5 NHL Prospects Who Have Made the Biggest Leaps This Fall

Nicholas Goss@@NicholasGoss35Correspondent IDecember 13, 2012

5 NHL Prospects Who Have Made the Biggest Leaps This Fall

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    The lockout has helped NHL teams learn a lot about the NHL-readiness of their top prospects who could compete for a roster spot in 2012-13.

    Luckily for some general managers, there have been a number of young players playing in junior hockey and in the AHL who have proven that they can be valuable additions to NHL rosters when the lockout ends.

    Let's look at five prospects who have made significant progress in their development this fall.

Dougie Hamilton, Boston Bruins

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    To no one's surprise, Boston Bruins prospect Dougie Hamilton continues to lead all OHL defensemen in points this season with 41, which is 10 points higher than second-place Ryan O'Connor of the Barrie Colts.

    Thanks in large part to Hamilton's production at both ends of the ice, the Niagara IceDogs have the third best record in the Eastern Conference.

    Aside from his well-documented offensive skills, Hamilton has continued to display his high hockey intelligence and impressive awareness on the ice this year.

    His two-way ability is incredible and will really help the Bruins this season, especially on the power-play, which has been a real area of concern for Boston over the last two seasons.

    Hamilton has continued to develop in the OHL during the lockout, and will be expected to make an immediate impact offensively with the Bruins as a rookie.

Tyler Johnson, Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Tyler Johnson has played very well for the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL this season. He ranks sixth in the league in scoring with 24 points in 25 games, and his 15 goals lead all skaters.

    The Tampa Bay Lightning could need an upgrade at center on their third or fourth lines this season, and there's no question that Johnson can give head coach Guy Boucher the scoring depth he needs at that position.

    Johnson has become a consistent offensive player with impressive goal-scoring skills and solid offensive instincts throughout his time in the AHL.

    Expect Johnson to make his NHL debut this season and become a reliable third-line player for the Lightning. He's been one of the most impressive forwards in the AHL this year.

Tomas Tatar, Detroit Red Wings

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    If you are not a Detroit Red Wings fan, you might not be too familiar with left wing prospect Tomas Tatar, but this young forward is going to make an impact in the NHL very soon.

    He is playing for the Grand Rapid Griffins of the AHL during the lockout, and currently shares the team lead in scoring with Gustav Nyquist. Both players have 21 points in 22 games, but Tatar has a slight edge in goals scored with 11 compared to Nyquist's eight.

    As the Red Wings begin to give some of their NHL-ready prospects some experience at the highest level this season, expect Tatar to contend for a permanent spot on the roster in 2012-13.

    Tatar is a gifted goal scorer with good speed and impressive hands. He also plays a physical style of hockey and understands the importance of good defensive play.

    He doesn't have amazing size (5'11" and 186 pounds), but he makes up for it with the competitiveness and energy that he brings to the ice.

    Expect Tatar to make the NHL roster this season and give Detroit some needed scoring depth for the team's bottom-six forward group.

Ryan Strome, New York Islanders

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    Dougie Hamilton isn't the only Niagara IceDogs player dominating offensively this season.

    Ryan Strome has been the best offensive forward in the OHL this year, and New York Islanders general manager Garth Snow has to be very pleased with the progress he's made during the lockout.

    He leads the OHL with 62 points and 40 assists. As you can see from the chart below, Strome's production has improved tremendously this year.

    Year GP G A PTS
    2009-10 27 3 10 13
    2010-11 65 33 73 106
    2011-12 46 30 38 68
    2012-13 32 22 40 62

    Strome has nothing left to prove as a junior hockey player, so expect him to play an important role on the Islanders as soon as the lockout ends.

Justin Schultz, Edmonton Oilers

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    Edmonton Oilers defenseman Justin Schultz leads all AHL players in points this season with 34, which is four more than Oilers teammate Jordan Eberle in second place with 30 points.

    We knew Schultz was a great offensive defenseman at the University of Wisconsin, but I don't think many people thought he would lead the AHL in scoring through the first quarter of the year.

    Schultz's skating, passing and effectiveness on the power play have been really impressive this season, and have made the Oklahoma City Barons one of the most exciting teams in the league to watch.

    From an offensive standpoint, Schultz will make an immediate impact at the NHL level and add even more scoring potential to an Oilers team that was already loaded with offensive talent before they signed him as a free agent last summer.