NHL Power Rankings: Prospects of interest edition

University of Michigan's Kent Johnson, from left, Owen Power and Matty Beniers watch during an NCAA college hockey practice in Ann Arbor, Mich., Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021. (AP/file)

Prospects, prospects, prospects.

This time of year, young players take on extra focus, whether as trade bait for contending teams looking to make a notable addition, or as late call ups — or general forward optimism — for those languishing near the bottom of the standings.

Today’s Power Rankings look at a prospect of interest for each team. Some of these will be the top prospects in the system, while others could be in line for a call-up, are having a year to get excited about or could be moved by March 21.

The order of the teams is based on how they are playing on a season-long pace, with some weight to recent results.

[snippet id=5216510]

1. Colorado Avalanche: Justin Barron

The 25th overall pick in 2020, Barron had a blood clot impact his draft season and lead to questions about his long-term potential. In his first full season with the AHL’s Eagles, Barron has 16 points in 31 games and has good size for the next level. With the Avs so loaded with young defencemen on their NHL roster, Barron’s name has popped up in trade rumours, so don’t be surprised if he’s included in a deal by March 21.

2. Florida Panthers: Spencer Knight

You just never know with goalies. After a brief, but bright, showing in a few starts for the Panthers last season, Knight struggled to find his footing with an .898 save percentage this season and a move to the AHL. He’s been pretty good there, with a 4-1 record and .923 save rate, but the supposed “goalie of the future” for Florida with the rock-solid resume is now popping up in trade rumours.

3. Tampa Bay Lightning: Jack Finley

There is a Winnipeg ICE-Edmonton Oil Kings rivalry building up this year, and they are the favourites to come out of the WHL. A few Oil Kings are within these Power Rankings, but Finley is the lone ICE member. A second-round pick in 2020, Finley was acquired from Spokane and has been a point-per-game player in Winnipeg. He’s a big, at 6-foot-6, 223 pounds, and will likely take some development years before his NHL outlook comes into focus. The good news is the Lightning can afford to wait. It will be interesting to see the impact Finley has on Winnipeg’s playoff run.

4. Calgary Flames: Dustin Wolf

Wolf leads the AHL in wins, is second in save percentage and third in GAA as a 20-year-old rookie in the league. That the Flames didn’t have to move him in a trade for the scoring winger they were after is a big win. Wolf has consistently put up strong numbers at every level, starting from the moment he took over for Carter Hart in WHL Everett, and is now continuing in the pro ranks.

5. Toronto Maple Leafs: Topi Niemela

Back in December, Luke Fox outlined why Niemela should be a prospect for Leafs fans to get excited about. A third-round pick in 2020, Niemela has a good defensive game and excellent passing instincts — he has 21 assists in 40 games with Karpat in Finland’s Liiga as a 19-year-old, which is second in the league at his position. With cap crunch a yearly reality in Toronto, Niemela’s ELC could bring great value to the team before long.

6. Pittsburgh Penguins: Valtteri Puustinen

In his age 20- and 21-year-old seasons, Puustinen was the second-highest scorer on HPK in Finland’s Liiga and is currently the leading scorer in AHL Wilkes-Barre, with 15 goals and 30 points in 44 games. The Penguins always seem to have a no-name player come out of nowhere, hit the NHL lineup, and provide a notable level of support. Could Puustinen be that player, either this season or next? He’s on a nice trajectory for a seventh-round pick in 2019.

7. Carolina Hurricanes: Ryan Suzuki

Nick’s younger brother, Ryan — the 28th-overall pick in 2019 — has had injury troubles and been limited to only 12 games this season. He’s played seven games in 2022 and has two goals to show for it. Suzuki is a creator and great skater, but does the 20-year-old have top-six NHL upside?

8. Minnesota Wild: Marco Rossi

It’s only a matter of time before Rossi is back with the Wild. Minnesota GM Bill Guerin can maybe play this deadline patient because there are depth scorers already being added to his team. The Matthew Boldy call-up has been a smashing success because he’s been a point-per-game player through 14 and Rossi, the Iowa Wild’s scoring leader, is on deck.

9. New York Rangers: Braden Schneider

Injuries bumped both Schneider and Zac Jones into the New York lineup, and on the same pair. Schneider is the younger of the two, at 20, and the 19th-overall pick in 2020 draft, and has shown well with four points in 11 NHL games. He could be another solid young piece for the Rangers to move forward with or he could become a trade candidate as a coveted player on the market, if the Rangers engage in the buyer’s market.

10. St. Louis Blues: Jake Neighbours

The 26th-overall pick in 2020, Neighbours is an offensive force on the WHL’s Oil Kings, with 39 points in 24 games — if not for an NHL call-up and a WJC assignment, he could have been their highest scorer. Neighbours is on a 12-game scoring streak, during which time he’s posted 21 points. If he’s not part of a trade at the deadline, Neighbours could be a factor in St. Louis’ lineup as soon as next season.

[snippet id=3816507]

11. Vegas Golden Knights: Brendan Brisson

The 29th-overall pick in 2020, Brisson was one of the few Michigan Wolverines to go to the Olympics, picking up a couple of goals for the Americans. Vegas’ prospect pool doesn’t run deep, both because they’re still a relatively new team and because they’ve aggressively traded for the here and now, but he is their top prospect and about to embark on an important playoff run in the NCAA.

12. Edmonton Oilers: Dylan Holloway

The 14th-overall pick in 2020, Holloway is part of an intriguing collection of young Oilers who are staring to get lineup looks — from Evan Bouchard to Philip Broberg and, the latest, Markus Niemelainen. A wrist injury delayed Holloway’s pro debut until January, but he’s got five points in 11 AHL games, though is scoreless in his past six. When he starts scoring again, he’ll put himself in the running for a call-up and will bring speed and tenacity to the Oilers.

13. Dallas Stars: Wyatt Johnston

Tied for second in OHL scoring with 76 points in 40 games, the 23rd-overall pick of the 2021 draft has come back very strong after a year off. His first test in the major junior playoffs are upcoming, with Windsor fourth in the OHL’s Western Conference.

14. Washington Capitals: Hendrix Lapierre

A wild card in his 2020 draft year after multiple concussions limited him to just 19 games, Lapierre was believed to have the potential of a top-10 pick but with some uncertainty. The Caps eventually nabbed him 22nd overall. Lapierre got a taste of the NHL at the start of this season, scoring once in six games, and then was one of Team Canada’s more surprising (or at least notable) cuts for the WJC. He has 24 points in 15 games for Acadie-Bathurst.

15. Nashville Predators: Luke Evangelista

Leading goal scorer in the entire OHL — 34 goals in 34 games — Evangelista has a dangerous nose for the net and is turning into a heck of a second-round find for the Predators. Last year’s forced move to the AHL when the OHL cancelled its season was too early, but he should be more prepared for it at the next opportunity.

16. Los Angeles Kings: Brandt Clarke

The OHL’s defencemen scoring leader, Clarke is Barrie’s go-to player and has a chip on his shoulder after being left off Canada’s WJC roster.

17. Boston Bruins: Mason Lohrei

Lohrei has the size that appeals for NHL defencemen and it seems the offensive game to hang in the highest levels, too. Undrafted at first, Lohrei became an overage second-round pick of Boston’s in 2020 and went on to be named the USHL’s defenceman of the year, posting a league-best 59 points in 48 games last season. He’s among the top freshmen defenders in the NCAA, with 29 points in 31 games for Ohio State. Clearly trending up, Lohrei has evolved into one of Bostons’ top prospects.

18. Winnipeg Jets: Chaz Lucius

With Cole Perfetti in the NHL, Lucius becomes the most intriguing and important prospect to watch for Winnipeg outside of the NHL. He has nine goals and 19 points in 24 games for NCAA Minnesota, but that’s mostly due to a slow start — he’s been a point-per-game player over his past 16. Coming off a knee injury, Lucius is probably still a few years away, but has huge goal-scoring upside.

19. Anaheim Ducks: Mason McTavish

Didn’t have a major impact on Canada’s scoresheet at the Olympics, with just one assist, but it was a good development experience anyway and now he’ll return to OHL Hamilton, where he had seven points in three games before going to Beijing. The Bulldogs, second in the OHL by points percentage, acquired McTavish from Peterborough earlier in the season and are looking for him to help lead a title run.

20. Vancouver Canucks: Jack Rathbone

Originally put Rathbone on this list because he had returned from a month-long injury and was white-hot with 11 points in five games, including a five-point outing on Feb. 7. Depending on what the Canucks do at the deadline and how many roster holes are left behind, Rathbone was a candidate for a call-up. And he might still be. But on Wednesday night with Abbotsford in the AHL, he was hit hard from behind into the end boards and needed to be stretched off the ice. Early indications are that nothing was broken, but he is being monitored for a concussion.

21. Columbus Blue Jackets: Kent Johnson

The most productive of Canada’s young players in Beijing, Johnson departed with five points in five games and an argument can be made that he should have been given a bigger role. The fifth-overall pick in 2021, Johnson will look to lead a loaded University of Michigan to a title before, potentially, joining the Blue Jackets.

22. Detroit Red Wings: Sebastian Cossa

An elite goalie prospect on the No. 3-ranked junior team across the CHL, Cossa’s numbers have taken a hit from last year, with inconsistencies along the way — in his last six games, he has three shutouts, but still allowed 12 goals. The top team in the WHL by points percentage are the Winnipeg ICE and, notably, Cossa won both of the games he faced them, allowing three total goals. Cossa’s Oil Kings are all-in on this playoff run.

23. San Jose Sharks: William Eklund

He got an NHL look early in the season with nine games, and came out of it with four assists. Rather than send him to the AHL for development, the Sharks returned him to Djurgarden in Sweden’s top league. Could he come back this season? It’s a bit complicated. Djurgarden will either miss the playoffs completely and end their season in late March, or have to play a series for relegation that will go into April. After that, he could either play for Sweden at the World Championship, or come back to the Sharks for a potential playoff push. But if he plays one more NHL game this season, the first year of his ELC will count, so unless the Sharks are still alive, it may make more sense to just have him come back for 2022-23.

24. Ottawa Senators: Jake Sanderson

Sanderson was a late arrival for Team USA at the Beijing Games after testing positive for COVID-19, and then was able to play only one game there, recording an assist, before an injury kept him out of their quarterfinal loss to Slovakia. The timeline for his return from that injury is unclear, but he’s set to return to North Dakota and could still end up with the Senators by the end of the season.

25. Buffalo Sabres: Owen Power

Though he recorded just a single assist in Beijing, Power was trusted with a big role and handled it well. Now he’s back to the University of Michigan as one of the highest-scoring defencemen in NCAA hockey. The Wolverines will be eyeing a title and, whenever their season does come to an end, attention will be paid to his NHL future and when he might arrive in Buffalo.

26. Chicago Blackhawks: Arvid Soderblom

Going a little off the board, but Chicago’s goalie situation post-Marc Andre Fleury is a murky one and there’s a chance Soderblom eventually is a factor. Undrafted, Soderblom played his way up through the Swedish leagues with strong 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons, and is one of the AHL’s best rookie stoppers in 2021-22. He’s even gotten into a couple of NHL games this season, but allowed seven goals on 59 shots. He’ll get another start on Thursday.

27. New York Islanders: Aatu Raty

One of the more interesting prospects out of last year’s draft, Raty was at one early point a top-five player and ended up slipping to the second round. Now, on a new team in Finland, Raty has become a productive player again, with 28 points in 29 games for the Liiga’s Jukurit.

28. Seattle Kraken: Matty Beniers

Well, Beniers has something in common with Wayne Gretzky. Just like Gretzky with Canada in ’98, Beniers was controversially left out of the shootout for Team USA in their elimination game against Slovakia at the Olympics, which they went on to lose. The Kraken’s first-ever draft pick — second overall in 2021 — scored a goal and an assist for the Americans in Beijing and is part of this returning cast to the Michigan Wolverines, and he’s their leading scorer.

29. New Jersey Devils: Alexander Holtz

The seventh-overall pick in 2020, Holtz has 33 points in 28 games as an AHL rookie and his 17 goals are one off the rookie-leading pace. A projected goal scorer and power-play presence, Holtz is making a smooth transition to smaller North American ice and will be in the Devils’ plans before long.

30. Philadelphia Flyers: Cam York

Day-to-day with an injury, York, 21, is one of Philly’s younger players who hasn’t seen a ton of NHL ice time. In 13 big-league games this season, he has an expected on-ice goal share just under 50 per cent, which is actually one of the better marks in this disaster of a season. He has nine points in 25 AHL games and, when the dust settles on whatever GM Chuck Fletcher decides to do next with this team, York could come out of it with a promotion. Then we’ll really get an idea if he’ll hit on his potential as a 14th-overall pick, or end up less than that.

31. Arizona Coyotes: Matias Maccelli

A fourth-round pick in 2019, Maccelli put up two strong years in Finland as one of Tampere’s top scorers and is now leading the AHL’s Tucson Roadrunners — and all league rookies — with 48 points in 38 games. Trending very much in the direction of the NHL and to being a great find for the Yotes.

32. Montreal Canadiens: Kaiden Guhle

One of the big trades made by the WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings to go for a Memorial Cup was for Ghule, a force of a defenceman at the junior level. He doesn’t have high-end offensive upside, but skates well with a physical tone that will translate well. The Canadiens could see him in their lineup as early as next season.


When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.