With the Conference Finals underway, we take a look at the top ten prospects in the Northeast Division.
1. Tuukka Rask, G, Boston Bruins
Height/Weight: 6’2”, 165 lbs.
Birthday/Age: March 10, 1987, 22
Drafted: 2005 Round 1, 21st overall (Selection by Toronto)
On Puck Prospectus’ recent rating of the top ten prospects in the entire NHL, Rask was the toughest omission. Despite not quite cracking that list, he is the premier prospect in the Northeast Division. The 22-year-old is a butterfly-style goalie with good range, lateral quickness and recovery skills.
This regular season in AHL Providence, he earned a 33-20-4 record, with a 2.50 GAA, .915 save %, and four shutouts. During his one game injury call-up to Boston, he pitched a 35 save shutout against the Rangers. He has taken his game to another level in the playoffs, with a 9-4 record, 1.76 GAA, and .943 save %. With Rask backstopping the team, Providence ran off six consecutive playoff wins to close out Portland and take the first two against Worcester. Providence has moved on to the AHL Conference Finals, which are ongoing.
His entry-level contract runs through next season, at which point he will be a restricted free agent. With Tim Thomas locked up through 2012-13, Rask’s progression allows the Bruins to either use him as a top-tier backup, or put him on the market as trade bait next season.
2. Tyler Myers, D, Buffalo Sabres
Height/Weight: 6’8”, 215 lbs.
Birthday/Age: Feb. 1, 1990, 19
Drafted: 2008 Round 1, 12th overall
After being selected in last year’s draft as a rangy offensive defenseman, Myers has packed 10 lbs. of muscle onto his 6’8” frame and learned to exert his will on the opposition. Even for someone with the pedigree of the twelfth pick in the draft, his improvement this season has been outstanding. The World Juniors were a bit of a coming out party for Myers, as he was a standout player throughout Canada’s gold medal run. He has always had good skating ability along with a hard shot. This season, he has improved his passing, consistently finished his checks, and even played the role of enforcer when called upon.
In 58 regular season games with the Kelowna Rockets, he scored nine goals (4 Power Play, 1 Shorthanded), with 33 assists, 105 penalty minutes, and a staggering +31 rating. On the road to the WHL Championship, he had five goals, all coming on the power play, with 15 assists, 29 penalty minutes, and a +13 rating in 22 games. Myers was named Playoff MVP for his efforts. He has also played well in the Memorial Cup, with a goal and assist in Kelowna’s first game. Given his impact on both ends of the ice, Myers stands to have an excellent overall GVT.
The 19-year-old signed a three-year, entry-level contract with the Sabres last week. He still has one year of Junior eligibility left, and can play in ten NHL games before he loses that eligibility. It is likely that the Sabres will look for him to earn a roster spot out of camp, and at least give him a taste of the pros this season.
3. Ryan McDonagh, D, Montreal Canadiens
Height/Weight: 6’1”, 212 lbs.
Birthday/Age: June 13, 1989, 19
Drafted: 2007 Round 1, 12th overall
McDonagh is a big, tough defenseman with nice ability on offense. His skating ability is his distinguishing characteristic, as he has the ability to start the rush with his quick skates and crisp passing. After a prolific high school career for which he was named Minnesota’s Mr. Hockey in 2007, he joined the University of Wisconsin this past season.
In 36 games with the Badgers, he contributed five goals (1 power play goal, 1 short handed goal, 3 even strength goals), 11 assists, and 59 pim, with a -2 rating. He was named an assistant captain as an underclassman, which is a tremendous honor at a top program like Wisconsin.
He is currently weighing his options, whether to return to Madison for another year, or turn pro. Only turning 20 next month, McDonagh is physically ready to deal with NHL forwards, but could use another year of refining his play in the defensive zone against college players.
4. Joe Colborne, C,Boston Bruins
Height/Weight: 6’5”, 190 lbs.
Birthday/Age: Jan. 30, 1990, 19
Drafted: 2008 Round 1, 16th overall
Although Colborne has the frame to be a dominating physical presence, his strengths lie more in playmaking than bulling to the front of the net. With very good hands and on-ice vision, the 6’5” forward thrives at waiting for the play to develop and delivering a solid pass.
With the University of Denver this past season, he scored a tad over one PPG, with ten goals (4 power play goals, 1 short handed goal, 5 even strength goals), 21 assists, 24 penalty minutes, and a +5 rating in 40 games. He was named to the All-WCHA rookie team based on his strong campaign.
It's possible that, given time, Colborne may develop into a poor man’s Joe Thornton, as a big forward who can create space and set up teammates down low.
5. Erik Karlsson, D, Ottawa Senators
Height/Weight: 5’11”, 165 lbs.
Birthday/Age: May 31, 1990, 18
Drafted: 2008 Round 1, 15th overall
Karlsson has anything but prototype size for an NHL defenseman, but has become one of the world’s top prospects with his deft skating and premier offensive skills. He has the ability to be an excellent power play quarterback, and can create plays while bringing the puck up-ice on the fly. The knock on Karlsson is his lack of bulk (165 lbs.), which might not be that big of a knock, though scouts will most likely hold it against him. He still needs a bit of improvement to be able to take on NHL forwards at the next level. As is typical with young, offensively gifted defensemen, he needs to improve his defensive positioning and awareness.
With the Frolunda Indians of the Swedish Elite League, Karlsson had five goals, five assists, with ten penalty minutes and a +3 in 45 games. The soon-to-be 19-year-old recently signed an entry-level contract with the Senators.
Without some miraculous work in the weight room this summer, Karlsson will not be considered physically ready for the NHL in 2009-10, regardless of whether this is fair on the part of Ottawa's front office. However, Ottawa will at least give his abilities a good look in camp this fall, and he is an interesting piece of the puzzle looking forward.
6. Jhonas Enroth, G, Buffalo Sabres
Height/Weight: 5’10”, 174 lbs.
Birthday/Age: June 25, 1988, 20
Drafted: 2006 Round 2, 46th overall
Enroth is a quick, agile butterfly-style goalie with a very good glove hand. At 5’10”, 174 lbs., he is slightly undersized for the position, but has been able to compensate with his awareness and lateral movement. The biggest knock on him has been the tendency to give up bad rebounds, which he will need to improve to make the transition to the next level.
Coming from a decorated career in Sweden to the AHL, the young goaltender was slated to split time this season and gradually get his feet wet. That all changed when Portland Pirates teammate Adam Dennis went down with an injury early in the season, leaving Enroth to carry the water. In 58 regular season games with the Pirates, he compiled a 26-23-6 record, with a 2.75 goals against average, .914 save percentage, and three shutouts. In the playoffs, he stepped his game up, with 2.27 goals against, .940 save percentage, and a 28-save shutout. However, the Pirates ran into a buzzsaw against Providence, leaving Enroth with a 1-4 playoff record.
Due to the unexpected workload, Enroth dealt with fatigue during the heart of the AHL season, and his play was marred by inconsistency. Even with his slight frame, he should be able to adjust to the grind of a long season through conditioning and experience. Although he does project as a number one starter, the soon-to-be 21-year-old should expect another season in Portland, with the possibility of a spot start due to injury with the Sabres.
7. Brad Marchand, C, Boston Bruins
Height/Weight: 5’9”, 190 lbs.
Birthday/Age: May 11, 1988, 21
Drafted: 2006 Round 3, 71st overall
Marchand is a stout center with a well-rounded offensive game who is not afraid to throw checks when needed. He has learned to incorporate his teammates into the play more effectively, allowing him to become a well-rounded forward this season.
He spent the season with the Providence Bruins of the AHL. In 79 regular season games, he nearly averaged a point per game, scoring 18 goals (3 power play goals, 15 even strength goals), with 41 assists, 67 penalty minutes, and a +13 rating. He has also been a big part of their playoff run, scoring six goals (3 PP), seven assists, with 22 penalty minutes and a +1 in 13 games.
The 21-year-old is another piece in the Bruins’ stable of promising young forwards. With his willingness to go into corners and chippy style of play, Marchand can be an excellent third-line forward in the NHL, with some scoring ability as a bonus.
8. Chris Butler, D, Buffalo Sabres
Height/Weight: 6’1”, 185 lbs.
Birthday/Age: Oct. 27, 1986, 22
Drafted: 2005 Round 4, 96th overall
Butler is the type of smart, mature defenseman that teams are always looking for. His top attributes are his awareness and ability to play in the tight corners of the defensive zone. The 22-year-old is a smooth skater, with an ability to make the tape-to-tape pass from his zone, and exhibits a willingness to block shots. His ability on offense is fairly average for a defenseman as demonstrated by his inability to score at least 0.50 PPG.
After a strong career with the University of Denver, Butler turned pro last year and joined the Portland Pirates of the AHL. In 27 regular season games with Portland, he contributed two goals, ten assists, and 14 penalty minutes, with a -3 rating. He was then called up to Buffalo due to injury, and kept a stranglehold on the roster spot, staying with the Sabres for the remainder of the season. In 47 games with the Sabres, he had two goals, four assists, with 18 penalty minutes, and a +11 rating which was highest on the defensive corps. Although he seemed to hit the rookie wall in late January, Butler rebounded well and was one of Buffalo’s most consistent defensemen. His play was particularly strong when paired with team captain Craig Rivet.
Butler is one of the young keys to the Buffalo blue line. Although he is not a flashy player, his well-rounded style and understanding of the game are valuable assets at any level.
9. Brian Lee, D, Ottawa Senators
Height/Weight: 6’3”, 203 lbs.
Birthday/Age: March 26, 1987, 22
Drafted: 2005 Round 1, 9th overall
Brian Lee has all of the attributes that scouts look for in defensive prospects: good size (which, as Puck Prospectus' own Iain Fyffe has pointed out, can be a vulnerability of scouts as well), strong skating, crisp passing, and solid shot. He is yet another University of North Dakota product who is poised to be an impact NHL player. With his ability to stickhandle and carry the puck out of the zone, Lee is excellent at sparking the rush and catching the opposition off-guard. He also has the intelligence and physique to handle NHL forwards, even at this early stage of his career.
After starting with the Senators, he was sent down to Binghamton after five games. He was able to sort things out there, scoring two goals and ten assists in 27 games with the AHL club. He was then called back up, and spent most of the season with Ottawa, scoring two goals, 11 assists, 33 penalty minutes, and a -2 rating in 53 games.
Lee made progress down the stretch for Ottawa, even showing a nasty streak at times. As his awareness continues to improve, he will be in the mix to be a top-pairing defenseman for the Senators.
10. Tyler Ennis, C, Buffalo Sabres
Height/Weight: 5’9”, 164 lbs.
Birthday/Age: Oct. 6, 1989, 19
Drafted: 2008 Round 1, 26th overall
Ennis is a playmaking centerman who uses his speed and creativity with the puck to create space on the ice. At 5’9”, 164 lbs., he relies on his excellent quickness, agility, and stickhandling to put defensemen on their heels. With players like Martin St. Louis, Daniel Briere, and Patrick Kane thriving in today’s NHL, the prototype of an undersized playmaker is there for him to follow.
In 61 regular season games with the Medicine Hat Tigers of the WHL, he scored 43 goals (13 power play goals, 2 short handed goals, 38 even strength goals), 42 assists, with 21 penalty minutes and a +11 rating. During the Tigers’ playoff run, he added eight goals (2 power play goals, 1 short handed goals, 5 even strength goals) and 11 assists, with ten penalty minutes and a -1 rating in 11 games. Given Puck Prospectus’ guideline that a point per game at the major junior level generally leads to success for forwards, Ennis is on track for the at least a few NHL All-Star Games. In his first draft-eligible year, he put up 91 points in 70 games, and this past year, he added 85 points in just 61 games.
While Ennis will likely be spending another season in the Western Hockey League, he will be challenging for a Buffalo roster spot sooner rather than later. He has the speed and ability to create plays on offense that cannot be taught. Along with his great potential, he is also found in Malcolm Gladwell’s recent book, Outliers, as an aberrational premier hockey prospect born late in the calendar year.
Top 10 Talents 25 and Under:
1. Phil Kessel, C, Boston Bruins
2. David Krejci, C, Boston Bruins
3. Luke Schenn, D, Toronto Maple Leafs
4. Carey Price, G, Montreal Canadiens
5. Tuukka Rask, G, Boston Bruins
6. Nikolai Kulemin, LW, Toronto Maple Leafs
7. Tyler Myers, D, Buffalo Sabres
8. Ryan McDonagh, D, Montreal Canadiens
9. Joe Colborne, C, Boston Bruins
10. Erik Karlsson, D, Ottawa Senators