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

By HF Staff

Hockey’s Future’s Top 50 prospects are spread fairly evenly among the 30 teams, with five teams placing three prospects on the list, and five with none on the list.

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

26. Tuukka Rask, G – Boston Bruins

The highly-touted Finnish netminder had a great first full season with Ilves Tampere of the SM-Liiga, posting a slim 2.09 goals against average and an impressive .926 save percentage including a pair of shutouts. Rask also played decently at the WJC, backstopping an overachieving Finnish team to a bronze medal. A quick goalie, Rask needs to continue to work on improving his positioning and consistency. He was traded to the Bruins on Draft Day this summer for fellow netminder Andrew Raycroft, as the Leafs looked for someone who could contribute immediately.

27. Steve Bernier, RW – San Jose Sharks

Criticized on Draft Day 2003 for being one-dimensional and grossly out of shape, Bernier spent the next two seasons correcting both, becoming a decently well-balanced power forward with good skating. The big winger split his time this season between the AHL’s Cleveland Barons and the San Jose Sharks, ending the year with 27 points in 39 regular season NHL games, including scoring one of the highlight goals of the regular season when he avoided a defender by spinning around and simultaneously putting the puck through his own legs before banking it off the post and in the net. The budding star will have a chance to fully silence his detractors this season when he most likely will appear on a Sharks scoring line throughout the year.

28. Andrew Ladd, LW – Carolina Hurricanes

Ladd split last season between the Carolina Hurricanes and their AHL affiliate, the Lowell Lock Monsters. It was his first year of professional hockey, and he was bounced back and forth between the AHL and the NHL three times. In 25 games with Lowell, Ladd recorded 19 points. During the regular NHL season, the big winger tallied 11 points in 29 games, with an even plus/minus, and just four PIM. He continued his good play during the postseason, when he skated in 17 games, accumulating five points. A high-energy playmaker, Ladd continues to have success at every level. A player known for his on-ice vision and high effort level, Ladd is expected to be a fixture on offense for the Canes for many years.

29. Al Montoya, G – New York Rangers

Montoya’s play of the angles and his lateral movement in goal set him apart from many of his peers. He plays with confidence and can make the spectacular saves look routine. With time, if he avoids injury, Montoya will be an NHL team’s No. 1 netminder. After spending three years at the University of Michigan, the 2005-06 season was Montoya’s first in the professional ranks. Through a season was marred by injuries, Montoya played well enough to warrant selection to the AHL All-Star game. In 40 regular season games with the Hartford Wolf Pack, Montoya had a GAA of 2.61 and a save percentage of 907. He is expected to be called up to play sporadically to the Rangers in the coming season. The hope is that he will be ready to play in the NHL full-time in 2007-08.

30. Corey Perry, RW – Anaheim Ducks

The big, strong winger played his first full season of professional hockey in 2005-06. Perry spent almost his entire rookie season with Anaheim, playing in 56 regular season games and scoring 25 points. He continued to play with the team in postseason, accumulating three points in 11 games. During his brief stint in the AHL last season, Perry tallied 34 points in 19 games. Prior to his professional career, he was a prolific scorer for the OHL London Knights. During the 2004-05 season, Perry led the league in scoring with 130 points in 60 games. Perry is a winger with very soft hands and excellent on-ice vision; he will be a Ducks mainstay for many years.

31. Ladislav Smid, D – Edmonton Oilers

In 71 games with the AHL Portland Pirates last season, the big Czech defenseman tallied 28 points, while maintaining a plus/minus of +14, and accumulating 48 PIM. Considered an offensive defenseman, Smid has great vision and puckhandling skills. Prior to 2005-06, Smid’s first season playing North American hockey, the blueliner skated for three seasons with Liberec Bili Tygri of the Czech League. With his size and good performance in the AHL last season, Smid is an excellent candidate for promotion to the NHL in 2006-07.

32. Robert Nilsson, LW – New York Islanders

Nilsson played in North America for the first time in 2005-06. Previously, he had played in both Switzerland and his native Sweden, although he was born in Canada. Nilsson spent most of the season as a member of the New York Islanders (20 points in 53 games), however, he did play 22 games for the AHL Bridgeport Sound Tigers from December through February. A fine playmaker, Nilsson can skate, pass, and shoot the puck. A very creative player, Nilsson has a tremendous upside. This season will be crucial for his development, as Nilsson moves into an NHL role full-time.

33. Braydon Coburn, D – Atlanta Thrashers

After four seasons playing junior hockey with the WHL’s Portland Winter Hawks, Coburn signed a professional contract to play for the AHL Chicago Wolves at the end of the 2004-05 season. Last season, Coburn played almost the entire year as a member of the Wolves AHL team. In 73 games with Chicago, Coburn tallied 26 points and accumulated 134 PIM, while maintaining a plus/minus of +12. In the nine games Coburn played as a member of the NHL Thrashers last season, he registered only 1 assist and 4 PIM, while maintaining a –2 plus/minus. A big physical defenseman with a nasty streak, Coburn can be very intimidating on the ice, but struggles with awareness. As the Thrashers will have some hotly-contested battles to make the roster, Coburn will have to step up his game to start the season with the NHL team.

34. Rostislav Olesz, C – Florida Panthers

Olesz is the top prospect in the Florida Panthers system. A native of the Czech Republic, Olesz came to North America to play hockey for the first time in 2005-06. The very talented center played in 59 games for the Panthers, recording 21 points (8 goals, 13 assists). With a high-hockey IQ and excellent on-ice vision, Olesz is a creative playmaker, who can skate and take face-offs. The center can play both ends of the ice and could make a good contribution this season.

35. Josh Harding, G – Minnesota Wild

Harding, a WHL graduate, has done nothing but excel since being drafted by the Minnesota Wild in the second round of the 2002 NHL Draft. He followed up his fantastic 2004-05 professional debut with the Wild’s AHL affiliate in Houston with another great year in 2005-06. His numbers slipped a bit, but he still was one of the best goaltenders in the AHL. Confident, quick, athletic and often acrobatic, Harding had a sparkling 29-8-0 record to go along with a tidy .922 save percentage and 2.68 goals against average in Houston. After the Wild traded Dwayne Roloson to the Edmonton Oilers at the trade deadline, the right catching Harding was recalled and started three games, winning two of them and also recording his first NHL shutout. The Wild signed another goaltender in the summer and the back-up job in Minnesota should be Harding’s to lose this year. He is the Wild’s future No. 1 goaltender.

36. Derick Brassard, C – Columbus Blue Jackets

After finishing seventh in QMJHL scoring with Drummondville, the Blue Jackets made the offensively talented Brassard their top selection (sixth overall) at this past summer’s NHL Entry Draft in Vancouver. He easily led the Voltigeurs in scoring with 44 goals and 72 assists for a whopping 116 points in 58 games. Blessed with elite playmaking ability and a great separation gear, Brassard will likely return to terrorize QMJHL goaltenders once again this fall and should easily make Team Canada’s WJC squad this winter. With Gilbert Brule and Brassard in the system, the Blue Jackets will have a potentially dynamic one-two punch at center ice in the very near future.

37. Niklas Bergfors, RW – New Jersey Devils

After being chosen by the Devils in the first round (23rd overall) in the 2005 NHL Draft, Bergfors was fast tracked to the AHL by the Devils, bypassing the CHL altogether. As the youngest player in the AHL last season (18 years old to start the year), Bergfors had an absolutely outstanding professional debut. By the end of the season, he led all active River Rat forwards in scoring with 17 goals and 23 assists for 40 points in 65 games. Skilled, aggressive, and possessing great hockey sense, Bergfors also had a fantastic WJC, scoring three goals and three assists for six points. While Bergfors might be best served by spending one more full season in the AHL, the Devils will not hold him back this season if he proves he is ready for the challenge of the NHL.

38. Patrick Eaves, RW – Ottawa Senators

Eaves started his first professional season in the AHL with Binghamton. After being called up and sent down a few times early on in the season by the Senators, the former first round draft choice nailed down a regular spot in the Ottawa’s line-up by mid-season. In 58 games with the Senators, Eaves scored 20 goals and nine assists for 29 points. Rugged, combative, and possessing a lethal shot and release, Eaves is primed for a big season this fall for the Senators as he should see his role and ice time increase significantly. With the trading of Martin Havlat to the Blackhawks in the offseason, Eaves should be able to nail down a spot in the Senators top six and contribute even more offensively than he did last year.

39. Justin Pogge, G – Toronto Maple Leafs

With the trading of Rask to the Bruins at the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, the Toronto Maple Leafs made it clear that Pogge is indeed their goaltender of the future. Pogge had an unforgettable 2005-06 season, taking home the WHL’s MVP award after posting magnificent numbers with the Calgary Hitmen. In 54 games, Pogge finished 38-10-2 with a sparkling 1.72 goals against average and .926 save percentage. Among those 38 wins were an impressive 11 shutouts. In between, Pogge also collected some more hardware when he finished 6-0 with a miniscule 1.00 goals against and .952 save percentage and helped lead Team Canada to the gold medal at the WJCs. Big, positionally sound and an intense competitor, Pogge will turn pro this fall and try to carry over the success of last season to the Maple Leafs AHL affiliate, the Toronto Marlies. Should he make a smooth adjustment to the professional game, Pogge could see himself with the Maple Leafs as soon as 2007-08.

40. Lauri Tukonen, RW – Los Angeles Kings

Tukonen’s professional debut with the AHL’s Manchester Monarchs was not overly spectacular by any stretch, but he appeared to make a relatively smooth adjustment to North American hockey. In 62 games, Tukonen scored a respectable 14 goals and 22 assists for 36 points. Tukonen also played a key role in leading Team Finland to a bronze medal at the 2006 WJC, scoring three goals and seven assists for 10 points in seven games. A strong skating forward in the making with a bullet of a shot, Tukonen is still somewhat raw and likely needs one more year of seasoning in the AHL before being considered for regular duty in Los Angeles.

41. Peter Mueller, C – Phoenix Coyotes

Perhaps one of the safest prospects available at the 2006 NHL Draft, Mueller slid a little further than expected, but the Coyotes were more than happy to select him with the eighth overall pick. This past season, the American-born Mueller decided to pass on the NCAA and instead spent the 2005-06 season with the WHL’s Everett Silvertips. In 52 games, he scored 26 goals (second on the team) and 32 assists for 58 points which was good enough to earn him the WHL Rookie of the Year award. Mueller was also a participant for Team USA at the WJCs. A top-notch playmaker with great hands who plays a responsible game at both ends of the rink, Mueller will likely return to the Silvertips this fall and look to build on his impressive WHL rookie season. He’s probably a couple of seasons away from reaching the NHL, but with a dearth of offensively talented forwards on the Coyotes roster, he could reach the NHL sooner rather than later.

42. Roman Voloshenko, LW – Minnesota Wild

Few players made such a great impact in their first seasons in professional hockey as much as Roman Voloshenko did in 2005-06. Always a talented offensive presence in Russia, it took until his final season in Krylia for Voloshenko to get serious results for his hard work. It was feared that he would have a rough transition period in coming to North American last year, but Voloshenko did not miss a beat, picking up 60 points in his rookie campaign. He also brought a great brand of physical hockey to the table, displaying a solid work ethic and a willingness to pay the price to create an opportunity. His skating was often considered a serious detriment to his game, but he improved greatly on this in his first season with Houston. He still has a bit of work to do in that regard, but is well ahead of where he was at this time last year. A potential power forward in the making with excellent finishing ability, Voloshenko is a player on the rise.

43. Andrei Kostitsyn, RW – Montreal Canadiens

The Belarussian forward had a better sophomore season for Hamilton than he had in his rookie season, picking up 47 points in 64 games. He had a bit of an up-and-down season, showing occasional bouts of inconsistency and displaying a penchant to keep the puck to himself, but that could be a case of his feeling mired in a league lower than his excellent offensive talent level. He will have to better integrate himself in the team aspect of the game in order to succeed at the professional level. Kostitsyn’s excellent offensive creativity and awareness lead to high potential, and when given the opportunity of playing among better players, his true game could come to the forefront and his potential realized. He looked strong in his limited stint with Montreal last season, picking up two goals in 12 games, and will likely garner more time with the big club next season.

44. Igor Grigorenko, RW – Detroit Red Wings

If it had not been for the serious injuries he sustained in a severe car accident a few years ago, Grigorenko would undoubtedly not be on this list, for he would already be an important contributor for the Red Wings at the NHL level. He suffered serious setbacks as a result of his leg injuries, and he still has not recovered completely to his pre-accident skill level. Still, even at 90 percent, Grigorenko’s game trumps that of the majority of prospects. His foot-speed and agility has fallen off as a result of his injuries, but his tenacious forechecking and his top-notch skill level remain unaffected, and he can be a valuable contributor as a scoring winger in the North American game. Though he will remain in Russia for one more year, it is Detroit’s hope that he will sign and come across the Atlantic after the 2006-07 season, receiving top-line ice time.

45. T.J. Oshie, C – St. Louis Blues

Oshie burst onto the NCAA scene with the powerhouse University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux, picking up 44 points as a freshman last season, good enough for the second-highest point total among freshmen in all of Division 1 college hockey. A dynamic offensive presence on a team loaded with weapons both up front and on the point, Oshie, a pure goal scorer, was given plenty of opportunities to fill the net. There is a bit of a concern that Oshie’s excellent first-year totals may have been a product of playing alongside creative offensive players such as Drew Stafford, Travis Zajac and Jonathan Toews and until Oshie can score at a similar clip without a similar supporting cast. However, it is hard to argue with the results he produced last year with North Dakota. He will have to work on his all-around game in subsequent years before jumping to the professional ranks, however his offensive upside places him in the upper echelon of forward prospects. He will be entering his sophomore season next year, and will once again play an important role with the perennial powers of the WCHA.

46. Michael Frolik, C – Florida Panthers

Frolik was strongly hyped at the start of last season, then saw his stock fall after a mediocre season in the Czech Elite League. Loaded with talent and offensive creativity, the shifty, versatile Czech forward has incredible offensive upside, and has often seen his skill set compared favorably with Jaromir Jagr. Frolik decided to come to North America this fall, and he will suit up for the young, talented Rimouski Oceanic squad in the QMJHL. He will see quality minutes and be able to adapt to the North American game early in his career. He played as a boy amongst men for the past two seasons, and thus his experiences in the Czech league should help make for an easy transition with Rimouski. The sky is the limit for Frolik offensively, however one must be cautious not to over-hype him.

47. Carey Price, G – Montreal Canadiens

It was a surprise when Montreal snagged Price with the fifth overall selection of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. Since that day, he has given Montreal every reason to be optimistic in their selection. Once again backstopping the mediocre Tri-City Americans, Price was able to carry the talent-thin squad to the playoffs, for his first appearance. He was also invited to Canada’s World Junior camp, and though he was not selected for the final squad, he will likely be given an extended look with the potential to be added to this year’s squad. The Williams Lake product will undoubtedly return to Tri-City for his fourth season in the WHL next year, in the hopes of playing behind an improved squad. The butterfly netminder has shown an ability to play beyond his team’s capabilities in the past, and his focus between the pipes have led many within the Montreal organization to believe that they have found their future No. 1 goaltender.

48. Eric Fehr, RW – Washington Capitals

Fehr jumped to the professional ranks with Hershey last season after posting massive offensive numbers in his final two seasons in the WHL, picking up 53 points in 70 games. He also saw a limited action with Washington, appearing in 11 games. Fehr has excellent offensive instincts, and coupled with his good size, is adept at both driving to the net and working hard along the boards to dig out pucks. There is some concern about his skating, as well as his occasional lack of defensive coverage and awareness, and he will have to work hard on his two-way play in the next season or two if he is to make a permanent jump to the next level. He will have ample opportunity next season to fine-tune those aspects of his game that need work, and will likely once again get a bit of time with the Capitals. Even a slightly improved defensive game, coupled with Fehr’s excellent offensive presence and great size, could prime him for key minutes on a scoring line two years down the line.

49. Valtteri Filppula, C – Detroit Red Wings

Filppula put together an excellent season with Grand Rapids last year, compiling 70 points in 74 games, playing alongside some physical linemates, whose banging style of play allowed the shifty, creative Filppula to better utilize his excellent skill set. Still a very slight player, Filppula’s all-around game would greatly benefit from an increase in physical play, but his frame may make that unreasonable. He made a seamless transition to the North American game after several years with Jokerit in Finland, and was able to garner a couple of brief call-ups to the Red Wings. The quick-skating, spatially-aware, playmaking center will undoubtedly be given a longer look with the Red Wings, splitting time between Detroit and the Grand Rapids top line next season, as he continues to progress. He has the potential to be a key contributor offensively in the very near future for Detroit.

50. Kyle Okposo, RW – New York Islanders

Kyle Okposo was selected seventh overall in the 2006 Entry Draft, after scoring 58 points in 50 games for Des Moines last season, leading the Buccaneers to the USHL championship. With the rare combination of speed, skill and a bit of edginess, Okposo is a workmanlike power forward of the future for the New York Islanders. He will be making the jump to college hockey where he will attend the University of Minnesota in the fall. Okposo should continue his scoring ways and could climb up these rankings rapidly as he proves himself against stiffer competition. Minnesota has a tradition of providing quality ice time for their young recruits and Okposo will be given every opportunity to prove himself.

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