(Introduction and top prospects in the East here)
The Western Conference top 5 prospects to watch are:
Josh Morrisey, D, Winnipeg Jets
Three years after leaving Atlanta, the Jets roster still contains the same core players that played for the Thrashers. Selling the rough weather of Winnipeg to high-profile free agents is a tough task, so, in order to improve the quality of the team, the Jets have to rely on selecting well on the draft. Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba, the first round picks in 2011 and 2012, are already playing for the team, with Josh Morrisey, the 13th pick in the 2013 draft, and Nikolaj Ehlers, the team’s first selection this year, being the next in line.
Contrary to Jacob Trouba, who figures to become a complete, workhorse defender, Morrisey is the typical offensive blue-liner who can skate, create offense in transition either carrying the puck with confidence or distributing it, and with good instincts to surprise opposing defences. His hockey IQ, ability to read the play on both sides of the puck and push the pace can earn comparisons to fellow Jets defenseman Tobias Enstrom, even if Morrisey is a bit taller (6’0’’) and heavier (186 lbs), which helps in mixing it up with big, physical forwards, something he’s show the willingness to do.
The native of Calgary was one of the last cuts on this season’s Jets training camp and returned for a fourth and final run with the WHL’s Prince Albert Raider. After scoring 15 points and 47 points on his draft year, the defenseman raised his level last season, scoring an impressive total of 28 goals and 73 points in just 59 regular season games, leading the league in goals by a rearguard. The Raiders were eliminated on the first round of the playoffs but Morrisey proceeded to represent Winnipeg’s AHL affiliate, the St. John Ice Dogs, earning valuable professional experience during the team’s deep playoff campaign (9 pts in 20 games), stopped in the final by the Texas Stars. Earlier in the year, Morrisey was also part of Canada’s U20 World Juniors team, tallying 3 points in 7 games, and he is in line for another appearance on the 2015 tournament.The 19-year-old is currently rounding up his game and gaining strength in Prince Albert while his time in Manitoba doesn’t come, totalling 21 points in 25 games. He’s projected to turn into a powerplay quarterback and a top pair defenseman for the Jets.
Darnell Nurse, D, Edmonton Oilers
Four top three picks in the last five NHL drafts landed the Oilers a staple of dynamic scorers, but resulted also on the lack of sure-fire NHL prospects on the blueline. In 2013, with the 7th pick, the Edmonton-outfit decided to choose a hulking rearguard from the OHL’s Sault St. Marie Greyounds, and they hope he can solve some of the problems that have plagued the team in the last few years.
Darnell Nurse is a 6’4’’, 205 lbs, two-way defenseman with a nasty side that can slot as a shutdown presence. Despite the huge frame that he is still filling up, the Hamilton native is mobile and skates well, possessing the skill to play on the powerplay and put points on the board while delivering punishing hits on opponents and engaging physically often, something expressed on the 116 PIM amassed in 2012-2013. On his draft year he managed to get 41 points in 68 games while last season, as team captain, his offensive production jumped a bit, to 50 points and 13 goals in 65 games, but more important were the steps he took on his development, playing on both first special team units, logging 25-30 minutes of ice time per game, and leading the team to the second round of the playoffs. Nurse was surprisingly left out of the Canadian roster for the 2014 U20 World Junior Championships in Malmo, but at the end of the year had his first taste of professional hockey, suiting up for the Oklahoma City Barons, Edmonton’s AHL affiliate, in 7 games.
The defenseman is currently on his fourth OHL season, after being demoted by the Oilers following a two-game appearance at the NHL level, performing at a point per game pace (19 in 19 games) and hoping to further refine his skill set, work on the offensive game, and improve on some defensive zone details. The 19-year-old will also have the chance to finally appear on the U20 World tournament, suiting up for the 2015 edition held in Canada, and is projected to become a top pair blueliner with an imposing presence, sound positioning and some offensive upside.
Ty Rattie, RW, St. Louis Blues
On the last few years, the St. Louis Blues attack has always been capable of playing a heavy, responsible, gritty style of hockey, but the game-breaking skills were something they lacked when the games counted the most, the playoffs. Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz were the first wave of highly-skilled talented forwards to emerge on the team, and Ty Rattie is looking to follow shortly on their footsteps.
The 21-year-old, born in Airdrie, Alberta, enjoyed his first professional season last year, scoring 31 goals for the Chicago Wolves, the fourth best total in the AHL, and adding 17 assists to finish in the top 10 in points among rookies. He followed that by adding a goal and two assists in nine playoff games, and having his first two appearances in the NHL. His goal-scoring prowess was already evident at the junior level, when, as part of a skilled Portland Winterhawks team, he improved his goal and point totals in each of the first three WHL seasons. The right-winger went from 37 to 79 to 121 points, and from 17 to 28 to 57 goals, displaying offensive skills that convinced the Blues to select him with the 32th pick in 2011. In 2012-13, as he returned to Portland for a fourth and final WHL season, his numbers dipped a bit, to 48 goals and 110 points, but he rebounded on the playoffs, scoring 20 goals in 21 games and earning MVP honours in the team’s triumphant march. Rattie is not the most skilled or talented player, but can find the open spots, control the puck and put it on the back of the net, having proved his versatility to play in every situation over the years.
Due to the Blues stacked lineup, the Canadian is still stuck on the AHL, where he can continue to get stronger (6’0”, 178lbs), improve on his average skating, build consistency and refine defensive aspects. He has 13 goals and 15 points in 25 games this season and should be able to crack a spot on St. Louis’ roster on the short term, with his offensive talent projecting a solid career as a consistent scorer at the NHL level.
Max Domi, C, Arizona Coyotes
Two consecutive seasons without playoff hockey and a veteran roster, especially at the forward position, leave Dave Maloney and the Coyotes organization with no solution but to take a chance on their youth. Arizona’s last three first round picks were spent on forwards and the son of Tie Domi seems to be the most ready to make an impact.
The Winnipeg native is a small, compact forward (5’10, 198 lbs) with good strength and a powerful skating stride that helps in getting away from defenders with top-notch speed and acceleration. He likes to skate low, use his marvellous stickhandling and playmaking skills to create offense, either from the center or left wing positions and, at his best, is a tenacious, gritty presence on the forecheck. However, Domi still needs to find the balance between hanging on to the puck in order to make a play and trying to go through all the opponents’ defence by himself, which is something he has the hands to do on occasion at youth levels but won’t result against experienced teams. Like his father, he also takes pride in playing an aggressive game, which gets him in trouble from time to time as teams try to expose his temperament.
The 12th pick of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft scored 39 goals (87 points) in 2012-13, delivering also 32 points on the London Knight’s OHL title campaign, but only managed 34 apples last year (93 points), failing to improve significantly his offensive production because he sulked after being sent back to junior, something that surely contributed in the lack of an invitation to be a member of the Canadian World Junior team. In 2014-15, the 19-year-old was once again cut at the end of the Coyotes camp but reacted much better, exploding to post 58 points in the first 27 games of the new season while playing on the wing. He’s working to round out his game and behaving as a captain by cutting on the bad penalties that, in the past, have crippled the team’s effort.
Lack of discipline and deficiencies on the defensive side of the puck have slowed his progress and delayed Domi’s debut at the professional level, but shouldn’t be long until he cracks the Coyotes top forward lines and starts showcasing his offensive talent at the NHL level.
Teuvo Teravainen, C/W, Chicago Blackhawks
It’s almost unfair that a Blackhawks team with so much high-end forward talent has this Finnish wizard almost ready to explode at the NHL level. Teravainen is a product of Jokerit Helsinki’s youth system, having debuted on the first team at the age of 17, in 2011-12, to produce 11 goals and 18 points in 40 games. The following season he jumped to 31 points, while taking part for the first time on the World U20 Junior Championships, notching 11 points on the competition. Last season was destined to be his last one in Europe and the versatile forward made an effort to leave a mark, reaching 44 points in 49 games, which earned him a nomination for the SM- Liiga All-Star team, and dazzling on his 2nd appearance on the World’s Under-20 competition, serving as captain and leading Finland to the title while posting a tournament-leading 15 points (2 goals) in seven games. After the end of Jokerit’s season, the 20-year old made the trip over the Atlantic, playing three regular season games for the Blackhawks.
Selected with the 18th pick of the 2012 NHL draft, the 5’11’’ forward can play at the center or wing positions, displaying superior on-ice vision and playmaking skills, which he uses to create offense every time he hits the ice. Teravainen has great hands but still needs to build strength and improve his defensive acumen in order to make an impact at the NHL level.
He has started 2014-15 on the AHL’s Rockford Ice Dogs, tallying 16 points on 23 games while still adjusting to the speedier and tighter North-American game. Teravainen’s skill, hockey sense and passing ability seem poised to translate into a fruitful NHL career, with the expectations being that he fills up the somewhat problematic 2nd line Center position, producing offense alongside the similarly-built Patrick Kane for a long time.
(All data updated until December, 9th)