In late April, NHL organizations begin gearing up for the draft, while looking back at their hits and misses throughout the prospect pipeline. At this point of the year, teams have an idea of how a young player’s game is coming along, whether it’s as an amateur making a jump to the American Hockey League or getting a taste of the National Hockey League. Let's take a look at the top ten prospects throughout the NHL.
The main criteria for prospects are that they are under the age of 25 and have yet to play 65 NHL games, which eliminates youngsters like Luke Schenn, Drew Doughty, Kyle Turris, Patrik Berglund, and 2008 top pick Steven Stamkos.
Even with some high profile players out of the running, this top ten includes familiar names, such as Bogosian, Filatov, and vanRiemsdyk. Considering that every player on this list is a former first round pick, you won't see any unknowns rising to prominence here. There are, however, skaters like T.J. Oshie and Claude Giroux, who have slipped into the twenties of the draft due to concerns about their size, though this shouldn't be a major concern, and have lifted themselves into the top tier of young NHL prospects with their understanding of the game and playmaking abilities. Others, such as Cody Hodgson and Colin Wilson, have led their teams on playoff drives down the stretch run, in their respective leagues. Hodgson has put the Brampton Battalion on his back, tying for fifth in OHL playoff scoring thus far. In Wilson’s case, he capped his sophomore campaign off with an overtime victory to bring the NCAA Championship back to Boston University.
After a season in which he made the leap to become a top-pairing defenseman at age 18, Atlanta’s Zach Bogosian finds himself leading this list.
1. Zach Bogosian, D, Atlanta Thrashers
2008 Draft, 3rd overall
6’2”, 197 / DOB: July 15, 1990
Bogosian tops the list based on his offensive skill, pedigree, and immediate impact in the NHL this season. At 18 years old, with his size and excellent skating ability, he can be a premier defenseman for the next fifteen years. In 47 NHL games, he tallied nine goals and ten assists, with 47 penalty minutes and a + 11 rating. Although he dealt with a broken leg early on and spent a rehab assignment in the AHL, he was on Atlanta’s top pairing by the last month of the season. He recently joined Team USA at the World Championships in Switzerland.
Bogosian was a bright spot for the inconsistent Atlanta franchise, and while salvaging hockey in the South is too big a task for any one man, he is an excellent building block for the franchise.
2. Nikita Filatov, LW, Columbus Blue Jackets
2008 Draft, 6th overall
6’0”, 172 / DOB: May 25, 1990
Filatov is as skilled a goal scorer as any prospect in the sport. The winger served as captain for Team Russia, and tied as top goal scorer at this year’s World Juniors (along with likely ’09 top pick John Tavares.) He rattled off 16 goals and 16 assists in 39 games with the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL before dealing with a leg injury and serious sinus infection through February to early March. In his short stint in Columbus, he scored four goals in eight games, with a + 3 rating. Even as the youngest player in the AHL at the start of the season, Filatov showed great instincts and competitive drive. With his pure scoring ability and speed, he should be among the league leaders in goals within three years.
Columbus is a young team on the rise, and Filatov should be on one of the top two lines next season, with the potential to score 30 goals in his first full season in the NHL.
3. T.J. Oshie, C, St. Louis Blues
2005 Draft, 24th overall
6’0”, 194 / Dec. 23, 1986
Playing serious playoff minutes for St. Louis at age 22, Oshie is closer to an NHL regular than a prospect, but technically still fits the bill. With solid size, consistent effort, and well-rounded offensive ability, he should be one of the cornerstones of the Blues franchise moving forward. He was named Rookie of the Month for March after scoring four goals and nine assists, with a + 6 rating. Oshie played in 57 regular season games for the Blues, scoring 14 goals and 25 assists, with 30 penalty minutes and a + 16 rating. His responsible play had him ranked 30th leaguewide earlier this month on Tom Awad’s RPM (+/- rating adjusted for goaltending and team strength). After St. Louis’ recent playoff exit (he was scoreless in four games), Oshie joined Team USA for the World Championships.
T.J. Oshie has lived up to his University of North Dakota pedigree thus far, and should join his college linemate Jonathan Toews as a Top-50 points contributor in coming years.
4. Cody Hodgson, C, Vancouver Canucks
2008 Draft, 10th overall
6’0”, 188 / DOB: Feb 18, 1990
Even on this list of premier prospects, Cody Hodgson’s 92 points in 53 games stands out. Hodgson’s stats have turned a lot of heads this year, leaving several teams to wonder whether they should have grabbed him before Vancouver got lucky at ten last year. Using Puck Prospectus’ formula that a point per game for first-year draft eligibles usually leads to NHL stardom, Hodgson is poised to be an excellent pro, with 90 points in 73 games last season. Although he is not an elite skater, he is a well-rounded forward with very strong playmaking abilities. His 43 goals and 49 assists were good for fourth in the Ontario Hockey League this season, and were joined by 33 penalty minutes and a + 41 rating. In 12 OHL playoff games this year, he has added six goals and 16 assists, to go along with a + 6 rating. Along with his exploits captaining the Brampton Battalion, he also led the 2009 World Juniors in points, scoring five goals and eleven assists in six games.
With nothing left to accomplish statistically in the OHL, Hodgson should be moving up to the pros next season, and will fit in well with Vancouver’s balanced set of second and third-line forwards. He ultimately projects to be a first-line forward.
5. Alex Pietrangelo, D, St. Louis Blues
2008 Draft, 4th overall
6’3”, 206 / Jan 18, 1990
Alex Pietrangelo is a smooth-skating defenseman with great size and good offensive ability. He has been shuffled around the top three North American leagues this season. Pietrangelo spent most of his time with the Niagara IceDogs of the OHL (9 goals, 26 assists, 52 penalty minutes in 48 games), along with a call-up to St. Louis (1 assist in 8 games) and, most recently, an assignment to the Peoria Rivermen for the AHL playoffs. He also has international experience as a member of Team Canada’s gold medal World Junior team this past winter. While he is behind 2008 draftmates Bogosian, Doughty, and Schenn in his progress, he does have the potential to join them as a top pairing defenseman down the road.
With time to develop, the 19-year-old Pietrangelo projects as a strong, agile defenseman who can be a power play quarterback in the National Hockey League.
6. Karl Alzner, D, Washington Capitals
2007 Draft, 5th overall
6’2”, 210 / DOB: Sep. 24, 1988
Alzner is a big, defensive-minded blueliner who can be a steadying presence at any level. Though he isn’t a great playmaker, responsible defensemen who can pass are not as plentiful as one would think. Based on his style, he is likely to have a very good defensive Goals Versus Threshold, GVT, as a full-time pro. In 50 games with the Hershey Bears (AHL), he had four goals, seventeen assists, and twelve penalty minutes. During his mid-season 30-game call-up with the Caps, he contributed one goal and four assists with two penalty minutes and a -1 rating. Alzner is the least exciting player on this list, but players of his ilk seem to have their names engraved on the Stanley Cup year after year.
On a defensive corps that features bona fide star Jeff Green (23 years old), along with Milan Jurcina (25), Shaone Morrisonn (26), and 2004 first-rounder Jeff Schultz (23), the 20-year-old Alzner can help shape the best young defenseman in the NHL when he spends his first full season with the Caps in 2009-10.
7. Claude Giroux, RW, Philadelphia Flyers
2006 Draft, 22nd overall
5’11”, 172 / DOB: Jan 12, 1988
With great vision and playmaking ability, Claude Giroux is one of the young contributors driving the Flyers playoff push this season. Since his call-up in early March, he’s contributed nine goals and eighteen assists, with a + 10 rating and 14 penalty minutes in 42 games. He has also added four points (2 goals, 2 assists) in four playoff games this year. His patience with the puck elicited a comparison to Peter Forsberg from teammate Simon Gagne earlier this spring. A comparison to an all-time great is lofty praise for any 21-year-old, especially from the former teammate of Forsberg. Prior to joining the Flyers, he had 17 goals and 17 assists in 33 games for the Philadelphia Phantoms of the AHL. He earned MVP honors in the QMJHL playoffs last year, leading the Gatineau Olympiques to the championship with 51 points (17 goals, 34 assists) in 19 playoff games.
Giroux is a top-tier playmaker, and will continue to rise with a full run at the NHL next season.
8. Derick Brassard, D, Columbus Blue Jackets
2006 Draft, 6th overall
6’1”, 180 / DOB: Sep. 22, 1987
Before he was placed on the Injured Reserve, IR, on Dec. 20th with a dislocated shoulder, Brassard was one of the hottest rookies in the league, earning Rookie of the Month honors for October. The 21-year-old was cleared for contact drills on April 22nd, but Columbus is wisely keeping their prized prospect on the shelf until next season. Before his injury, he was off to a monster start, with ten goals, fifteen assists, and a + 12 rating in 31 games for the Blue Jackets. Brassard can be the puck-moving offensive defenseman that teams covet.
As a team that made the playoffs without major contributions from two elite prospects (Brassard and Filatov), Columbus will be loaded with young talent going forward, and may draw some serious attention to hockey in the Buckeye State.
9. James vanRiemsdyk, LW, Philadelphia Flyers
2007 Draft, 2nd overall
6’3”, 190 / DOB: May 4, 1989
James vanRiemsdyk is a very good skater with legit playmaking ability. ‘JVR’ received a lot of hype in the years leading up to the 2007 Draft, where he and fellow American Patrick Kane went 1-2 overall. After his selection by the Flyers, vanRiemsdyk enrolled at the University of New Hampshire and was expected to immediately be one of the top players in the NCAA. Despite not having the prolific college career that scouts expected, he did put up consistently solid numbers, racking up 17 goals, 23 assists, and 47 penalty minutes in 36 games his sophomore season. He turned pro on April 1st, joining the Philadelphia Phantoms of the AHL, and added a goal and an assist in seven regular season games. He has been kept off of the scoreboard in two playoff contests.
For all of the media attention over the past several years, vanRiemsdyk will still turn just 20 in two weeks, and a full season in the AHL will benefit him greatly. A professional coaching staff should be able to bring him along, and help him assert his will on the ice.
10. Colin Wilson, C, Nashville Predators
2008 Draft, 7th overall
6’1”, 215 / DOB: Oct. 20, 1989
Wilson has gained a lot of notoriety lately. First, he was Team USA’s most outstanding player in the 2009 World Juniors with nine points in six games. Then, he was a Hobey Baker finalist as a sophomore, with 17 goals, 38 assists, and 52 penalty minutes in 43 games for Boston University this season. He capped off his BU career with a National Championship in a come-from-behind overtime victory, and was named to the All-Tournament Team. In helping lead the Terriers to the championship, he showcased playmaking ability and a strong presence on the puck. Despite not being a top flight skater, he makes up for it with his on-ice awareness. Wilson signed a standard three-year, entry-level contract last week with Nashville, and recently joined Team USA in Switzerland for the World Championships.
With his college experience and build, Wilson should thrive at the next level. He will be a valuable asset as a third-line player for the Nashville roster next season, and will move up to be a top-six forward.