It's time to start looking at prospects, prospects, and more prospects! Puck Prospectus will be bringing you news and scouting reports on hockey's top prospects on a regular basis. Weekly articles will include prospect information from juniors to professional hockey, and be from both a scouting and statistical prospective. We will also be bringing you a weekly entry on who is hot in the prospect world, and who is not.
As we get closer to the NHL Draft, PP will also provide you with its own list of probable first round picks, which will be broken down by NHL teams based upon an evaluation of their needs. We will be giving you some insight into who the sleeper picks are, in both the early and late rounds.
The initial prospect article below is the first in a series of PP’s Five Star Prospects. Each month, we will bringing you our list of top ten prospects—players that are at least 16 years-old who we think are the best of those coming up. They will come from all leagues and may not even be eligible for the NHL draft this year. As long as a player has not yet appeared in ten NHL games, he is eligible for inclusion on our list. We will also be including honorable mentions among the forwards, defensemen, and netminders. These are players that we think are just below the top ten in talent, and may be moving up onto our list as the top prospects begin to fulfil their potential in the NHL.
Here’s our list for February.
1. John Tavares
2. Alex Pietrangelo
3. Viktor Hedman
4. Nikita Filatov
5. Cody Hodgson
6. Cory Schneider
7. Mikael Backlund
8. Taylor Hall
9. Colin Wilson
10. James van Riemsdyk
Top among the prospects this month is John Tavares. Back on top of all scouting agencies’ 2009 draft lists, Tavares recently scored his 200th Ontario Hockey League goal. He is expected to be the first overall choice in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, with all the skills and intangibles to make Tavares a franchise player for whichever NHL team drafts him. The winger recently showed that he is a big-game player on an international stage, scoring clutch goals in the 2009 World Junior Championships. The 18-year-old was named tournament MVP for his efforts, and is currently leading the OHL in points. Since being traded from the Oshawa Generals to the London Knights last month, Tavares is on a more than two points per game pace. Expected to be a perennial all-star at the next level, Tavares should soon take his place beside Ovechkin and Crosby as the superstars of his generation.
Second among all five-star prospects is defenseman Alex Pietrangelo. An offensive blueliner with excellent leadership skills and a very heavy shot, Pietrangelo was drafted fourth overall by the St. Louis Blues in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. Currently, the best offensive defenseman in the NHL pipeline, Pietrangelo still needs more experience and defensive work to reach his potential, but is expected to be a top NHL blueliner in the coming years. St. Louis’ intention to send Pietrangelo back to his OHL team after the pre-season was temporarily sidetracked after the big blueliner Erik Johnson was sidelined in a fluky accident. However, despite some flashes of brilliance, after eight NHL games, it was clear that Pietrangelo was not ready for that level of play. Since being returned to the OHL Niagara Ice Dogs in November, the King City, Ontario defenseman has appeared in both the World Junior Championships for Canada and in the OHL All-Star game. It has been a short OHL season, and despite a rather lackluster January, Pietrangelo seems to have finally settled in and is now on a point a game pace.
Swedish defenseman Viktor Hedman is the third ranked prospect on the Puck Prospectus five-star list. Talked about as a top prospect in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, until recently many scouts had him going first overall. Now, the scouts are saying that it will depend on the needs of the team picking first overall. That’s how good Hedman is—even though everyone agrees that Tavares is a potential NHL superstar, if the NHL team picking first needs a franchise defensemen, Hedman may still go first overall. A defensive blueliner, Hedman has incredible reach and skating ability for his size. He is very strong on the puck, has good vision, and can jump into the play when necessary. Hedman did have an unimpressive start to the World Junior Championships in December, but came to life as the tournament went on and had a very good last two games. Top-notch defensive players of Hedman’s size and skating ability are hard to come by. He will certainly be a top five pick in the draft and a highly touted prospect until his debut in the NHL two to three years down the road.
Nikita Filatov is the fourth top prospect on our list. A winger with exciting speed, creativity, and excellent finishing skills, Filatov has been playing for the AHL Syracuse Crunch for most of this season. Selected for the Russian WJC team in December, Filatov was the Russian team captain, and without quesiton, one of the best players on the Russian team. After his WJC performance, Filatov was recalled to Columbus on what was hoped to be a permanent basis. However, after only four games, one in which he scored his first NHL hat-trick, Filatov suffered a leg injury. Then when he healed, Filatov caught the flu. It has been that kind of season for the young forward. Reassigned by Columbus to Syracuse in early February, the young winger is regaining his form and is expected to get another shot at the show later this season.
Brampton Battalion center Cody Hodgson is fifth on this month’s list of five-star prospects. Hodgson was the leading scorer at the recently completed WJCs, where he was the alternate captain of the Canadian junior team. Scoring at almost a two-point a game clip in the OHL, the first-line center is on one of the better teams in the league. An excellent face-off man, Hodgson has some of the best hockey sense and vision in the OHL. His skating is somewhat of an issue, but the Toronto native’s puck-handling, passing, and shooting skills are first-rate. Hodgson was drafted tenth overall in 2008 by the Vancouver Canucks, and with the roster changes that are expected in Vancouver next year, Hodgson should find a permanent spot on the Canucks team for the 2009-10 season.
Cory Schneider, the only netminder on our list this month, is PP’s sixth five-star prospect. A first round pick of the Vancouver Canucks in 2004, Schneider is a former Boston College standout, who twice was a member of the United States WJC team. Schneider joined the Manitoba Moose in the Fall of 2007, after his junior year at BC. Schneider was back in Manitoba to begin this season, but with the injury to Vancouver goaltender Roberto Luongo, Schneider was called up to the NHL in late November. In eight appearances from November 30th through the month of December 2008, Schneider had a GAA of 3.38 and a save percentage of .877. Since his return to Manitoba in early January, Schneider is 13-2-1, with three shutouts. Currently leading the AHL in both GAA and save percentage, Schneider is the top goaltender currently toiling in the AHL.
Our seventh five-star prospect, Mikael Backlund, has only been playing hockey in North America for less than two months. Drafted by the Calgary Flames in the first round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, after displaying his offensive skills at the 2007 U18 WJCs, Backlund is more of a scoring than playmaking center. The Vasteras, Sweden native has great hands and a nose for the net, combined with excellent hockey sense and vision on the ice. In the recently completed WJCs in Ottawa, Backlund was the leading goal scorer on the Swedish team and was named by the coaches as one of the three best players on his team. He joined the NHL Flames for one game after the tournament in Ottawa was completed, and then was reassigned to the WHL Kelowna Rockets to complete the 2008-09 season. Backlund has responded by posting more than a point per game since his arrival. Expect the Swede to get a good look during the Flames training camp next Fall, and if he does not make the team out of camp, Backlund should be an early call-up during the 2009-10 campaign.
Eighth on our list of five-star prospects is the young Windsor Spitfires star Taylor Hall. Just 17 years-old this past November, Hall is having a stellar second OHL season. A whiz with the puck, Hall has captured the attention of drooling scouts with his creativity and ability to finish. Not eligible for the NHL Entry Draft until 2010, Hall is currently second in scoring to John Tavares in the OHL. After a somewhat slow December and January (which could have been in part due to his disappointment in not making the Canadian WJC team), Hall has once again picked up his scoring pace in February. Additionally, his assists goals are up this month. Although he will have to record two points per game to post 100 points in his sophomore season, barring injury, Hall will definitely surpass his 84-point rookie season.
Character player Colin Wilson is our ninth five-star prospect. Anyone familiar with Wilson says that the center is one of the hardest workers among current prospects. A real team player, who thinks nothing of sacrificing himself for his teammates, Wilson is a future NHL captain in the making. Currently a sophomore at Boston University, Wilson is the top collegiate prospect in hockey. Brought up in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Wilson is a product of the US NTDP and has always had his sights on the collegiate game. Recently named the Hockey East Player of the Week, Wilson is a Hobey Baker candidate and ranks second in the country in points per game (1.43). Drafted seventh overall in 2008 by the Nashville Predators, Wilson is most likely in his last year of college hockey.
Last on our list for February is enigmatic prospect James van Riemsdyk. Drafted second overall in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft by the Philadelphia Flyers, van Riemsdyk is having an up and down year with the University of New Hampshire Wildcats. Once leading the Hockey East in points, his points per game have dropped and van Riemsdyk is not dominating in the way that was expected. The winger must get stronger physically and become the north-south player with good hands to be successful as a power forward at the professional level. If he can do so, he will be dominant in front of the net and have a very successful NHL career. Expect van Riemsdyk to spend at least one more year in college to try to develop these skills.
Goal— Simeon Varlamov, Tuuka Rask
Forward—Eric Tangradi, Evgeny Grachev
Defense—Jon Blum, Thomas Hickey, Erik Karlsson