Ranking the Top 25 Prospects Around the NHL

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistSeptember 23, 2020

Ranking the Top 25 Prospects Around the NHL

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    A regular season that ended in March. A playoff tournament that began in August. A Stanley Cup that will be awarded in September. Such is the reality—pandemic style—of the National Hockey League in 2020.

    And with free agency, draft day and the start of another round of training camps on the chaotic horizon, the B/R ice hockey team got together once again to look at the 25 players already past the drafting stage who are most likely to begin making an impact in NHL buildings over the next few seasons.  

    We used the league's Calder Trophy rules as a loose guideline to select our prospects, meaning all players are 26 or younger and have not played more than 25 games in a single NHL season.

    As for ranking them, we looked at NHL readiness and perceived ability to contribute in multiple roles. With that said, elite-level talent breaks a lot of ties, so a boom-or-bust athlete with a franchise-impacting upside is typically deemed a better prospect than a safer player whose ceiling with a lower ceiling.

    Read through to see where your team's brightest young prospects landed on our list.

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    Paul Vernon/Associated Press

    25. Spencer Knight, G, Florida Panthers 

    Still just a kitten at 19, Knight finished his first season at Boston College with a 1.97 goals-against average, a .931 save percentage and was a finalist for the Mike Richter Award as the nation's best goalie. He's big and athletic and could benefit from a few more years at the collegiate level before going pro.

          

    24. Liam Foudy, C, Columbus Blue Jackets

    The future may be now for the 6'2", 182-pound center, given the impact he made on the big club in a late-season debut. Foudy assisted on a goal in two regular-season games and then played in 10 more in the postseason, scoring in an elimination-game victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs. He'll push for a roster spot at training camp.

          

    23. Matthew Boldy, LW, Minnesota Wild

    The 12th overall pick in the 2019 draft, Boldy took some time to adjust to the move from center to left wing as a freshman at Boston College, but he finished the season strong with 23 points in his last 19 games. His size, intelligence and strength project him as a top-six forward in the NHL with legitimate two-way skills.

          

    22. Connor McMichael, C, Washington Capitals

    The 6'0", 183-pound center is a blue-chip prospect in a Capitals organization whose cupboard isn't exactly chock full of them. He scored 47 goals and 102 points for the OHL's London Knights in 2019-20 and was on Washington's return-to-play roster but didn't appear in any games. He'll probably be wearing red, white and blue in 2021-22, if not sooner.

            

    21. Barrett Hayton, C, Arizona Coyotes

    A skilled, smart center with decent speed and a great shot, Hayton made the Coyotes' NHL roster out of training camp and played 20 games, scoring a goal and assisting on three others, before heading to the AHL. He returned for three postseason games, didn't register a point and ought to start next season in the minors, but he may not end it there.

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    20. Alexander Romanov, D, Montreal Canadiens 

    The 20-year-old Russian blueliner is no giant at 5'11" and 185 pounds, but he's a great skater with good offensive skills and likes to play physically, though his decision-making can be iffy from time to time. Romanov was with the Canadiens in their return-to-play training camp to get exposure to the NHL and is set to return to camp next time around, too.

           

    19. Nils Lundkvist, D, New York Rangers

    Another in a series of high-end first-round draft picks by the Rangers, Lundkvist is an agile and confident defenseman who likes to move the puck quickly and join the offensive rush. He had eight points in seven games for the Swedish Under-20 team in 2019-20 and is a weapon on the power play with a dangerous one-timer from distance. 

           

    18. Rasmus Kupari, C, Los Angeles Kings

    The 20th pick in the 2018 draft, Kupari tore his left ACL at the World Junior Championships in December. The 20-year-old had spent 27 games with the Kings' affiliate in the AHL and amassed six goals and eight assists, adjusting well to the North American game thanks to his speed and grit.

             

    17. Evan Bouchard, D, Edmonton Oilers

    The Oilers loaned their defensive prospect to a second-tier league in Sweden both to get him some playing time and retain the flexibility to bring him back for training camp. Bouchard actually spent seven games in the NHL in 2018-19 and scored a goal. He's an intelligent, skilled defender who skates well and makes effective, well-timed passes.

            

    16. Philip Broberg, D, Edmonton Oilers

    Broberg gets a slightly higher grade than his fellow Edmonton blue-line prospect thanks to his higher offensive upside. He goes from standing still to full speed quickly on his skates and anticipates transitional plays early. The eighth overall pick in 2019 could become a prototype point-scoring defenseman with better shot selection and passing.

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    15. Owen Tippett, RW, Florida Panthers

    Now 21, the strong-skating right winger made his NHL debut with the Panthers out of training camp in 2017 and stuck around for seven games while scoring his first NHL goal. He accelerates well and drives to the net thanks to strength that belies his 6'1", 207-pound frame. His defensive game could use some development, but he looks to be a top-six power forward in 2020-21.

           

    14. Morgan Frost, C, Philadelphia Flyers

    Though he isn't the biggest body at 5'11" and 170 pounds, Frost made an impact with a pair of goals and five assists with the Flyers in 20 games and another 29 points in 41 AHL games in his first pro season. He has more than enough skill to succeed in the NHL, but he'll need to spend some time adding strength and bulk to hold up over an 82-game season.

             

    13. Arthur Kaliyev, LW, Los Angeles Kings

    A 19-year-old winger with a serious scoring touch, Kaliyev put up 44 goals and 98 points in the OHL in 2019-20 and will make a big push for an NHL roster spot with a team lacking firepower. He uses his 6'2", 190-pound frame to protect the puck, finds advantageous spots on the ice and has an above-average wrist shot with a quick release.

           

    12. Ty Smith, D, New Jersey Devils

    It's a situation made to order for Smith in New Jersey, where the defensive unit is in flux and he's arriving off a stellar junior season in which he scored 19 times and had 59 points in 46 games. He's also a left-handed defenseman on a team where they're scarce and helps spring attacks with quality outlet passes. A role as a power-play mainstay could come soon as well.

            

    11. Nick Robertson, LW, Toronto Maple Leafs

    The precocious Robertson turned 19 shortly after making his NHL debut with the Maple Leafs in their qualifying series with the Columbus Blue Jackets, and the glimpses he showed suggest he'll be a full-timer soon. Robertson scored 55 goals in only 46 games in juniors in 2019-20 and possesses both a quick-release shot and a high-revving motor.

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    10. Vasili Podkolzin, RW, Vancouver Canucks 

    The biggest problem these days for the Canucks is that their 19-year-old right winger isn't getting on the ice enough in his latest KHL stint, but he's been a positive producer whenever he plays. A physical and powerful two-way forward, the 6'1", 190-pounder was the 10th overall pick in 2019 and figures to arrive in Vancouver at the end of the 2020-21 season.

          

    9. Alex Newhook, C, Colorado Avalanche

    Talk about your embarrassment of riches. The Avalanche already have a defenseman in Cale Makar who was named the NHL's Rookie of the Year and a forward in Nathan MacKinnon who was a finalist for MVP. And then there's Newhook, who is a blur on skates, had 42 points in 34 games as a college freshman and was named the NCAA's top freshman for 2019-20.

           

    8. Grigori Denisenko, LW, Florida Panthers

    If you're a Panthers fan, make way for the undersized—at 5'11" and 176 pounds—winger who plays with a physical edge and a varied offensive skill set. He signed an entry-level contract with the organization in the spring and had nine points while serving as Russia's captain and earning a silver medal at the World Junior Championships.

           

    7. Moritz Seider, D, Detroit Red Wings

    The sixth overall pick in the 2019 draft, Seider possesses a high-end defensive skill set that's highlighted by his hockey sense and mobility. He sees the ice well, anticipates ahead of opponents and routinely makes good decisions with passes. He also plays well in shorthanded situations and maintains tight gaps in the neutral and defensive zones.

           

    6. Alex Turcotte, C, Los Angeles Kings

    Turcotte signed a professional contract on the day the Kings' season was shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic and has since been loaned to a team in Germany. He is an exceptional playmaker and can score as well thanks to his good vision and hands, He's shown advanced awareness of the game as well and can be trusted in all three zones on the ice.

5. Cole Caufield, RW, Montreal Canadiens

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    Drafted: No. 15 overall in 2019

    Need a high-energy goal-scorer on your roster? Caufield might be your guy.

    He's quick up the ice thanks to an explosive first step and handles the puck well, then finishes plays with with a quick and accurate wrist shot. Just 19 years old, he scored 19 goals and added 17 assists over 36 games in his freshman season at the University of Wisconsin.

    A pocket rocket at just 5'7" and 162 pounds, he shines under pressure and is difficult to contain.

    NHL ETA: Caufield was leaning toward heading back to Wisconsin for his sophomore season, but thanks to uncertainty about colleges and their pandemic plans, he may head to a pro league in Sweden to get guaranteed playing time. Either way, another year of seasoning should prep him for a turn in Montreal.

4. Dylan Cozens, C, Buffalo Sabres

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    John Beale/Associated Press

    Drafted: No. 7 overall in 2019

    If you concoct a mix of shooting ability, size, speed, strength and elite hockey sense, it winds up resembling a player like Cozens, who figures to be a special offensive talent on the NHL level.

    He's a large-bodied forward at 6'3" and 188 pounds and is capable of playing at both center and on the wing. He had 85 points in 51 games at Lethbridge of the WHL, jumping from 1.24 points per game to 1.67 from one year to the next.

    A consensus top-five draft prospect, Cozens fell to the Sabres at No. 7 and instantly became their top prospect.

    NHL ETA: At 19, Cozens is too young to join Buffalo's affiliate in the AHL. That means he'll either have to return for a fourth full junior season at Lethbridge in 2020-21 or make a full-on jump to the big leagues to begin life with the Sabres.

3. Bowen Byram, D, Colorado Avalanche

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    Drafted: No. 4 overall in 2019

    A terrific skater who thrives in a fast-paced style, Byram handles the puck well and keeps control of it under pressure. His thoughtful decisions and creativity can change games in any zone, especially when he triggers transitions after changes of possession.

    Passing is a huge strength of his as well, whether it's a short pass within a zone or a stretch pass to create a scoring chance.

    Byram is 6'1" and 190 pounds and uses his hockey sense to rapidly process plays. He scored 52 points in 50 games with the Vancouver Giants in 2019-20, his third full season in the WHL.

    NHL ETA: Byram is still a baby at 19, and his team is loaded with standouts, particularly on the blue line. But he at least ought to compete for a roster spot whenever the 2020-21 season gets underway.

2. Kirill Kaprizov, RW, Minnesota Wild

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Drafted: No. 135 overall in 2015

    It's been an achingly long wait for Kaprizov in Wild Country since his draft selection five years ago, but he finally became an official member of the organization when he signed an entry-level deal in July.

    He's scored 30-plus goals in each of his last two seasons in the KHL and produced better than a point per game this year with 62 in 57 contests. He has a creative offensive skill set and is a smart and patient player.

    Kaprizov is frequently able to hold the puck for an extra instant or split-second that allows a dangerous play to open up.

    NHL ETA: Now that the deal is done, there's no reason to believe Kaprizov won't be in a Minnesota uniform when the 2020-21 season begins. And don't be at all surprised if he's the league's best first-year player.

1. Trevor Zegras, C, Anaheim Ducks

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    Drafted: No. 9 overall in 2019

    Another in a slew of creative and talented 19-year-olds on the NHL horizon, Zegras is a two-way forward who can play both center and wing with the sort of mobility that creates dangerous offensive transitions.

    At 6'0" and 169 pounds, he's also the sort of guy who isn't afraid to put his body on the line. But his centerpiece is finishing plays, as evidenced by the 36 points he scored in 33 collegiate games in 2019-20 and his 40 goals and 87 assists in 87 games with the U.S. Developmental Program in 2018-19.

    Net drive and dynamic passing ability put his ceiling a notch higher than anyone else's.

    NHL ETA: Zegras is supremely skilled and confident in his abilities, but at least a little time in the minors wouldn't hurt. With that said, he's probably a Duck by the end of next season, if not sooner.