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Prospects Analysis: Central Division Breakdown

Jon Litterine

Jon Litterine is RotoWire's lead MMA Writer and MMA Editor. He has covered numerous MMA events live. He's also RW's NHL Prospect Analyst. Jon has been writing for RotoWire since 2005. He is a graduate of U Mass-Lowell.

The second entry in a four-part series, this piece breaks down the prospect pools of each franchise in the Central Division, including the teams and leagues for which they played in 2015-16. The bolded numbers next to playersí names represent their rank among the NHLís top 100 prospects, if applicable.

(Note: Players with 25 games or more of NHL regular-season experience are not eligible.)

Chicago Blackhawks
1. Nick Schmaltz, F, University of North Dakota [NCAA] 30
2. Ville Pokka, D, Rockford [AHL] 76
3. Tyler Motte, F, U. of Michigan [NCAA]/Rockford [AHL] 82
4. Alex DeBrincat, F, Erie [OHL]
5. Chad Krys, D, USA U-18 Team [U.S. NTDP]
6. Ryan Hartman, F, Chicago [NHL]/Rockford [AHL]
7. Artur Kayumov, F, Russia U-18 Team [MHL]
8. Vince Hinostroza, F, Chicago [NHL]/Rockford [AHL]
9. Gustav Forsling, D, Linkoping [SHL]
10. Mark McNeill, F, Chicago [NHL]/Rockford [AHL]
Sleeper: Graham Knott, F, Niagara [OHL]

Overview: The model franchise in today's NHL, the Blackhawks do a better job of supplementing their top players with late-round draft picks (Motte, Hinostroza) and undrafted free agents (Artemi Panarin, Trevor van Riemsdyk) than any team in the league. Pokka, Hartman and McNeill are all ready for NHL duty in some capacity, but it will take an injury or trade for a spot to open in Chicago.

DeBrincat has 102 goals and 205 points for Erie over the last two seasons. He's very small (5-foot-7, 165 pounds) and there are legitimate concerns that he won't be able to succeed against bigger defensemen in the NHL, but he's an elite goal-scorer. Krys has above-average offensive ability and sees the game very well, but is going to need to make smarter decisions with the puck when he goes to Boston University this fall. Hartman's AHL numbers this past season (15 goals, 35 points) were nearly identical to the season before. He plays physically, but he would do well to carve out a career as a third-line, penalty-killing type. Kayumov was the 50th overall pick this past June. He has some real offensive ability, but he may not play much in Russia this season. Hinostroza had a nice first full season in the AHL (51 points in 66 games), but he may just be too small (5-foot-9, 170 pounds) to fill a top-six role at the NHL level. Forsling was traded to Chicago in the deal that sent Adam Clendening to Vancouver in January 2015. He has already signed his entry-level deal, and while there is limited upside here, it's quite a return for a fringe NHLer like Clendening. McNeill has been ready to play in the NHL for two seasons, but Chicago has shown no desire to give him a chance. He's a big kid known for his conditioning, but despite having been a first-round pick, heís better served in a depth role. Chicago reached to make Knott the 54th overall pick in 2015 and he responded by posting just 12 goals in 68 games for Niagara. Heís a sleeper if for no other reason than that itís impossible for him to play any worse than he did this last year.

Colorado Avalanche
1. Mikko Rantanen, F, Colorado [NHL]/San Antonio [AHL] 16
2. Tyson Jost, F, Penticton [BCHL] 40
3. J.T. Compher, F, University of Michigan [NCAA] 70
4. A.J. Greer, F, Rouyn-Noranda [QMJHL]/Boston University [NCAA]
5. Cam Morrison, F, Youngstown [USHL]
6. Will Butcher, D, University of Denver [NCAA]
7. Andrei Mironov, D, Moscow Dynamo [KHL]
8. Jean-Christophe Beaudin, F, Rouyn-Noranda [QMJHL]
9. Nicolas Meloche, D, Gatineau/Baie-Comeau [QMJHL]
10. Josh Anderson, D, Prince George [WHL]
Sleeper: Julien Nantel, F, Rouyn-Noranda [QMJHL]

Overview: The Colorado system is very top-heavy, with four quality prospects and another highly promising one in Morrison whoís many years away. The rest of the group contains several overachievers and long shots. Outside of 2015, the Colorado brain trust has done a terrible job of drafting over the past half-dozen years.

Greer was getting very little ice time when he bolted BU for the QMJHL. He got progressively better as the season went along and played his best hockey of the season in Rouyn-Noranda's run to the Memorial Cup Championship game. Greerís going to need some time in the minors, but he has all the tools to be an effective power forward at the NHL level. An all-around offensive weapon, Morrison was one of the best players in the USHL this past season. How much he will be able to produce at Notre Dame, a school that has a history of running offensive prospects into the ground, remains to be seen. Butcher is a small, offensive-minded defenseman who will play his fourth and final season at the University of Denver this fall. Mironov turned just 22 years of age in July, but he's already played four seasons in the KHL. He would probably be a third-pairing NHL regular if the Avs can ever convince him to come to North America. Beaudin had 33 goals and 82 points in 58 games for Rouyn-Noranda, a considerable improvement over his numbers from a season ago. He's a candidate to take another step forward in his final season of junior hockey. Meloche is big (6-foot-3, 205 pounds), plays a physical style, and has more offense to his game than he gets credit for. He appeared to be a reach at the time, but he's starting to look like a potential value pick at 40th overall in 2015. Anderson is your typical stay-at-home defender who offers next to nothing offensively. The best-case scenario for him in the pros is probably the third pairing and penalty-killing duty. Nantel battled injuries this past season in the QMJHL, but he was productive when healthy. He has a chance to have an NHL career, which is a great outcome for a guy who was the 204th pick in 2014.

Dallas Stars
1. Julius Honka, D, Texas [AHL] 53
2. Riley Tufte, F, Fargo [USHL] 87
3. Esa Lindell, D, Dallas [NHL]/Texas [AHL] 98
4. Jason Dickinson, F, Dallas [NHL]/Texas [AHL]
5. Stephen Johns, D, Dallas [NHL]/Texas [AHL]
6. Devin Shore, F, Dallas [NHL]/Texas [AHL]
7. Denis Gurianov, F, Lada Togliatti [KHL]
8. Roope Hintz, F, HIFK Helsinki [Liiga]
9. Remi Elie, F, Texas [AHL]
10. Niklas Hansson, D, HV71 [SHL]/Texas [AHL]
Sleeper: Chris Martenet, D, London [OHL]

Overview: In the last decade, Dallas has drafted exactly four players that I would term average or better NHL players (Jamie Benn, Reilly Smith, John Klingberg, Valeri Nichushkin). Honka, Tufte and Lindell all have potential to be top-50 prospects and Guryanov and Hansson have high ceilings, albeit ones that they are unlikely to reach. There is potential here, but the Stars have blown so many high picks that all of their selections need to be closely scrutinized.

Dickinson played one game with Dallas last season and scored his first NHL goal. He was never a huge point producer in his junior days, but the 2013 first-round pick had a nice first season in the AHL (53 points in 73games). Acquired from Chicago in the Patrick Sharp trade last summer, Johns was a key defenseman for Dallas by the time the playoffs rolled around. He made this yearís team out of camp and has already scored his first goal. Shore parlayed a blazing start in Texas into a three-game stint with Dallas, but he was quickly returned to the AHL and suffered a shoulder injury in early December that ended his season. Gurianov had four goals and five points in 47 KHL games last year. The 2015 12th overall pick is coming to North America this year, but is nothing more than a high-end lottery ticket at this point. Hintz is a big body and an energy player who has the potential to be a useful two-way third-liner. Elie had a nice junior career, but he scored just six goals in 64 games in his first AHL season. The odds are against him becoming a useful NHL regular. A third-round pick in 2013, Hansson started last season in Sweden and finished in the AHL. He moves well and has a lot of offensive ability, but he offers nothing from a physical standpoint and his defensive reads need plenty of work. A gigantic, hulking defender, the 6-foot-7 Martenet still has no idea how to use his size to his advantage on a regular basis, but the tools are there for him to turn into a dominant stay-at-home defenseman.

Minnesota Wild
1) Alex Tuch, F, Boston College [NCAA] 44
2) Joel Eriksson-Ek, F, Farjestad [SHL] 79
3) Kirill Kaprizov, F, Novokuznetsk [KHL] 89
4) Jordan Greenway, F, Boston University [NCAA] 100
5) Luke Kunin, F, University of Wisconsin [NCAA]
6) Sam Anas, F, Quinnipiac University [NCAA]
7) Louis Belpedio, D, Miami University [NCAA]
8) Gustav Olofsson, D, Minnesota [NHL]/Iowa [AHL]
9) Mario Lucia, F, University of Notre Dame [NCAA]/Iowa [AHL]
10) Kaapo Kahkonen, G, Blues [Liiga]
Sleeper: Gustav Bouramann, D, Sault Ste. Marie [OHL]

Overview: Whether itís lack of size (Anas, Belpedio), lack of production (Lucia) or injuries (Olofsson), the end result is a Minnesota system that is full of prospects with notable flaws. Greenway and Kaprizov both have star potential in addition to Tuch, but the Wild need several of the players listed above to take a significant step forward this season.

I didn't think much of Minnesota's selection of Kunin at No. 15 overall this past June. He had a nice freshman season at Wisconsin (32 points in 34 games) despite playing for a terrible team; still, he may be nothing more than a very talented third-line center. Anas was one of the best collegiate players in the country over the last three seasons for Quinnipiac, and he signed with the Wild as a free agent in April. He may be too small to succeed as a pro, but itís a worthwhile gamble. An undersized, puck-moving defenseman, Belpedio took a step back defensively last season, finishing with a minus-14 rating just one season after finishing plus-15. Olofsson is built like a tank, but he has dealt with serious injuries to both of his shoulders that have resulted in him playing just 55 games over the past two seasons. His upside is limited, but he should spend a significant portion of this season in the NHL if he can remain healthy. Lucia played four years at Notre Dame, but he never had the breakout offensive season that many expected. He's a big body with good hands, but it's possible heís nothing more than a good minor league player. Kahkonen is your typical draft-and-stash goaltending prospect. He is going to need a couple more years in Finland. Bouramann struggles with the physical aspect of the game, but he's a smart defender and a very good puck mover. A seventh-round pick in 2015, he could carve out a career as a third-pairing guy who can help on the power play.

Nashville Predators
1. Vladislav Kamenev, F, Milwaukee [AHL] 49
2. Kevin Fiala, F, Nashville [NHL]/Milwaukee [AHL] 51
3. Juuse Saros, G, Nashville [NHL]/Milwaukee [AHL] 52
4. Dante Fabbro, D, Penticton [BCHL] 97
5. Jack Dougherty, D, Milwaukee [AHL]/Portland [WHL]
6. Yakov Trenin, F, Milwaukee [AHL]/Gatineau [QMJHL]
7. Pontus Aberg, F, Nashville [NHL]/Milwaukee [AHL]
8. Samuel Girard, D, Shawinigan [QMJHL]
9. Alexandre Carrier, D, Gatineau [QMJHL]
10. Karel Vejmelka, G, HC Brno/SK Horacka [Czech Extraliga]
Sleeper: Anthony Richard, F, Val-d'Or [QMJHL]

Overview: More than any other team in the league, Nashville's prospect pool is full of high-risk, high-reward players. Kamenev and Fiala in particular are two of the most enigmatic prospects in the game. I like this group, if for no other reason than that Iím a big believer in drafting players with the highest possible ceilings.

Dougherty had a very nice offensive season for Portland (52 points in 68 games), although he plays a simple game and projects as more of a two-way defenseman as a pro. Trenin is an elite offensive talent, but has struggled with consistency. If he ever puts it all together, look out. Aberg made his NHL debut in the playoffs, dressing for a pair of games. A 25-goal scorer in the AHL last season, he should be ready to help Nashville in a depth role. Girard was as talented an offensive defenseman as there was available in this past June's draft, but he ended up being taken 47th overall because of his careless, high-risk style of play. He's so skinny (160 pounds) that I'm not entirely convinced he will be able to take a regular shift at the NHL level. Carrier's game is similar to Girard's, albeit with less upside. He's a bit stronger, which should help him moving forward. A big kid who plays his angles well, Vejmelka is a long-term project in goal. Richard has posted 80 goals and 178 points over his last two QMJHL seasons. He's no lock to succeed, but he is worth keeping an eye on.

St. Louis Blues
1. Jake Walman, D, Providence College [NCAA] 55
2. Ville Husso, G, HIFK [Liiga] 57
3. Ivan Barbashev, F, Chicago [AHL] 90
4. Vince Dunn, D, Niagara [OHL] 91
5. Jordan Schmaltz, D, Chicago [AHL]
6. Tage Thompson, F, University of Connecticut [NCAA]
7. Jordan Kyrou, F, Sarnia [OHL]
8. Nolan Stevens, F, Northeastern University [NCAA]
9. Jordan Binnington, G, St. Louis [NHL]/Chicago [AHL]
10. Austin Poganski, F, University of North Dakota [NCAA]
Sleeper: Tommy Vannelli, D, Chicago [AHL]

Overview: With their former top prospect (Barbashev) having a dreadful season, the Bluesí system is in worse shape than it has been in recent memory. I like Walman, Husso and Dunn more than most, but it's hard to find many bright spots after that. St. Louis is going to need a guy like Thompson or Stevens to exceed expectations.

Schmaltz earned a call to St. Louis in his first pro season, but he never dressed in a game. He had 36 points in 71 AHL contests, which would seem to be a best-case scenario for his eventual production at the NHL level. Thompson has mouth-watering size (6-foot-5, 195 pounds) and good hands, but he is stunningly inconsistent, even for such a young player. On the flip side, he was by all accounts one of the best players at the Team USA World Junior Evaluation Camp this summer. For a player with Kryouís natural ability, not enough gets done. He had a mediocre season for Sarnia (51 points in 65 games) and has to show the Blues more this coming year. I thought the Blues got a steal when they nabbed Stevens in the fifth round this June. He's a big, talented forward who averaged more than a point per game (42 in 41) during his sophomore season at Northeastern. Binnington has been a pro for the last three years, the last two having been spent in the AHL. He has a chance to be an NHL backup, but that's about it. A power forward who loves to bang with opposing defenders in the offensive zone, Poganski figures to be a useful role player down the road. Injuries limited Vannelli to just seven AHL games last season. He's a tall, lanky kid who moves well and can run a power play.

Winnipeg Jets
1. Patrik Laine, F, Tappara [Liiga] 2
2. Kyle Connor, F, University of Michigan [NCAA] 5
3. Josh Morrissey, D, Winnipeg [NHL]/Manitoba [AHL] (63)
4. Logan Stanley, D, Windsor [OHL]
5. Jack Roslovic, F, Miami University [NCAA]
6. Eric Comrie, G, Manitoba [AHL]
7. Jansen Harkins, F, Manitoba [AHL]/Prince George [WHL]
8. Brendan Lemieux, F, Manitoba [AHL]/Barrie, Windsor [OHL]
9. Luke Green, D, St. John's [QMJHL]
10. Jan Kostalek, D, Manitoba [AHL]
Sleeper: Jack Glover, D, University of Minnesota [NCAA]

Overview: Even with a couple of their better prospects coming off dreadful years (Morrissey, Comrie), the Jets still boast one of the brightest systems in the league. The addition of Laine, the emergence of Connor, and the depth of the system at every single position put the Jets in a great spot moving forward.

A 6-foot-7 beast on skates, Stanley was one of the more underrated picks of the first round this past June. Heís never going to do much offensively, but he has better hands than he gets credit for and has the ability to be a punishing defender Ė no surprise, given his size. Roslovic's production during his first season at Miami (Ohio) was limited (26 points in 36 games), but that didn't stop the Jets from signing him this summer. He is going to need some time in the AHL, but he has value due to his ability to play up and down a lineup. Comrie's first pro season did not go well (3.12 GAA, .907 save percentage). He's talented enough to be a fringe NHL starter, but thereís no way heís ever going to catch fellow youngster Connor Hellebuyck at the top of Winnipeg's depth chart. Although I donít see a kid with high-end skill, Harkins impacts the game in enough ways that I feel comfortable predicting that heíll develop into an NHL regular. Lemieux plays a lot like his dad, Claude: an agitating winger who has enough offensive ability to keep you honest. I think he's ultimately just a very good role player. Green is technically a defenseman, but he plays like a forward. A pure offensive blueliner, his NHL future will rest entirely on his ability to make smart decisions with the puck. Kostalek had just one goal and nine points in 52 games over his first AHL season Ė considerably worse numbers than I would have projected. On the bright side, he took just 10 minor penalties over the course of the year. Glover has represented the United States in international tournaments on multiple occasions. He doesn't do much offensively, but he plays a physical, smart game. This will be his junior year with the Gophers.