Researching the roles of the top NHL prospects (26-50)

Updated: October 6, 2010 at 10:55 am by Alexander Monaghan

With pre-season predictions becoming stronger and stronger, we turn to one of the most important wildcards in fantasy hockey: the Rookie.  A good rookie can add depth to your squad and in some cases help you win your League.  A personal favorite site of mine, Hockey’s Future, recently released their top 50 prospects for the Fall of 2010 with several interesting names probably already littering the sleeper lists.  We intend to tell you where these youngsters will play and what opportunities they will be given as the season progresses.

For the sake of clarity, the 2010-2011 upside will refer to the highest role these players could see on the team this season.  It does not, however, project whether or not they will succeed in those roles.  Lets take a look at the top 26-50 prospects in the League and where they will likely play this season.

26. Cam Fowler – D – Anaheim Ducks

Fowler will debut with the big club near his hometown of Detroit, according to Curtis Zupke of the OC Register.  The 18-year-old made the team with a strong camp and seems to have a more solid role than the higher regarded Luca Sbisa.  With their captain Scott Niedermayer officially retired, the Ducks need a player to push the puck up the ice and join the rush.  This former Windsor Spitfire seems to be just the right kind of player to step into the play and could earn time on the second powerplay unit.

2010 – 2011 upside: #2 D

27. Brett Connolly – C – Tampa Bay Lightning

Despite a decent pre-season, the Lightning returned Connolly to the Prince George Cougars of the WHL.  Although a highly skilled player, he only suited up for 16 games last season with a hip injury and should benefit from honing his game back in Juniors before receiving a stronger look next season.

2010 – 2011 upside: Junior player

29. Mikael Backlund – C – Calgary Flames

Injuries to Olli Jokinen, Daymond Langkow and Matt Stajan opened the door for the Flames’ top prospect.  This season the young Backlund will look to improve his game in the NHL after an up-and-down season with the Abbotsford Heat of the AHL.  Look for the center-of-the-future to pivot Jarome Iginla as the only other options seem to be Craig Conroy or Brendan Morrison.

2010 – 2011 upside: 1st line C

30. Jack Campbell – G – Dallas Stars

This Team USA standout will begin his career in the OHL with the Windsor Spitfires.  Although the team lost some key players including Taylor Hall, Adam Henrique and Fowler, the addition of Campbell could help them win the Memorial Cup for the third straight season.  He should continue to develop and give current Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen a challenge as soon as next year.

2010 – 2011 upside: Junior player

31. Jeff Skinner – RW – Carolina Hurricanes

Skinner had one of the more eventful summers after becoming the early 2010 NHL Draft surprise.  With world-class skill and the penchant to score goals, this 18-year-old made the team out of camp and will play on either the second or third line alongside 30 goal scorer Jussi Jokinen.  Originally a center, the Canes moved him to right wing and could give him a look next to Eric Staal, which would skyrocket his point totals.  The team plans on rotating players in and out of the team but would need to send Skinner all the way back to the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL after nine games in order to preserve a year of his free agency.

2010 – 2011 upside: 1st line winger

32. Zach Boychuk – LW – Carolina Hurricanes

The club’s first round pick back in 2008 was one of the last cuts from the Canes’ pre-season roster.  For the time being Boychuk will begin the season in the AHL but could gain some more NHL experience should a winger go down with an injury or another prospect become ineffective.  At this point he is likely the first call-up when that day comes but would be wasted in a bottom six role.

2010 – 2011 upside: midseason call-up

33. Jakub Kindl – D – Detroit Red Wings

Back in 2005, the Wings took Kindl with the 19th overall selection — the highest the team has taken a player since Martin Lapointe back in 1991 (10th overall).  Unfortunately for Kindl, his fate lies in the hands of one of his teammates: Jonathan Ericsson.  With the former last-round pick in the mix, actually playing with Nicklas Lidstrom, this former Kitchener Ranger will toil as an extra defenseman for the time being.

2010 – 2011 upside: top 4 D

34. Karl Alzner – D – Washington Capitals

This season looks like the year Alzner finally sticks with the club.  As a reliable defender in his own end, the former fourth overall pick could see time anywhere between the second and third pairing.  Head coach Bruce Boudreau is not afraid to use him with John Carlson, which would likely guarantee a top 4 position.

2010 – 2011 upside: top 4 D

35. Brendan Smith – D – Detroit Red Wings

The team recently re-assigned the young Smith to the Grand Rapid Griffins of the AHL.  Since the Wings already carry eight NHL ready defenders, this former University of Wisconsin standout will likely benefit from some time on the farm.  Very rarely will this team rush a young prospect as they prefer for most of their players to learn the system in the minor leagues.

2010 – 2011 upside: outside shot at injury call-up; AHL player

36. Tomas Tatar – C – Detroit Red Wings

At this point explaining that the Red Wings rarely implement 1st or 2nd year pros seems to be a moot subject.  Even though Tatar impressed at both the Traverse City prospect tournament and in the AHL he will need to break the team’s deep forward lines to gain playing time.  However, if one of their more skilled players falls to injury, Tatar would probably fill in nicely if called upon.

2010 – 2011 upside:  injury call-up

37. Lars Eller – C – Montreal Canadiens

Some people believed Eller has an outside chance of centering the second line in Montreal when the team acquired him over the summer.  With Scott Gomez and Tomas Plekanec already firmly entrenched up the middle for the Habs, Eller will need to either shift to wing or outplay his veteran counterparts.  For the time being, he will replace the suspended Michael Cammalleri for the first game of the year before likely settling into a lesser role or fighting Benoit Pouliot for his second line role.

2010 – 2011 upside:  1st/2nd line C

38. Evgeny Grachev – C – New York Rangers

Grachev followed a disappointing first season in the AHL with a lackluster NHL training camp.  Although not awful, he lacked the intensity to beat out players like Ruslan Fedotenko, Tim Kennedy, Todd White or even Derek Stepan.  Grachev was sent back to the Hartford Wolfpack, err Whale and will play on the top line alongside Mats Zuccarello.  He could see time in the NHL if the Rangers fall victim to the injury bug.

2010 – 2011 upside:  injury call-up

39. Colin Wilson – C – Nashville Predators

Wilson looks like he will start the year on the first line with Matthew Lombardi and Martin Erat.  Known for his excellent hockey sense, the Preds have chosen to keep him on the wing opposed to his natural center position as he learns how to use his body in the NHL.  At this point he seems to be a big part of the team’s plans as they look to replace former captain Jason Arnott.

2010 – 2011 upside: 1st/2nd line C

40. Jonathan Blum – D – Nashville Predators

Back on September 27th, the Predators demoted Blum to the Milwaukee Admirals of the AHL.  Looking forward the smooth skating defenseman could find a home in Nashville following the speculated departure of Shea Weber but currently sits behind a few notable defensemen on the depth chart.  With a full year in the AHL already under his belt, this California native will likely force his way onto the team one way or another.

2010 – 2011 upside: midseason/injury call-up

41. Derek Stepan – C – New York Rangers

We touched on him briefly above but the former Team USA captain will start the season in the NHL.  Head coach John Tortorella seems to rave about both his poise and vision and admires all that he can do at only 20-years-old.  At this point it appears the first line center job will go to Erik Christensen, but the lines seem to change frequently in New York which could allow Stepan to slip into the top line.

2010 – 2011 upside: 1st line C

42. Alexander Burmistrov – C – Atlanta Thrashers

This skilled center made the team out of training camp and earned himself an entry-level contract with the team thanks to his “tremendous understanding of the game.”  Yesterday, the former first round pick practiced with the fourth line alongside Ben Eager and Chris Thorburn.  At some point in the year he will have a chance to move up in the ranks but the Thrashers appear to be just breaking him in at the NHL level.

2010 – 2011 upside: 3rd line C

43. Logan Couture – C – San Jose Sharks

Couture will look to establish himself as a full-time player this season.  His immediate role will probably be to fill the shoes of the departed Manny Malhotra, which should limit some of his immediate value.  However, if the Sharks get some injuries, he could easily fill in on a higher line and show the team why they took him so high.  Last year, Couture looked like one of the best rookies in the AHL with an impressive 53 points in 42 games so the potential to score is there.  It will be interesting to see if he can meet those expectations in San Jose.

2010 – 2011 upside: 2nd/3rd line C

44. Jonas Gustavsson – G Toronto Maple Leafs

For the time being, Gustavsson will start the season as the backup to Jean-Sebastien Giguere.  His veteran counterpart only holds one year left on his contract and should continue to mold “The Monster” into a player the Leafs can rely on.  Nevertheless, a raw-yet-talented goaltender on a poor team will be of no value to most fantasy general managers so keep that in mind as he goes through growing pains.

2010 – 2011 upside: ‘1A’ poor team backup G

45. Joe Colborne – C – Boston Bruins

Colborne as well as fellow first round pick Zach Hamill was recently demoted to the Providence Bruins of the AHL.   He spent two years with the University of Denver before playing six games last season in the AHL.  If the big club has any injuries, he could get a look should he produce with his linemates.  His big body presence in front of the net would wreak havoc and help provide scoring– which the team needed most of last season.  To be successful in the organization, Colborne needs to prove himself amongst men and pass some of the veterans on the depth chart.

2010 – 2011 upside: midseason/injury call-up

46. Michal Neuvirth – G – Washington Capitals

Neuvirth will have every opportunity to steal the job from Semyon Varlamov this season.  Since the Capitals seem to have harnessed the ability to score at will, any goalie who dons their jersey will rack up the wins.  Even Jose Theodore finished the year with a 30-7 split so look for Neuvirth to steal games and wins away from Varlamov as the season progresses and the two young netminders push each other.

2010 – 2011 upside: ‘1A’ powerhouse team backup G

47. Nick Bjugstad – C – Florida Panthers

Bjugstad will be a freshman for the University of Minnesota next season, far away from helping your fantasy team.  Keep this name in mind about three years from now.

2010 – 2011 upside: College hockey player

48. Michael Grabner – RW – New York Islanders

One of the biggest wild cards on this list as he just recently changed addresses.  Seen as the centerpiece of the Keith Ballard trade, the Austrian winger could soon be the triggerman to John Tavares.  We saw last season what he could do to a player like Matt Moulson or Blake Comeau, imagine what Tavares can do with a sniper able to keep up with him. Bona fide sleeper and huge steal by the Islanders.

2010 – 2011 upside: 1st line RW

49. John Moore – D – Columbus Blue Jackets

Moore will begin the season in Springfield but has an outside shot of seeing some playing time.  Multiple players on the Blue Jackets’ blue line could be labeled as injury prone (Rostislav Klesla, Jan Hejda) and the club would benefit from letting him play some minutes.  If the team falters, which is completely likely when considering their competition, Moore could a look earlier than expected.

2010 – 2011 upside: midseason callup

50. Cody Franson – D – Nashville Predators

After playing 61 games last season with the team, he barely qualifies as a prospect but his offensive talent cannot be overlooked.  In the AHL, the 23-year-old knocked in 24 goals in a little over two seasons, as he showed the fans in Milwaukee his scoring prowess.  The departure of Dan Hamhuis should help Franson earn some added minutes and play his way into a top 4 role.

2010 – 2011 upside: 2nd powerplay unit/top 4 D

We hope you enjoyed our latest top-prospect related material.  As a sidenote, all positions are based off what Yahoo! currently assigned current players, which may be confusing when they actually play a different position in real life.  Make sure to follow us on Twitter @dailyfaceoff and let your voice be heard below.

Alexander Burmistrov, Brendan Smith, Brett Connolly, Cam Fowler, Cody Franson, Colin Wilson, Derek Stepan, Evgeny Grachev, Hamm, Jack Campbell, Jakub Kindl, Jeff Skinner, Joe Colborne, John Moore, Jonas Gustavsson, Jonathan Blum, Karl Alzner, Lars Eller, Logan Couture, Michael Grabner, Michal Neuvirth, Mikael Backlund, Nick Bjugstad, Tomas Tatar, Zach Boychuk