Commentary

Ranking high-impact prospects

These 20 guys have the best chance to be key contributors to their teams this season

Updated: October 5, 2011, 1:06 PM ET
By Grant Sonier | ESPN Insider
Ryan Nugent-HopkinsNick Laham/Getty ImagesRyan Nugent-Hopkins is simply too talented for the Oilers to keep him off the ice.

There are a lot of young prospects making excellent early impressions, and more than a few may stick. Early first-round draft picks with long-term talent are usually easy to identify, but the unknown with all young players is, "When will they play?"

Making an NHL roster is about more than being good enough these days, particularly with so many variables generated by the salary cap and starting the clock on entry-level contracts. For these young players, management also has to decide whether they are physically ready and mentally prepared for a full NHL season.

It is not unusual for an 18-year-old to make the roster, but this year the number could be particularly high. From the 2011 draft, many players are making a strong case to stick with their respective clubs. And that number of rookies will be buoyed by prospects who are ready to make an impact after gaining a little extra seasoning in the minors or back with their junior teams. Here's a look at the prospects who appear ready to stick in the NHL at the start of the season, ranked by the impact they're likely to have in the 2011-12 campaign.