good blueliner for years to come. While playing for Farjestad of the Swedish Elite League this season, Klefbom suffered a season ending shoulder injury. It was an unfortunate injury in a year where he was making huge strides, but after being surgically repaired, he should still be ready to compete for an Oilers roster spot in the 2013-14 season. Klefbom possesses prototypical NHL size, strength, physicality, and power all wrapped around a supreme offensive skillset. Defense is still a bit of a question, but the Oilers do not have to rush the stoic Swede. But sooner rather than later Klefbom will be a force to reckon with on the Edmonton blue line.
The Phoenix Coyotes have been blessed with a strong crop of young defensemen and, as a result, top defensive prospect Brandon Gormley is being given the time needed to develop in the AHL. The 2010 first round pick dominated the QMJHL with his offensive instincts and solid defensive play. This season, he has been eased into the professional game and has had some challenges defending bigger and faster players, which is typical of young defensemen. Since the NHL lockout ended, Gormley has assumed a more prominent role on the Portland Pirates. As a result, he has increased his offensive production and the number of shots he has taken has nearly doubled. His future as a top-pairing defenseman should only solidify further as he gains more confidence in an expanded role.
Beaulieu has fluid skating skills in all four directions which allows him to quickly transition to the offensive attack. He has quick hands, good vision of the ice, and a hard accurate shot from the point. The young defender can take control over a game offensively from the back-end and has become his team's leader on the power-play. In order to be a complete defenseman, Beaulieu must learn to play more physically and with more urgency down low. The offensive blueliner still needs to mature and play smarter positionally in the defensive zone. He also needs to stop overplaying the puck.
Despres managed to earn a spot on the Penguins NHL roster out of training camp this past January and was a regular member of the lineup until very recently. Standing at 6'4" and over 200 pounds, the defenseman possesses an elegant skating stride for a player his size. He plays a robust two-way game, is capable of moving the puck up ice in a variety of different ways, is physical in his own end, and has an underrated repertoire of shots, including a quick, accurate wrist shot.
Though he is not a true offensive defenseman, Despres is fairly dynamic in the offensive zone, jumps into the play with great frequency, and makes good decisions. He is an incredibly well conditioned athlete, and the quality of his play improves as his minutes climb. Assuming he continues to develop as he has, Despres will be a cornerstone on the Penguins defense for years to come.
At age 24, Brendan Smith has finally cracked the Detroit Red Wings roster full-time. His playmaking abilities and shot are NHL-caliber, and he is not afraid to play physically despite being a rookie. His strong, mobile skating is also an asset. The issue with Smith is consistency and decision making. He tends to overthink at times which causes him to hesitate and give the puck away or force a more difficult pass than needed. He also disappears at times and does not always appear fully engaged. If he can put it all together, he has the tools needed to be a top-pairing defenseman for the Red Wings.
After a brief stay the Wild in January, Matt Dumba was returned to the Red Deer Rebels of the WHL with a chip on his shoulder. The energetic and explosive Dumba possesses world class talent, but his style of play, while mesmerizing, has the potential to backfire at times and was one of the main causes for concern leading up to the 2012 NHL Draft. In his return to the Rebels, Dumba has worked tirelessly at improving his positioning and defensive mindset. With a more responsible style of play supporting his already dominant skillset, Dumba will make it even harder next training camp for the Wild to consider sending him back.
After cups of coffee in Anaheim during each of his first two pro seasons, Kyle Palmieri has finally earned a roster spot with the Ducks during the shortened 2013 season. Relegated to a bottom-six forward role with some power-play time, he is nonetheless a key part of Anaheim's deep offensive attack. A quick release and willingness to play through traffic make Palmieri a dangerous scorer, and his aggressive style has a way of boosting his team even when he is not scoring.
While Palmieri has not enjoyed an explosive breakout in the league, he continues to steadily develop into a good NHL player. A winger with top-six potential, he will have to continue working his way up Anaheim's deep forward corps.
29. Brandon Saad, LW – Chicago Blackhawks
Height: 6-1 Weight: 201, Fall Ranking – 37
Brandon Saad opened the NHL season on the Blackhawks' first line and has not let go of his hold on that spot. Saad has the hands and can think the game fast enough to keep up with the likes of Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. His hard work on the forecheck and along the boards has earned him time on both special teams units. He is a powerful skater and difficult to knock off the puck, making him a perfect fit for the Blackhawks' puck possession game. He has gained confidence as the NHL season has gone on and, as a player still developing physically, it is reasonable to expect that the best is yet to come from Saad. He is poised to hold down a top-six wing spot for the foreseeable future in Chicago.
30. Jakob Silfverberg, RW – Ottawa Senators
Height: 6-1 Weight: 200, Fall Ranking – 40
Silfverberg is in the midst of his first full season outside of his Swedish homeland. He has in some ways benefited from the Senators injuries up front by getting more ice time, but he also struggled initially with the added responsibilities. As the season has progressed, he has grown more comfortable and is now beginning to look like a player who rightly belongs among the upper echelon of NHL forwards. He has a clean and highly accurate wrist shot which he disguises well. He uses his hockey intelligence and solid board play to pressure defenses, and he is a responsible player up and down the ice. The one drawback to Silfverberg's game is that at times it can be so simple and without drama that he can go unnoticed when he is not scoring or making a play.
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