Hockey’s Future Top 50 prospects Spring 2007: 1-10

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. 1 to 10 along with an alphabetical list of those who just missed the cut.  Prospects ranked 26 to 50 can be found here, and 11-25 here.

1. Erik Johnson, D – St. Louis Blues

The top choice in the 2006 NHL draft, Johnson has lived up to the hype. After flirting with the possibility of skipping college altogether and moving right to the NHL, Johnson decided on at least one season at the NCAA level with the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Johnson is about as complete a defender as they come. The 6’4 blueliner does not hesitate to throw his weight around and is equally adept at leading the rush and generating a scoring chance as he is to playing rock-solid defense in his own end. Johnson has registered four goals and 19 assists in 39 games to go along with a +8 rating for Minnesota thus far. He again also represented Team USA at the World Junior Championships, and his 10 points helped lead the team to a bronze medal showing. At this point, it is quite apparent that Johnson is indeed ready for the NHL, and it’s only a matter of time before he puts his name on a contract with the Blues and begins his professional career.

2. Jack Johnson, D – Los Angeles Kings

The second best defenseman not already in the NHL is in his second season with the University of Michigan.  With three goals in seven games, Johnson also helped Team USA to a bronze medal during the 2007 WJC.  This future No. 1 defenseman is already with his second organization after a preseason trade from Carolina to Los Angeles.  Johnson is near the top of every offensive statistical category for defensemen in the NCAA with 37 points in 35 games and plays a game that goes well beyond the score sheet.  Physical and mobile with a tremendous shot, Johnson might be ready to move to the professional hockey on the Los Angeles blueline next winter. 

3. Nicklas Backstrom, C – Washington Capitals

The Capitals knew they struck gold when they drafted Backstrom in the first round of the 2006 Entry Draft. He had a good WJC, recording seven assists, and he has 40 points in 45 games in the Swedish Elite League with Brynas. The dynamic 19-year-old playmaking center leads Brynas in scoring through 45 games with 12 goals and 28 assists for 40 points. Backstrom is about as well-rounded a player as they come and could be the best player to come out of Sweden in quite some time. Backstrom was probably NHL-ready this season, especially on a Washington team devoid of much depth up the middle, and with his performance in the SEL this season, there is now no doubt he is ready for the show. The Capitals have to be salivating at the thought of teaming him up with electrifying wingers Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin next season.

4. Alexander Radulov, RW – Nashville Predators

On a deep and talented Nashville squad, Radulov failed to crack the team out of training camp, but the Predators ran into injury problems up front and combined with Radulov’s superb start in the AHL with Milwaukee, he was an easy choice to be recalled. Since his recall, even with the return of healthy bodies to the line-up, Radulov gave the Predators no choice but to keep him with the big club and he is up to stay. In 55 games in the Music City, the Russian sniper has scored 14 goals and 16 assists this season. He is only going to get better with more experience and ice time and should be one of the more exhilarating pure goal scorers in the NHL for years to come.

5. Jonathan Toews – C – Chicago Blackhawks

It was never really in doubt that Toews was the real deal when the Blackhawks spent the third overall pick on him in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, but his spectacular performance at the WJC cemented his status as not only the Blackhawks top prospect, but one of the top prospects in the entire NHL. Toews shook off an early-season injury with the North Dakota Fighting Sioux and scored four goals and three assists for seven points to help lead Team Canada to the gold medal. A natural born leader blessed with a tremendous amount of hockey sense, Toews has scored 16 goals and 27 assists in only 30 games for North Dakota, and also boasts an impressive +18 rating. Toews competes hard each and every night and is equally adept defensively as offensively. Toews may turn pro at the completion of his sophomore season.

6. Phil Kessel, C – Boston Bruins
With just one season at the University of Minnesota under his belt, Kessel was drafted by the Bruins at No. 5 overall in the 2006 entry draft and shortly after, signed his first pro contract. He went straight to the Boston lineup, and while he’s experienced many of the growing pains of a rookie NHL’er, Kessel has made steady progress since the beginning of the season. Known for his natural scoring ability and blazing speed, his role on Boston’s offense should grow as he continues to mature. With 23 points in 59 games already, Kessel has the potential to be a top-line scorer in the NHL.

7. Tuukka Rask, G – Boston Bruins

The Bruins have to be concerned with the sub-par season Hannu Toivonen is having after showing so much promise last year, but with Rask in the fold after a draft day trade with the Maple Leafs, the Bruins don’t have to worry much about the future in goal with the calm and cool Finn coming up the prospect ladder. At only 19 years of age, Rask’s .928 save percentage in the top men’s league in Finland stands out in a big way. Extremely quick and adept at taking away the bottom of the net, Rask did not have the best WJC after starring at the tourney last year, but he was not the reason the Finnish team struggled. There are quite a few goaltenders to make Hockey’s Future Top 50 list this time around, but Rask has the highest upside at this time and appears to be the best of the bunch.

8. Patrick O’Sullivan, LW – Los Angeles Kings

Like Jack Johnson, O’Sullivan was acquired by the Los Angeles Kings during an offseason trade after earning Rookie of the Year honors from the AHL during the 2005-06 season.  High hopes were held for O’Sullivan to step into the Los Angeles line-up immediate this season and help pick up the slack on an NHL roster short on scoring.  A slow start to the season resulted in a demotion back to the AHL.  After a quick stint with Manchester, O’Sullivan was recalled to Los Angeles where he will finish the season.  O’Sullivan has not found a consistent offensive touch with just 11 points in 34 NHL games, but he is still young and learning to play without the puck.  Once he grasps these other aspects of the game, the scoring will pick up.

9. Cam Barker, D – Chicago Blackhawks

After spending the majority of his rookie pro season with the Norfolk Admirals, Barker got the call and has played substantial minutes in the NHL since mid-January. The Blackhawks’ top draft pick from 2004 is a smooth-skating offensive defenseman. Barker put up good numbers in his four-year tenure with the WHL Medicine Hat Tigers, and he had 13 points (5 goals, 8 assists) in 31 games with Norfolk before his recall to Chicago this season where he has five points in 24 games. Barker has all the tools to become a top pairing defenseman.
10. Peter Mueller, C – Phoenix Coyotes

The Coyotes’ top draft pick from 2006 is well on his way to a stellar second season in the WHL. Playing for the Everett Silvertips, Mueller is 13th in the league in scoring with 78 points in 51 games. A player of good size and strength, Mueller has excellent mobility, a natural scoring touch, and plays a responsible game at both ends of the ice. The young center has the potential to be a top line forward for the Coyotes, with good size to go with his talented overall skill set.

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