Prospects are always a hot commodity around the National Hockey League, overseas in Europe, in Canadian junior hockey, and in the United States. As we look towards the start of next season, there are several elite-level prospects ready to burst onto the scene at the NHL level. Here’s my ranking of the top-10 prospects heading into 2020-21.
Number 1: Alexis Lafreniere, New York Rangers:
Lafreniere is the crown jewel of junior hockey, and certainly won’t be a “prospect” for much longer. However, I included him atop this list because of his elite-level skill as a player and because of the uncertainty surrounding the 2020-21 NHL campaign in the midst of COVID-19. Lafreniere is a superior young talent who’s ready to dominate under the bright lights of Broadway in New York and on the NHL’s biggest stages. He’s a superb skater, an excellent stick-handler, and makes plays that few others his age could. At the 2020 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships, Lafreniere was named tournament MVP after posting four goals, six assists, and 10 points over five games. This is a kid who just attacks the play (and net) and loves to make things happen. Be on high alert, hockey fans-the Lafreniere train is about to leave the station.
Number 2: Trevor Zegras, Anaheim Ducks:
Versatile, and dynamic forward, Zegras finishes as runner-up, as the second-best prospect ahead of the 2020-21 NHL campaign. When he’s on his game, “Z” is ferociously unstoppable combining elite-level puck skills and fluid skating ability with sheer, raw talent. He’s physical, dynamic, multi-faceted, and just a joy to watch in all three zones. Pro scouts have marveled at the way he uses his body and how he makes highlight-reel plays with lightning quickness and accuracy, and how he never gets fazed by the “big moment”. Selected in the first round, ninth overall last season by the Anaheim Ducks, Zegras should be a shoo-in to crack the Ducks roster out of camp (whenever that maybe). There really is nothing he can’t do on the ice. On your marks, Orange County.
Number 3: Kirill Kaprizov, Minnesota Wild:
Coming in at number three is Russian-born dynamo, Kaprizov. After years of anticipation, the time is now for Kaprizov to take the league by storm. As a player, the 23-year-old is a dynamic winger and as gifted a goal-scorer as they come. Last season with CSKA Moscow of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) saw Kaprizov tally 33 goals and 62 points after scoring 30 goals and 51 points the season prior. His point totals continue to increase as has his dominance. Oh, and keep in mind he’s doing this against players 5-12 years his senior. The hockey-crazed State of Hockey has themselves a bonafide star in the making and a top-line forward that they’ve so desperately lacked the last few years. Brace yourself, Wild fans.
Number 4: Bowen Byram, Colorado Avalanche:
Number four on our list takes us to Byram of the (already) high-powered Colorado Avalanche. On a team that possesses the likes of Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar, Mikko Rantanen, Samuel Girard, and Gabriel Landeskog, it’s hard to imagine another immense talent among the ranks. Welcome to Denver, Byram! In rather short order, Avalanche General manager Joe Sakic has composed one of the most talented rosters in the NHL. At 19 years of age, Byram has quickly immersed himself as one of hockey’s top prospects. He’s quick, exceptionally gifted, and plays an up-tempo high-octane style that’s almost unheard of among young defensemen. What I like about Byram is his ability to close gaps, break-up plays, and turn defense into offense in the blink of an eye. These are all hallmarks of today’s modern-day blue-liner. Watch out for Byram and the Avs as we look ahead to 2020-21.
Number 5: Alex Turcotte, Los Angeles Kings:
The Los Angeles Kings have stockpiled some significant young talent over the last few seasons in the form of Gabe Vilardi, Rasmus Kupari, Kale Clague, Tyler Madden, Arthur Kaliyev, and Quinton Byfield. Well, hockey fans, you can add Turcotte to the aforementioned list as the single-most explosive prospect in the Kings organization. An exceptionally talented centerman who thinks the game at an elite level, Turcotte is the cream of the crop amongst the Kings (deeply talented) prospect pool. When he has the puck he’s fast, direct, quick-thinking, and is an excellent passer. Turcotte loves to make things happen on the ice and is just bursting with energy and raw talent. His release is strong as his ability to get from point A to B on the ice which should place him in superior stead amongst the NHL ranks. This team has been building for a while-look for LA to take big strides as a team next season led by the likes of Turcotte.
Number 6: Dylan Cozens, Buffalo Sabres:
Next up is talented centerman, and Buffalo Sabres top prospect, Cozens. At 6’3, 185 pounds, Cozens is a strong two-way presence who knows how to drive the net and make things happen. Picture a one-two punch down the middle of the ice with Jack Eichel and Cozens, insulated by veteran presence Erik Staal? Now, add that to the likes of Taylor Hall and Jack Quinn. Now that’s some serious high-end talent in the Queen City, wouldn’t you say. Last season, as a member of the Lethbridge Hurricanes (WHL), Cozens put up some monster numbers tallying 38 goals, 47 assists, and 85 points in just 51 games played. You may want to read those numbers again. Cozens also dazzled at the 2020 World Juniors alongside the likes of Byram, Smith, and Lafreniere helping his country Claim Gold after notching nine points in 7 games. This kid is the complete package and is projected to be a real, top-end talent in Buffalo.
Number 7: Ty Smith, New Jersey Devils:
Smith is one of the most impressive defensive prospects on the cusp of a roster spot for the New Jersey Devils. At the tender age of 20, Smith is coming off a phenomenal 20219-20 campaign as one of the best players in the Canadian Hockey league (CHL). As captain of the Spokane Chiefs of the WHL, Smith tallied 19 goals and 59 points in just 46 games played. Which preceded previous tallies of 73 and 69 points respectively. He’s an elite skater, reads the game superbly, and is just brimming with confidence. Smith has accomplished everything at the junior ranks including a Gold Medal triumph with Team Canada at the 2020 World Juniors-the time is now for him to take his place at the game’s highest level.
Number 8: Vasili Podkolzin, Vancouver Canucks:
Coming in at number eight is Vancouver’s prized prospect possession, Podkolzin. Unlike many other forwards on this list, Podkolzin is a unique talent who combines elite-level high-end skill with physical play. What I love about Podkolzin is his ability to be a force on each and every shift and to play with an “edge”. He’s big (6’1, 192 pounds), strong on his feet, and plays a direct north-south game. Imagine a Canucks squad with the likes of Elias Pettersson, Bo Horvat, Quinn Hughes, and Thatcher Demko (among others) lining up alongside Podkolzin. Now that’s a scary thought for opposing teams now, wouldn’t you say? The Canucks are a team on the rise and have their shouting and development department, in large part to thank for. Make room, Jim Benning, Podkolzin is ready to take the West Coast by storm.
Number 9: Moritz Seider, Detroit Red Wings:
German-born forward Leon Draisaitl of the Edmonton Oilers has firmly established himself as one of the game’s premier players. Well folks, make way for Moritz Seider. The next best thing to come out of Germany on the hockey side of things. When you look at Seider, the first thing that scouts marvel at is his size and stature. At only 19 years of age, this kid is NHL-ready size-wise standing at a whopping 6’4, 210 pounds. You may want to read those numbers again. Size aside, the Red Wings possess an intelligent, quick-thinking, and mobile blue-liner that plays a sound defensive game each and every shift. He’s confident, excellent with the puck on his stick, and just oozing with sheer, raw talent. It’s been a while since Detroit has had a stalwart on the blue-line. That’s about to end with the impending arrival of Seider.
Number 10: Alexander Romanov, Montreal Canadiens: Ladies and gentlemen, the Tsar of Russia has touched down in Montreal, Quebec. His name is Romanov. The past few seasons have seen an emergence of high-end, Russian-born defenseman don the National Hockey League with the likes of Dmitry Orlov, Mikhail Sergachev, Nikita Zadorov, and Ivan Provorov. If Romanov continues his strong play, he’ll surely be the next budding superstar. As a player, Romanov is an excellent skater with elite-gap control who loves to play a physical brand of hockey. He’s confident, intelligent, and more than ready for the everyday rigors of the NHL. The Canadiens blue-line will have a different look and feel to it next season. That’s a tribute to the highly-touted Romanov. Stay tuned, Habs fans.