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Future Is Bright: West's Top Prospects

Sep 18, 2009 – 2:00 PM
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Bruce Ciskie

Bruce Ciskie %BloggerTitle%

Thanks in part to the salary cap, player development is a huge key in today's NHL. With that in mind, FanHouse presents a handy team-by-team guide to the league's top prospects. None of the players listed have played a game in the NHL, and there are also no 2009 draft picks on the list. After the jump, check out the best prospects from the Western Conference.

Central Division

Chicago Blackhawks

Kyle Beach, LW
2008 1st round pick
Age:
19
2008-2009 team: Everett/Lethbridge (WHL)
54 games, 24-39-63

Beach isn't far away from the NHL, though he's likely to spend the season in Lethbridge after a cup of coffee with the Blackhawks during training camp. He has the physical maturity to play in the NHL, but there isn't room for him in the Blackhawks lineup. Since he still has major junior eligibility, he can't go to the AHL. It just seems to be unrealistic for Chicago to keep him on their roster, unless they really think he's ready now.

Columbus Blue Jackets

Ted Ruth, D
2007 2nd round pick (Washington, traded to Blue Jackets February 2008)
Age:
20
2008-2009 team: Notre Dame (CCHA)
36 games, 2-5-7

While he's never been known as a huge offensive contributor, Ruth has worked hard on that side of his game. In his first two years at Notre Dame, he's been used mainly as a stay-at-home guy, and that's clearly still his strength. Ruth has seen a lot of ice time in college, and he should see even more as he emerges as a big-time leader for the Fighting Irish this season.

Detroit Red Wings

Thomas McCollum, G
2008 1st round pick
Age:
19
2008-2009 team: Brampton (OHL)
54 games, 34-16-4, 2.11 GAA, .927 saves

For McCollum, last season was a mixed bag. Off being drafted in the first round in 2008 by Detroit, a strong season in the OHL was marred around the holidays. McCollum had an up-and-down World Junior Championships, playing in goal for Team USA. The tournament ended with McCollum and his teammates giving up 12 goals over two consecutive losses. McCollum is still a year or two away from being NHL-ready, and he's heading for Grand Rapids this season.

Nashville Predators

Colin Wilson, C
2008 1st round pick
Age:
19
2008-2009 team: Boston University (Hockey East)
43 games, 17-38-55

He did it all in college. Wilson was a major star at BU, and helped the Terriers to a national championship last spring. Now that he's in the pros, expect him to land in Nashville. There isn't much left for Wilson to prove. Not only that, but the Predators are so starved for offensive depth that it makes practically no sense to stash him in the AHL for any part of the season.

St. Louis Blues

Ian Cole, D
2007 1st round pick
Age:
20
2008-2009 team: Notre Dame (CCHA)
38 games, 6-20-26

Cole has "captain" written all over him. He's a tough player with offensive upside, and he brings the intensity to every shift. While Alex Pietrangelo -- a fellow first-round defenseman -- continues to struggle with his consistency, Cole may pass him on the prospect board. Another year at Notre Dame should leave Cole prepared for the transition to pro hockey in the fall of 2010.

Northwest Division


Calgary Flames

Greg Nemisz, C
2008 1st round pick
Age:
19
2008-2009 team: Windsor (OHL)
65 games, 36-41-77

Some taller players need to grow into their body. Nemisz is not one of them. He's a thick, skilled power forward who helped the Spitfires win the Memorial Cup, producing seven points in six games. Keep a close eye on Nemisz as he works to improve his skating. The Flames are dreadfully thin at center, and it might not be long before he gets a shot at making the team.

Colorado Avalanche

Ryan Stoa, LW
2005 2nd round pick
Age:
22
2008-2009 team: Minnesota (WCHA)
36 games, 24-22-36

After a knee injury wiped out his 2007-2008 season, Stoa returned and had a huge year for the Gophers. He showed signs of development into a big-time scorer, using great chemistry with freshman Jordan Schroeder to set career highs across the board. Stoa signed with Colorado a week after his junior season ended, but didn't get a chance to play in the pros. That will change this year.

Edmonton Oilers

Jordan Eberle, C
2008 1st round pick
Age:
19
2008-2009 team: Regina (WHL)
61 games, 35-39-74

Eberle is a confident, talented, fast pivot, and it's just a matter of time before he's dazzling the Alberta faithful. He's not the biggest player, but he has great hands, a nose for the net, and he feels he's ready for the NHL this year. Worst case, Eberle has to wait one more year. However, new coach Pat Quinn coached Eberle in the 2008 World Juniors, and it's not like the Oilers are full of centers who are locks to make the team.

Minnesota Wild

Tyler Cuma, D
2008 1st round pick
Age:
19
2008-2009 team: Ottawa (OHL)
21 games, 1-8-9

Odds are that Cuma will be returned to his junior team. That said, players beat the odds all the time, and no one should be betting against Cuma. He is off a serious knee injury, but his game fits new Wild coach Todd Richards. Cuma has quick feet and great passing ability. Richards wants defensemen who can move the puck and get up and down the rink in an up-tempo system.

Vancouver Canucks

Cody Hodgson, C
2008 1st round pick
Age:
19
2008-2009 team: Brampton (OHL)
53 games, 43-49-92

Perhaps the most prolific scorer in Canadian junior hockey last year, Hodgson is flat-out good. He's the kind of player who can be on the ice no matter the situation. His last year in junior hockey was perhaps his best, and now it's time for the Canucks to make a decision. They can try to leave him in the AHL for more seasoning, or they can find enough ice time to justify having him on the NHL roster. The latter is more likely, as Hodgson doesn't really much more to prove outside of the NHL.

Pacific Division

Anaheim Ducks

Jake Gardiner, D
2008 1st round pick
Age:
19
2008-2009 team: Wisconsin (WCHA)
39 games, 3-18-21

Gardiner is a former forward, so it should shock no one that a Wisconsin team struggling to score used him as a forward on the power play. He should be strictly a blue-liner this year, and if he can improve like he did in his freshman year, things are looking good for the future. His offensive instincts are undeniable, but he's adjusted to playing defense well. Another year or two of college are in order, but Gardiner definitely bears watching as the Ducks re-tool their roster with younger defensemen.

Dallas Stars

Jamie Benn, LW
2007 5th round pick
Age:
20
2008-2009 team: Kelowna (WHL)
56 games, 46-36-82

A bit of a late bloomer, Benn should be on a fast track to the NHL. The winger was a big part of Kelowna's Memorial Cup run, and the Stars could use a dynamic young forward on their NHL roster. What's more likely is that Benn will be sent to the AHL and closely watched as a potential in-season callup.

Los Angeles Kings

Thomas Hickey, D
2007 1st round pick
Age:
20
2008-2009 team: Seattle (WHL)
57 games, 16-35-51

You've probably heard this story before. The Los Angeles Kings are stuffed full of tantalizing young prospects, and Hickey is the latest in the line. He has plenty of physical and mental maturity, and he could end up helping the Kings on the power play immediately.

Phoenix Coyotes

Nick Ross, D
2007 1st round pick
Age:
20
2008-2009 team: Vancouver (WHL)
74 games, 11-32-43

There isn't much about Ross' game that stands out. He's more of a defensive defenseman, in that he just does his job and stays out of the spotlight. Don't be fooled by his production in major junior, because Ross won't be a big goal scorer when he hits the NHL in a couple years.

San Jose Sharks

Logan Couture, C
2007 1st round pick
Age:
20
2008-2009 team: Ottawa (OHL)
62 games, 39-48-87

Where Couture is impressive is his commitment level. He's a hard-nosed player who will stick his nose in things defensively, but he also can put the puck in the net, and he's a good passer who can set up teammates. The catch here is that Couture is practically blocked from getting to the NHL this year by a strong Sharks roster. That's fine, because he'll be part of one of the NHL's better farm systems (especially when it comes to goalies).
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