The hockey season is halfway through, with the major prospect milestone of the World Juniors having passed. This is the time of year where NHL front offices have recently wrapped their mid-year scouting meetings to assess draft targets, to get a feel on prospects that could be potential trade targets. This is also a good time for me to update my Top 50 NHL Prospects.
The last update I did, which was a Top 30, was a feel of which direction I felt some prospects were going, but it was not a thorough ranking. I had not talked to enough sources at the time, and some rankings such as Nick Bjugstad, Riley Sheahan, or Tomas Jurco received a "saw them good" bump whereas a player like Jon Merrill fell due to the fact I had not seen him at all. I also do not rank a player without a viewing this season, which is why Peter Holland from the Ducks isn't ranked despite the fact that I've heard good things about him.
Normal information about my rankings: 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 good goaltending is easily obtainable in 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 usually has been based on a subjective evaluation if Prospect X has become an established NHL regular. Doing this in season is a little trickier due to recalls/reassignments so I decided to leave all current NHLers out period. Marco Scandella and David Rundblad go back into prospect territory after not being considered before Christmas in my previous ranking due to being sent down to the AHL. Cody Eakin would have made the list (ranked 42nd) if it weren't for a recall.
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 (Preseason Ranking: 1)
I still like Granlund a lot with his truly special possession skills. He didn't destroy the World Juniors as I expected and some people I've talked to in the NHL have speculated that he may not be able to dominate on small ice surfaces, but I'm not that concerned.
2. Vladimir Tarasenko, Right Wing (Preseason Ranking: 8)
I have no reason really to doubt Tarasenko, and if he comes over he could slide into a scoring role for the Blues right away and could do more than that within a short amount of time. He's a brilliant all-around player who can make plays and score goals in bunches.
3. Jonathan Huberdeau, Center, Florida Panthers (Preseason Ranking: 7)
Huberdeau has pretty special hands and hockey sense with the ability to create so much offense on a regular basis. His frame is a little concerning, but he's still only 18 and a June baby so I'll give him much more time before putting on muscle becomes an issue.
4. Evgeny Kuznetsov, Center, Washington Capitals (Preseason Ranking: 19)
The biggest riser to the top this season looked simply brilliant at the Under-20s, showing high-end skating, puck skills, and hockey sense. He got more defensive responsibility than I was used to seeing which is similar to the high number of minutes and responsbility he's gotten on a KHL contender this season. His ceiling is arguably a little better than Tarasenko or Huberdeau, but due to how many red flags I've received about him over the years on his in-game intangibles, I'm not 100% ready to wipe clear some of his risk projection.
5. Tim Erixon, Defense, New York Rangers (Preseason Ranking: 11)
Erixon has been up and down from the Rangers but when he has been in the AHL he has been nothing short of dominant. He's logging ridiculous minutes in the AHL and doing it all very well at both ends. Once he bulks up and he's 100% ready to play a North American game, he's going to fly up New York's depth chart.
6. Joe Colborne, Center, Toronto Maple Leafs (Preseason Ranking: 22)
While he's not lighting up the AHL like he was at the start of the year, he's still playing well and showing a much better physical game than he has in years past. Combine that with his great physical tools and hockey sense and you have quite a prospect.
7. Ryan Strome, Center, New York Islanders (Preseason Ranking: 6)
While Ryan Strome played pretty well at the World Juniors, I saw an even higher gear from him last year which speaks volumes about his upside. His scoring numbers are a little low this year considering his talent level but he has been focusing more on his defense and off the puck work.
8. Jaden Schwartz, Left Wing, St. Louis Blues (Previous Ranking: 29)
Schwartz has looked tremendous when I've seen him in college, but some of his possession tools arguably looked even a grade higher at the World Juniors. He's not the fastest guy, but his agility and quickness has improved significantly to become dangerous.
9. Brendan Smith, Defense, Detroit Red Wings (Preseason Ranking: 25)
Smith has always had the tag of a high-end skills guy who got himself into trouble with being a riverboat gambler. This year he has still showed the great tools, but his decision-making has improved and he's not hurting himself that much while still hurting the other team a lot. A stacked depth chart is what is holding him back currently.
10. Justin Schultz, Defense, Anaheim Ducks (Preseason Ranking: 26)
Schultz looks filthy good every shift he takes for Wisconsin and he clearly doesn't belong in college anymore. His ability to make plays at both ends and control the game is pretty high end.
11. David Rundblad, Defense, Phoenix Coyotes (Preseason Ranking: 17)
Rundblad has had a rough start to his first season, as his physical and defensive issues resulted in protection by his coach's usage. His potential is enormous, with elite puck-moving skills and great individual ability. His projection has a fair amount of risk attached to it, but the payoff could be great for Phoenix.
12. Nick Bjugstad, Center, Florida Panthers (Preseason Ranking: 82)
I jumped the gun a bit with Bjugstad in my November rankings after seeing a few very impressive games. His World Junior performance was okay, but I'm still pretty high on him and he's certainly improved a lot over a half season.
13. Kirill Kabanov, Left Wing, New York Islanders (Preseason Ranking: 14)
My explanation and report for Kabanov is pretty much the same as it has been for the last little while. My ranking explanation for Kirill can be seen here. Interestingly enough, these past few months have been the first time I've heard NHL sources start to share my optimism about Kabanov with them sharing similar thoughts about his intangible issue being overstated, with one NHL exec saying, "When you consider how many other players do much worse things and how quickly they get swept under the rug without much character issues being brought up, it just doesn't make any sense. He's just gotten a bad rap." I would still like to see him produce at the level I can think he can, especially since he's 19 in the QMJHL on a good team.
14. Gustav Nyquist, Right Wing, Detroit Red Wings (Preseason Ranking: 16)
The standard report for Nyquist remains true. He's a great puck-handler and playmaker who can really create offense and needs to work on his physical game.
15. Dougie Hamilton, Defense, Boston Bruins (Preseason Ranking: 38)
Dougie has shown so much development in the course of the year. The once raw but toolsy big man is playing at a much faster pace, showing better decision making and offensive creativity. Concerns I've had about him have started to fade and he truly looks like a stud prospect.
16. Mika Zibanejad, Left Wing, Ottawa Senators (Preseason Ranking: 21)
Zibanejad is one of the best all-around prospects out there who has shows significant physical development this year. His ice time is only a few minutes higher per game this year in the SEL than it was in the NHL, which is a bit of a concern for Ottawa who were hoping he'd get great offensive opportunities; he is sixth amongst his team's forwards in average ice time.
17. Calle Jarnkrok, Center, Detroit Red Wings (Preseason Ranking: 23)
The highly skilled playmaker has logged over 19 minutes a game as a 20-year-old in Sweden, which is rare for a prospect his age but speaks to his high-end hockey sense and his ability to be a cornerstone for his team.
18. Mattias Ekholm, Defense, Nashville Predators (Preseason Ranking: 24)
Ekholm's NHL time was short as it was clear he still needed a little bit of seasoning. He's been great overseas in Sweden, logging huge minutes, defending fine in his own endmostly due to his tremendous mobilityand showing good puck-moving skills.
19. Brandon Gormley, Defense, Phoenix Coyotes (Preseason Ranking: 12)
Gormley showed his great hockey sense at the World Juniors, but despite moving the puck well, my concerns about his upside not being overly impressive has resulted in him falling a bit in my rankings.
20. Jonas Brodin, Defense, Minnesota Wild (Preseason Ranking: 60)
Brodin is the kind of prospect who will never wow observers but consistently does good things on every shift; he's a really smart player who moves the puck well and is very mobile. He's so advanced for his age and can likely make the jump to the NHL next year if he's physically ready.
21. Mark Scheifele, Center, Winnipeg Jets (Preseason Ranking: Unranked)
As time has gone on, I've started to see what all the hype has been about with Scheifele. I actually wasn't overly impressed with him at the World Juniors, but saw signs of the desirable possession tools that make him an asset; I've heard good things about him in the OHL.
22. Jon Merrill, Defense, New Jersey Devils (Preseason Ranking: 28)
The half-year suspension by his own team is not good for a player who historically has been hit with character issues, and I didn't rank him when I updated my top 30 to make sure whatever he did didn't impede his game. While he wasn't up to the pace at the World Juniors, there were enough signs of his raw puck-moving skills still intact to subside some, but not all of my concerns.
23. Tomas Jurco, Right Wing, Detroit Red Wings (Preseason Ranking: Unranked)
While scouting sources I talked to at the World Juniors thought Jurco has a higher gear, sources who have seen him in the QMJHL consistently come away praising him, especially improvements to his on-ice work ethic. His potential is very high and he will be an intriguing prospect to follow into his first pro season next year.
24. Johan Larsson, Center, Minnesota Wild (Preseason Ranking: Unranked)
Larsson is quite advanced with his game-processing skills, showing more confidence than ever when creating offense, he has significantly improved his skating, and works his butt off. He doesn't bleed high-end tools asides from his hockey sense, but still has the makings of a pretty good prospect.
25. Tyson Barrie, Defense, Colorado Avalanche (Preseason Ranking: 83)
Barrie has looked brilliant in the AHL this year and in an organization already stocked with talented young defensemen like Duncan Siemens and Stefan Elliott, Barrie is right up at their level if not a little higher. His hockey sense and puck skills are high end, his skating is improved, and his intangibles are very desirable.
Corey Pronman is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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