Continuing our top prospects series we focus on the Atlantic Division. The 2016-17 NHL season is a month away and teams are getting their training camp rosters ready with a handful of prospects ready to challenge for spots. The rookie class features some incredible talent led by two picks from the 2016 draft in Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine.
This is far from a two player race.
Related: Top 10 Calder Trophy Candidates
Dylan Strome, Sebastien Aho, William Nylander, Mitch Marner, Ivan Provorov, Kyle Connor and Jimmy Vesey are just a handful leading the charge.
The Atlantic division rookies this year will be led by none other than Matthews who is this American generations version of Mike Modano. An ultra-talented forward that is going to be the piece the Maple Leafs franchise will build around and favourite to win the Calder Trophy. Matthews isn’t the only star in this division from the 2015 draft as Mikhail Sergachev in Montreal is going to eventually develop hopefully into a top-pairing defender for the Habs.
No team has a deeper prospect base in the division than the Maple Leafs who have officially kicked off their rebuild and added some star prospects along the way. Mitch Marner and William Nylander have the makings to be some dynamic offensive players for the next decade in Toronto. The Leafs are holding a total of 16 picks in the following two drafts and with the warts of rebuilding will come some more prospects to add to their base. With the experience of management this is a team that could really turn a corner in two-three years time.
Prospects mature at different times and not all players listed as the top prospect for each team are NHL ready. Looking at each team there are names under Others that are more NHL ready and might hop into the lineup ahead of the listed top prospect. The top prospect listed is the player with the highest ceiling in each team’s prospect pool.
Here is the Atlantic Division top prospect pool for all 30 NHL franchises.
|D Jakub Zboril | Age: 19
|Acquired: 2015 – 13th Overall
Analysis: Zboril has quite a few standout skills that make him more of a rounded defenseman but the jury is still out. A lot of questions were raised last year regarding his decision-making abilities and offensive ceiling. His 20-points in 50 OHL games for Saint John wasn’t exactly awe inspiring. GM Don Sweeney really swung for the fences at the 2015 NHL Draft when he made a plethora of moves in an attempt to get into the top 10 selections. However, he was unable to swing that final deal to get into a spot to select the likes of Noah Hanifin, Ivan Provorov or Zach Werenski. Bruins management then took the next best defenseman on their draft board which was Zboril.
Zboril will get a look at cracking a Bruins blueline in transition. For all the questionable moves Bruins management has made, Sweeney and Asst. GM Scott Bradley have compiled some decent defense prospects that might turn the ship around in a few years time. Charlie McAvoy has some incredible offensive instincts, Brandon Carlo projects as a future 6’5″ 200-pound plus shutdown defender and Colin Miller will likely compete for a fifth or sixth spot in camp aiming to build off the 42 NHL games he played last year. Boston might not be a true cup contender but the pieces are coming along for a brighter future in this transition.
Others: G Malcolm Subban, D Charlie McAvoy, C Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, RW Zach Senyshyn, C Trent Frederic
|RW Alexander Nylander | Age: 18
|Acquired: 2016 – 8th Overall
Analysis: Buffalo is going through a second wave of prospects if you will similar to what Edmonton has recently gone through after the graduation of many top prospects to the main roster and having to continue developing to replace them. The rest of the names on their list aren’t the sexiest but the Sabres have one of the deepest prospect pools in the league. Sitting at the top is Alexander Nylander, their 2016 top pick. Nylander plays a similar game to his brother William (Toronto Maple Leafs) and has tantalizing offensive skills. He’s creative as he is fast and projects as a solid top-six winger the road, with some feeling he will be a first-line caliber talent throughout his career. Nylander put up 28 goals and 75 points in 57 OHL games last season.
Nylander will get an extended look in camp but may return back to junior because of his size. He’s actually eligible to play back in Europe or even the AHL this season because of the rules surrounding Euro-born prospects. GM Tim Murray will have some flexibility as to Nylander’s development this year. Another wildcard is the Evander Kane situation which may open up a spot on the wing for Nylander. Beyond Nylander there are some solid prospects like Justin Bailey who scored 45 points in the AHL last season that will get a long look in camp to crack the Sabres top nine as well.
Others: D Brendan Guhle, C Rasmus Asplund, RW Hudson Fasching, C Cliff Pu, RW Nick Baptiste
Detroit Red Wings
|LW Anthony Mantha | Age: 22
|Acquired: 2013 – 20th Overall
Analysis: Mantha showed some steady improvement over his rookie year in the AHL where he put up just 33 points in 62 games. Last season he scored 21 goals and 45 points in 60 games and caught on for 10 NHL games with the Red Wings scoring twice. Mantha has developed slower than the Red Wings had hoped, but he was always considered a project forward. His ceiling is as a consistent goal scorer that’ll fit into the Wings top six eventually but he’s lost a step or two to some more NHL ready prospects in recent years. Hot on his tail is another left winger in Evgeny Svechnikov who scored 32 goals and 79 points in the QMJHL last year.
Like most prospects Mantha is slower to develop consistency and learning the defensive game. He was a back-to-back 50 goal scorer in junior and the Wings hope that he takes another big step forward in his third year pro. With the Red Wings additions in the off-season of veteran players like Thomas Vanek, Frans Nielsen and Steve Ott, it’s more likely the 22-year-old Mantha starts the year on the top line with the AHL Grand Rapids Griffins. Mantha will be a likely first recall candidate and will have to work his way into the main roster over the course of the year. The Red Wings have done a good job at drafting in this transition period and have maintained their 25th consecutive playoff appearance streak. Other prospects like Svechnikov, Bertuzzi make the Wings deep upfront prospect wise. On the backend Xavier Ouellet and Ryan Sproul have an outside shot at cracking the opening night roster. Dennis Cholowski committed to St. Cloud State in the NCAA next season and projects as an offensive puck-mover.
Others: LW Evgeny Svechnikov, D Xavier Ouellet, LW Tyler Bertuzzi, D Dennis Cholowski, D Ryan Sproul
|D Mike Matheson | Age: 22
|Acquired: 2012 – 23rd Overall
Analysis: The Panthers traded away one of their top prospects in Lawson Crouse to the Coyotes as part of the David Bolland salary dump. They still have a pretty decent prospects pool with Mike Matheson leading the way on defense. The Panthers overhauled their defense this summer and one of the reasons was because of their belief in Matheson.
A 2012 first rounder Matheson represented Canada at the World Championships last year scoring six points in 10 games to go along with 20 points in 54 games in the AHL. He got into three games with the Panthers and will be penciled into the Panthers opening night lineup. It’s his spot to lose but the offensive defenseman has come along well and shown an ability to quarterback a powerplay early in his career. He needs to add to his frame to survive the pro game and as many prospects needs to work on his play in the defensive end. Still, Matheson projects as a solid top four defenseman in his prime.
Defenseman Ian McCoshen will likely start the year in the AHL, forward Henrik Borgstrom the Panthers first rounder will play for the University of Denver.
Others: D Ian McCoshen, C Henrik Borgstrom, G Sam Montembeault, C Jayce Hawryluk, LW Connor Brickley
|D Mikhail Sergachev | Age: 18
|Acquired: 2016 – 9th Overall
Analysis: The Canadiens were ravaged by injuries on the backend last year and the trade of PK Subban for Shea Weber changes the makeup of the blueline. The Canadiens plummetted down the standings last year after the Carey Price injury and ended up drafting Sergachev ninth overall. The Russian defender has an NHL ready frame and if he stands his own at training camp will likely get a nine-game audition to stick for the year.
Lots of scouts are split on whether he’ll be in Montreal or the OHL. However, he brings an all-around style with strong abilities in his skating and shutdown capabilities. Sergachev singlehandedly held the Russian blueline together at the WJC and was a star for the OHL Windsor Spitfires with 57 points in 67 games. At 6’2″ 220 pounds he’s a true difference-maker. Has the makings to be a top-pairing two-way defender for the Canadiens for the next decade once he develops.
Others: RW Michael McCarron, RW Nikita Scherbak, D Noah Juulsen, G Zach Fucale, C Jacob De La Rose
|C Logan Brown | Age: 18
|Acquired: 2016 – 11th Overall
Analysis: This is an argument that can go either way for the Senators between Colin White and Logan Brown, both project to be major players for the Sens down the road. White, 19, will play his second year at Boston College and has the makings to be a solid two-way center with star potential. Brown, 18, is the big top six center teams desire. Think of a higher skilled version of Brian Boyle that can potentially put up 60-points per year. At 6’6″ 220 pounds Brown protects the puck very well and skates surprisingly well for someone his size.
The knock is that he’s not overly physical but he’s still a presence on the forecheck that finishes his checks and comes out on the winning end of a lot of puck battles. Brown put up 74 points in 59 games with the OHL Windsor Spitfires and along with teammate Christian Fischer (Arizona) they make a formidable one-two punch in junior. Expect a major leap forward and a featured role with Team USA at the upcoming WJC. It might be a year or two before Brown makes a pro leap but a future one-two-three punch with Kyle Turris, White and Brown down the middle could really stabilize the Sens in the future. For the two rookies with the best shot at making the Sens team out of camp look for forward Nick Paul in a top nine role and defenseman Thomas Chabot in a sheltered role on the blueline.
Others: C Colin White, D Thomas Chabot, LW Nick Paul, LW Matt Puempel, G Matt O’Connor
Tampa Bay Lightning
|C Brayden Point | Age: 20
|Acquired: 2014 – 79th Overall
Analysis: It’s hard to fathom a team like the Lightning that boast several first round picks like Slater Koekkoek and Brett Howden not to mention some solid second rounders having a top prospect who was a third-round pick three years ago. But that’s exactly the case with Brayden Point who’s development has skyrocketed since being drafted in June 2014. Listed generously at 5’11” and 160 pounds, Point has steadily improved his points-per-game average with the WHL Moose Jaw Warriors from 1.26 in his draft year to 1.83 in an injury-shortened final year in junior.
A solid point-producer the Lightning have an undersized forward that works as hard as he skates. A true competitor he’s a game-breaking playmaker that has NHL-calibre finishing abilities. He’s really impressed in junior and will turn pro this season joining the AHL Syracuse Crunch. He’s listed as a natural center and displayed a good two-way game in junior but he might be better off adjusting to the pros on the wing.
Others: D Slater Koekkoek, C Brett Howden, RW Mitch Stephens, LW Adam Erne, D Libor Hajek
Toronto Maple Leafs
|C Auston Matthews | Age: 18
|Acquired: 2016 – 1st Overall
Analysis: What can be said about Matthews that hasn’t already been said? He’s a game changer for the Leafs and gives them a franchise star to rebuild around. The Leafs offense is in change over and the youth movement will be in full effect in Matthews rookie season. There has been a lot of fantasy arm chairing about a potential William Nylander, Mitch Marner, Matthews line that could absolutely hands down be the fastest and most creative lines in hockey. Matthews is an early favorite to win the Calder Trophy. Expect a minimal 50-point season from Matthews if he absolutely struggles but he’s the future of USA Hockey and a poster child similar to what other American first overall picks like Patrick Kane and Mike Modano are/were.
A generational talent that joins the recent influx of top tier young American players like Jack Eichel, Dylan Larkin, Seth Jones and Jacob Trouba to list a few. Matthews top skills are his breakaway speed and quick release that will make him a top goal scorer in the NHL in a few years time. At 6’2 215-pounds he has an NHL ready frame and will immediately jump into a top-six role splitting the number one center duties with Nazem Kadri. The biggest adjustment is going to be having to face the opposition’s top defensive pairings night in and night out but a year in the Swiss League proved he was more than ready when he scored 46 points in 36 games finishing as a top ten league scorer. With all the talent in the Leafs pipeline, the experienced managerial staff, having a world-class coach in Mike Babcock, not to mention their astounding 16 picks in the next two drafts, the future couldn’t be brighter in Toronto.
Others: C Mitch Marner, C William Nylander, RW Kasperi Kapanen, D Travis Dermott, LW Brendan Leipsic