The hockey season has been underway for a few months, so it's time to update my top prospects rankings from the summer. The plan going forward is to update them again as a top 50 following the World Juniors along with the organization system ranking and then make the new top 100 during the summer.
The information that was used to form these rankings is scouting-based material from my own observations of these players, on top of the many conversations I've had with scouts and front office executives within the industry. However, the rankings are purely my own.
The rankings have an emphasis on the possession skill, due to the convincing studies in the hockey analytics world that shows that Corsi is representative of the possession skill and that Corsi is overwhelmingly the most important quality to consistently win hockey games that is under the team's control. I also take into account the market value of upside and position based on studies done.
The lack of goaltending prospects is not an error or an attempt to make a skaters-only rankings. I do not believe, from a pure value standpoint, that any current goalie prospect belongs on this list. Research has shown goaltending has very low value in the current NHL marketplace due to very volatile performances on a year-to-year basis and the fact that good goaltending is easily obtainable on the open market.
Statistical performance is used as a complementary aid and adjusted for age, league quality, and other performance-altering factors. However, due to the lack of context in non-NHL statistics such as zone starts, quality of competition, and not having on-ice shot metrics, statistics are not given a heavy emphasis.
My criteria for a prospect is based on a subjective evaluation if Prospect X has become an established NHL regular. While this leaves room for error, I feel I make fewer errors in terms of prospect definition then when I set arbitrary age or games played limits.
If you have a question about why a certain prospect is ranked where, use the contact tab or ask me via my Twitter account @coreypronman.
1. Mikael Granlund, Center, Minnesota Wild (Previous Ranking: 1)
Using a dataset from 1976 on, nobody in the SM-Liiga has led the league in scoring two years removed from their draft as a non-late birthdate (stick tap to Iain Fyffe). Granlund has been atop or in second place in the Finnish Elite League scoring race for just about the entire season. His elite possession skills combined with an improving skating stride and developing strength should make Wild fans very optimistic for the future.
2. Vladimir Tarasenko, Right Wing, St. Louis Blues (Previous Ranking: 8)
Tarasenko has been one of the KHL's leading scorers for most of the year and is really starting to come into his own. While this may seem like a notable jump in the rankings, many people I know in the industry did project Tarasenko as a very high-end prospect at the 2010 draft.
3. Jonathan Huberdeau, Center, Florida Panthers (Previous Ranking: 7)
Scoring at over a two-point-per-game pace (although on an elite CHL team), the common thoughts from scouts are that Huberdeau looks way beyond the level. If it wasn't for a beanpole frame that needed a lot of extra bulk, he would likely be playing considerable minutes already in the NHL.
4. Ryan Strome, Center, New York Islanders (Previous Ranking: 6)
I got some mildly concerning reports on Strome early on this season, that he was trying to do too much in regards to flashy plays or wasn't playing with as much energy as he was last year, but those concerns seem to be subsiding. He bleeds offensive upside, and the concerns from scouts seem to be more nitpicking than anything.
5. Nick Bjugstad, Center, Florida Panthers (Previous Ranking: 82)
Over the course of a few months, both based on reports I've gotten and viewing him with the USA U-20 team and with Minnesota, it's clear that Bjugstad's development has taken off and there are a lot of real, significant improvements to his game. His skating looks a grade better, he's playing at a higher tempo, making better decisions, and displaying impressive vision. He looks like a real high-end weapon. He's currently tied for the scoring lead in the NCAA.
6. Andrei Loktionov, Center, Los Angeles Kings (Previous Ranking: 10)
He was stuck in a numbers game with the Kings, but I always like it when a team in that situation lets a player play scoring minutes in the AHL rather than give him limited NHL time
although he has been called up now. While his scoring rates are a little down through a small sample, he isn't exactly playing on an AHL team loaded with talented forwards.
7. Tim Erixon, Defense, New York Rangers (Previous Ranking: 11)
The Rangers are playing it right by taking it slow with Erixon, as he never really focused as keenly overseas on developing his body as he needed to and that's a part of his game that is going to come along steadily. He was sent down after a brief stint with the big club to open the year, and in the AHL he has been logging huge minutes in all situations and showing his tremendous two-way potential.
8. Joe Colborne, Center, Toronto Maple Leafs (Previous Ranking: 22)
I've always been a fan of the great upside Colborne possessed and he's ready started to put it all together this season as he has been atop the AHL scoring race or near it for most of the year. He thinks the game at a high-end level and can make a ton happen offensively with his vision, puck skills, and shot, but it's the fact he's using his body more and driving the high percentage areas that is helping him take that next step.
9. Kirill Kabanov, Left Wing, New York Islanders (Previous Ranking: 14)
My explanation for the Kabanov ranking is here. It is nice, though, to see him finally putting up some numbers this season, although he is a 19-year-old in the CHL on a good team.
10. David Savard, Defense, Columbus Blue Jackets (Previous Ranking: 15)
He was up and down in the NHL after starting the season with the big club. I'm not worried about him as he will be a top puck-mover and two-way defender in the league, and it was just the normal adjustment period most defensemen have to go through when they make that big jump in league quality.
11. Gustav Nyquist, Right Wing, Detroit Red Wings (Previous Ranking: 16)
He has been as good in the AHL as he was in the NCAA the last two years, showing his high-end creativity, vision, and puck skills that creates offense on a regular basis.
12. Mika Zibanejad, Center, Ottawa Senators (Previous Ranking: 21)
Since going back over to Sweden, he hasn't scored as much as the Senators would have hoped for in a small sample, but keep in mind he's the kind of player who gets relied on for defensive usage as well as scoring, and he is getting top-six minutes amongst Djurgarden forwards. His numbers will pick up this yearit's a matter of when not if. He is one of the best all-around forward prospects out there.
13. Calle Jarnkrok, Center, Detroit Red Wings (Previous Ranking: 23)
Jarnkrok has been hovering around the top 10-15 scorers in the SEL for a good portion of the year. He likely won't make the jump for a few seasons due to how far away his body is and the Red Wings take it slow with their kids. When he does make it, the puck skills and playmaking abilities will put up points in bunches.
14. Evgeny Kuznetsov, Center, Washington Capitals (Previous Ranking: 19)
Kuznetsov has as much upside as anyone on this list outside of Granlund, but there remain questions within the industry of what degree of the potential will be able to translate into NHL output.
15. Brandon Gormley, Defense, Phoenix Coyotes (Previous Ranking: 12)
I'm starting to have some doubt about Gormley's projection and whether or not I have been too optimistic about his upside based on what I've seen and heard about him. He could fall a few more spots if those doubts are assured at the World Juniors.
16. Johan Larsson, Center, Minnesota Wild (Previous Ranking: NR)
The biggest breakout prospect this year has looked even better than the player who dominated the Under-18's during his draft season. His skating looks better than last year, he's showing high-end creativity and overall hockey sense combined with a great on-ice work ethic. The top 10 scoring numbers in the SEL are not a flukehe is a stud prospect.
17. Mattias Ekholm, Defense, Nashville Predators (Previous Ranking: 24)
I was probably too optimistic during the summer about how quickly Ekholm could transition into the NHL. However as a 21-year-old, he has logging the most minutes per game for a fourth-place SEL club. His skill set is extremely impressive for a 6'3" defenseman and he'll be logging those heavy minutes in the NHL soon in all situations.
18. Tomas Jurco, Right Wing, Detroit Red Wings (Previous Ranking: NR)
I can understand the skepticism of ranking Jurco this high when there are several players on his team scoring at higher per-game rates. I was also on the fence with him going in the draft, but the reports out of Saint John from pro scouts this season have been overwhelmingly positive. Nobody ever questioned the elite puck skills, but it's the improving strength, the consistent work ethic that was missing last year, and the two-way sense that is drawing pretty positive reviews. You put that all together and it makes a heck of a prospect.
19. Justin Schultz, Defense, Anaheim Ducks (Previous Ranking: 26)
He's just so much better than his opponents at the collegiate level. He really should have turned pro this past summer as he clearly doesn't belong at this level anymore.
20. Brendan Smith, Defense, Detroit Red Wings (Previous Ranking: 25)
He's only eligible still because of the suspension he was given during the NHL preseason. He's up now for the Wings and the highly-skilled defender should establish himself as a regular.
21. Jaden Schwartz, Center, St. Louis Blues (Previous Ranking: 29)
His possession skills are as high end as just about anyone on this list, but speed and size hold him back.
22. Riley Sheahan, Center, Detroit Red Wings (Previous Ranking: 103)
Those I've talked to within the industry have fawned for the last year or so over Sheahan's potential, but always complained the production was never there. While it is his third collegiate season, it is nice to see that Sheahan's upside is starting to shine through on the stats sheet. It's not only the numbers though, as his skating looks better, his body stronger, he's showing more puck creativity and looks like a significant two-way weapon.
23. Jonas Brodin, Defense, Minnesota Wild (Previous Ranking: 60)
Brodin is an extremely advanced defender who thinks the game at such a high level. He's a top-three defenseman for his SEL club only months after his 18th birthday and can likely make the jump to the NHL next year if he shows some improvement with his physique.
24. Ryan Ellis, Defense, Nashville Predators (Previous Ranking: 49)
The offensive tools have more than translated to the pro game for Ryan Ellis who is regularly displaying his high-end puck skills, instincts, vision, and shot to his AHL opponents. Nashville is going to take it slow with him, and let him work on his body and steadily adjust to the pro pace, but some doubts I've had about him before have started to fade.
25. Mark McNeill, Center, Chicago Blackhawks (Previous Ranking: 34)
I'm a really big fan of McNeill's game and nothing I've seen this year has deterred me from that. He's not a dynamic player in any facet, but he's above-average at just about everything and that's more than enough to get ranked at 25.
26. Stanislav Galiev, Left Wing, Washington Capitals (Previous Ranking: 35)
Love the skills Galiev brings to the table, as he's a high-end skater and puck-handler who has put a lot of work into improving his all-around game. He's been injured for a good portion of the season.
27. Dougie Hamilton, Defense, Boston Bruins (Previous Ranking: 38)
Hamilton has been putting up hordes of points this season in the OHL, although a good portion has come from the power play. He still has to work on the finer aspects of his game, especially in the defensive zone, but he's showing much more offensive potential, quicker decisions with the puck, and the kind of upside that should excite Bruins fans.
28. Mark Scheifele, Center, Winnipeg Jets (Previous Ranking: NR)
I admit I'm jumping on the bandwagon late, although I still have my skepticism about Scheifele's ultimate projection. The hockey sense is a legit plus tool and the puck skills are better than I gave him credit for, but the skating worries me and it's what likely keeps his projection at a good second line player.
29. Zack Phillips, Center, Minnesota Wild (Previous Ranking: NR)
Significant improvements to his skating, a body that is coming along, and showing much more offensive flair and creativity along with a reliable defensive game all contribute to Phillips flying up my prospect board.
30. Nicklas Jensen, Left Wing, Vancouver Canucks (Previous Ranking: NR)
I have yet to see Jensen play this year outside of the preseason, but everyone I've talked to who has watched Oshawa has come away raving about his play. Issues last year about lack of physicality are fading; he's showing above-average or beyond abilities in every aspect of his skill set and his upside looks very desirable.
Corey Pronman is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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