The 10 Most Imposing NHL Prospects
Of the 211 players taken in this past June’s NHL entry draft, 22 are at least 6'4" inches in height, and 20 are at least 210 pounds in weight, with the potential to add more in some cases. Six of the 16 tallest prospects from the 2013 draft class went in the first round, as did four of the 15 heaviest.
Size can be overrated in hockey at times, but it should never be overlooked. In the quintessential team sport where multiple assets are a requirement for success, the exceptional cases of a player whose skill set rivals his stature and/or strength are worth monitoring as much as the purely celestial prospects.
Whether they went in the latest draft, another recent draft or even entered the professional ranks via free agency, a handful of rising NHLers have a chance to be more than just powerful plumbers. They could either be deft defensemen who, at worst, contribute silently to an orderly transition to offense or a power forward with either top-six or above-average third-line capabilities.
Note that this list is open only to those who have logged fewer than 15 NHL games. Therefore, the likes of the 6'7" Dallas defenseman Jamie Oleksiak and Philadelphia’s 6'6" Oliver Lauridsen are ineligible.
Among those with limited or no major league experience to date, here are 10 prospects whom you can’t miss when viewing their games in person. Be sure not to miss them in periodic progress reports either.
Taylor Doherty, San Jose Sharks
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Doherty stands at 6'7" and has filled out his frame at 235 pounds. Shortly before he began his first professional endeavor with AHL Worcester, a feature on San Jose’s website by Mike Benton noted that his posture is “appropriate for taking away passing lanes with precision and disrupting the offensive flow of the opposition.”
In the same report, though, general manager Doug Wilson remarked on Doherty’s mobility potential, stating that “Taylor is surprising agile for a man his size…If you look at him, he skates like a six footer.”
How much Doherty will have to directly offer on offense at the NHL level is up in the air, despite prolific junior totals of 137 points in 263 games. But his best-case scenario in his day job could see the San Jose faithful forgetting recent castoff Douglas Murray.
Jani Hakanpaa, St. Louis Blues
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Near the end of his third season in the St. Louis pipeline, 6'5" defender Jani Hakanpaa transferred overseas from his native Finland and dressed for 14 games in Peoria. He figures to play the bulk or entirety of 2013-14 with the Blues’ new AHL partner, the Chicago Wolves.
His scouting report from The Hockey News notes that the 218-pounder is, on the one hand, “capable of playing a physical brand of hockey,” but, on the other hand, he “must work on becoming a more consistent hitter.”
That, however, should come around in due time now that he is in North America and delving into a style and regimen that more closely authenticates the NHL. He may also still have a little more muscle left to add to his frame, which will not hurt his cause in the least.
Keegan Kanzig, Calgary Flames
Surprise, surprise. Keegan Kanzig checks in at 6'7", 241 pounds, and per Randy Sportak of the Calgary Sun, one of the newest Flames draftees cites Zdeno Chara as one of his influences. Matt Greene is another.
Meanwhile, in the Calgary Herald, Flames amateur scout Tod Button proclaimed that he sees as much “character” and “leadership” in Kanzig as he does stature. If that assertion holds up throughout the young blueliner’s development and beyond, it will mean cultivating a maximum force that can lend emotional traction to the dressing room and bench.
Yaroslav Kosov, Florida Panthers
Yaroslav Kosov’s scouting report on Hockey’s Future notes that he “has the ideal size for a power forward and possesses above average stick-handling and passing skills.”
That size of 6'3", 220 pounds has been tested in the KHL since the Panthers selected Kosov in the fifth round of the 2011 draft. That and his puck-handling proficiency are, in the words of TSN’s Scott Cullen, “enough to make him worth keeping an eye on for a few years.”
Having just turned 20 on July 5, Kosov may or may not have any additional size to pad on, but he could make strides from a sheer strength standpoint in the not-too-distant future. His career KHL output of eight goals and eight assists in 67 games is hardly the most dazzling, but it is early enough to remain patient with his statistical prowess.
Michael McCarron, Montreal Canadiens
Michael McCarron, the Canadiens’ first-round pick from this past June, withdrew his commitment to Western Michigan University in favor of the OHL’s London Knights. There, he will put his 6'5" frame through a more rigorous regimen in major junior action.
Prior to the draft, in an interview with the Detroit News, NHL scout David Gregory underlined speed as one of the hulking right winger’s fastest developing attributes. A notion like that merely adds to the already spooky proposition of a young forward exceeding 225 pounds in weight.
Naturally, there will be time for physical and figurative growth between now and McCarron’s debut at any professional level. Shortly after the draft, he told Pat Hickey of Canada.com that he is striving to tip the scale at 245 and model his game after Milan Lucic.
Dylan McIlrath, New York Rangers
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He was recently ranked No. 2 among New York Rangers prospects by NHL.com’s Tal Pinchevsky, trailing only winger Danny Kristo. He was ranked so high despite a shortage of offensive flair, which serves to underscore his efficiency in his day job. It's a reward for a physicality that at times spilled over the brim to a dozen major penalties in his AHL rookie campaign.
Andrej Sustr, Tampa Bay Lightning
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As many as 25 teams reportedly had their eye on Andrej Sustr as he was preparing to sign out of the University of Nebraska-Omaha this past spring. The Tampa Bay Lightning ultimately prevailed and signed him in time for two late-season cameos followed by a ride to the AHL’s Calder Cup Finals with the Syracuse Crunch.
In the eyes of Bolts management, the 6'8", 225-pound defenseman presented himself as a big boy in big games without fail. After the fact, assistant general manager Julien BriseBois told the Tampa Bay Times:
We knew he would be able to handle this…He contributed and played in all situations…He didn’t wilt under the pressure. He kept being assertive on the ice with and without the puck which I thought was a really good sign.
Apart from any NHL action, the AHL playoffs were the longest possible introductory measuring pole as Sustr began to translate his game from college to pro. A bare minimum of a full season in Syracuse will be the time for him to keep flaunting his wingspan and strengthening his grip to prove he can apply everything consistently.
After that, even if he does not emerge as a brawny bruiser, he should still be a colossal hassle with the puck.
Jarred Tinordi, Montreal Canadiens
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A vacancy on the Canadiens blue line allowed the 6'6", 205-pound Jarred Tinordi to delve into NHL action in the team’s five-game playoff bout with Ottawa. Local observers are now speculating that the door will remain open to him at the outset of the coming campaign with Alexei Emelin’s short-term health in question.
If the reception of his playoff performance is any indication, he has nothing short of a foundation to build upon. During the Ottawa series, an anonymous NHL scout told ESPN.com’s Pierre LeBrun that Tinordi “does a great job getting in shooting lanes” and looks like “a younger, more improved version of Hal Gill.”
That is a habit the Montreal faithful will want him to sustain, especially if he can pad on any additional pounds going forward.
Tom Wilson, Washington Capitals
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In July, amidst the Capitals' summer development camp, Katie Carrera of The Washington Post made note of Tom Wilson’s five-pound weight gain, going from 210 to 215. That along with a 6'4" stature is fitting for a forward who is fond of physicality.
At 19 years of age, Wilson is still eligible for major junior, where he spent the bulk of 2012-13 before playing three postseason games apiece in the AHL and NHL. Shortly after the Caps closed their curtain, general manager George McPhee indicated to the local media that Wilson will likely return to the OHL while he still can.
With his offensive production exponentially soaring each of the last three seasons, he can evolve into more of an all-around threat before becoming a full-time professional.
Nikita Zadorov, Buffalo Sabres
In the wake of the draft this past June, Buffalo Sabres general manager Darcy Regier spoke to WGR 550 SportsRadio about his desire to beef up the blue line portion of the pipeline.
He seized the opportunity to do just that when he used the No. 16 overall pick—the team’s second selection in the first round—to nab Nikita Zadorov’s rights.
As his Elite Prospects profile asserts, Zadorov “has a hard shot from the point, lays open ice hits and uses his premier size all over the ice.” By “premier size,” they likely mean somewhere between the 221 pounds listed on the Sabres’ official scroll and the 229 on his Elite Prospects page.
Per Mike Harrington of The Buffalo News, Zadorov left his native Russia and a possible KHL gig in favor of Canadian major junior for the express purpose of refining his physical game. As an added bonus, he sprinkled 19 helpers and 25 points onto the scoresheet for the London Knights.
While acclaiming his aptitude on defense, London skipper Dale Hunter added in a WGR 550 interview that he expects the towering prodigy to evolve on the attack. As transcribed by Howard Simon, Hunter told the station, “We’re figuring on big things from him this year with his one timer from the point on the power play. He can skate through the neutral zone carrying the puck and he can beat guys one on one.”