The NHL’s Top 15 Forward Prospects

While it’s often stated that defence wins championships, you can’t win anything without scoring at least one goal. And who provides that necessary offence? It’s the rare group of elite playmakers and snipers that make the league as exciting as it is.

With goals being the most exciting part of the great game of hockey, it’s only natural that most of the league’s fan favourites are those who contribute the most goals. That translates to the NHL’s top prospects as well, where the forward prospects are the most highly anticipated of any positional group.

Auston Matthews, NHL, Maple Leafs
2016’s 1st overall pick, Auston Matthews, made an immediate impact on the NHL, scoring 40 goals. (Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports)

While evaluating and projecting goaltenders and defencemen can often be a daunting task with inconsistent results, forwards have always been a much easier position to predict with accuracy. Offensive production is generally pretty consistent between levels of play, as is the projected drop off in generation from player to player.

Related: The NHL’s Top Defence Prospects

Related: The NHL’s Top Goaltending Prospects

The following group of forward prospects have consistently shown tremendous talent at high levels of hockey for a number of years now. They are the next generation of goal scorers and point producers and the next wave of fan favourites primed to make a splash over the next few years. As usual, only players who are rookie eligible for the 2017-18 season are considered.

Honourable Mentions

  • Mathew Barzal – New York Islanders
  • Alex DeBrincat – Chicago Blackhawks
  • Sam Steel – Anaheim Ducks
  • Casey Mittelstadt – Buffalo Sabres
  • Gabriel Vilardi – Los Angeles Kings
  • Colin White – Ottawa Senators

Secondary Tier of Forward Prospects

15: Nick Suzuki – Vegas Golden Knights

  • Age: 18
  • Position: C
  • Size: 5’11” & 183 pounds
  • Drafted: 13th overall in 2017
  • 2016-17 Team: Owen Sound Attack (OHL)

A tremendously bright young man, Suzuki’s smarts are easy to spot. He can make decisions with the puck based on what is going to happen on the ice. A strong skater, Suzuki has a rare combination of speed, agility, and balance. Alongside an admirable work ethic, Suzuki possesses an electric shot and a knack to be in the right place at the right time. He was also one of the youngest draftees, qualifying to be eligible by just one month.

Nick Suzuki is a gifted prospect who produced at the same rate as Hischier and Patrick. (Terry Wilson / OHL Images)

With quick hands and a mind that sees the game one step ahead of the opposition, Suzuki has a blend of tools that make him an offensive threat each time he takes the ice. The 10th forward selected in the 2017 NHL Draft, Suzuki may turn out to be somewhat of a sleeper pick by the Golden Knights. Suzuki’s goal rate per game was 0.692 compared to Nico Hischier’s 0.667, while his point rate per game was 1.477 to Hischier’s 1.509.

14: Alexander Nylander – Buffalo Sabres

  • Age: 19
  • Position: LW/RW
  • Size: 6’1″ & 181 pounds
  • Drafted: 8th overall in 2016
  • 2016-17 Team: Rochester Americans (AHL)

An offensively gifted dynamo, Alexander Nylander possesses an elite skill set with the puck. He can handle the puck with ease at top speeds and uses good edges to change speeds quickly. With quick hands and smart reads of developing plays, Nylander is always one step ahead. He uses a strong and deceptive release to be dangerous from anywhere in the offensive zone.

Alexander Nylander, OHL, Mississauga Steelheads
Alex Nylander made a successful jump to the AHL in 2016-17 and will be a key part of the Sabres’ future. (Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

Able to play in the AHL due to international status, Nylander was one of just two 2016 NHL Draft prospects in the league last year, alongside Jesse Puljujärvi. While Nylander’s defensive awareness could use some work, no one is expecting him to be a two-way winger. After a strong AHL season at just 19, Nylander projects to be top-six winger with the ability to reach 60-70 points in his prime.

13: Tyson Jost – Colorado Avalanche

  • Age: 19
  • Position: C
  • Size: 5’11” & 194 pounds
  • Drafted: 10th overall in 2016
  • 2016-17 Team: University of North Dakota (NCAA)

After a very promising freshman year in the NCAA, Tyson Jost’s potential has only continued to climb. With the intensity and compete level to drive and battle for the puck in tough situations, Jost is a player that makes those around him better. Not only does he play the game at a fast pace, but Jost also thinks the game and reads plays instantaneously.

Tyson Jost skated to a tremendous freshman season at UND, making him a Calder favourite for 2017-18. (Photo Credit: Russell Hons

Jost is a responsible center who understands the importance of the defensive aspect of his role along with the offensive. As a result of turning pro and joining the Avalanche at the end of 2016-17, Jost has become a Calder contender for 2017-18 amongst a noteworthy class of rookies. He projects to be a top-six center with the ability to play in all situations and produce consistent offence too.

12: Lias Andersson – New York Rangers

  • Age: 18
  • Position: C/LW
  • Size: 5’11” & 198 pounds
  • Drafted: 7th overall in 2017
  • 2016-17 Team: HV71 (SHL)

A very strong all around player, Lias Andersson plays each shift like it’s his last. With a solid frame, Andersson grinds hard for the puck at both ends of the ice and plays with a team-first mentality. He has strong puck skills and uses his strength to produce a hard shot. Along with good speed and agility, Andersson has no holes in his game.

Lias Andersson, New York Rangers, NHL Draft
Lias Andersson will return to the SHL in 2017-18, where he was the top U19 player last year.(Mikael Fritzon / courtesy HV71)

Leading all players under the age of 19 in the SHL with 19 points, Andersson has proven his maturity and ability to play a responsible two-way game in a league of men. Coupled with impressive hockey sense and vision of the ice, Andersson is very close to NHL-ready. He projects to be a reliable second-line player with solid offensive upside and leadership qualities.

11: Pierre-Luc Dubois – Columbus Blue Jackets

  • Age: 19
  • Position: C/LW
  • Size: 6’3″ & 209 pounds
  • Drafted: 3rd overall in 2016
  • 2016-17 Team: Blainville-Boisbriand Armada (QMJHL)

A third overall pick just one year ago, Dubois’ stock has fallen dramatically after an up and down 2016-17 season. Following a poor first half, Dubois was traded and returned to the point production that made him a top prospect. Admired for his phenomenal and responsible two-way play, Dubois is strong on his feet and can bring a menacing physical presence as well.

Pierre-Luc Dubois, Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, WHL, Team Canada, World Junior Championship
Pierre-Luc Dubois overcame a slow start to return to his true form, but his value took a steep dip. (Mike Sullivan/Cape Breton Screaming Eagles)

Despite a very strong second half, the skeptics remain doubtful of Dubois’ future in the NHL. Compared to Anze Kopitar in his draft year, Dubois’ combination of size, smarts, and skill make him a very promising center who can be relied upon in any situation. While his value has dipped, Dubois remains a prospect with the potential to be a first-line center with above average offensive production.

10: Elias Pettersson – Vancouver Canucks

  • Age: 18
  • Position: C/LW
  • Size: 6’2″ & 165 pounds
  • Drafted: 5th overall in 2017
  • 2016-17 Team: Timrå IK (Allsvenskan)

A man who can do it all on the ice, Elias Pettersson is a coach’s dream who can adapt to any role with success. He’ll soon be a Canucks fan favourite as his raw talent and skill set make for a number of highlight reel goals. As he continues to fill out his frame, Pettersson will only become more dangerous in all three zones as his speed and compete level shine through.

Elias Pettersson, NHL Draft, Vancouver Canucks
Elias Pettersson is making the jump to the SHL where his maturity and skill set will be tested. (Creative Commons, C More)

With tremendous hockey sense and awareness, Pettersson is a treat to watch with the puck. He has quick and creative hands as well as an electric first three steps. He loves to rush the puck through the neutral zone and uses his vision of the ice to be a dynamic playmaker too. In the long-run, Pettersson will turn into a speedy and skilled, two-way center who can play all situations in a top-six role.

9: Brock Boeser – Vancouver Canucks

  • Age: 20
  • Position: RW
  • Size: 6’1″ & 192 pounds
  • Drafted: 23rd overall in 2015
  • 2016-17 Team: University of North Dakota (NCAA)

A potent offensive winger, Brock Boeser has the ability to be a game-changer with his quick release and playmaking skills. An above average skater, Boeser’s best assets come from his offensive instincts and awareness. Reading plays instantaneously, Boeser can beat a defender one-on-one or blow right by him. Playing with smart positioning, he has a knack for being in the right place at the right time.

Brock Boeser
Although Brock Boeser’s production declined in 2016-17, an impressive stint with the Canucks kept him among the top prospects in hockey. Photo: Tyler Ingham, UND Athletics

Despite a fairly significant dip in production from 2015-16 to 2016-17, Boeser remains a highly touted prospect with a great ceiling. With 43 goals and 94 points in 74 NCAA games, Boeser turned pro at the end of last season, adding four goals and five points in a nine game stint with the Canucks. A natural goal scorer with a tremendous release, Boeser will play a large role for Vancouver in 2017-18.

8: Cody Glass – Vegas Golden Knights

  • Age: 18
  • Position: C
  • Size: 6’2″ & 179 pounds
  • Drafted: 6th overall in 2017
  • 2016-17 Team: Portland Winter Hawks (WHL)

A talented two-way center who thinks the game at an incredible pace, Cody Glass is a dog on the puck and his possession numbers are off the charts. He understands the opponent’s strategy and uses it against them, able to pinch or lay back to find himself a sliver of open space that makes all the difference. A natural playmaker as well, Glass can read the ice as well as anyone in his draft class.

Cody Glass
Cody Glass is a dynamic center who can read the game one step ahead of his competition. (Dayna Fjord/Portland Winterhawks)

Playing a complete, 200-foot game, Glass is effective in all situations. He skates well with notable acceleration and plays each shift like it’s his last. Glass consistently engages in board battles, more often than not coming away with the puck. He has great puck skills and a quick release that he can get off under pressure. Glass will only become more dangerous as he fills out his frame and becomes stronger. Overall, he is a responsible two-way center who could potentially top 70 points in his prime.

Top Tier of Forward Prospects

7: Kyle Connor – Winnipeg Jets

  • Age: 20
  • Position: LW
  • Size: 6’1″ & 183 pounds
  • Drafted: 17th overall in 2015
  • 2016-17 Team: Manitoba Moose (AHL)

One year removed from being a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award as the NCAA’s top player as well as a Tim Taylor Award as the NCAA’s top rookie, Kyle Connor remains one of the NHL’s top prospects. A tremendous skater, Connor can reach blazing speeds with the puck, which he handles with confidence and creativity. He has an admirable compete level in all three zones, making him a reliable two-way player.

Kyle Connor couldn’t get consistent ice time with the Jets, but had an excellent 52 games with the Manitoba Moose, adding 25 goals and 44 points. (Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports)

Perhaps his top asset is his raw ability to put the puck in the net. Connor possesses a lightning quick and deceptive release that he can let loose from in tight. He has the vision and sense to be a dangerous playmaker as well, threading passes through traffic to create opportunities for his teammates. In all, Connor has shown the ability to dominate in all three zones and could be an elite goal-scorer in the near future.

6: Joel Eriksson Ek – Minnesota Wild

  • Age: 20
  • Position: C
  • Size: 6’2″ & 196 pounds
  • Drafted: 20th overall in 2015
  • 2016-17 Team: Färjestad BK (SHL)

A big, strong center who is not only a scoring threat from all over the offensive zone, but plays a responsible 200-foot game as well. Joel Eriksson Ek has a remarkable skill set and can make elite plays at top speed. He sees the ice very well and knows where his teammates are at all times to make safe plays. A strong skater, Eriksson Ek is tough to knock off the puck and is only getting stronger.

Joel Eriksson Ek
Joel Eriksson Ek was excellent during a short stint with the Wild. He will play a key role for the team in 2017-18. Photo: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

A true competitor, Eriksson Ek engages in puck battles and rarely comes away without possession. A leader on the ice, his ability to gain the zone on carry-ins results in an array of scoring chances for his team. An impressive stint with the Minnesota Wild during 2016-17 has Eriksson Ek lined up as a contender for the Calder Trophy this year. An elite shooter, he represents the future of offence in Minnesota.

5: Dylan Strome – Arizona Coyotes

  • Age: 20
  • Position: C
  • Size: 6’3″ & 198 pounds
  • Drafted: 3rd overall in 2015
  • 2016-17 Team: Erie Otters (OHL)

Taking heat for not yet cracking the Arizona Coyotes lineup, Dylan Strome is, without a doubt, still one of hockey’s top prospects. After dominating the OHL for a third consecutive season, Strome has proven his all around ability to be a game-changer at the next level. With a pro level shot, Strome can beat goaltenders clean or through traffic as well. Along with incredible puck skills, he is a force with possession of the puck.

Dylan Strome, Arizona Coyotes
Dylan Strome was able to crack the Coyotes lineup to start 2016-17 but was sent back to junior after just one point in seven games. (Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports)

As a responsible two-way center, Strome hustles up and down the ice on each shift to have the most impact possible. With a big frame, he can add a physical presence as well. Above all, Strome’s compete level is unparalleled at every level, pushing him to be the best he can be, proven by an incredible playoff, Memorial Cup, and World Junior performances. Ready to play his NHL rookie campaign at 20 years old, Strome will be given every opportunity to immediately succeed in Arizona.

4: Clayton Keller – Arizona Coyotes

  • Age: 19
  • Position: C/LW
  • Size: 5’10” & 168 pounds
  • Drafted: 7th overall in 2016
  • 2016-17 Team: Boston University (NCAA)

Following a tremendous freshman season in the NCAA which featured a Rookie of the Year honour in Hockey East as well as an All-Star Team nomination at the World Juniors, Clayton Keller has established himself as an exceptional prospect. An elite playmaker by nature, Keller can read the ice as well as anyone and has an innate sense of developing plays, allowing him to make decisions one step ahead.

World Junior Championship Players to Watch
Clayton Keller enjoyed an incredible freshman year at Boston University and will be a Calder favourite in 2017-18. (courtesy U.S. National Development Team)

Along with his vision, Keller has a knack for the net, following the puck for rebounds or stepping back into open space in the slot. An excellent skater, Keller can fly when he reaches top speed and blow past defenders. A responsible two-way center, he can be trusted in all three zones to make the best decision available. Following an impressive three-game stint with the Coyotes, Keller is expected to make a huge impact in the 2017-18 season.

3: Nolan Patrick – Philadelphia Flyers

  • Age: 18
  • Position: C
  • Size: 6’2″ & 198 pounds
  • Drafted: 2nd overall in 2017
  • 2016-17 Team: Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)

Slipping behind Nico Hischier just before the 2017 Draft, Nolan Patrick remains a high-end talent with the ability to take over a game by himself. Following two tremendous years in the WHL, Patrick was set back during his draft year with two separate sports hernias. But, during his 33 games, he was playing at a 44-goal, 100-point pace. Aside from concerns about his long-term health, Patrick has shown the capability to be a game-changer at a very young age.

Despite lingering health concerns, Nolan Patrick continued to play at an elite level and should jump right into the Flyers lineup. Photo by Aaron Bell/CHL Images

Relied upon in all situations, Patrick has no true holes in his game. With above average skating, excellent puck skills and as a consistent finisher, Patrick is a threat each time he takes the ice. As well, he showcases impressive playmaking skills as he uses his assets to create space for his linemates. With great size and strength, Patrick is NHL-ready and could be a Calder favourite should his health hold up. He is a potentially dominant center who could top the 80-point plateau in his prime.

2: Kirill Kaprizov – Minnesota Wild

  • Age: 20
  • Position: LW/RW
  • Size: 5’10” & 192 pounds
  • Drafted: 135th overall in 2015
  • 2016-17 Team: Salavat Yulaev Ufa (KHL)

One of the most prolific teenagers in KHL history, Kirill Kaprizov has developed into one of the most exciting prospects in hockey. He ranks second in points as an 18-year-old with 27, slotted between Yevgeni Kuznetsov and Vladimir Tarasenko, some good company. In his 19-year-old season, he surpassed Kuznetsov, setting the all-time record with 42 points. Evidence proves that Kaprizov is an elite talent at his age level, with the potential to wreak havoc in the NHL one day soon.

Kirill Kaprizov
Kirill Kaprizov is off to a hot start in 2017-18, with six points in as many games. He will remain in the KHL until at least 2020-21. (Photo: Andrei Chudayev,

An uber talented winger, Kaprizov has an unbelievable skill set and an electric snap shot. A natural goal scorer, he finds success by getting his first touch of the puck on net, allowing him to catch goaltenders mid-transition. A smart playmaker as well, Kaprizov has a strong vision of the ice and understands the game very well. Named the Top Forward at the 2017 World Juniors, Kaprizov recently signed a three-year extension in the KHL, delaying his NHL arrival until 2020-21.

The NHL’s Top Forward Prospect

1: Nico Hischier – New Jersey Devils

  • Age: 18
  • Position: C
  • Size: 6’1″ & 179 pounds
  • Drafted: 1st overall in 2017
  • 2016-17 Team: Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)

The highest drafted Swiss player in NHL history, Nico Hischier is a five-tool center with smarts to spare. A dynamic skater with multiple gears, he can blow by opponents at top speeds and handles the puck with confidence. He’s a creative kid and can make defenders look silly with his quick hands. With room to get stronger still, Hischier uses his lower-body strength to make it difficult to knock him off the puck.

New Jersey Devils, Nico Hischier, NHL Draft
An incredibly skilled forward, Nico Hischier will be given ample ice time with the Devils during his rookie season. (Katie Whitty Photography/Flickr)

Reliable at both ends of the ice, Hischier makes the players around him better as he creates time and space through his positioning and decision making. Thinking the game at a fast pace, he can expose opponents who make the slightest mistakes. A strong showing at the World Juniors proved he is capable of playing at a higher level, and he will be tested early with the Devils, potentially as the team’s top center to start the 2017-18 season. A future top-line center who could push 80 points at his best.