Breaking Down the Ceiling for Every NHL Team's Top Prospect

Tom Urtz Jr.Contributor IJuly 28, 2013

Breaking Down the Ceiling for Every NHL Team's Top Prospect

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    At one point superstars Sidney Crosby and Steven Stamkos were just prospects playing junior hockey, but what are the respective ceilings for top prospects like Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin?

    Every NHL team hopes that its top prospect can transform into a stud, but the reality is that not every prospect pans out. For every Sidney Crosby there is an Alexandre Daigle.

    Here is the ceiling for every NHL team's top prospect.

Anaheim Ducks: Sami Vatanen

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    Ceiling: First-Pairing Offensive Defenseman

    Sami Vatanen is a talented 22-year-old blueliner who appeared in eight NHL games this past season. The 5'10" defender is a smooth skater, skilled puck mover and mature player.

    For a youngster, Vatanen has shown tremendous poise and has the potential to blossom into an excellent first-pairing defender. Defensemen take time to mature, but Vatanen appears to be ahead of the curve.

Boston Bruins: Dougie Hamilton

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    Ceiling: Norris Trophy Defender

    Dougie Hamilton made his NHL debut this past season for the Boston Bruins, and he has a tremendous set of skills. He has size and poise and is a fluid skater. During his inaugural year Hamilton spent some time with Zdeno Chara.

    At his peak, Hamilton can be a Norris Trophy defenseman because he has a unique combination of size, skill and mobility. He may have looked raw at times during the 2012-13 season, but he is still very young with room for improvement.

     

Buffalo Sabres: Mikhail Grigorenko

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    Ceiling: Top-Six Center

    Mikhail Grigorenko is only 19 years old and he already stands 6'3" and weighs 200 pounds. With his body not completely filled out yet, he could be a sizable threat for the Buffalo Sabres.

    Although his first NHL stint was a bit bumpy, Grigorenko has room for improvement.

    At age 19, the Sabres' 2012 draft pick isn't a complete player, but at his peak he can be a dominant top-six center. His size should allow him to play a tough and physical game, but Grigorenko needs to learn to assert himself physically. 

    In a few years when he is in his prime, expect Grigorenko to be a lite version of Evgeni Malkin.

Calgary Flames: Sven Baertschi

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    Ceiling: First-Line Sniper

    Sven Baertschi is the future star of the Calgary Flames, and if he lives up to his potential, he could be a first-line sniper.

    Baertschi has an amazing shot and skilled hands and is a tremendous skater. He likes to push the envelope with his creativity, and that can be a good thing for the Flames going forward.

    The Flames' top prospect will get his shot at a full season in 2013-14. Expect him to be one of the team's top contributors.

Carolina Hurricanes: Elias Lindholm

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    Ceiling: All-Around Scoring Forward

    The Carolina Hurricanes' prospect pool was upgraded with the addition of pivot Elias Lindholm. The 2013 No. 5 pick is a talented all-around player, and he has already been compared to the great Peter Forsberg.

    While Lindholm may never develop into the player Forsberg was, he could be a very good all-around scoring forward.

    Lindholm will have a chance to compete for a roster spot this season, and he could be a rookie of the year candidate because of his skill set. 

Chicago Blackhawks: Teuvo Teravainen

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    Ceiling: All-Star Sniper

    Teuvo Teravainen will go down in the annals of history as one of the biggest draft steals of all time. It is not every day that a player with a balance of speed and skill is available late in the draft, and Teravainen was picked 18th overall by the Chicago Blackhawks at last year's draft.

    Teravainen is pretty much Marian Hossa's successor in waiting, because he is like the Slovakian sniper in many ways. Both are speedy two-way forwards who can pass and shoot with pinpoint accuracy.

    Both also are known for their hustle and determination, and Teravainen displayed that this past season. In Europe, he increased his production, and it is only a matter of time before he makes his NHL debut.

Colorado Avalanche: Nathan MacKinnon

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    Ceiling: All-Around Superstar

    Nathan MacKinnon could be almost as good as Sidney Crosby at his absolute peak. It is possible because the speedy playmaker has the same work ethic as "Sid the Kid."

    Interestingly enough, the native Nova Scotians were working out together a few weeks ago.

    Crosby is gifted offensively, but so is MacKinnon. While the 2013 No.1 pick may not have the same vision as Crosby, he does a lot of things well. 

    Like Crosby, the former Halifax Moosehead is a cerebral player who is very smart when it comes to thinking and understanding the game.

    It is the little things like this that take a very good player to an elite level. The future is bright for MacKinnon, and he could light the league on fire this season.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Ryan Murray

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    Ceiling: All-Around Top-Pairing Defender

    It was a huge blow to Ryan Murray when he was forced to miss the 2012-13 season with an injury. It was also unfortunate for the Columbus Blue Jackets, but their luck appears to be turning up. The 2012 No. 2-overall pick is an all-around defenseman with two-way smarts.

    He is a great positional player and an agile skater who can hold his own offensively. This year Murray could make the Blue Jackets team out of training camp, but another year with the Everett Silvertips would be beneficial.

    Defensemen take longer to mature, and at his peak Murray can be a really good one.

     

Dallas Stars: Valeri Nichushkin

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    Ceiling: First-Line Sniper

    Valeri Nichushkin fell into general manager Jim Nill's lap at the 2013 draft, and the Russian sniper could be a really solid NHL player.

    Nichushkin is currently a member of Traktor Chelyabinsk of the KHL, and he was the No. 2 ranked European skater by NHL Central Scouting before the draft.

    At 6'4" and 196 pounds, he has the ideal size of a lethal scorer. Nichushkin can skate, pass and score at an elite level, and he could be a great offensive replacement for Loui Eriksson.

Detroit Red Wings: Tomas Tatar

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    Ceiling: Two-Way Scorer

    Tomas Tatar at his peak can be a Henrik Zetterberg-type player. He has speed and tons of offensive creativity and plays a tight two-way game. Although Tatar is a bit undersized at 5'11", he doesn't let his size hold him back as a player.

    Future teammate Pavel Datsyuk is the same size, and Pasha hasn't let that hold him back at the NHL level.

    Tatar has a ton of potential, and if he actualizes it, he will be another great prospect that emerged from the Detroit Red Wing farm system.

Edmonton Oilers: Oscar Klefbom

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    Ceiling: Top-Four Defender

    Oscar Klefbom is a really special prospect with a cache of skills. The Oilers' top defensive prospect has the perfect blend of size and speed. Klefbom stands 6'3" and moves like lightning up and down the ice.

    The Oilers' 2011 draft pick is a natural power-play quarterback, and his offensive repertoire should allow him to be a true asset for the Oilers. While Klefbom still has some work to do with his positioning, at his peak he could blossom to a stud on the blue line.

Florida Panthers: Nick Bjugstad

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    Ceiling: Two-Way Power Center

    Nick Bjugstad is a 6'6" center who weighs 215 pounds, and he is a favorite for rookie of the year in 2013. Bjugstad's size and skill makes him a coach's dream, and he could be something very special for the Florida Panthers.

    He is a gifted skater for his size, and he has a howitzer of a shot. During the 2013-14 season Bjugstad will get his chance to show what he can do. Expect him to make a name for himself.

Los Angeles Kings: Tyler Toffoli

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    Ceiling: Second-Line Scoring Winger

    Tyler Toffoli was a healthy scratch at times during his stint with the Los Angeles Kings, but he emerged in a big way during the 2012-13 playoffs. The reigning AHL rookie of the year should get a chance to make an impact during the 2013-14 season.

    At his potential, the 6'1", 200-pound winger could be a scoring winger on the second line, and that is the type of player the Kings sorely need for the upcoming season.

Minnesota Wild: Mikael Granlund

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    Ceiling: Two-Way Superstar 

    Mikael Granlund had a tough time adjusting to North American ice in 2012-13, but look for him to bounce back this season. Granlund is the Wild's top prospect, and he has superstar potential because he can play an elite three-zone game.

    The Finnish phenom can skate, pass and score with ease, and he still plays an effective two-way game.

    With the Houston Aeros, Granlund had 28 points in 29 games, and that could be a sign of great things to come.

Montreal Canadiens: Alex Galchenyuk

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    Ceiling: All-Star Scoring Center

    Alex Galchenyuk is a talented playmaker, but he is known for his amazing ability to shoot the puck. The American stud was a standout for Team USA at the WJC, and he was even better for the Montreal Canadiens.

    Galchenyuk at his peak can be a player who at the very least averages a point per game, but during his prime he could potentially be a 90-point player.

    This is the case because his ability to score and set up teammates is second to none. The Canadiens have a number of prospects with potential, and Galchenyuk could do great things for the Le Bleu Blanc and Rouge.

Nashville Predators: Seth Jones

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    Ceiling: Norris Trophy Defender

    Seth Jones has the size, speed and talent to be a great defender, and he is going to have a great opportunity with the Nashville Predators.

    When you consider that Jones is going to play with one of the NHL's best defenders Shea Weber, you start to get a sense of how bright his future could be. Jones is an offensive talent, and playing alongside Weber will open up avenues for him to be successful.

    Jones vowed to make the teams that passed up on him regret their decision, and he could just do that in 2013-14.

New Jersey Devils: Jon Merrill

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    Ceiling: All-Around No. 2  Defender

    Jon Merill has been an NCAA stalwart for the past few seasons, and he is going to make his NHL debut very soon. Merrill is a 6'3" defender with offensive upside, and he is already an established shutdown defender. 

    Once Merrill makes his NHL debut he can display his overall skill, and he could help the New Jersey Devils rebuild the right way. He projects to be a solid all-around defender, and he is the first-pairing defender the Devils sorely need.

New York Islanders: Ryan Strome

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    Ceiling: First-Line Scorer

    Ryan Strome is a stud of a player, and he could be a true superstar in every sense of the word. What makes things even better for the New York Islanders is that Strome is set to make his NHL debut in 2013-14.

    He is a versatile forward who can play center or wing, and his skills are off the charts. Strome is a great skater, passer and playmaker with the potential to become an all-time great Islander alongside John Tavares.

New York Rangers: Boo Nieves

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    Ceiling: First-Line Two-Way Center

    If you didn't already know his name, here it is. Boo Nieves is a prospect who is a ways away from making his debut, but he has already illustrated that he can be something special. Nieves is a 6'3" 200-pound center who had an amazing freshman season at the NCAA level. 

    With the University of Michigan, Nieves tallied 29 points in 41 games and drew at 52 percent from the faceoff dot. That type of production from a freshman at the NCAA level is rare, and he is still growing.

    Nieves is another Rangers prospect with size and tremendous speed, and his two-way acumen could enable him to be a great all-around first-line center for the Broadway Blueshirts.

Ottawa Senators: Robin Lehner

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    Ceiling: Workhorse Starting Goaltender

    Robin Lehner is the Ottawa Senators' future starter in waiting. He is an athletic netminder who hates to fail, and his positioning is very good for a youngster. He is a big goalie standing 6'4" and weighing 223 pounds, and he is a tough competitor.

    While rebound control is still an issue, Lehner has continually gotten better as a player since making his professional debut.

    Lehner's ability to move between the posts with speed allows him to cover up most openings on the net, and he also has a good glove hand. In a year or two he could be the team's starter, but for now he will be a great backup.

Philadelphia Flyers: Scott Laughton

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    Ceiling: Second-Line Power Forward

    Scott Laughton is a physical bruiser who is a prototypical Flyer. He was selected 20th overall in 2012, and he had a decent OHL career.

    Laughton is known for his willingness to drop the gloves, but he can contribute offensively. At the NHL level he could be a decent secondary contributor, and he will fit in with the hard-nosed style of the Philadelphia Flyers.

Phoenix Coyotes: Max Domi

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    Ceiling: Second-Line Two-Way Playmaker

    The Phoenix Coyotes' top draft selection from 2013 has a great chance to become a solid NHLer if he actualizes his talent. Max Domi has a great work ethic, and he learned that from his father and former NHL pugilist Tie Domi.

    He was an accomplished player at the OHL level and appears to be ready to take the next step to the AHL level.

    Domi is known for his creativity, poise and overall playmaking prowess. While he is a year or two away from making his NHL debut, he has the highest upside of all the Coyotes' top prospects.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Derrick Pouliot

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    Ceiling: Big Minutes as an Offensive Defenseman

    Derrick Pouliot is the Pittsburgh Penguins' top prospect, and he's a blueliner with a ton of offensive skill. Pouliot is a member of the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL, and he is a mobile skater who can eat up a ton of important minutes.

    He is also a power-play specialist who has great vision. A dynamic defenseman with a ton of upside, he projects to be a fixture on the Penguins' blue line in a few seasons. 

San Jose Sharks: Tomas Hertl

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    Ceiling: Top-Six Scorer

    Tomas Hertl is one of hockey's top puck handlers outside of North America, and a prospect with significant upside. The San Jose Sharks' top draft pick from the 2012 draft spent his 2012-13 season in the CZE, and he had a pretty solid season.

    Hertl isn't projecting to be an All-Star, but he could be a decent 60 to 70-point winger. Although he is a natural center making him a winger would make sense, because the Sharks have centers in place.

    In 43 games with HC Slavia Praha during the 2012-13 season, Hertl had 30 points and illustrated his dynamic hands and hockey sense. Hertl will likely spend another season in the CZE, but he should be a solid top-six scorer once his hits his prime at the NHL level.

     

St. Louis Blues: Vladimir Tarasenko

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    Ceiling: Superstar Power Forward

    At his absolute best, Vladimir Tarasenko could be similar to Alex Ovechkin. Tarasenko has decent size, a great skating stride and offensive upside.  There is a reason why Tarasenko was named The Hockey News' top prospect in their latest prospect magazine release, and that is because he is a dynamic stud.

    Fans only got a taste of what he could do last season, and the 2013-14 season should be a breakout year for the young St. Louis Blue. 

    If Tarasenko wasn't concussed last season, he likely would have run away with rookie of the year honors.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Jonathan Drouin

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    Ceiling: All-Star Winger

    It seemed like fate that Jonathan Drouin ended up with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Of all the places Drouin could have gone, Tampa Bay was the best fit for him.

    Martin St. Louis will eventually retire and need to be replaced. Enter Jonathan Drouin. The former Halifax Moosehead is of the same build as St. Louis and has a similar skill set.

    Drouin is an elusive skater and passer who projects to be a perfect bookend for superstar center Steven Stamkos. With Stamkos, don't be surprised if Drouin becomes a point-per-game player who scores 40 goals year after year.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Morgan Rielly

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    Ceiling: First-Pairing Offensive Defenseman

    Morgan Rielly is going to be a tremendous rearguard for the Toronto Maple Leafs. He was a great draft selection by Brian Burke and is coming off a fulfilling bounce-back 2012-13 season. 

    Rielly overcame an injury that forced him to miss the majority of the 2011-12 season, but he looked stronger than ever this past season. Rielly has offensive skills up the wazoo, and he is also a punishing defender.

    He projects to be a great first-pairing blueliner, and the Leafs' future is bright as long as this monster is apart of it.

Vancouver Canucks: Nicklas Jensen

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    Ceiling: Two-Way Scoring Winger 

    Nicklas Jensen is a speedy winger with size who could be a key fixture for the Vancouver Canucks. Jensen is 6'3", is only 20 years old and has limited experience on North American ice.

    His size and speed makes him an attractive prospect, and his two-way game is something that John Tortorella will love. Although he is at least a year or two away, the Canucks' top prospect has the ability to be a decent two-way scoring winger.

Washington Captials: Evgeny Kuznetsov

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    Ceiling: Superstar Power Forward

    Evgeny Kuznetsov is the best player outside of North America, and he is only 21 years old. He is a monster who could become the NHL's best player in a matter of seasons because of his speed, skill and strength.

    He may only be 6'1" and under 200 pounds, but he plays way above his weight class. Kuznetsov has been a man amongst boys in the KHL, and the NHL should be an interesting challenge for him. 

    It is hard to find an area that he has a weakness in, and he could turn the Washington Capitals into a legitimate contender. 

    The best way to describe Kuznetsov is by taking Evgeni Malkin and splicing him with Alex Ovechkin. Kuznetsov is equally talented at scoring as he is passing, and that makes him a dual threat whenever he is on the ice.

Winnipeg Jets: Mark Scheifele

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    Ceiling: Above-Average First-Line Center

    Mark Scheifele could be a very good first-line center. He doesn't project to be a center in the class of Steven Stamkos or Sidney Crosby, but he could be a decent first-line center. Think Anze Kopitar and Patrice Bergeron in terms of offensive production.

    The Winnipeg Jets' top prospect skated for the Barrie Colts last season, and he should be a member of the team's roster for the entire 2013-14 season.

    During his OHL season, Scheifele registered 79 points in 44 games, and he reminded critics why he is a top prospect.

    Scheifele is a skilled playmaker and skater with the highest potential amongst Jets prospects.