Hockey’s Future Top 50 prospects Spring 2007: 26-50

By HF Staff

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. Derick Brassard, C – Columbus Blue Jackets

Brassard’s season got off to an extremely late start as he recovered from a dislocated shoulder suffered before the start of training camp. It delayed his season debut with the QMJHL‘s Drummondville Voltigeurs until mid February. Although he is still working himself into game shape with an eye towards the playoffs, he has been able to continue to show the prodigious offensive gifts that make him a big part of Columbus’ future. In just 11 games, he has scored five goals and added 16 assists – not far from his two points per game pace of 2005-06, and more than promising considering the severity of his injury.

27. T.J. Oshie, C – St. Louis Blues

Oshie is a sophomore with the North Dakota Fighting Sioux where he is among the most valuable players in all of college hockey. He posted an impressive 24 goals and 21 assists in 43 games in his freshman season and has 13 goals and 28 assists in 38 games this year.  Oshie also had a very impressive performance at the 2006 WJC in Vancouver and is looking like a prime candidate to leave school early for a pro career. The Blues will likely attempt to sign the college star in the offseason. Oshie is a smart, intense, highly-skilled center who could play in a top-six role in the NHL.

28. Andrew Cogliano, C – Edmonton Oilers

His world-class speed and his lack of height have both been well documented, but what is getting attention now is that Cogliano continues to excel and develop as he gets older and receives more opportunity. A solid freshman campaign with Michigan has been followed by a stellar sophomore effort in which Cogliano’s production hasn’t stalled since the WJCs, as it did last year. With more and more responsibility headed his way next year with the Wolverines, some are already mentioning Cogliano’s name for Hobey Baker consideration in 2007-08. Cogliano’s 47 points in 35 games have him firmly in the top 10 among sophomores in the NCAA.

29. Eric Fehr, RW – Washington Capitals

Fehr was a highly-regarded sniper in the WHL with the Brandon Wheat Kings where he capped of two 50-goal campaigns before signing a contract with the Capitals.  Fehr has continued to deliver offensively in the AHL as well. In his rookie season, he posted a very respectable 25 goals and 28 assists in 70 games.  In his second season, he seems to have elevated his game to a new level, posting even more impressive numbers of 41 points in 40 games.  He has also tasted the NHL with 14 games this season, scoring two goals and an assist.  Fehr has a large body which he uses effectively in the offensive zone. He has a nose for the net, possesses a lethal shot and solid hockey sense. Fehr has the upside of playing regularly on a second forward line as early as next season.

30. Braydon Coburn, D – Philadelphia Flyers

This Saskatchewan native was originally selected by the Atlanta Thrashers eighth overall at the 2003 NHL entry draft.  Coburn was dealt to the Philadelphia Flyers at the 2007 trade deadline for veteran defenseman Alexei Zhitnik.  Coburn has been a highly-rated prospect for a long time, due in large part to his excellent size (6’5, 220lbs) and skating ability.  Coburn also has sound puck skills, but he likely will not be much of a force at the offensive end. He is primarily a defensive defenseman who can take the body and clear the crease effectively. Having been sent back to the AHL by the Thrashers after 29 games, he was recalled to the NHL by the Flyers and will likely play there full time next year.

31. Alexandre Picard, LW – Columbus Blue Jackets

Picard turned pro out of the QMJHL in 2005 and was assigned to the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL. He has delivered two solid performances in the AHL in the past year in a half, as well as call-ups to the Blue Jackets for a total of 28 games.  He has not scored in the NHL yet, however, which must be a bit concerning for the organization.  Picard has been battling some injures which have slowed his development slightly, but he is on the brink of earning a regular roster spot.  Picard could be an extremely talented forward on the left side of a third line or possibly, with some improvement in his offensive game, be a top-six forward.

32. Andrei Kostitsyn, RW – Montreal Canadiens

You will get arguments in some corners that Kostitsyn is the top player in the AHL this season. A combination of salary cap and numbers have limited the Belarusian to just a handful of NHL games this season, but it’s clear that the winger with the booming shot is ready to make the jump.  He played 10 games with the Canadiens this year, posting three assists.  With 21 goals and 31 assists in 50 games with the Hamilton Bulldogs, Kostitsyn has worked hard on his play away from the puck and on making his own shots, and he’s expected to be a contributing regular at the NHL level next season. 

33. Jack Skille, RW – Chicago Blackhawks

Skille entered his sophomore season with the Wisconsin Badgers hoping to build on his modest freshman campaign in the NCAA. Unfortunately, the power forward in the making suffered a hyper-extended elbow early in the season. He was able to return to the Badgers line-up late in 2006, getting into a few games before departing for Sweden to participate for Team USA at the WJCs. Skille picked up six points in the tournament, playing an important role in helping the Americans take the bronze medal. He has garnered 16 points in 23 games thus far this season. Skille brings an excellent mix of size, speed, skill and grit to the table. He is close to being ready for the professional game, but whether he can be lured away from school early is another matter. The Hawks would like to get him into the system soon.

34. Justin Pogge, G – Toronto Maple Leafs

Pogge entering his first professional season in 2006 with plenty of hype. It was understandable, considering Pogge was coming off of an MVP-caliber season for the Calgary Hitmen last season, coupled with a gold medal-winning performance backstopping Canada’s World Junior squad. Pogge was eased into his role with the Marlies in his rookie campaign, splitting time with AHL veteran netminder Jean-Francois Racine. As the season progressed, Pogge has seen his role with the Marlies increase. Since the start of 2007, Pogge has appeared in more than three-quarters of the Marlies games. Given the faith that the Maple Leafs organization has put in him — heralding him as their goaltender of the future after the departure of Tuukka Rask — Pogge will be given ample opportunity to succeed. Given his track record, his strong positional play, and his desire to compete, a long NHL career certainly seems to be in the offing for Pogge.

35. Noah Welch, D – Florida Panthers

Moved to Florida in a trade deadline deal, Welch will once again have to wait his turn before landing in the NHL.  Welch saw action in 27 NHL games over parts of two seasons with Pittsburgh and appeared to be learning on the job while pressed into duty.  The trade to Florida landed him back in the AHL, but with the prospect of earning a full-time roster spot as early as next training camp.  Large and mobile, Welch excels at moving the puck from the defensive to offensive zones and vice versa.  With a tremendous shot from the point, Welch is one of the better and more well-rounded defensive prospects yet to make the NHL full time.  With ideal size, if Welch can develop a more physical game, there is little that he will not be able to contribute to the Florida defensive corps. 

36. Kris Russell, D – Columbus Blue Jackets

It has been another banner year Kris Russell, who earned his second gold medal with Team Canada’s WJC squad. One of five returnees to the squad from last year’s blue line, the puck-moving defenseman tied the highly-touted Jonathan Toews for the team lead in goals with four. Russell has been an offensive dynamo with the Medicine Hat Tigers, notching a league-high 32 goals among defensemen and 68 points (placing him second). Coupled with his uncanny offensive awareness, Russell has heart and leadership that are far and away larger than his small frame. Russell has been the captain of the Medicine Hat squad for two seasons, and coupled with his important roles in international play, this has shaped the 5’10 blueliner into one of the top prospects among defensemen in any league. In spite of his small stature, Russell has shown a fearless competitive spirit, and will have to continue his tenacious play to make up for his lack of size in the professional game.

37. Kristopher Letang, D – Pittsburgh Penguins

Letang made a splash out of training camp, sticking with the Pittsburgh Penguins to start the 2006-07 season. Though his initial stay with the Pens was short-lived, the product of Montreal, Quebec managed to notch his first two career professional goals in seven games of work, before being returned to the Val d’Or Foreurs of the QMJHL. With Val d’Or, Letang picked right up where he left off last season, showcasing excellent offensive awareness from the point, coupled with strong coverage in his own end. Though he has only appeared in 38 games thus far this season for the Foreurs, he is tied for 10th in points among blueliners with 52. Letang was once again an integral member of Team Canada’s gold medal-winning performance at the 2007 WJCs. Chances of Letang once again getting to ply his wares on the national stage are high this spring, as his Foreurs are among a handful of teams favored to be the QMJHL representative in this May’s Memorial Cup. Letang will turn professional permanently next season, and will likely be given another long look at the Penguins training camp.

38. Martin Hanzal, C – Phoenix Coyotes

After a tumultuous 2005-06 campaign that saw Hanzal shuffled around various leagues and teams, the 6’5 former first-round pick settled in with Brent Sutter and the Red Deer Rebels of the WHL this season. A highly-talented forward who has occasionally run into lapses of motivation, Hanzal has found all the motivation needed from his coach, Sutter, who has helped the strong centerman focus on improving his all-around game. Hanzal has been used in all situations this season, and has been incredibly receptive to the coaching staff’s confidence, accepting all that has been asked of him, and flourishing. Improving his all-around game has not been Hanzal’s only step in the right direction — he has also been incredibly creative with the puck, and he sits fifth in the WHL with 81 points (24 of which are goals) in 58 games. Hanzal also played for the underachieving Czech Republic squad at the WJCs, notching two goals and one assist in six games.

39. Cory Schneider, G – Vancouver Canucks

Schneider has been a workhorse for Boston College this season, remarkably playing in all but 20 minutes for the Eagles, but did not compete in the 2007 WJCs. Originally touted as the goaltender of the future in the Canucks organization, that may still be the case, however, the future may be a little further away, after the off-season acquisition of Roberto Luongo. Schneider has posted a very solid 24-11-1 record for Boston College, coupled with a very respectable 2.20 goals against average and a .922 save percentage in his 36 games of work. These numbers are down from his sparkling numbers of the previous season, but still have him in the upper echelon of NCAA netminders. Schneider is excellent positionally, cutting down the angles very effectively, and has quick lateral movement, all of which make him a large target between the pipes. Whether or not he will return for his senior year, or begin the acclimation process in the professional game is unclear at present. But the Canucks have no need to rush him at this point.

40. Jonathan Bernier, G – Los Angeles Kings

Bernier is arguably the best goaltender in the QMJHL.  Near the top of the league in almost every goaltender statistical category, Bernier has been the anchor in net for a Lewiston team that has ascended to the top of the standings.  Bernier was one of the last cuts of Team Canada for the 2007 WJC after winning Defensive Player of the Month honors for November.  Bernier combines solid fundamentals with athleticism and puck-handling skills that are already well developed for his age.  The first goaltender drafted in the first round for the Kings since Jamie Storr in 1994, Bernier represents the future in net for Los Angeles and one of the best goaltenders still playing in major juniors.

41. Leland Irving, G – Calgary Flames

It is not very difficult to play well on the top junior team in the country. The Everett Silvertips have run roughshod over the rest of the WHL, and Irving has been a big part of that, serving as the team’s starting goaltender as an 18-year-old. Irving has posted an immaculate 33-8-1-2 record with a miniscule 1.90 goals against average and a stellar .928 save percentage, playing behind a veteran-laden squad. But Irving would be a dominant goaltender even if he were on a mediocre squad. Boasting quick reflexes and great positional play, he does not get caught out of position, and has remained focused between the pipes during the regular lulls in the Everett defensive end this season. He was a member of Team Canada’s gold medal-winning World Junior squad, albeit serving as the team’s back-up goaltender. Irving is among the top netminders in the WHL, and is the heir apparent to current Calgary goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff.

42. Benoit Pouliot, LW – Minnesota Wild

Pouliot has high potential that is waiting to be untapped.  He has continued to display the combination of rugged play and offensive prowess in his first professional season with the Houston Aeros. In 52 games, the 20-year-old winger has combined 17 goals and 29 points with 85 penalty minutes.  He made his NHL debut with the Wild this season, playing three games.  At 6’3 but well under 200 pounds, the Alfred, ON winger still has time to grow into that projected power forward frame.  With size and skill on the left side, Pouliot may be pressed into full-time duty for the Wild soon.

43. Michael Frolik, C – Florida Panthers

One of the brightest stars to emerge from the Czech Republic in recent memory, Frolik moved his game to North America during the offseason.  Often drawing comparisons to fellow Czech Jaromir Jagr, Frolik has used his speed to consistently be at the top of the rankings for rookies playing in the QMJHL including being named as Rookie of the Month for January. Frolik is a player with high-end offensive talent and skating abilities that are well suited to the new rules of the NHL.  Still at the tender age of 18, Frolik will not likely be pressed into early service by the Florida Panthers and will likely be one of the names dominating major junior hockey next season.

44. Jeff Tambellini, LW – New York Islanders

One of the surest skaters and best finishers on this list, Tambellini has been splitting time between the AHL and the NHL in his early career.  He has been progressing slowly but steadily with the Islanders and is on the brink of making the NHL roster full-time next season.  In a brief February call-up, he impressed with an excellent seven points in 12 games, including a three-assist performance.  Now dominating the AHL, Tambellini is showing that there is little reason to keep him in Bridgeport and a roster spot on the Island must be found.  With the draft day trade of Robert Nilsson, the path is paved for Tambellini to assume a larger and more permanent role with the Islanders.

45. Joe Pavelski, C – San Jose Sharks

Pavelski is proof that future all-stars can be found even in the seventh round of the draft.  Signing with San Jose after only two years of college hockey, Pavelski quickly began to tear up the AHL with 26 points in his first 16 games.  Earning himself a call-up to the NHL squad, he immediately made a significant splash with four goals in his first five games and has consistently maintained one of the better points per game averages among NHL rookies this season.  Pavelski uses a great set of hands to find the back of the net with regularity and set up his teammates with quality scoring opportunities.  There is little reason to believe that Pavelski will ever be returned to the AHL with the type of impact he has already had at the NHL level.

46. Josh Hennessy, C – Ottawa Senators

Following a solid rookie season with the Cleveland Barons of the AHL where he scored 63 points in 80 games, Hennessy continues to show outstanding development, this time with Binghamton.  Acquired in the offseason trade from San Jose, he has shown that he is ready to be the next great forward to come out of the Ottawa system.  The quick-skating Hennessy adds not just what might appear on a score sheet but also a gritty two-way game that is immeasurably valuable to the success of the team.  A 10-game call-up to Ottawa resulted in little more than a single goal, but his style of game will eventually keep him on the NHL roster in a support role until he is ready to take on a more prominent one.

47. Matt Lashoff, D – Boston Bruins
Lashoff went to training camp in September of 2006 ready to compete for a spot on Boston’s roster. As a rookie, he’s spent the majority of the season in Providence, where he was the only player from his team chosen for the All-Star game. Lashoff has been able to chip in some offense at the pro level as well, and leads the P-Bruins defensemen in scoring with 31 points in 49 games. He had a couple brief recalls to Boston for a total of 12 games, but saw his ice time limited, and was eventually sent back to the AHL for more experience. Lashoff is a smooth-skating defenseman with excellent puck-carrying skills who plays a solid all-around game.

48. Robert Nilsson, LW/C – Edmonton Oilers

NHL skills with minor league drive? Depends on who you ask. While some point to the fact that the Islanders cut Nilsson extremely early from training camp last fall, others will cite that the player spent more than half of last season in the NHL and never got a shot this year under coach Ted Nolan. Now with the Oilers, Nilsson will definitely get the opportunity to strut his dynamic offensive flair, but will also be expected to put forth some dedication to his own end of the rink, an area that most critics pronounce as a glaring weakness. Nilsson was Bridgeport’s leading scorer and is now the same type of player for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, so the talented Swede appears ready for the next step.

49. Roman Voloshenko, LW – Minnesota Wild

Much was expected of the Belarusian winger earlier this season, as the anticipation was that he would play a prominent role at the NHL level – perhaps even playing with Wild superstar Marian Gaborik. However, Voloshenko appears to have succumbed to the sophomore slump. His offensive numbers – the hallmark of his game – have dropped dramatically. In 60 games he’s only accounted for 10 goals and 28 points, a far cry from his almost a point per game totals of 33 goals and 27 assists in 69 games last year playing on one of the best lines in the AHL. A solid offseason and continued lofty expectations should give Voloshenko all the opportunity he needs to crack the Wild’s roster next year.

50. Jakub Kindl, D – Detroit Red Wings

Kindl has spent the last three seasons in the OHL where he is a top defenseman for the Kitchener Rangers. His coach has been relying on him heavily during his second and third seasons, averaging well over 25 minutes a game on most nights. He took advantage of his ice time last year, posting impressive numbers (12 goals and 46 assists). After an impressive camp in the offseason with the Red Wings, Kindl returned to the Rangers to be a leader and has continued his torrid production pace.  Kindl has the size, poise and hockey sense to be a top-two defenseman in the NHL. He moves effortlessly and is very mobile with and without the puck. He is also valuable on the power play as well as penalty-killing units. With a bit more of an edge to his game, Kindl should develop into a mainstay on the Wings defensive end.

Missing the cut

Patrik Berglund, St. Louis
Alex Bourret, NY Rangers
Nigel Dawes, NY Rangers
Loui Eriksson, Dallas
T. J. Hensick, Colorado
Mark Mitera, Anaheim
James Sheppard, Minnesota
Jiri Tlusty, Toronto
Semen Varlamov, Washington

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