With NHL teams well underway in their 2015 Development Camps, fans get a rare opportunity to see their top prospects matched up against each other. For many teams, they have hopes of their future franchise player in these camps.
Obviously, prospects are a vital part of the NHL, providing new and exciting talent for the league. In fact, one of the most exciting days in the NHL calendar year is Draft Day. Each year, hype builds around the top prospects and their potential impact in the NHL down the road. Generational prospects like Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel from the 2015 NHL Draft even have the ability to turn around the future of hockey in their respective cities.
For the top prospects from each team, we will only include players who can still be deemed rookies. As with the rules of the Calder Trophy, the NHL defines a rookie as a player who is under 26 years old at the beginning of the season and has played less than 25 NHL games in the previous season, or less than six NHL games in the past two seasons.
With the rules in place, we can begin to break down the top prospect of each NHL team.
Anaheim Ducks – Nick Ritchie
Nick Ritchie spent the 2014-15 season in the OHL as a member of the Peterborough Petes and the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. The 10th overall pick in the 2014 NHL Draft is projected as a power forward who can score consistently. Compared to the style of play of Eric Lindros, Ritchie will be able to play the bump and grind game in the NHL. He is a natural goal scorer with a quick release who scored 42 goals in 62 games this year and plays an intelligent game. He does not overextend himself to make an enormous hit, but instead plays the body only when it is smart to. When he does, he sends thunderous body checks. Ritchie projects to be a 25-30 goal scorer in the NHL who plays a typical power-forward role.
Arizona Coyotes – Dylan Strome
Dylan Strome was the third overall selection in the 2015 NHL Draft, behind only McDavid and Eichel. Strome was the OHL’s leader in points in 2014-15, scoring 45 goals and 129 points in 68 games, while helping the Erie Otters reach the OHL Finals. Strome has exceptional hockey IQ and looks to be a playmaker type who hopes to find chemistry in Arizona with Max Domi and Brendan Perlini in the future. Although he is a pass first player, finding lanes before the have developed and threading the needle, Strome also has an underrated snapshot. He has a quick and accurate shot, as well as a nose for the net. He projects to be a first line point producer, perhaps similar to Nicklas Backstrom.
Boston Bruins – Jakub Zboril
The Bruins selected Jakub Zboril 13th overall in the 2015 NHL Draft, the first of three consecutive picks. Zboril scored 13 goals and 33 points in 44 games for the Saint John Sea Dogs this year. He is a smart, two-way defenceman who plays the game safe, but also knows when to take a chance. He does everything well, from his smooth skating which he uses to jump in on a forecheck, to his shot, which is hard and accurate from the blue line. Zboril knows when to use his stick to knock the puck away and when it’s safe to throw his weight on a booming body check. He also has the ability to set up and run a power play. Zboril simply is a low-risk, high-reward player who could develop into a top pairing defenceman in his career.
Buffalo Sabres – Jack Eichel
Although there may be some debate here with Sam Reinhart also in the system, the unanimous decision is Jack Eichel, the second overall pick from the 2015 NHL Draft. Eichel won the Hobey Baker award this year as the best player in the NCAA, as a freshman. He scored 26 goals and 71 points in 40 games for Boston University. Eichel is an absolute force on the ice, often blowing away competition with his out-of-this-world hockey IQ and unbelievable skills. He is a smooth skater who possesses a special ability to create scoring chances from nothing. He has phenomenal vision of the ice and seems to know where every player is, and is going to be. Eichel looks to be an elite point producer in the NHL, with potential Art Ross talent.
Calgary Flames – Sam Bennett
Sam Bennett missed much of the 2014-15 season due to shoulder surgery, but came back to dominate the OHL, scoring 11 goals and 24 points in 11 games with the Kingston Frontenacs. Calgary drafted him fourth overall in the 2014 NHL Draft. He also joined the Flames for 11 playoff games. Bennett has an excellent work ethic in both ends of the ice. He has an elite skill set that includes smooth skating, a drive for the net, and great vision of the entire ice. His shot is underrated, as he yields a lightning quick release. He also plays a physical game, engaging in puck battles along the boards with his lower-body strength. Bennett also has tremendous leadership abilities, which projects him to be a likely captain for the Calgary Flames down the road, as well as a solid offensive contributor.
Carolina Hurricanes – Noah Hanifin
Noah Hanifin was selected fifth overall in the 2015 NHL Draft by the Hurricanes, the first defenceman chosen. Hanifin scored five goals and 23 points in 37 games for Boston College in 2014-15. He is a two-way defenceman who has virtually no downside. He is very sound positionally and is never afraid to join the rush when there’s an opportunity. He is a terrific skater who uses his acceleration to back check quickly. Perhaps the most impressive part of Hanifin’s game is his ability to transition from defence to offence so seamlessly. From the blue line, he has a hard shot which he uses his intelligence to find lanes to the net for. Hanifin projects to be a first pairing defenceman who could form a dynamic duo with Haydn Fleury.
Chicago Blackhawks – Nick Schmaltz
Nick Schmaltz was drafted out of the USHL, where he played for the Green Bay Gamblers. After being drafted 20th overall by the Blackhawks in 2014, he went to the University of North Dakota, where he put up 26 points in 38 games. He is a natural playmaker who will develop for a few years in the NCAA and the AHL. He’s a visibly smart player on the ice, being able to read and adapt to developing plays, as well as quick hands to create scoring chances. He won’t blow you away with his shot, but will instead thread passes to teammates which the opponent would not see as an immediate threat. Schmaltz projects to be a possible top-six forward who puts up around 50 points, mostly assists.
Colorado Avalanche – Mikko Rantanen
The Avalanche selected Rantanen 10th overall in the 2015 NHL Draft out of TPS Turku of the SM-Liiga where he scored nine goals and 28 points in 56 games. He’s a very talented winger with an exciting skill set. He has excellent hockey IQ and uses it, along with great vision, to make himself a dangerous playmaker. He skates well and is very agile in tight spaces. But, for someone with a 6’3 frame, he hardly ever uses it to play physically, which he may need to do to become a full-time NHL’er. He will need at least two more years until he thinks of playing in the NHL, but should develop into a top-six playmaking forward with decent production in his career.
Columbus Blue Jackets – Oliver Bjorkstrand
Despite being a third round pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, at 89th overall, Oliver Bjorkstrand has turned into one of the most exciting prospects in hockey. The native of Denmark has scored 113 goals and 227 points in just 128 games for the Portland Winterhawks, since being drafted. Bjorkstrand has a special drive to score goals, compiled with a very hard wrist shot that comes off of a quick release. He uses his acceleration and agility to skate by opponents, rarely using his physicality. He should turn into a top-six, goal scoring forward for the Blue Jackets who is exciting to watch, especially if their bevy of other top prospects develop.
Dallas Stars – Julius Honka
The Stars selected Julius Honka 14th overall in the 2014 NHL Draft, out of the WHL’s Swift Current Broncos, where he scored 16 goals and 56 points in 62 games. He played an increased role with the AHL’s Texas Stars in 2014-15 with great success, scoring 31 points in all 68 games. Honka is a tremendously gifted offensive defenceman who understands when to jump up in a rush. He can quarterback a power play with ease and has a hard slap shot from the blue line. He’s great positionally as well, and is not afraid to use his smaller body to throw some heavy hits. He projects to be a top-four defenceman with great offensive upside.
Detroit Red Wings – Dylan Larkin
Dylan Larkin was the Red Wings 15th overall pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, but has surprised many with how well he has improved in a short period of time. After scoring 17 goals and 26 points in 26 games for the USNTDP in his draft year, Larkin scored 15 goals and 47 points in just 35 games for the University of Michigan before adding five points in six playoff games for the Grand Rapids Griffins in the AHL. Larkin was named Prospect of the Year by hockeysfuture.com this year as well. He’s a dynamic skater who has terrific vision of the ice. He also has a knack for scoring goals with a quick wrist shot. Larkin is responsible in both ends of the ice, and should develop into a top-six scoring forward very soon.
Edmonton Oilers – Connor McDavid
Of course, Connor McDavid is undoubtedly the top prospect in all of hockey, being compared to Sidney Crosby and Wayne Gretzky. McDavid is a generational player who stepped his game up this season, scoring a total of 65 goals and 169 points in just 67 games. He’s an effortless skater who can reach ridiculous speeds in a few steps to blow by defenders. He has extraordinary hockey IQ which allows him to see the game a step ahead of everyone else. Although he may be a natural playmaker, McDavid proved that he can also rack up a ton of goals, although his shot is likely the weakest aspect of his game. Without a doubt, McDavid should turn into one of the best players in recent memory within a few years.
Florida Panthers – Lawson Crouse
The Panthers drafted Crouse 11th overall in the 2015 NHL Draft, despite being ranked in the top five for most of the year. Crouse scored 29 goals and 51 points in 56 games for the Kingston Frontenacs this year. The biggest knack on his game is the fact that he won’t put up great offensive totals. However, he is still a strong skater who uses his size to his advantage to be a dominating power forward each game. He has a very heavy and accurate wrist shot that, frankly, he should use much more often. He’s a skilled passer as well, getting the puck through very limited space . Crouse projects to be a menacing power forward who can also contribute regularly offensively.
Los Angeles Kings – Jordan Weal
Although Jordan Weal was only the 70th overall selection in the 2010 NHL Draft, he has found tremendous success in every league he’s been in. Drafted out of the WHL’s Regina Pats, Weal had 119 goals and 314 points in his last three seasons, spanning 214 games. Then the joined the Kings AHL affiliate, the Manchester Monarchs, where he has scored 58 goals and 172 points in 212 games over three years. Weal is a smaller center but competes extremely hard in all three zones, using the lower-body strength he’s developed. He’s a natural scorer and has a great drive for the net. Given his success at each level so far, Weal could potentially be a third line scorer who get about 40-50 points a year in the NHL.
Minnesota Wild – Mike Reilly
Mike Reilly was drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets 98th overall in the 2011 NHL Draft, but he elected not to sign with them, instead signing as a free agent with his home town Minnesota Wild. After his draft year, Reilly spent a year with the Penticton Vees of the BCHL, where he scored 24 goals and 83 points in just 51 games. He then spent three years at the University of Minnesota, where he scored six goals and 42 points in 39 games last season. Reilly is a dynamic defenceman who excels in transitioning the game on the breakout. He has a very hard shot from the blue line and is terrific on the back-end of a power play. Reilly should develop into a top-four defenceman for the Wild within three years.
Montreal Canadiens – Nikita Scherbak
The Montreal Canadiens selected Nikita Scherbak with the 26th overall pick in the 2014 NHL Draft after he scored 28 goals and 78 points in 65 games for the struggling Saskatoon Blades. A year later, he was expected to put up huge numbers in the WHL, especially after being traded to the Everett Silvertips, but only scored 27 goals and 82 points in 65 games, hardly improving upon the previous season. Nonetheless, Scherbak is a very creative winger who skated well and is able to reach top speeds within a few strides. His shot should get him more goals than he gets because of his quick and deceptive release. In the future, Scherbak should become a second or third line forward with about 20 goals.
Nashville Predators – Juuse Saros
Juuse Saros was not expected to be an elite goaltending prospect in his draft year, the reason he was available at 99th overall in 2013 for the Nashville Predators. After being drafted, Saros went to play in Finland’s top league, SM-Liiga, to develop his game against full-grown men. He has found tremendous success there, posting a 1.95 GAA and .929 SV% over 91 games in the last two years. Saros is very sound positionally, coming out to cut off shooting angles and deflect rebounds into the corners. He’s athletic and agile, making him for his 5’10 frame by covering the net well laterally. Saros looks like he could be a starter in the NHL if he comes over and becomes an AHL starter for a few years first.
New Jersey Devils – Pavel Zacha
Pavel Zacha was selected 6th overall in the 2015 NHL Draft by the New Jersey Devils after his first season in North America. He played for the Sarnia Sting, where he scored 16 goals and 34 points in 37 games. Zacha is simply a dynamic offensive threat each time he takes the ice. He has excellent skating abilities and is good in tight spaces. He has a heavy shot that is nearly NHL calibre, and also very quick hands that allow him to dance through defenders. He uses his frame well to join the physical side of the game by throwing big body checks. Zacha looks like he should be a top-six forward if he develops his North American game, and could contribute 60 points a year.
New York Islanders – Michael Dal Colle
The Islanders drafted Michael Dal Colle 5th overall in the 2014 NHL Draft out of the Oshawa Generals of the OHL. In his third OHL season this year, Dal Colle scored 42 goals and 93 points in 56 games. He has natural goal scoring abilities that comes with a heavy shot that is pinpoint accurate. He is an intelligent player who reads the ice well and continues to learn the game more each game. He has good vision which allows him to be a decent playmaker as well. He also uses his size well in puck battles and to hold off defenders to create space. Dal Colle projects to be a top-six forward who registers a solid amount of points, about 50-60 a year.
New York Rangers – Brady Skjei
Brady Skjei was the 28th overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft by the Rangers. He was drafted out of the USNTDP, where he added an offensive aspect to his game. Since then, he’s spent three seasons with the University of Minnesota, where he perfected the small details of his defensive game. Skjei is a solid skater who has good mobility on the back-end. His offensive game has taken a back seat to an improved defensive game, but he still has a good shot from the blue line. Skjei will likely spend the next few seasons in the AHL before eventually before a possible top-four defenceman.
Ottawa Senators – Thomas Chabot
The Ottawa Senators used their 15th overall pick in 2015 to select Thomas Chabot from the Saint John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL. He scored 12 goals and 41 points in 66 games there this year. The all around defenceman gets the job done at both ends of the ice. He’s an excellent skater with surprising top speeds. He is very calm positionally and plays a very smart game. Cabot knows when to pinch and join the rush to create scoring opportunities. He utilizes an accurate shot from the point that he throws on net for tips and rebounds. Chabot looks like he should be a future top-four defenceman in the NHL.
Philadelphia Flyers – Ivan Provorov
The Flyers selected the second defenceman of the 2015 NHL Draft at seventh overall when they picked Ivan Provorov. Coming out of the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings, Provorov had 15 goals and 61 points in 60 games last season. The two-way defenceman is a strong skater with great acceleration and agility, making him very mobile defenceman on each side of the ice. He comes with a hard and accurate shot from the point, but can also pinch and use a solid snap shot. Not only does Provorov dominate at 5-on-5, but he can also put on a show on both special teams. In the future, Provorov looks like a possible top-pairing defenceman who can also quarterback the first power play unit.
Pittsburgh Penguins – Matt Murray
The Penguins couldn’t have imagined Matt Murray possibly developing better than he has. The 83rd overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, Murray has skyrocketed since his draft year, posting a .921 SV% in 2013-14 with the Greyhounds and then an unheard of 1.58 GAA and .941 SV% in 40 games with the Wilkes Barre/Scranton Penguins this year, good enough to capture the AHL Goaltender of the Year award. Murray has solid lateral movement and is often able to find pucks through screens. He could still work on rebound control and playing the puck. Murray looks poised to become an NHL started one day, whether in Pittsburgh or somewhere else.
San Jose Sharks – Timo Meier
The Sharks used their 9th overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft to select Timo Meier, a Swiss native who played alongside Nikolaj Ehlers in Halifax this year. With the Mooseheads, Meier scored 44 goals and 90 points in 61 games. Meier is a big bodied forward who uses his strength in puck battles, and to free up some space for himself on the rush. He is a smart playmaker who is patient and allows for plays to develop before making crisp passes. He also has a quick release on his shot which he uses often. He’s a coaches player, in that he is able to play both a scoring role, or a shutdown, third line type role. Meier should become a second or third line forward with the Sharks with good production.
St. Louis Blues – Ivan Barbashev
While Barbashev’s draft ranking fell off of a cliff, leaving him available to the Blues at 33rd overall in 2014, he had an impressive comeback year in 2014-15. He registered 45 goals and 95 points in 57 games for the Moncton Wildcats. Despite contrasting reports, Barbashev consistently works hard and competes in all three zones each night. He has both an excellent shot which he unleashes through screens, and great playmaking skills that come with vision and awareness of the ice. Barbashev should develop into a top-six scoring forward for the Blues, possibly playing alongside fellow Russian, Vladimir Tarasenko.
Tampa Bay Lightning – Andrei Vasilevskiy
Vasilevskiy is quite possibly the best goaltending prospect in all of hockey right now. The Lightning selected him 19th overall in the 2012 NHL Draft. The next two seasons were spent in the KHL where he looked like a seasoned veteran, posting a 2.21 GAA and a .924 SV% combined. Last year he came to North America where he split time between the AHL and NHL, finding success in both leagues. He is an extremely agile goaltender who has quick lateral movement. He may need to work on being more calm positionally, but still has huge upside. Vasilevskiy looks like he could be an elite starting goaltender within a few years, if he finds somewhere to play.
Toronto Maple Leafs – Mitch Marner
Mitch Marner was second to Dylan Strome in the OHL scoring race this season, as he racked up 44 goals and 126 points in 63 games for the London Knights. For that, he was selected fourth overall by the Leafs. Often compared to Patrick Kane, Marner possesses excellent skating abilities combined with ridiculously quick and creative hands. He’s a very smart player who uses his vision of the ice to his advantage at all times. He plays all three zones and never quits on a backcheck. If the Leafs improve, he should be a puck possession wizard. Marner is projected to be a top-line winger who puts up tremendous point totals and makes his teammates better.
Vancouver Canucks – Jake Virtanen
The Canucks 6th overall pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, Jake Virtanen is somewhat like Lawson Crouse, but with more scoring ability. He scored 26 goals and 65 points in 64 points with the Calgary Hitmen before joining the Utica Comets in the playoffs, where he registered one assist in 10 games. Virtanen uses his exceptional lower-body strength to play a power forward role. He never shies away from he physical aspect of the game, ensuing in puck battles at every opportunity, while also knowing when he has the chance to lay a devastating check. Virtanen is also a great skater with quick acceleration and even better agility. He projects to be a menacing top-six forward for the Canucks while also contributing offensively.
Washington Capitals – Madison Bowey
The Capitals 53rd overall pick in the 2013 NHL Draft has developed into quite the promising prospect. Since being drafted, Bowey has a total of 50 goals and 153 points in his 163 games for the Kelowna Rockets. Bowey is an exciting offensive defenceman who has tremendous skating abilities to not only jump into the rush often, but also back himself up. He uses his 6’2 frame to throw thunderous hits, but also knows when it’s necessary to play sound, positional hockey. Bowey not only reached the Memorial Cup Finals this year, but also won gold at the World Juniors. He should become at least a top-four defenceman for the Capitals and could make his debut in 2015-16.
Winnipeg Jets – Nikolaj Ehlers
The Winnipeg Jets picked Nikolaj Ehlers with the 9th overall pick in the 2014 NHL Draft. Over the past two years as a member of the QMJHL’s Halifax Mooseheads, Ehlers scored 107 goals and 264 points in only 144 games. The ‘Dashing Dane’ is a very creative offensive machine. He is an excellent skater who can go right around defenders, or use his silky smooth hands to dance through them. He has an NHL-calibre wrist shot that is quick and accurate. At 5’11, 176 pounds, Ehlers could work to get bigger and stronger before making an NHL push next year. He should develop into an exciting top-six forward who puts up big points for the Jets.
Disagree with any of the team’s top prospect? Feel free to let us know in the comments below!
For any questions, comments, or concerns, you can contact Devin Slawson on Twitter @SlawsonTHW