NHL Power Rankings: League's Top 25 Prospects

Jake WareCorrespondent IIIJuly 30, 2011

NHL Power Rankings: League's Top 25 Prospects

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    Every NHL player, no matter how great, will eventually reach a point where they cannot go on anymore. When a player reaches a certain age, especially in hockey, injuries start taking their toll and the player is forced to retire. This season, that list included Kris Draper and Chris Osgood. 

    Fortunately, there is always a sizable group of hungry young players ready to step into the veterans' roles. We have compiled a list of the very best. 

    These 25 young men are the future stars of the NHL. The future elite. The future world champions.

    Let's welcome them to the NHL.

25. Braden Holtby

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    G - Washington Capitals - 21

    A player who has had stints with Washington, Braden Holtby is ready for full-time NHL action.

    Unfortunately, it won't be this year.

    Having traded away star goalie Semyon Varlamov, the Washington Capitals signed free agent Tomas Vokoun to a one-year deal, meaning Holtby is once again destined for the AHL, the league in which he made his name.

    A fourth-round pick in 2008, Holtby will be spending his third full season in Hershey. He has averaged a save percentage of .919% and a goals against average of 2.31. As an injury call-up for the Capitals last season, Holtby appeared in 14 games, posting a GAA of 1.79, and an outrageous save percentage of .934, prompting many fans to cry out for him to be their playoff starter.

    Holtby must be patient. When Vokoun leaves, Holtby has a very bright NHL future ahead of him.

24. Dougie Hamilton

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    D - Boston Bruins - 18

    Dougie Hamilton heads to Boston shouldering heavy expectations. The Bruins fans are hoping he can become the new Zdeno Chara, and his play in the OHL certainly suggest he might.

    With the Niagara Ice Dogs, Hamilton posted 58 points in 67 games, showing there is an offensive side to go along with the snarl. He models his game after Jay Bouwmeester, who put up similar numbers in his draft year. 

    Not only is Hamilton a great hockey player, he is a smart one too. He was named the CHL Scholastic Player of the Year after posting a 94% average as a high school senior. The Bruins are hoping it will show on the ice.

    Drafting him at 9th overall means the Bruins can expect big things from him. Could he be destined for a spot next to Chara? That would create one mean, shut-down defensive pairing, and the temptation might be too big for the Bruins to pass up.

23. Ryan Ellis

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    D - Nashville Predators - 20

    The 11th overall pick from the 2008 NHL Entry Draft is finally ready to make his NHL debut. 

    Ellis stands at 5'9, 173 lbs and will make his name as an offensive defenseman. With the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL, Ellis became the first defenseman to score 100 points since the 1995-96 season, tallying 24 goals to go along with 77 assists.

    He also captained the Canadian World Juniors Team, who lost in the final to the Russians. In that tournament, Ellis would provide 10 points from the blue line, earning Best Defenceman as well as All-Star honours.

    He comes into a perfect situation in Nashville, where he will be able to grow in the shadow of superstars Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. Eventually, the Nashville blue line will be his. 

22. Chris Kreider

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    LW - New York Rangers - 20

    The Rangers wanted him to join them next season, but instead he will be heading back to Boston College for his junior year. Kreider is undoubtedly the team's top forward prospect and they could use a star left-winger.

    Drafted at 19th overall in 2009, Chris Kreider is the prototypical power forward. He is big, fast, strong and is a natural goalscorer. He put up 26 points (17 goals) this season in the NCAA and played a vital role for the US World Junior team—a team he may well captain next season. 

    When he finally comes to the NHL, he will have high expectations. With Brad Richards in town for the next nine seasons, the Rangers are hoping the Massachusetts native can grow into a role as Richards' winger. With Marian Gaborik on the other side, suddenly the Rangers look very dangerous.

21. Mark Scheifele

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    C - Winnipeg Jets - 18

    With the 7th overall pick in the 2011 draft, the Jets knew they needed to make a splash and show everybody they were back for good. They skipped on several impact players and decided instead to draft Mark Scheifele, a primarily defensive center who will be able to provide a one-two punch complement with Alex Burmistrov.

    Many criticized the Jets for passing on Sean Couturier, a potential first overall pick, but there is more to the Scheifele pick than meets the eye. 

    The 6'3, Kitchener, Ontario native has size and is physically mature enough to play the NHL game already. While he is likely to return to the the major junior ranks this coming season, the Jets have found a player who will be able to produce for them sooner rather than later in a city and fan base that craves a championship.

20. Jack Campbell

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    G - Dallas Stars - 19

    The future success of the Dallas Stars rests on the shoulders of Loui Eriksson. Jack Campbell will soon help ease that burden.

    The Michigan native left the USHL to play for the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL last year, but his rookie season saw him post disappointing numbers of a 3.80 GAA and SV% .884. While he racked up the wins, the totals were discouraging for the Stars brass, and though he is a tremendous prospect for the organization, they'll look for him to do better in what likely will be his last junior year. 

    He showed his potential when he led his team to a surprise World Juniors win in 2010, bringing home Goalkeeper of the Tournament honours in the process.

    He is pencilled in as the Dallas Stars goaltender a season from now, and when he reaches his full potential he will be a force to be reckoned with in the NHL for many years to come.

19. Tim Erixon

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    D - New York Rangers - 20

    When the Calgary Flames drafted Swede Tim Erixon at 23rd overall in 2009, they were expecting a top prospect that would be able to contribute to the organization for many years to come. Instead, they ended up with two second-round draft picks and Roman Horak.

    On June 1st, 2011, the New York Rangers acquired one of the league's most promising players after contract negotiations with his former team stalled. He now leads the team's prospect pool and will be a key component next season.

    Playing with Skellefteå AIK of the Swedish Elitserien, Erixon tallied exactly one point every two games through 48 of them. The son of former NHL player Jan Erixon scored five goals and also showed he can stand up for himself in a men's league with 40 penalty minutes.

    Having played with the World Juniors Team twice, Erixon even got the chance to play with the full Swedish National Team at the most recent World Championships. In nine games, he managed one assist and two penalty minutes.

    When Erixon makes his NHL debut this year, it will be in the same town in which he was born. Like his father, he'll be looking to make a name for himself with the New York Rangers.

18. Brett Connolly

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    RW - Tampa Bay Lightning - 19

    Contrary to popular believe, Steve Yzerman's first pick as general manager of the Lightning was a smart one. With legend Martin St. Louis approaching the end of his career, the team will have a hole on the first line right winger position.

    In anticipation, Yzerman picked up Prince George Cougars star Brett Connolly, who would have challenged for first overall had it not been for a hip injury.

    Last year, Connolly played in 59 games, tallying 73 points from an outrageous 46 goals. He also featured at the World Juniors for Canada, with three points in seven games. 

    Next season, Connolly can expect to play mostly as Vincent Lecavalier's winger. After that, it is up to him to make a deadly partnership with Steven Stamkos.

17. Dmitry Orlov

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    D - Washington Capitals - 20

    A controversial choice at 18, but Orlov is a player who has taken great strides in recent years. 

    Going into the 2009 NHL draft, Orlov was a highly touted prospect expected to go in the first round, but he incredibly dropped to 55 due to the 'Russian factor,' where the Caps were ecstatic to pick him up. Washington came away from that draft with its top three picks being Marcus Johansson, Orlov, and Cody Eakin, a considerable haul.

    He spent the last four years with struggling Novokuznetsk in the KHL, last year putting up two goals and 10 assists in 45 games. 

    But the World Juniors were his real evaluation, where he was a man among boys and dominated everywhere. He put up nine points in seven games for a triumphant Russian team, and was named a tournament All-Star. 

    He would spend the end of last season with the AHL's Hershey Bears, putting up nine points in 19 games and impressing NHL analysts. He is expected to start this season there behind a strong Capitals blue-line, but he will be given a chance with call-ups.

    An offensive, physical man-child, Dmitry Orlov has a bright future ahead of him.

    He turned 20 on Saturday, July 23.

16. Nino Niederreiter

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    RW - New York Islanders - 18

    In terms of sheer skill, Niederreiter was undoubtedly the top prospect of the 2011 draft. That is why the Islanders picked him at 5th overall and made him the highest ever Swiss player taken in the draft.

    The Islanders are building a nice offensive force. Niederreiter is destined to be John Tavares' number one winger, and if his junior stats are any indication of things to come, the two will complement each other perfectly.

    'El Nino' put up 70 points with 41 goals this season with the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL. He had started the season on the Island, even scoring his first goal, but was returned to his junior team to save a year on his entry level contract. In the OHL, Tavares showed an unbelievable play-making ability, suggesting he may become Niederreiter's setup man.

    Whatever the case, the 18-year-old is ready for full-time NHL duty this season, and big things are expected of him in New York.

15. Sean Couturier

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    C - Philadelphia Flyers - 18

    Heading into last season, Couturier was the undisputed number one pick for the draft. While he didn't lose any of that skill or potential, a few injuries derailed his season and his stock steadily dropped.

    The result?

    The Flyers picked up an absolute steal at 8th overall in the draft.

    Having traded away Jeff Carter for this pick and Jakub Voracek, the Flyers needed to back up the brave trade with a good pick. They did. Not only did the center put up as many points this season as last season despite having played 10 less games, but was also the only draft-eligible player selected for the Canadian world juniors team.

    An impressive resume for the 6'4", 191 lbs center.

    The Flyers traded away Mike Richards as well, but with Danny Briere, Claude Giroux, Couturier and super-prospect Brayden Schenn down the center of the ice, the team may now be the strongest in the league at that position.

14. Erik Gudbranson

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    D - Florida Panthers - 19

    The Gudbranson pick was a clever one by the Panthers brass. He was not the best defenceman available in the draft—offensively minded Cam Fowler was—but he could really help the team.

    In a few seasons, the Ontario native will form half of what will be one of the best defensive tandems in the league together with Dmitry Kulikov. The pair's potential is sky-high.

    This past season, Gudbranson put up a decent 34 points in 44 games, but his offense will not be his key to the NHL. His tremendous defense and physical play will be, and he put that on display with 105 penalty minutes.

    Had it not been for contract negotiations stalling last season, Gudbranson would already have a year of NHL experience under his belt. The 6'3" defenceman was drafted 3rd overall by the Panthers last year, but the two parties couldn't decide on a deal so he returned to juniors where he, of course, shone.

    This year, all that is past and he is ready to start his NHL career for real.

13. Mika Zibanejad

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    C - Ottawa Senators - 18

    Many consider it to be a reach pick, but drafting Zibanejad at 6th overall is actually a great selection. No other player in the entire draft has seen his stock rise as much as 'Ziba's, and it is only fair to assume it will keep rising.

    Having dominated with Djurgårdens junior team, the Swede earned a call-up to the full first team and held his own real well.

    He managed five goals to go along with four assists in 26 games, but what really impressed scouts was how well he used his body and his NHL-ready frame.

    He stands at 6'2, 192 lbs, and scouts sent reports back raving about him and comparing him to Daniel Alfredsson, while the latter was more speed-oriented, Zibanejad has high power forward potential and the Senators are hoping he will create a dangerous one-two punch with fellow center Jason Spezza.

    He has signed his entry-level deal but it is unclear whether he will play in the NHL next season. The Sens' are keen to give him another year to develop, but he will be given every chance to win a spot in training camp.

12. Mikael Granlund

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    C - Minnesota Wild - 19

    Granlund really comes into the perfect situation in Minnesota.

    Drafted 9th overall in 2010, he will be pencilled in as the team's second center, behind Mikko Koivu, when he makes the move. He will be able to model his game after the fellow Finn and it should help ease the transition. Then he'll be given the opportunity to grow into a role with Dany Heatley and Charlie Coyle on his wings. High expectations.

    This season, he performed excellently for HIFK in the SM-Liiga, going at almost a point-per-game: 36 in 39 (8 goals).

    While he played an important role on his country's weak World Junior Team, he excelled at the full world championships, putting up nine points in nine games (including the goal above) on a championship winning team. 

    He will stay in Finland for the upcoming season because of obligations to the Military Service, and after that there will be a full-on war for him between the NHL and the KHL's Dynamo Minsk, who are claiming him after drafting him. 

11. Ryan Strome

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    C - New York Islanders - 18

    As mentioned, the Islanders are putting together a young offensive force in New York, and joining John Tavares, Nino Niederreiter, and Kyle Okposo will be center Ryan Strome.

    Strome was undoubtedly the most skillful player available in the draft, and that's why they picked him up at 5th overall. He may be more of a natural first-line center than Tavares, but either way the Isles will be Pittsburgh-esque down the middle in a few years time.

    While he brings bags of skill and talent, Strome is also a really well-rounded player. He has good size at 6'1", 183 lbs, is a good leader, and is solid defensively.

    Tavares is a goal-scorer, but Strome is more of a play-maker. Of his 106 points through 65 games this season, 73 were assists. He has the potential to be Kyle Okposo's new center. 

10. Jonathan Huberdeau

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    C - Florida Panthers - 18

    In Jonathan Huberdeau, the Florida Panthers find their future superstar.

    A team that has focused on drafting defensive players in recent years had one of the best drop to them at third overall, but they resisted the temptation to draft him and went with Quebec native Huberdeau, who led his Saint John Sea Dogs to a Memorial Cup trophy as the CHL champions.

    Huberdeau was dominant all year long for the Sea Dogs, tallying 43 goals to go along with 62 assists in his 67 games (88 PIM), during what became an excellent partnership with Minnesota Wild pick Zack Phillips. He was the recipient of the Stafford Smythe Memorial Trophy as the CHL's playoff MVP, and has a gold medal from the Ivan Hlinka Tournament with Canada.

    His first language is French, but he chose to attend an English high school to prepare himself for the NHL.

    He is expected to return to the 'Q' for a season. 

9. Vladimir Tarasenko

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    RW - St Louis Blues - 19

    Tarasenko was one of the top players eligible for the 2010 draft, but he somehow dropped to 16th overall where the Blues were ecstatic to be able to pick him up.

    The 6'0" tall right winger is the future of the organization.

    With realignment likely next season, the Blues will be one of the team's who are affected negatively. They will be playing with harder teams in harder games. They need to step it up a notch.

    Tarasenko could fix that.

    The 19-year-old is already a veteran of three seasons in the KHL. His sophomore draft year was his best, when he managed 24 points with 13 goals in 42 games. Last year was a step back for him, putting up only 19 points in the same amount of games.

    He took monumental strides on the international stage, however, where he captained the Russian World Junior Team to a gold medal, while chipping in offensively with 11 points through seven games.

    His biggest accomplishment, however, was his inclusion on the Russian World Championships team, where he only helped out on the bottom lines but got a taste of play at the top level.

    He still wears a full cage on his helmet.

8. Adam Larsson

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    D - New Jersey Devils - 18

    Taking nothing away from Jonathan Huberdeau, but Adam Larsson was arguably the best available player at the draft.

    That is why scouts noticed him at such an early age. That is why the Devils were incredibly lucky to see him drop to fourth overall.

    At 6'3", 220 lbs, Larsson is the most NHL-ready player in the draft, and is likely to make the Devils roster right away. He plays a very similar game to fellow Swede Victor Hedman, a game focused on mobility and passing. 

    Last year, he posted 9 points in 37 games with 41 penalty minutes for Skellefteå in the Swedish Elite League, and shone at the World Juniors, dominating and showing just how much better he is than everyone else his age.

    The Devils got a real talent and he has the potential to be the next Nicklas Lidström. 

7. Ryan Johansen

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    C - Columbus Blue Jackets - 18

    Ryan Johansen comes into a much better situation in Columbus than he would have done without the Jeff Carter trade. 

    Now, Johansen doesn't come in to training camp with the expectation of being the first-line star and Rick Nash's center right away. He'll have a lot more time to grow, and he'll be able to model himself after the superstar that is Jeff Carter.

    Johansen was labelled by many to be a reach pick when the Blue Jackets drafted him with the fourth overall pick in 2010, but he has taken great strides this past season. Playing for the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL, he appeared in eight less games, but put up 23 more points, including 40 goals.

    He also starred for the Canadian silver medal winning World Juniors team, with nine points in the seven games.

    He almost made the NHL team last season, but this year he undoubtedly will. He is pencilled in as the team's second line center. 

6. David Rundblad

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    D - Ottawa Senators - 20

    Forget best prospect. Forget best rookie. Last season, David Rundblad was one of the very best players in the Swedish Elite League.

    Playing for Skellefteå, Rundblad took the league by storm, putting up 50 points in 55 games in the men's league and acting as the league's best offensive defenseman. Those totals, in fact, are the second best by a defenseman in league history.

    As a 20-year-old, the NHL clubs that own their players rights hope that they get some ice time. Rundblad took it all.

    Ottawa's best prospect has signed his entry-level contract and is expected to come straight in and be one of the team's key defensemen playing alongside fellow Swede Erik Karlsson.

    The third Skellefteå defender on this ranking is probably the player who has had the best year this season. The 2009 17th overall pick by the St Louis Blues was dealt at the draft last year to the Ottawa Senators for their 16th pick, which was spent on none other than Vladimir Tarasenko.

    Could the Blues grow to regret that decision?

5. Gabriel Landeskog

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    LW - Colorado Avalanche - 18

    Gabriel Landeskog grew up idolizing Peter Forsberg of the Colorado Avalanche. Now he is expected to become the new 'Foppa'.

    Landeskog plays a very similar game to his hero, and is considered to be one of the most complete players ever to play in the NHL. The young Swede can do everything... He scores, passes, is willing to stand up for his teammates and take a hit to make a play, and is a great leader.

    Landeskog, the youngest player to ever play in the Swedish Elite League, joined the OHL's Kitchener Rangers two seasons ago. Last year, he captained the team as a 17-year-old, putting up 36 goals and 66 points in 53 games amid injuries.

    At 6'1, 207 pounds, Landeskog might just be the most NHL ready player in this draft. He comes into training camp with the expectation of making the team's roster. The Stockholm native is destined to become Matt Duchene's winger.

4. Evgeny Kuznetsov

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    RW - Washington Capitals - 19

    Drafted at 26th overall in 2010, Kuznetsov has taken great strides this past season.

    Playing as a teenager in the men's league that is the KHL, Kuznetsov was the star of his team while tallying 17 goals and 32 points in 44 games.

    The World Juniors were where he really shone, however, carrying the Russian championship winning team and dominating the ice for much of the games. He put up 11 points in the seven games and won tournament honours in the process. More significantly, however, was how he single-handedly carried his team's incredible comebacks in the quarterfinal game against Finland and later in the final against Canada.

    In an interview last week, Kuznetsov committed his future to Washington. He is ready to make the move across to the NHL

    Superstar Evgeny Kuznetsov might just be the most mature player on this list. At 19, he lived on his own for half of last season and is already married. Big things are now expected of him in Washington.

3. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

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    C - Edmonton Oilers - 18

    Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was the top prospect heading into the 2011 draft. Rightfully so, the Edmonton Oilers picked him up first overall.

    The Burnaby, British Columbia native entered this season as a lock for the top five in the draft, but a strong season with the Red Deer Rebels of the WHL pushed him beyond his fellow draft-eligible prospects. 

    Nugent-Hopkins put up 31 goals and a massive 75 assists in his 69 games this past season, showing just how complete he is by creating scoring chances with his speed, stick-handling, and terrific passing ability.

    As his assist totals rightfully suggest, Nugent-Hopkins is the best playmaker on this list. When he comes to the NHL, he will be Taylor Hall's center. The two first overall picks could become 100-point men.

    It would, however, be criminal to put the youngster straight into the NHL. He could most likely produce 60 points right away, but he is far from physically ready. At 6'1, 175 pounds, 'RNH' needs to fill out and put on at least 10 more pounds.

    The Edmonton Oilers are in the middle of a rebuild. They have time...

2. Brayden Schenn

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    C - Philadelphia Flyers - 19

    For whatever reason, the 5th overall pick from 2009 had been rumoured to be on the way out of LA for a while.

    Then came the trade.

    The Philadelphia Flyers shipped star Mike Richards to the Kings for Schenn and his 22-year-old teammate Wayne Simmonds. The youngster's future looks a whole lot brighter.

    Schenn is NHL ready, undoubtedly. The veteran of nine NHL games went at almost a two-points-per-game pace with the Saskatoon Blades last season, but the World Juniors were where he really shone. Much like Kuznetsov, Schenn dominated, carrying his Canada team to a silver medal with an outrageous eight goals and 18 points in the seven games, leaving records in his wake. Luke's younger brother broke onto the world scene as the tournament's MVP.

    Long term, Schenn figures to have to battle Sean Couturier for top-line duties with the Flyers. Next season, however, look for him to eventually claw himself into a second-line center role, and then try to overthrow Danny Briere or Claude Giroux in 2012-13.

    Wherever training camp may take him, the future is very bright for Brayden Schenn.

1. Jakob Markström

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    G - Florida Panthers - 21

    When Jakob Markström was a rookie back in the Elitserien, he came on to a Brynäs team that had the best goaltending duo in the whole league.

    Nobody could have guessed Markström would come in and steal the number one spot as a 17-year-old, but he did.

    Drafted 31st overall in 2008, the young Swede has developed exceptionally well. For starters, he carried his World Juniors team to a bronze and silver medal in his two years with the team. Even more impressive, however, is that he has taken over the full Swedish number two spot, starting in the full World Championships in 2010 when Henrik Lundqvist was still in the playoffs. 

    Last year, he kept the struggling Rochester Americans in contests countless times, posting a somewhat bloated 2.98 GAA and a solid .907 save percentage for the last place team. An impressive rookie season, for a youngster abroad having to adjust to smaller ice rinks. That said, he has already played in men's leagues 5 full seasons.

    The Panthers signed goalie Jose Theodore this offseason, but failed to bring back Tomas Vokoun. It seems to be a pretty clear indication that they are ready to hand over the number one reigns to Markström. He should alternate games with Theodore like the Canadian did with then-Caps goalie Semyon Varlamov in 2009.

    Wherever he plays next season, Markström is a bright spot in the future of the NHL.

    He is the league's top prospect.


    Follow Jacob Ware on Twitter at @jacobware95