There's no denying that the NHL is becoming a younger, faster league and there is no denying that the product on the ice is better for it.
This renowned emphasis on youth, skill and speed was long overdue, especially considering we’re only a few years removed from 2015-16, a season in which the average NHL team scored 2.71 goals per game — the lowest total since the Dead Puck Era of 2003-04. The good news is that offense is trending upwards; the league-wide 3.01 goals-per-game average from this past season not only was the highest since power-play happy 2005-06 but was just the second season since 1996 that teams averaged three or more tallies a contest.
The league’s youth movement is heavily involved in this spike in production. Last season, six of the NHL’s top 15 scorers were 23 years old or younger — the most since 1992-93. Additionally, there were 14 players between 18 and 20 who hit the 30-point plateau, more than double the number from the 2006-07 season (six) in which teams averaged 2.95 goals a game.
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Which brings us to this current batch of relatively-unproven NHL prospects who look primed to continue the aforementioned trends. Below you’ll find a detailed ranking of the league’s top prospects who not only have been drafted but still maintain their Calder Trophy eligibility by having played in 25 NHL games or less entering the upcoming season.
To determine these rankings, three factors were considered.
1) Star potential.
2) Where their pre-draft ranking by Sporting News was in their draft year versus how they’ve performed since.
3) How the prospect has played against adult competition (if applicable) in either the NHL, AHL or Europe.
Where the player was drafted has absolutely no bearing on how they were assessed. The Detroit Red Wings drafting Moritz Seider sixth overall in 2019 doesn’t mean he’s automatically one of the elite prospects in all of hockey. As we’ve seen with Sam Bennett (fourth overall in 2014), Pavel Zacha (sixth overall in 2015) and Jesse Puljujarvi (fourth overall in 2016), how high a player went in the draft isn’t always the best way to measure their upside. Injuries, specifically those of the severe variety, also played a factor, which is why the likes of defenseman Conor Timmins (Colorado) and Peyton Krebs (Vegas) missed the cut.
Top 50 NHL prospects for 2019-20
1. Jack Hughes, C, New Jersey Devils
2019 draft: First round, first overall
The most dynamic forward to go first overall since Connor McDavid in 2015, Hughes couples electrifying skill with an intense compete level that prevents him from being a non-factor for multiple shifts, let alone an entire game. He has triple-digit point potential and the Devils would be best served to let this fast learner play his patented unbridled style that expands the ice for his linemates.
He’ll be in a dog fight for the Calder Trophy, but considering the way he shattered the U.S. NTDP’s all-time scoring mark, it’s an easy bet that Hughes is the preseason favorite to be the NHL’s top rookie in 2019-20.
2. Kaapo Kakko, RW, New York Rangers
2019 draft: First round, second overall
Kakko is the most heralded draft prospect in New York Rangers history, but the Blueshirts’ busy offseason means he’ll have to share the puck (and spotlight) with similarly skilled wingers like 2018 first-round pick Vitali Kravtsov and marquee free-agent signee Artemi Panarin. The good news is that a power winger like Kakko is as low maintenance as they come, and his ability to wear down defenseman already is at an elite level.
We all know the kid can bury the puck better than any NHL prospect but don’t surprised if he starts showcasing an underrated passing game that should help him keep pace with Hughes in the rookie scoring race.
3. Cale Makar, D, Colorado Avalanche
2017 draft: First round, fourth overall
The reigning Hobey Baker winner played like a mature veteran when the Avalanche thrust him into the playoff pressure cooker once his collegiate career ended late last season. Blessed with exceptional speed and a howitzer for a shot, Makar shouldn’t have a problem filling in for traded power-play quarterback Tyson Barrie.
He’ll be surrounded by a lot of firepower, specifically the NHL’s top trio of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog, so hitting the 40-point mark as a rookie defenseman shouldn’t be out of the question.
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4. Filip Zadina, LW, Detroit Red Wings
2018 draft: First round, sixth overall
You know you’re an elite prospect when you’re considered a draft-day steal at sixth overall, but such was the case in 2018 when this 200-foot sniper fell into Detroit’s lap. Sure, his nondescript AHL numbers (35 points in 59 games) and lackluster performance at the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship left critics wanting more; however, his puck skills, work ethic and dynamism give the Red Wings a good reason to think he’ll contend for the vacated top-six slot on the wing left by Gustav Nyqvist’s departure.
5. Cody Glass, C, Vegas Golden Knights
2017 draft: First round, sixth overall
A scary injury to his left knee that halved his season should be of little concern to the Golden Knights, as Glass appears ready to bring his elite passing acumen and two-way play to the NHL stage this coming season. Of course, Vegas is considered a contender for the Stanley Cup, so his role may be limited. Nonetheless, Glass has the skill and wherewithal to have an impact similar to that of fellow 2017 first-rounder Robert Thomas, who was key for the St. Louis Blues during their recent title run.
6. Bowen Byram, D, Colorado Avalanche
2019 draft: First round, fourth overall
The top defenseman from the 2019 draft, Byram is the gift Colorado received from Ottawa via the Matt Duchene trade. He’s an exceptional puck mover with minute-eating prowess, plus his blistering slapper is as intimidating as Makar’s. Byram also plays physical and can be matched up against opposing top lines.
He has little left to prove in the WHL, where he became the first defenseman in league history to lead the playoffs in scoring, so Byram suiting up for the Av’s is more realistic than a return to his junior team in Vancouver.
7. Kirill Kaprizov, LW, Minnesota Wild
2015 draft: Fifth round, 135th overall
The light at the end of the tunnel is nearing for the Wild, as this uber-talented winger is under the final year of his KHL contract and could make his much-anticipated NHL debut as early as 2020-21. Kaprizov has done nothing but improve since he was drafted in the fifth round in 2015, and last year he became the first player in KHL history to record a 30-goal season before his 22nd birthday. Although Minnesota is about to name their third general manager in two years, all signs point towards Kaprizov playing for the franchise that drafted him.
8. Trevor Zegras, C, Anaheim Ducks
2019 draft: First round, ninth overall
The best pure playmaker among all NHL prospects not named Jack Hughes, Zegras also possesses a deadly shot and soft hands, making him an option to play the wing as well. The surgical manner in which he controls the puck through traffic and enters the zone is a sight to behold; there aren’t many teenagers who can bring you out of your seat the way this Boston University recruit can.
Zegras needs to tighten up on his discipline off the puck, but it’s a shortcoming you can stomach when dealing with a sublime offensive force.
9. Spencer Knight, G, Florida Panthers
2019 draft: First round, 13th overall
The best goalie prospect to come along since Montreal's Carey Price continues to provide onlookers with near-impeccable technical know-how and execution. The manner in which Knight tends goal is stunningly robotic, almost as if he was engineered in a secret laboratory — and that is meant as a compliment.
In all seriousness, this kid is a fantastic goalie, not only for his poise but also for his strict adherence to the modern-day goaltending doctrine. In fact, Knight is so far ahead of his peers that he could become an NHLer before he turns 20, which is crazy to think considering the league’s current state of goalie development.
10. Adam Boqvist, D, Chicago Blackhawks
2018 draft: First round, eighth overall
A dominant rookie OHL season, in which he led the London Knights with 40 assists and tied for second in the league among defensemen with 20 goals, Boqvist is the most promising rearguard in Chicago’s deep collection of defense prospects. Not only can Boqvist skate and hammer the puck with authority, but with London he showcased vision and playmaking skills after being assessed as more of a shoot-first option.
Sweden will have a loaded blue line for the 2020 WJC, with Boqvist the odds-on favorite to be the No. 1 power-play quarterback.
11. Vitali Kravtsov, RW, New York Rangers
2018 draft: First round, ninth overall
A dual-threat winger who has proven his ability to carve up defenses with his passing as often as he does with his superior finishing skills, Kravtsov will make his NHL debut after two consecutive KHL seasons in which he was one of Traktor Chelyabinsk’s top threats — a rarity for teenagers in Russia’s top league. He's blessed with size (6-4), multi-directional agility and an ever-changing release point on his shot that keeps goalies guessing. Kravtsov also has a great attitude both on and off the ice.
If their individual play against adult-age competition is any indication, a Kravtsov-Kakko duo should make mincemeat out of opposing defenders.
12. Quinn Hughes, D, Vancouver Canucks
2018 draft: First round, seventh overall
Much like younger brother Jack, Quinn is a phenomenal skater and playmaker — albeit from the blueline rather than center ice. He was a Hobey Baker finalist for Michigan before ending his college career early so he could appear in a handful of games late last season for the Canucks. At a minimum, Hughes will be starting the season in Vancouver and should be given every opportunity to quarterback a power play that already features 2019 Calder Trophy winner Elias Pettersson and sniper Brock Boeser.
13. Kirby Dach, C, Chicago Blackhawks
2019 draft: First round, third overall
A big-bodied playmaker who was one of Team Canada’s top players at the World Junior Summer Showcase, Dach already looks like he will work hard to live up to expectations. Concerns over his skating seem to be a thing of the past, as he looks quicker both laterally and in open ice. He likely will be one of Canada’s go-to forwards at the world juniors in December, and his ability to play wing gives Chicago the flexibility to slot him anywhere in the lineup.
14. Adam Fox, D, New York Rangers
2016 draft: Third round, 66th overall
One of the most prolific playmakers among defensemen in NCAA history, Fox (95 assists in 97 career games for Harvard) joins his third NHL organization in about a year; only the Rangers were the first to get him to sign a professional contract. Some think the pre-draft trade with Carolina, that brought Fox to Broadway, paved the way for veteran Kevin Shattenkirk to be bought out as Fox is a right shot who is one of the top power-play orchestrators among all NHL prospects.
15. Vasily Podkolzin, RW, Vancouver Canucks
2019 draft: First round, 10th overall
“Russian Factor” or not, Vancouver made the proper decision by taking a top-10 talent within the first 10 picks of the 2019 draft. Podkolzin’s intensity, abrasiveness and domination of the puck are his most talked-about attributes; however, his game-breaking abilities are not to be slept on. Several nagging injuries and a grueling pre-draft schedule that covered seven international tournaments and all three Russian leagues combined led to a dip in late-season production, but he remains an absolute menace to compete against — with star potential to boot.
16. Alex Turcotte, C, Los Angeles Kings
2019 draft: First round, fifth overall
A turbocharged 200-foot center who plays with physicality and acute attention to detail, Turcotte is exactly the type of pivot the Kings can lean on to help them return to Western Conference dominance. Of course, it may take some time to happen, but otherwise, it’s scary to think about what this Wisconsin-bound force will do in college next year with sniper Cole Caufield as a potential linemate. Remember, this is a kid, who with the NTDP, averaged well over a point per game against elite NCAA competition last year and is now the leading candidate to center Team USA’s top line at the world juniors.
17. Joe Veleno, C, Detroit Red Wings
2018 draft: First round, 30th overall
This lightning-quick playmaker spoon-fed his detractors a steady diet of humble pie during a season in which he torched the QMJHL for a league-best 1.76 points-per-game average to become the likely candidate to center Canada’s top line at the 2020 WJC. But Veleno is more than just a set-up man with speed; his work ethic on and off the ice has helped him become one of the NHL’s best two-way forward prospects. He’ll probably start the season in the AHL, but it shouldn’t take long for him to become an impact player for the Red Wings.
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18. Martin Necas, C/W, Carolina Hurricanes
2017 draft: First round, 12th overall
A natural center who produced an impressive rookie season as a winger with Carolina’s AHL affiliate in Charlotte, Necas is a roadrunner with excellent vision who is one of the better neophytes at executing plays off the rush. The Canes are deep and coming off a successful season that nearly ended in a Stanley Cup berth, so Necas has his work cut out for him if he thinks a top-six role is a possibility.
Nonetheless, he put up 52 points in 64 games as an AHL rookie and looked impressive during his seven NHL game stint early last season. Pairing him with budding star Andrei Svechnikov is a course of action that many Canes fans are clamoring for.
19. Rasmus Sandin, D, Toronto Maple Leafs
2018 draft: First round, 29th overall
Easily the most under-valued defenseman from the vaunted class of elite blueline prospects in the 2018 draft, Sandin was the AHL’s top rookie defenseman in 2018-19, recording 28 points in only 44 games and adding 10 more in 13 postseason contests. Not only has he leapfrogged 2017 first-rounder Tim Liljegren on Toronto’s depth chart, but his cheaper entry-level deal could make him an ideal option for the big club’s top six at some point this season. He’s an excellent passer, and his defensive-zone positioning and one-on-one play are already at a mature level.
20. Joel Farabee, LW, Philadelphia Flyers
2018 draft: First round, 14th overall
A complete 200-foot forward who last year was third in the nation in freshman scoring (36 points in 38 games), Farabee more than validated our top-20 ranking from a year ago, and his time at Boston University appears to be short. Drafted 14th overall in 2018, the Syracuse, NY native will be a pivotal piece for Team USA’s attempt to reclaim gold at the world juniors. Farabee already has an extensive portfolio of highlight-reel goals, but his efforts on his side of the red line is what helps separate him from most of his prospect peers.
21. Erik Brannstrom, D, Ottawa Senators
2017 Draft: Round 1, 15th Overall
You just knew that any team willing to acquire fan-favorite Mark Stone from Ottawa would have to pony up, which is exactly what Vegas did when they moved this dominant puck mover to the Senators at the trade deadline. Strong on the puck and incredibly decisive, Brannstrom, who was selected 15th overall in 2017, already has served as Sweden’s team captain at the U18 and U20 level, and his on-ice leadership is a driving force behind his ability to dictate the pace of a game. His 32 points in 50 AHL games were among the best in recent years by a teenage defender.
22. Noah Dobson, D, New York Islanders
2018 draft: First round, 12th overall
Islanders’ GM Lou Lamoriello and staff hit a home run at the 2018 draft by nabbing Dobson outside of the top 10. The three-zone puck-mover has rewarded them with an outstanding wire-to-wire campaign that culminated with his second straight Memorial Cup win for the QMJHL. Although he didn’t increase his regular-season production from his draft year, Dobson was money in the playoffs, notching 29 points in 20 games.
23. Matthew Boldy, LW, Minnesota Wild
2019 draft: First round, 12th overall
An exceptional 200-foot winger who can tailor his style to play a finesse game, Boldy already possesses a high hockey IQ and sturdy frame that could help him reach the NHL sooner than later. He’s committed to Boston College in his home state of Massachusetts, and he’ll be battling with over a dozen of his former U.S. NTDP teammates for freshman year bragging rights.
Always paying attention to his defensive-zone responsibilities in addition to dangling opposing blueliners, Boldy was one of the more impressive forwards for Team USA at the World Junior Summer Showcase and continues to look like a steal at 12th overall.
24. Grigori Denisenko, RW, Florida Panthers
2018 draft: First round, 15th overall
One of the top finishers among all NHL prospects, Denisenko produced an impressive stint as a teenager for the KHL’s Lokomotiv in addition to leading Russia in scoring at the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship. Few prospects can rival his ability to dominate the puck in both open ice or close quarters, and he seems to record a high completion percentage of passes through traffic.
Denisenko’s two-year contract with Lokomotiv expires at the end of this season, thus increasing the likelihood that he joins the Panthers for the start of 2020-21. In the meantime, he's a lock to be one of the top players for Russia at all the key under-20 events, with the opportunity to play on the men’s national team as well.
25. Ilya Sorokin, G, New York Islanders
2014 draft: Third round, 78th overall
The MVP of the KHL’s Gagarin Cup Playoffs, Sorokin still has another year on his contract with CSKA before he makes his highly-anticipated NHL debut, potentially at the tail end of the upcoming season. Posting sparkling regular season and postseason save percentages of .940 and .947, respectively — and a career playoff record of 46-17 — shows he’s capable of playing and succeeding under pressure. Granted, the CSKA program is a perennial powerhouse, but Sorokin obviously is a big reason why.
The Islanders may have missed out on prized free agent Sergei Bobrovsky this offseason, but Sorokin has the potential to be just as good, and at a fraction of the cost.
26. Ty Smith, D, New Jersey Devils
2018 draft: First round, 17th overall
For all the attention the Devils has received from a busy offseason that saw them land Hughes, P.K. Subban and Nikita Gusev in the span of about a month, not enough has been given to this phenomenal puck distributor, who should have earned an NHL job out of training camp a year ago. This past season, Smith tied for the WHL lead among defensemen with 62 assists in 57 games. Subban likely will run New Jersey’s power play this season, but it shouldn’t be long until Smith becomes the Devils’ top-pairing minute eater.
27. Morgan Frost, C, Philadelphia Flyers
2017 draft: First round, 27th overall
The top center prospect in Philadelphia’s deep pool, Frost produced consecutive 100-point seasons for the OHL’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds and served as the top scorer for Team Canada at last year’s world juniors. He didn’t get much of a look at training camp a season ago but with his major junior career unofficially over, Frost is versatile enough to challenge for a spot at either center or wing for the parent club. A highly-intelligent playmaker, crafty goal scorer and power-play specialist, Philadelphia’s logjam at forward likely means he’ll spend most of 2019-20 in the AHL.
28. K’Andre Miller, D, New York Rangers
2018 draft: First round, 22nd overall
One of the top freshman defensemen in college hockey, Miller exploded onto the scene by registering 22 points in 26 games for Wisconsin and earning a spot on Team USA’s world junior squad after being drafted. This season, the Minnesota native will be expected to be top-pairing defenseman for the Badgers and the Americans for at the WJC in December. The rapid development of this mammoth puck rusher and shutdown defender should have the Rangers salivating at the chance to get Miller suited up for what looks to be a lengthy career on Broadway.
29. Barrett Hayton, C, Arizona Coyotes
2018 draft: First round, fifth overall
The Coyotes may have turned some heads when they took this flashy two-way center fifth overall in 2019; however, Hayton validated the pick by placing third in the OHL in points-per-game average (1.67) and shorthanded goals (five) and winning over 55% of his draws. He missed a chunk of time from a preseason concussion and a mid-season charley horse, but there’s a good chance he sneaks onto Arizona’s revamped roster to open the 2019-20 campaign.
30. Rasmus Kupari, C, Los Angeles Kings
2018 draft: First round, 20th overall
Kupari was one of the top teenage talents in Finland’s elite SM-Liiga, where he recorded 33 points in 43 games while playing mostly with Florida prospect Aleksi Heponiemi. A fantastic skater with a deadly shot, he is steadily growing into his 6-1 frame in preparation for the transition to North America. By potentially adding Turcotte and Kupari, it gives the Kings one of the league’s premier 1-2 punches in terms of center prospects — although it looks like neither will be expected to make the team out of training camp.
A full year in the AHL, and being Finland’s No. 1 center at world juniors, are two things to expect out of his upcoming season.
31. Cole Caufield, RW, Montreal Canadiens
2019 draft: First round, 15th overall
The top goal-scoring prospect from the 2019 draft (72 goals in 64 games for the U.S. NTDP), Caufield inexplicably fell to 15th overall where the Canadiens swooped in and grabbed him. His hands, shot release and shot accuracy already are at an elite level — and although he’s committed to Wisconsin — his intent is to make the Habs out of training camp.
Keep in mind that last season Montreal operated its worst power play (13.3%) in franchise history and few prospects make opponents pay for their transgressions as frequently as this sharpshooting winger.
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) August 3, 2019
32. Aleksi Heponiemi, C/W, Florida Panthers
2017 draft: Second round, 41st overall
Although the term “microwave” usually is reserved for bench players in basketball, this Finnish playmaker already has a reputation for providing his coaches at various levels with instant offense. Everywhere Heponiemi goes he scores, including his recent stint in Karpat alongside fellow top prospect Kupari. This isn’t a blanket generalization — since 2016-17, Heponiemi has either tied or led in assists on every team he’s played on, including six helpers in seven games for Finland’s 2019 gold-medal winning WJC squad.
33. Drake Batherson, W/C, Ottawa Senators
2017 draft: Fourth round, 121st overall
This late-round gem not only proved to be too good for the AHL in his rookie season but also produced nine points in 20 games for Ottawa. It certainly helped that the Senators were in full rebuild mode last season as he averaged nearly 15 minutes a match in half of his games. That doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s guaranteed to be among the best of Ottawa’s insanely competitive prospects corps, but having that experience heading into camp is an advantage few of his peers will have.
34. Pavel Dorofeyev, LW, Vegas Golden Knights
2019 draft: Third round, 79th overall
One of the biggest draft-day surprises in 2019 was that this cerebral scoring winger was allowed to slip all the way to the late third round. Dorofeyev is a possession driver who makes smart decisions with or without the puck, and the decision to select him may have been made to soften the blow of the eventual loss of Nikita Gusev. Dorofeyev has one more year on his KHL deal with Metallurg Magnitogorsk, with whom he appeared in 27 games a season ago.
35. Igor Shestyorkin, G, New York Rangers
2014 draft: Fourth round, 118th overall
The separation between Shestyorkin and fellow Russian Sorokin is razor-thin, as both have enjoyed significant levels of success as starting goalies for elite KHL franchises. In Shestyorkin, the Rangers believe they have a potential replacement for aging star Henrik Lundqvist, although his first season in North America will likely be spent in the AHL with Hartford. He split SKA’s netminding duties but still qualified to lead the KHL with a stellar 1.11 goals-against average and ridiculous .953 save percentage last season.
36. Nick Suzuki, C, Montreal Canadiens
2017 draft: First round, 13th overall
The key piece in the Max Pacioretty trade with Vegas, Suzuki split what should be his final OHL season between Owen Sound and Guelph, combining for 94 points in 54 games. It was in the OHL playoffs and Memorial Cup, however, where this slick center did his real damage — scorching the opposition to a tune of 48 points in 28 contests. He was unstoppable during Guelph’s series comeback from 3-0 down against London, playing like a young man possessed in all three zones.
His incredible hockey sense and vision will certainly come in handy to try and improve Montreal’s aforementioned power-play woes.
37. Dylan Cozens, C/W, Buffalo Sabres
2019 draft: First round, seventh overall
The Sabres like versatility in their forwards, so it came as no surprise when they drafted a speedy, multi-purpose forward like Cozens. He has a great attitude and can score goals, and the Sabres are hoping his physicality, compete level and work ethic will eventually rub off on some of his underachieving teammates. Far from a puck hog, Cozens is willing to pay any price to enhance a possession for his linemates.
38. Jake Bean, D, Carolina Hurricanes
2016 draft: First round, 13th overall
A one-man breakout and pure power-play quarterback, Bean finished second among AHL rookie defensemen with 44 points and 165 shots while proving to be critical in Charlotte’s AHL title win. He’ll have a tough time cracking the top-four role in Carolina, but the competition for a spot on the bottom pairing appears to be open following the trade of Calvin De Haan and Trevor van Riemsdyk’s recovery from a serious shoulder injury.
39. Ryan Poehling, C, Montreal Canadiens
2017 draft: First round, 25th overall
This two-way center became only the sixth rookie in NHL history to notch a hat trick in his debut, which probably took the sting away from the consecutive first-round losses his St. Cloud State Huskies suffered at the NCAA tournament. Nonetheless, Poehling was one of college hockey’s top centers and was named to WJC’s all-tournament team after helping lead Team USA to a silver medal.
40. Alexandre Texier, C, Columbus Blue Jackets
2017 draft: Second round, 47th overall
For all the moves made by the Jackets at the trade deadline to acquire hired guns for prospects, the quality of recent drafts has kept the prospect pool relatively stable. The Frenchman Texier seems to be the headliner of the remaining group, and his impressive late-season performance with Columbus — including eight playoff games — made it obvious how highly he is regarded within the organization. Texier’s speed and shot release keep opposing defensemen and goalies honest.
41. Carl Grundstrom, LW, Los Angeles Kings
2016 draft: Second round, 57th overall
A tough-as-nails winger who can impact the game with his physicality and two-way play in addition to burying the puck, Grundstrom was the key prospect the Kings acquired in the Jake Muzzin trade with Toronto at the deadline. He may not be as flashy as most of the players on this list, but his hard-nosed style and responsible play in his own end were revealed in a successful NHL stint in which he scored five goals in 15 games.
The Kings remain a veteran-laden group with a deep collection of talented forward prospects; however, the organization loves heavy hitters like Grundstrom, who has a leg up on the rest of the neophytes in the organization.
42. Evan Bouchard, D, Edmonton Oilers
2018 draft: First round, 10th overall
An impressive, yet small sample size of two-way play for Bakersfield in the AHL postseason (eight points in eight games) came on the heels of a shocking seven-game loss in the OHL playoffs in which Bouchard’s London Knights blew a 3-0 series lead to Guelph. In both series, Bouchard held his ground and utilized his elite puck-pushing and distributing skills to create offense. The Oilers are in desperate need of a playmaker from the back end and few prospects can do it better than their 2018 first rounder.
43. Emil Bemstrom, RW, Columbus Blue Jackets
2017 draft: Fourth round, 117th overall
That sound you heard coming out of Columbus on February 26? That probably was a collective exhale from Jackets fans after realizing this Swedish sniper was not moved at the trade deadline. Bemstrom beats goalies in an assortment of ways, beginning with an elite shot-release combination that he likes to use from the circle. His goal-scoring proclivity has been consistent across the board — both in league and international play — so it came as no surprise when Columbus signed him to an entry-level deal in May.
44. Tyler Benson, LW, Edmonton Oilers
2016 draft: Second round, 32nd overall
A series of injuries during his 2016 draft year may have been the driving force behind this rugged playmaker’s drop outside the first round; however, Benson put those concerns to bed by leading Edmonton’s AHL affiliate in games played (68), assists (51) and points (66) last season. His improved health and quickness should vault him to the top of the Oilers’ forward prospect ranks, and the eventual trade of Jesse Puljujarvi makes Benson’s NHL debut all the more likely.
45. Jordan Kyrou, RW, St. Louis Blues
2016 draft: Second round, 35th overall
An explosive skater from the starting line whose acceleration in open ice humbles the most agile of defenders, Kyrou has cleaned up his game to limit his turnovers and utilize his speed to create space for his linemates. He made the Blues out of training camp last year, but all 16 of his appearances happened before the team decided to wake up and play like the Stanley Cup champions they became.
It appears as if St. Louis will keep the significant majority of its roster intact for a title defense, thus keeping Kyrou down on the farm where last year he scored 43 points in 47 games for San Antonio.
46. Elvis Merzlikins, G, Columbus Blue Jackets
2014 draft: Third round, 76th overall
The impact from losing former Vezina winner Bobrovsky to free agency won’t be determined for some time, but you have to think one of the Jackets’ contingencies was to entrust the 25-year-old Merzlikins with an expanded role — even if he’s a rookie by NHL standards. A native of Latvia, Merzlikins has been one of the better goalies in Switzerland’s National League, where he was top five in save percentage in each of the last two seasons.
He’s big, quick and incredibly locked in towards shooters, but Merzlikins also has a mean streak and will make opponents pay for trying to occupy the low slot.
47. Sam Steel, C, Anaheim Ducks
2016 draft: First round, 30th overall
It felt like there were times last season when the Ducks had more NHL experience down at the AHL level than what was being trotted out in Anaheim; such is the case when you play anywhere from five to seven rookie a night in the middle of the season. Steel is one of the most talented of this deep group of youngsters, and his power-play proficiency and vision will be required to boost an offense chock full of two-way types and bruisers.
48. Eeli Tolvanen, RW, Nashville Predators
2017 draft: First round, 30th overall
The “wow” factor that surrounded this hard-shooting winger prior to last season is starting to dissipate after an inconsistent rookie AHL campaign. Maybe his astronomical KHL season in 2017-18 set the bar too high, but for now, Tolvanen has things to prove before he can be mentioned again as a premier NHL prospect — specifically his shot accuracy and finishing abilities near the net, two things that came easy for him at previous levels.
Tolvanen seemed to be turning the corner with a strong close to his regular season, only to completely vanish in the Calder Cup playoffs. Still, the kid can always be counted on to get his scoring chances and make goalies earn they pay.
49. Josh Brook, D, Montreal Canadiens
2017 draft: Second round, 56th overall
The WHL’s top-scoring defenseman during the regular season (75 points in 59 games) exploded onto the prospect scene with his most productive season in major junior by a country mile. Brook is strong, mobile and positionally sound in his own end, but the improvements he made while possessing the puck is what vaulted him past several notable prospects.
Is it the case of a fourth-year CHLer taking advantage of his experience, or is Brook a late bloomer whose impressive numbers are indicative of his potential at the highest level? Considering his puck poise and decision making, it would be smart to lean towards the latter.
50. Jesper Boqvist, C, New Jersey Devils
2017 draft: Second round, 36th overall
The draft-year knock on Boqvist being a perimeter player appears to be a thing of the past, as he’s not only improved his quickness and agility but also takes direct routes to the net. He’s been one of the top junior-age players in Sweden’s SHL, where he recorded 35 points in 51 games last year. Boqvist’s ability to create and complete plays at top speed is what sets him apart from most of his counterparts.