Like any sport, prospects in the NHL are the future of the league. Not all of them work out as expected, but many will make the jump and succeed at the NHL level. For the worst teams these players are a source of hope for both the fans and the management. Even teams with a depleted minor league system often have a crown jewel prospect that they've been looking forward to seeing. Someone they value and have decided to stick with and wouldn't consider trading no matter what. Every team has a young player to be very excited about.
The term "prospect" is pretty vague. There isn't a set guideline for when a player is no longer a prospect. I've decided to go with a stricter definition and have excluded players with significant NHL experience, roughly 15 NHL games (or a bit less if they're currently on an NHL roster).
While most people would consider player such as Jack Eichel and Connor McDavid to be prospects, they have enough NHL experience to the point where their fans are well aware of what they can do. I've decided to look at minor league prospects. Players who are a year - maybe two years - away from competing in the NHL. These are players that fans can be excited about and look forward to seeing.
29 Anaheim Ducks - Shea Theodore
Drafted at the tail end of the first round, Shea Theodore has a skill set that makes him an intriguing defensive prospect. His talents lie primarily in the offensive zone, his crisp passing, hard but accurate shot, and swift skating. This makes him a dangerous threat from the blue line. His abilities are more refined than what you would expect from such a young defenseman. Most don't expect young hockey players to have a high game intelligence, but Theodore plays with an awareness that make you forget he's only 20 years old.
28 Arizona Coyotes - Dylan Strome
Dylan Strome is an elite prospect with seemly no limit to his potential. He has all the natural ability, the size, the speed, the shot, the awareness, everything you could want in a player. He's a competitor who wants to win, and it's evident in how he plays.
Strome is currently playing in the OHL, and has been the 4th leading scorer at this point in the season. While it appears that Arizona is trying to be patient with Strome's development, it's hard to justify keeping talented players off the ice for long.
27 Boston Bruins - Alex Khokhlachev
Alex Khokhlachev is a prospect with lots of upside. His biggest strengths lie in the attacking zone. He has the ability to finish off plays as well as create them himself. He's essentially a Swiss army knife on offense.
Khokhlachev has managed 38 points in 34 games so far this season in the AHL. It's very likely fans will get to see him playing a full time role in the NHL next season.
26 Buffalo Sabres - Justin Bailey
Coming out of the 2013 draft Justin Bailey was considered a highly athletic power forward with an impressive shot. Every year since being drafted by Buffalo he's managed to improve. With a skill set and play style that make him hard to slow down, when he gets his shot in Buffalo he'll be a thorn in the side of every team he plays.
25 Calgary Flames - Emile Poirier
Emile Poirier is an offensive playmaker through and through. His skills are suited for a fast paced play style that he makes work very well. He needs to round out his defensive game a bit further but he still should be given a shot at the NHL level shortly. Calgary fans will have a lot of fun watching Poirier play when he makes the jump.
24 Carolina Hurricanes - Haydn Fleury
Hurricanes prospect Haydn Fleury is what every team needs. He’s a large, physical defenseman who can contribute on offense. He's been constantly improving his skills since being drafted in the top ten of the 2014 draft.
While it’s unlikely the 19 year old will be able to make the 'canes roster for the 16’-17’ season, he’s still a prospect that fans will love to have when he does get a spot.
It's safe to say that Carolina has quite a bit of up and coming talent on the blue line.
23 Chicago Blackhawks - Nick Schmaltz
Nick Schmaltz is a playmaking, two-way forward who projects best at center. He's a quick player who shows good awareness of his surroundings.
Schmaltz is currently in his second year at the University of North Dakota, where he's racked up 26 points in 22 games. In his previous year he had 26 points in nearly twice as many games. The 19 year old has been developing nicely since being selected by Chicago 20th overall in 2014.
22 Colorado Avalanche - Conner Bleackley
Red Deer Rebals' (WHL) captain Conner Bleackley is an overall impressive forward. His skill set is very balanced and he excels in a lot of areas. He's a strong player who knows how to make the most of his size. His puck skills are top notch, with crisp passes and quick, accurate shots.
The 19 year old will still need some more time to develop and find his comfort zone. As it stands, he's a player who has a very high skill ceiling.
21 Columbus Blue Jackets - Sonny Milano
Sonny Milano is a player with big strengths and big weaknesses. His skating and scoring ability are elite among prospects, instantly making him a player that every fan will be watching when he hits the ice.
The playmaking left winger made the transition to the AHL last year after spending the majority of it in the OHL. He still needs time to develop and improve his defensive side of the game. But his skill set should have Jacket fans looking forward to him making the roster. He'll bring instant thrill with him.
20 Dallas Stars - Julius Honka
Finnish defenseman Julius Honka is a small, shifty blue liner whose abilities shine when on the attack. He has a hard shot that would surprise many given his frame. Overall, the defenseman's skill set makes him an ideal power play quarterback.
Honka is currently playing in the AHL, but he should be expected to get a shot at the NHL soon.
19 Detroit Red Wings - Anthony Mantha
Anthony Mantha is a goal scoring winger. He's a potential top line forward who excels with his offensive awareness, positioning, and crisp shot. To cap things off, he has the speed to keep up with anyone; something every fan likes to see in their teams' players.
Mantha dealt with an injury that prevented him from getting a chance at the starting lineup at the start of the season. But it won't be long before he has another opportunity.
18 Edmonton Oilers - Laurent Brossoit
With Edmonton calling up many of their top prospects early on, their most interesting minor league player falls to 6th round goaltender Laurent Brossoit. He's a player who has all the physical tools needed to dominate the game. He makes good use of these abilities, at times being able to take over a game and shut everything down.
At this point, he'll need more development time to refine his game. Even still, it looks like Brossoit will have a serious impact in the NHL.
17 Florida Panthers - Mike Matheson
Mike Matheson is a smart, puck moving defenseman. He's at his best when he's on the attack, having all the skills needed to excel in the NHL in the opposing end.
While he still needs time to develop his game, fans should be very excited to see him on the blue line when he does manage to make the jump. He'll add an extra dynamic to an offense that's already averaging the 7th most goals per game.
16 Los Angeles Kings - Valentin Zykov
15 Minnesota Wild - Joel Eriksson Ek
Joel Eriksson Ek is a young forward capable of doing pretty much anything. His biggest strengths lie in the offensive zone, with his shot, vision, and puck skills being of incredibly high quality. In addition, his defensive skills remain a strength; something that is not often the case among prospects who are primarily touted for their offensive ability.
He projects as an ideal center in the NHL. At 19 years old he's still very young, but good players don't stay out of the NHL for long.
14 Montreal Canadiens - Charles Hudon
Charles Hudon is currently St. Johns' (AHL) leading goal scorer. The 5th round pick from 2012 has risen to being a top flight prospect. He's a shifty player who's difficult to get a hand on. His overall maneuverability is very impressive and he has the shooting ability to go match. In addition to his offensive skills, his character and leadership are also highly touted.
It won't take long for Hudon to earn a full time role in the NHL.
13 Nashville Predators - Kevin Fiala
Nashville fans have a lot to be excited about in the near future. Between players like Jimmy Vesey, Juuse Saros, and Vladislav Kamenev, they have quite a bit of talent waiting to prove themselves in the NHL.
But perhaps the one that fans should be looking forward to the most is left winger Kevin Fiala. Drafted 11th overall in 2014, Fiala has the swiftness and shot that most would expect from a 1st round winger. He has considerable talents both as a goal scorer and as a setup man. Despite being only 19 years old, it shouldn't be long before Predator fans can expect to see him in the starting lineup.
12 New Jersey Devils - Pavel Zacha
New Jersey's top 10 pick from this previous draft, Pavel Zacha is a fast and powerful center. He embodies everything a fan or a coach could want in a forward, with his talent moving the puck, his shooting ability, and the physical edge he brings.
While he still could use some time to develop and hone his game, his skill set should transfer nicely to the NHL. He'll likely have a serious shot to earn a roster spot when training camp rolls around.
11 New York Islanders - Michael Dal Colle
The Islanders 5th overall pick from 2014, Michael Dal Colle, has a lot going for him. The first thing that stands out is his large frame. At 6-2 185, Dal Colle takes advantage of this well.
10 New York Rangers - Pavel Buchnevich
There's a certain type of player that's just fun to watch. They're fast, and they control the puck well. Even if these players lack talent in every other area, they're still exciting to watch.
Pavel Buchnevich is this type of player, with the vision and instincts that most other players with these qualities desperately lack. He's an all around offensive playmaker with the impressive shot to top over thing off.
The biggest weakness is his size, at 6-0 157. Usually it's a good sign when the worst thing you can say about a player is that they need to add a few pounds.
Travis Konecny has been lighting it up and the late first round pick of the 2015 NHL draft is expected to make the Flyers roster for the 16’-17’ season. Konecny excels in the offensive zone, with great puck control, strong skating, and the shot to top it all off. He’ll give the flyers an instant boost to their depth next year (If everything goes as expected).
Flyers fans should be very excited to see this young player develop throughout his career.
9 Pittsburgh Penguins - Matt Murray
Many Penguin fans are likely familiar with their top prospects. Two notable players in particular, Derrick Pouliot and Brian Dumoulin, have played quite a bit in Pittsburgh. Even 2015 second round pick Daniel Sprong has gotten a fair amount of ice time this year.
8 Ottawa Senators - Colin White
Ottawa is another organization that has an absurd wealth of talent waiting to get a chance at the NHL level. The most exciting is NCAA athlete Colin White. While it appears that the Senators are going to be a bit more patient with his development, White is too talented not to name. Though, it might take him a bit longer to make the NHL than some of the other prospects listed.
White is a two-way forward and has a lot of offensive upside. In the NHL, he'll have a noticeable impact whenever he gets on the ice. In addition to having the physical tools and natural abilities, he has the intangible qualities that every coach hopes their prospects will eventually develop. He’ll always be in the right position, and seemingly one step ahead of everyone else on the ice.
7 San Jose Sharks - Timo Meier
Swiss athlete Timo Meier is a large forward, with some referring to him as a power forward; but that doesn’t quite do him justice. While he has the strength to largely do what he wants, he also has a degree of speed that many wouldn’t expect. Meier has qualities from every style of play, and has the talents to excel in any role.
Meier should be expected to make the Sharks roster next season if everything goes as expected. The second he steps on the ice, fans will notice the impact he has.
6 St. Louis Blues - Ivan Barbashev
Early second round pick in 2014, Ivan Barbashev, is a playmaking forward. He’s a hard working player who likes to keep the pace of the game up. St. Louis fans will have a lot of fun watching someone him. He’ll bring a lot of excitement and a lot of talent to the city’s team.
He attended the previous year’s training camp before being sent back down to the QMJHL. It wouldn’t be surprising if he breaks into the NHL next season.
5 Tampa Bay Lightning - Anthony DeAngelo
Anthony DeAngelo is a physical defensive prospect whose excelled everywhere he’s been. He still has key elements of his game to refine and develop but his potential his incredibly high. Most of the concern comes from his play in the defensive zone, with many being particularly concerned with his positioning. However, his offensive prowess is impossible to deny. A fun player to watch with the puck, his agility and playmaking ability will excite Lightning fans when they see him on the blue line.
4 Toronto Maple Leafs - Mitch Marner
Refined center Mitch Marner, Toronto’s 4th overall pick in last year's draft is what every fan wants from their center. He’s a smart player, he always plays hard and with an edge, and he has excellent skating ability. Marner has no glaring weakness that even the most cynical fan could grab on to.
He’s still a young player and will need time to develop. When you consider everything this man has to offer, you’d expect leaf fans to be counting down the days till they get to see him on the ice in the NHL.
3 Vancouver Canucks - Thatcher Demko
Thatcher Demko is one of the more refined goaltending prospects in the league. At Boston College, Demko has posted a 1.65 GAA and a .938 save percentage, putting him in the top 5 of both categories for division 1 hockey players.
Usually whenever you have a young, highly touted goalie they have a lot of potential that's largely untapped. While Demko still needs time to hone his game, this isn't a case of a prospect needing to make major leaps in their game but constantly being touted as having the potential to.
2 Washington Capitals - Madison Bowey
Madison Bowey is currently playing in the AHL. Though, the 20 year old defenseman will likely get a shot in the NHL shortly. He checks all of the boxes for skills you'd like your blue liners to have, he has the right size, he's physical, he handles the puck well, he does a good job of seeing everything, there's certainly a lot to like about Bowie. He'll make an excellent defenseman for Washington; proficient in all 3 areas of the ice.
1 Winnipeg Jets - Kyle Connor
Kyle Connor is an elite center prospect playing for the University of Michigan. He's currently leading division 1 players in points per game with 1.76 (second place is Jimmy Vesey with 1.59). While it might be a while before the 19 year old gets to the NHL, Connor is a player who will almost certainly be a force once he gets there.
Connor is a two way forward, he has an accurate shot, great awareness, solid puck handling skills, and to top it all off, he's very fast. There really isn't anything more you could want in a prospect.
Prospects with Significant NHL Experience - Connor Hellebuyck, Nikolaj Ehlers
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