NHL

NHL future watch: Who’s the hottest player in each team’s prospect pipeline?

NHL future watch: Who’s the hottest player in each team’s prospect pipeline?

It’s what every NHL organization wants to see in its prospect pipeline: the player who takes the next step — or two or three — and shows that he’s ready for more responsibility and/or a look at a higher level. And with a month-plus gone in the 2022-23 hockey season, these rising-stock prospects have started to emerge.

Who’s the hottest for each team?

The Athletic posed that question to its NHL staff, stipulating that while very recent call-ups are eligible, the prospects should not be current full-time NHLers.

In response, we heard about top picks ready to make the leap, hidden gems earning bigger opportunities and players on the precipice of making an NHL impact. Here are the picks.


Pavel Mintyukov: Mintyukov, who turns 19 next week, is no diamond in the rough, as the 10th pick from the 2022 draft. But the dynamic defenseman is rolling, leading all OHL blueliners in scoring (10 goals, 28 points) through Wednesday while powering the Saginaw Spirit to a strong start. Honorable mention goes to goalie Lukas Dostal, who is keeping the AHL’s San Diego Gulls afloat with a .919 save percentage heading into weekend play and recently captured a league player of the week nod. — Eric Stephens

Artyom Duda: We rarely see 18-year-old defensemen play regularly in the KHL — and even less often for a team that attracts the kind of talent that CSKA does — and Duda, a second-round pick in 2022, has impressed, effectively influencing play at both ends. In doing so, he has leapfrogged older, also-drafted prospects like the Blue Jackets’ Nikolai Makarov on the organizational depth chart. Had the Russians been allowed to play in this year’s world juniors, he likely would have made the team. — Scott Wheeler

Fabian Lysell: The 2021 first-round pick has acclimated well to his first season of North American pro hockey. The 19-year-old right wing had four goals and 11 points in 11 games through Thursday, third-most for Providence. He is still adjusting to the AHL’s physicality, but he is applying his speed, skill and willingness to go to danger areas to create offense. — Fluto Shinzawa

Lukas Rousek: The Sabres’ have one of the best prospect pools in hockey, and top players like Matt Savoie and Devon Levi are off to strong starts. Recent first-round picks Isak Rosen and Jiri Kulich are acclimating well to the AHL, too. Kulich leads the Americans in shots on goal by 10 as an 18-year0old. But Rousek is the biggest riser. A 2019 sixth-round pick, he spent most of last season recovering from a torn ACL. Now 23, he has 11 points in Rochester’s first 13 games. His playmaking and net-front presence could help him get a call to Buffalo this season. — Matthew Fairburn

Connor Zary: Zary had a bumpy start to his professional career in 2021-22 due to injury and performance, but it was clear he was a better player and prospect than he showed last season. He’s been much improved in 2022-23, with six goals and 12 points in 12 games entering play Friday, which was second on the AHL Wranglers in scoring and nearly half his totals from 53 games last season (13 goals and 25 points). Zary proving to be a legitimate NHL center option will be great for the organization, for obvious reasons. — Hailey Salvian and Julian McKenzie

Scott Morrow: The defenseman, a 2021 second-round pick by the Hurricanes, and his team at UMass got off to a hot start this season, but both have cooled considerably since Hockey East play opened. After a 5-0-1 start that included a two-game sweep of then-No. 1 Denver — with Morrow scoring in both wins — UMass was 5-5-1 entering play Friday. Morrow’s overall numbers are still very good, with four goals and 10 points in 11 games, but he had only two points (both assists) during the five-game skid. Still, his arrow is pointed up. He will likely turn pro after this season and will surely draw comparisons to Cale Makar — another right-handed Minutemen defenseman — when he does. It’s unlikely his (or anyone’s) ceiling is that high, but he will be highly anticipated in Raleigh as soon as his college career is over. Alexander Nikishin is another to consider here, emerging as one of the best defensemen in the KHL at just 21 years old, though he’s  KHL contract does run through 2025. — Cory Lavalette

Kevin Korchinski: The Blackhawks need the No. 7 pick from the 2022 draft to develop into a star defenseman for their rebuild to work, and so far, he’s living up to the hype this season with the Seattle Thunderbirds. He leads all WHL defensemen with 1.5 points per game — three goals and 21 assists in 14 games. By all accounts, his overall game is improving, too. It’s early, but the Blackhawks have to like where his development is at. — Scott Powers

Jean Luc-Foudy: Most of Colorado’s would-be top prospects are either already full-time NHL players (Bowen Byram and Alex Newhook) or were traded to bolster the current roster (Justin Barron to Montreal and Drew Helleson to Anaheim, for example). Forward Jean-Luc Foudy, though, is off to a strong start with the Colorado Eagles. The 2020 third-round pick is an elite skater, and he has found more scoring touch in his third pro season. He has 11 points in 14 games through Thursday, which is a far better rate than the 26 points he had in 65 games last year. At only 20 years old, he’s an encouraging part of Colorado’s system. — Peter Baugh

David Jiricek: The Blue Jackets have invested heavily in their blue line, spending three first-round picks on defensemen in the last three drafts. Jiricek, selected last summer at No. 6, immediately became the top prospect. After a very good first NHL training camp, the 18-year-old was sent to AHL Cleveland, where he has played heavy minutes in all scenarios and had five assists in his first seven games. He had a brief taste of the NHL in late October, but it’s pretty clear the organization wants him to learn and grow for as long as possible in the AHL. He’ll almost certainly be a regular in Columbus next season. — Aaron Portzline

Thomas Harley: The criteria for these picks eliminate Wyatt Johnston (who’s spent all season in the NHL), Matej Blumel (recent weeks in the NHL) and Logan Stankoven (top overall prospect, but not “rising”). There is a good case, though, that Harley is the hottest prospect for the Stars, especially relative to his standing after training camp. Harley struggled in camp and took a few games to adjust in the AHL to start the season, but since then he has shown great improvements in the areas the Stars outlined for him. Improving his defensive game has been an emphasis, and he’s making strides there, earning the trust of his coaches and the Stars’ front office. — Saad Yousuf

Carter Mazur: A 2021 third-round pick, Mazur was one of the biggest surprises in the Red Wings’ farm system last season, and he’s taken it to another level in 2022-23. Building off a strong showing at the summer world juniors, Mazur is on a goal-scoring tear at Denver, where he has 12 goals in 12 games for the Pioneers. That led the country entering the weekend. Mazur is a multidimensional player who brings a high baseline of competitiveness and physicality to the ice, which — combined with the scoring touch he’s shown since the draft — makes him a highly intriguing prospect. He looks like a future top-nine piece for Detroit. — Max Bultman

Michael Kesselring: Kesselring’s stock within the organization has been steadily rising since he was drafted in the sixth round, 164th, four years ago. He was touted by former Oilers director of player development Scott Howson as someone to watch back in March 2020. Fast forward to 2022-23, and the defenseman had six goals in 12 games entering play Friday, already doubling his total in that category from last season. Oilers general manager Ken Holland said he’s probably been AHL Bakersfield’s best player and could get a recall in the event of an injury. “He’s a (legitimate) prospect,” Holland said. — Daniel Nugent-Bowman

Mackie Samoskevich: The Panthers don’t have much to work with; Corey Pronman had them at No. 25 in his prospect rankings, with NHL players Anton Lundell and Spencer Knight at the top. Grigori Denisenko, a winger in his second North American season, hasn’t produced in the AHL. Samoskevich, a first-round pick in his second season at Michigan, had 10 goals and 19 points in his first 12 games and was just named a Big Ten star of the week. He’s a creative, offensively gifted player who seems to be feasting on an expanded role with the Wolverines. — Sean Gentille

Kenny Connors: Yes, Brandt Clarke and Quinton Byfield are in the AHL … but we’re focusing on prospects who are tearing it up at the moment, and that’s Connors. Selected in the fourth round in 2022, the 19-year-old forward has jumped right into NCAA play as a freshman at UMass, with four goals and 11 points in his first 11 games through Thursday. His play for the Minutemen may put him in the conversation for Team USA at the world juniors. As a runner up, Jordan Spence has 12 assists in 12 games for the Ontario Reign as he bides his time in the AHL again while awaiting an opening on the Kings’ blue line. — Eric Stephens

Jesper Wallstedt: After opening his North American pro career with three overtime/shootout losses, the 2021 first-round pick earned his first career victory with a 37-save effort against the Chicago Wolves two days before his 20th birthday. To cap that performance, he scored the first goalie goal in Wild organization history. Fresh off winning bronze backstopping Sweden at the world juniors in August, Wallstedt has reiterated that he’s the Wild’s “Goalie of the Future,” and fans are clamoring to see him fast, though general manager Bill Guerin wants to “overbake” him and not risk handicapping his development by rushing him to the NHL. — Michael Russo

Montreal Canadiens

Owen Beck: It’s funny now to think that the only thing that prevented the Mississauga Steelheads center from being a first-round pick in the last NHL Draft was a somewhat questionable offensive upside. Beck has stormed out of the gate with 13 goals and 22 points in his first 15 games through Thursday while continuing to play a responsible 200-foot game and being a premier faceoff man. Even as an 18-year-old, the Canadiens’ pick at No. 33 last June has done enough to be considered for a spot on Canada’s team at the upcoming world juniors. — Marc Antoine Godin

Nashville Predators

Luke Evangelista: Juuso Parssinen would have been the answer not long ago, but now the bruising center is a catalyst for the Preds’ recent upswing — three games played, three goals, three Nashville wins. Evangelista, a gifted right winger picked in the second round in 2020, takes Parssinen’s spot as the hottest prospect (while acknowledging that goalie Yaroslav Askarov is the top prospect). The Preds want to make sure Evangelista (6-foot, 181 pounds) is ready for the rigors of the NHL before considering a call-up, but he looks the part in the AHL right now, with four goals and 12 points in 12 games through Thursday. — Joe Rexrode

Seamus Casey: Casey has stepped right into a crowded blue line at Michigan and has had an immediate impact on one of the top-ranked teams in the country, driving offense while (maybe more importantly) playing within himself at both ends. He has played well enough that he may now even be positioned to challenge for one of the final roster spots on another crowded blue line: Team USA’s at the world juniors, with its three returnees and plenty of other offensively-inclined types. — Scott Wheeler

Ruslan Iskhakov: A second-round pick of the Islanders in 2018, Iskhakov has exploded out of the gates in AHL Bridgeport with four goals and 14 points in 12 games through Thursday, and he was named as the AHL’s Rookie of the Month for October. The biggest hurdle for the winger to overcome if he’s going to take the next step is his size, as he’s listed at 5-foot-9, 165 pounds. And, at 22 years old, he may not get much bigger at this point. For a team that lacks high-end talent in the system, though, it has to be encouraging for the Islanders to see Iskhakov’s strong start. — Kevin Kurz

Brennan Othmann: His recent trade from Flint to Peterborough in the OHL raised a few eyebrows, but the 2021 first-rounder continues to produce — and get the Rangers excited about what the winger could do for a cap-strapped lineup that doesn’t have much depth scoring beyond its top few wingers. He’s got 12 goals and 25 points through 18 OHL games entering play Friday and scored his first with the Petes this week. — Arthur Staple

Jacob Bernard-Docker: The Senators don’t really have a prospect who is on a meteoric rise within the organization right now; most of their blue-chippers have already graduated to the NHL on a full-time basis. But Bernard-Docker has probably been the prospect who has risen the most over the past six weeks — an improvement that recently earned him a call-up. Will he be good enough to stick full-time? I guess we’ll find out in the weeks ahead. But Bernard-Docker has looked calm, steady and mobile in his handful of NHL games so far. He was a bubble NHL player out of training camp, and the Senators desperately need help on the right side of their blue line, so his progress could not have come at a better time. — Ian Mendes

Cutter Gauthier: Yes, Cutter Gauthier is the Flyers’ best prospect. But he’s also the fastest rising in the system, in large part because over the past few weeks, he’s started to look like the type of impact scoring center that the big club so desperately needs. The Flyers have more than enough middle-of-the-lineup prospects and youngsters in their system. If they’re going to actually take a step forward in the post-Claude Giroux era, they need at least a few stars. Gauthier’s run over his past four games at Boston College (four goals, six points) and his legitimately dominant play at times raise the hope that the No. 5 pick from the 2022 draft — who was always viewed as something of a high-risk, high-reward prospect — just might be exactly what the Flyers need. — Charlie O’Connor

Filip Hallander: Hallander got an emergency recall with the Penguins, albeit due to injuries, because of his strong start with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. He has emerged as one of the team’s most dependable two-way forwards, with high-end defensive awareness. He’s the type of player a presumed Cup contender loves to develop because he plays a winning style of hockey. He’ll look at home in the NHL when the Penguin’ cap situation is better; he’d have earned his spot already if not for the lack of maneuverability because Pittsburgh is so close to the cap. It’s his defense and intangibles that the Penguins’ pro personnel staffers love. — Rob Rossi

Cameron Lund: Lund, a second-round pick in the 2022 NHL draft and one of the club’s top prospects, is off to a great start as a freshman at Northeastern. He has racked up four goals and 11 points in 12 games through Thursday, which is one point fewer than Logan Cooley and three shy of Jimmy Snuggerud (both 2022 first-rounders). Lund was not on the United States roster for the U18 world championships last season, but The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler believes he will make the U.S. squad for the upcoming U20 world junior championships as an 18-year-old. — Corey Masisak

Jani Nyman: All of the Kraken’s four 2022 second-round picks have met expectations (Jagger Firkus, David Goyette and Niklas Kokko have all played well this season) so far, but Nyman has exceeded them. After posting five points and 16 shots in just two games at Finland’s junior level with Ilves to start the season, he earned a quick promotion to the top-rung Liiga and has been the league’s most productive under-19 player. He has been a force with Finland’s U20 team in advance of the world juniors, too. — Scott Wheeler

Nikita Alexandrov: The Blues hit rock bottom with an eight-game losing streak in late October and early November, and one of their call-ups to get things back on track was Alexandrov. The second-round pick from 2019 spent two seasons with AHL Springfield, and while he doesn’t have the flash of 2021 first-rounder Zach Bolduc, he has put in the work and earned the Blues’ trust as a dependable bottom-six forward. He’s been compared to former Blues player Tyler Bozak, and it fits him well so far. — Jeremy Rutherford

Hugo Alnefelt: Alnefelt’s rookie season in North America in 2021-22 was predictably an up-and-down one. There aren’t many 20-year-old goaltenders in the AHL, let alone ones that have success. He’s off to a strong start to his 21-year-old season, though, so far outplaying the veteran Maxime Lagace with the Crunch. Because Brian Elliott’s one of the oldest players in the NHL and signed to a one-year deal, if Alnefelt could emerge as a backup option behind Andrei Vasilevskiy in the next couple of years, that would be huge for the Lightning. — Scott Wheeler

Keith Petruzzelli: Petruzzelli won his first six starts for the Marlies this season, which led to a promotion to the Leafs when they were short on goaltenders — with Matt Murray and Ilya Samsonov both injured. He didn’t end up making an appearance for the NHL squad, but the gigantic (6-foot-6) former Red Wings third-round pick is on the radar now. — Jonas Siegel

Linus Karlsson: Karlsson has been the best player for AHL Abbotsford, registering 10 points in 11 games — a strong continuation of his performance at training camp and in the preseason. His defensive smarts, positioning and play in high-traffic areas all showed clear NHL potential in training camp. He looks like a second-half call-up candidate. Elias Pettersson is another candidate (no, not *that* Elias Pettersson), a Swedish defender who the Canucks selected in the third round of the 2022 draft. The big, lefty defender plays a black-and-blue style and has gotten off to a really strong start to his draft plus-one campaign — over a point per game in the J20 league and a regular at the SHL level at 19 (although he’s averaging fewer than five minutes per game on one of the SHL’s top sides). He has been a standout in U20 international competition throughout the fall and seems like he could play a major role for Sweden at the world juniors. — Harman Dayal and Thomas Drance

Kaedan Korczak: This was a tough call because the first thought would’ve been Paul Cotter, but he’s become an NHL regular at this point so he no longer qualifies. Then you have the Silver Knights with the worst record in the entire AHL, so it’s hard to say anyone’s having a particularly great start down there. I went with Korczak because of his strong camp, and despite Henderson’s awful defensive numbers, I believe he’s ready to make the jump to the NHL whenever called upon. His game fits what coach Bruce Cassidy wants in his defensemen, and he’s shown he’s plenty strong enough to play the pro game. — Jesse Granger

Ivan Miroshnichenko: The Capitals bet big on the 18-year-old Russian, drafting him at No. 20 in July despite a Hodgkin’s lymphoma diagnosis that scared away other clubs. Earlier this month, he was cleared to resume playing, and he’s wasted no time reminding everyone why he was considered a top-10 talent prior to his bout with cancer. In six games with Omskie Yastreby in Russia’s junior ranks, the 6-foot-1, 185-pounder has six goals, two assists and a fighting major. It’s too soon to project when he might come to the NHL, but he’s a powerful, goal-scoring right-shot winger who likes to line up on the left … a lot like his childhood idol and future teammate, Alex Ovechkin. — Tarik El-Bashir

Ville Heinola: Heinola may not have convinced Rick Bowness he’s too good for the AHL quite yet, but his seven points in 11 games entering play Friday, combined with stellar defensive numbers, have earned him a November call-up. Heinola, still just 21 years old, has one more year left on his entry-level contract, and the sense is that Winnipeg won’t rush him in place of its established veterans. That said, previous coaches have indeed called him “too good for the AHL,” and his strong start after a middling Jets camp suggests he’s on his way to earning that title all over again. — Murat Ates

(Top image: Marissa Baecker, Frank Jansky / Icon Sportswire, Bruce Bennett / Getty Images)





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