Time for an interesting version of the NHL Power Rankings this week.
I could wax rhetoric about Joe Thornton being only the sixth player in NHL history to surpass 1,700 games, or Marc-Andre Fleury becoming the first goaltender to defeat all 32 NHL teams, or even Cale Makar’s near-historic scoring pace for a defenseman. However, there really isn’t much to talk about. Some teams have played very little or not at all since the start of 2022, and the teams that have have mostly trended in the same directions. There didn’t seem to be enough anecdotes to make a compelling assessment on how the NHL was stacking up.
However, the junior leagues and international hockey is still going on, so it got me to thinking. Teams wait for years for the prospects they draft to mature and develop into NHL-caliber players, and each year seems to introduce at least one young player who appears to have such potential. With that in mind, why not make this list about these prospects? For these rankings, in lieu of discussing the week each team had or any significant statistic regarding a player, I’ll discuss a prospect who is worth keeping an eye on as they continue their journey to reach the NHL one day.
So which prospect is worth watching out for on your team and, more importantly, how does the NHL stack up this time?
Disclaimer: these rankings are based on games played and stats recorded since January 9.
1. Florida Panthers (1): In his second professional season, Cole Schwindt has started making an impact. The AHL’s Rookie of the Month in December, Schwindt’s strong season gave the Panthers enough confidence in him to make his NHL debut.
2. Colorado Avalanche (3): It’s worrying to think that Colorado may have another offensive threat in the works, but it feels that way with Oskar Olausson. The Avalanche’s first-round pick in the 2021 Draft, Olausson is scoring at a point-per-game pace in his first season in North America.
3. Carolina Hurricanes (2): The loss of Alex Nedeljkovic this offseason is somewhat offset by the continued development of goaltenders. Eetu Makiniemi, for instance, has been a revelation for the Chicago Wolves in the AHL with an 11-2-1 record, 2.06 GAA, and .922 save percentage.
4. Pittsburgh Penguins (6): The Penguins have one of the more barren farm systems in the NHL, but don’t tell that to prospects like Joel Blomqvist. After being overshadowed by 2020 draft classmate Calle Clang, Blomqvist has recorded an insane 0.93 GAA in 10 games in Finland’s top hockey league.
5. Tampa Bay Lightning (9): Great teams like the Lightning know how to strike in the late rounds of a draft, and they might have found a great value in Jaydon Dureau. A fifth-round pick in 2020, Dureau has translated in success in the WHL to time with the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch, including scoring his first professional goal this season.
6. Nashville Predators (10): After an up-and-down professional debut in the AHL, Luke Evangelista returned to the OHL with resounding success. Scoring at a near goal-per-game pace, Evangelista’s 23 goals already match his total from his last season in the OHL in a third of the games (24 games to reach that mark compared to 2019’s 62).
7. Toronto Maple Leafs (4): It took some time, but it seems that Topi Niemela is progressing towards the NHL. Despite playing for one of Finland’s top teams, Niemela’s 24 points is good for third on his squad as a defenseman.
8. Vegas Golden Knights (5): The Knights have developed a nice reputation at making value choices in their short history, and Jakub Demek is looking like the latest in that group. Vegas’s fourth-round selection in 2021, Demek has burst on the scene with a point-per-game season in his first year in North America.
9. New York Rangers (8): Even if the Rangers trade Alexandar Georgiev, Igor Shesterkin may have a battery mate in the near future in Dylan Garand. A standout for the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers, Garand is putting together a career-best season with a 1.86 GAA and .930 save percentage.
10. Washington Capitals (7): While Hendrix Lapierre draws the headlines in Washington’s farm system, the Capitals may get a boost on their defense soon with Vincent Iorio. A 2021 second-round pick, Iorio is on pace to have a career year for the Brandon Wheat Kings in the WHL.
11. St. Louis Blues (11): With Scott Perunovich locking down a full-time NHL role, Jake Neighbours takes his place as St. Louis’s top prospect. After a solid nine-game stint with the Blues, Neighbours has returned to the WHL and continues to dominate with his physical two-way game.
12. Minnesota Wild (12): First-round goaltenders do carry a bit of risk, but Jesper Wallstedt has done a nice job in repaying Minnesota’s trust. Despite a 9-8 record in the Swedish Hockey League, Wallstedt’s 1.82 GAA and .923 save percentage paint a better picture of how special of a talent he is.
13. Boston Bruins (15): Boston’s 2020 draft class was met with some criticism, but defenseman Mason Lohrei has a done nice job representing it. Playing for Ohio State, Lohrei’s 18 points are good for second amongst all Buckeyes.
14. Anaheim Ducks (14): Olen Zellweger was a fast riser on draft boards last year, and he’s continued to show why. A point-per-game producer on defense in both league and international play last year, Zellweger has been dominant at both ends of the ice this year in the WHL.
15. Dallas Stars (21): The Stars will take any offensive production they can get, so Mavrik Bourque’s development has to be a positive sign for them. Despite injury concerns, Bourque has been impressive in his two seasons as a Stars prospect, including a good stint for the AHL’s Texas Stars.
16. Vancouver Canucks (16): While Jim Benning’s run as Vancouver GM will likely be remembered in infamy, he may have given the Canucks a diamond in the rough in Aidan McDonough. A seventh-round pick in 2019, McDonough has been a star for Northeastern University the past three seasons, including a point-per-game season this year.
17. Calgary Flames (13): If the title picture wasn’t a dead giveaway, I am and have always been a Dustin Wolf truther. After a rough first season in the AHL, Wolf has put together a dominant sophomore campaign with a 16-1-2 record, 1.92 GAA, and .936 save percentage.
18. Los Angeles Kings (18): While the Kings have the best farm system in the NHL, their best player so far has been Toronto transplant Sean Durzi. One of the pieces in the Jake Muzzin trade, Durzi has split time between the NHL and AHL this season and has looked good in both.
19. Winnipeg Jets (17): When a young player like Dmitri Rashevsky does well in the KHL, that’s enough of a signal to take notice. A fifth-round pick in 2021, Rashevsky’s first full season in the KHL has him third on his team in goals (19) and points (35).
20. San Jose Sharks (22): Getting progress out of mid-round picks like Brandon Coe will certainly help the Sharks accelerate their current rebuild. A fourth-round pick in 2020, Coe is one point away from matching his previous OHL total of 57 in just over half of the games.
21. Edmonton Oilers (19): Not even the most optimistic of Edmonton fans could have seen Matvei Petrov’s rise coming. A sixth-round pick in 2021, Petrov’s first season in North America has him second behind the aforementioned Brandon Coe in scoring for the OHL’s North Bay Battalion.
22. Detroit Red Wings (23): Another team that took the plunge on a first-round goaltender, the Red Wings are hoping Sebastian Cossa can be the next great Detroit netminder. While he isn’t having the same success as last year’s incredible run, Cossa has continued to be a steady presence in net for the WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings.
23. Columbus Blue Jackets (24): While Columbus is rebuilding its pool of high-end talent, they have one of the more underrated prospects in hockey in Trey Fix-Wolansky. After a lost season last year due to injury, Fix-Wolansky has picked up right where he left off and has put together great numbers for the AHL’s Cleveland Monsters.
24. Philadelphia Flyers (20): Connor McClennon was one of my favorite picks in the 2020 Draft, and he’s continued to show why. A sixth-round pick by the Flyers, McClennon leads the WHL’s Winnipeg Ice in goals with 25.
25. Chicago Blackhawks (25): Germany has become a hotbed for top hockey talent in recent years, and Lukas Reichel is hoping to make his mark in the NHL soon. Chicago’s first-round pick in 2020, Reichel is currently leading the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs in goals (10) and points (20) in his debut season in North America.
26. New Jersey Devils (26): Aside from having one of the best names in hockey, Akira Schmid is starting to come around as a solid young goaltender. While his stint in New Jersey showed a clear need for improvement, he earned that stint by going 8-0-2 with the AHL’s Utica Comets to go with a 1.60 GAA and .944 save percentage.
27. New York Islanders (27): While the Islanders’ farm system is devoid of a true top talent, William Dufour is doing his best to get himself noticed. A fifth-round pick in 2020, Dufour has already put together career-best numbers in the QMJHL with 22 goals and 47 points.
28. Ottawa Senators (28): The Senators have built a solid pipeline with the University of North Dakota, with Jake Sanderson looking like the crown jewel. The fifth overall pick in 2020, Sanderson’s 22 points are tied for the team lead for the Fighting Hawks.
29. Seattle Kraken (29): Being the NHL’s newest franchise means not having much to choose from for this topic, but the Kraken may have found something with Ryker Evans. A surprising second-round pick due to his age, Evans is currently on pace to have a career year in the WHL.
30. Buffalo Sabres (30): Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen is emerging as Buffalo’s top netminder, and Devon Levi is hoping to make his own impact in the Sabres’ system. Coming over in the Sam Reinhart trade from Florida, Levi has been lights out for Northeastern University with a 15-4-1 record, 1.19 GAA, and .958 save percentage.
31. Arizona Coyotes (31): The lost season for the Coyotes could give younger players like Matias Maccelli a chance to prove their worth at the NHL level. A fourth-round pick in 2019, Maccelli has put up a point per game in the AHL after a successful stint in Finland.
32. Montreal Canadiens (32): Marc Bergevin’s final draft will forever be remembered for the controversial first-round pick of Logan Mailloux, so he’ll have to produce at a high level. In Mailloux’s first two games back in the OHL, he already has two goals and four points.