- Corey Pronman, ESPN Insider
With the IIHF World Junior Championship in the rearview mirror, and the NHL season at the midway point, here's an update of the top 50 drafted NHL prospects. I did a top 100 in the preseason, and nearly half of my top 50 from that list have graduated, along with notable movement in progression by certain other prospects.
These rankings are based on the conversations I have had with scouts and front-office executives, on top of the live and video scouting I have done myself. However, the rankings are completely my own, and I have seen a majority of these prospects live this season.
I tend to give a slight emphasis to puck possession skill in my rankings, based on numerous studies that show it is the single best predictive measure of team-level success. Performance is taken into account as a secondary factor, adjusted appropriately for age, team strength, league quality and other contextual elements. Defenders are given slightly less value than forwards of equal skill level because of the higher projection uncertainty inherent in the position. Goaltenders are valued even more harshly, as they have a much higher projection uncertainty than skaters, take longer to get to the NHL, and are very unpredictable season to season. Plus, the current NHL goalie landscape is bunched up in talent -- and also abundant in supply.
Slightly more value is given to players who have had professional-level success and prospects who are closer to playing in the NHL. "The Russian Factor" -- fear that Russian prospects won't cross over from their home country to the NHL -- is not taken into account.
All players currently on an NHL roster are ineligible for this list. Players outside the NHL are eligible if they have played fewer than 25 NHL games this season or fewer than 50 career NHL games total. So, for example, Elias Lindholm and Brett Connolly are ineligible, while Mikhail Grigorenko is eligible. Players are listed with the stats from the team for which they've played the most games this season.
1. Jonathan Drouin, C, Tampa Bay Lightning
DOB: 3/27/95 | Age: 18
2013-14 stats (Halifax, OHL): 23 GP, 17 G, 33 A, 50 P
Preseason ranking: 1
The No. 3 pick from the 2013 draft is clearly the best player currently not in the NHL. Drouin is a player with an off-the-chart skill level. His puck skills and offensive instincts are both elite, he's a pretty good skater and has notably improved his defensive zone play over the past 12 months. Drouin's only issue before making the NHL jump is getting a lot stronger, as he can be out-muscled in battles.
2. Evgeny Kuznetsov, C, Washington Capitals
DOB: 5/19/92 | Age: 21
2013-14 stats (Traktor, KHL): 23 GP, 7 G, 7 A, 14 P
Preseason ranking: 4