Revisiting the top 20 prospects

Juuso Valimaki
Photo credit:Ron Chenoy/USA Today Sports
Ryan Pike
2 years ago
Back in the summer, our writing team compiled our annual Top 20 prospects list. Since then, these prospects have played a lot of games. With the 2020-21 season winding down for many of these youngsters, let’s see how the Top 20 prospects have fared this season.

The top 20

#1 – D Juuso Valimaki
After a brief stint in SM-Liiga with Ilves, Valimaki has been an NHL regular all season. He’s seemingly become a pet project of Darryl Sutter, who’s been taking him in and out of the lineup in an effort to apparently build consistency. Either way, Valimaki has graduated from this list as he’s played too many NHL games to remain Calder eligible.
#2 – C Connor Zary
Zary has had a pretty good season. He captured silver at the World Juniors, then headed to the AHL and excelled on Stockton’s first line. Then the WHL got going and he’s rolling along, scoring at a two points-per-game pace. He’ll be turning pro full-time next season.
#3 – LW Jakob Pelletier
Like Zary, Pelletier’s had a really nice season. He’s played exclusively in the QMJHL, aside from a trip to the World Juniors, but the COVID situation in Quebec has led to a lot of stops and starts unfortunately. Despite all that, he’s been the best player on the best team in the QMJHL. He’ll be turning pro full-time next season.
#4 (tie) – D Connor Mackey
Mackey’s had a really nice first pro season. He spent a good chunk of the season on the NHL taxi squad, playing three games. He then went to Stockton, where he’s been a top pairing player and one of the top offensive blueliners in the AHL. He’s already knocking on the door for a full-time NHL gig.
#4 (tie) – G Dustin Wolf
Wolf has had a good season. He won gold as backup for Team USA at the World Juniors. He won two out of three starts he made in the AHL (as a teenager). He’s one of the top-performing goalies in the WHL. He’ll be turning pro full-time next season.
#6 – LW Emilio Pettersen
In his first pro season, Pettersen has been solid. He’s fifth among Stockton skaters in points and he’s been a useful player as a rookie.
#7 – LW Dmitry Zavgorodniy
Zavgorodniy played a handful of games in the KHL during the stoppage. He’s been generating chances in Stockton but until recently he’s had rough puck luck.
#8 – C Glenn Gawdin
Gawdin’s bounced around a bunch this year. He played in Switzerland briefly, but left soon after arriving. He played for the Flames briefly, but didn’t get a ton of playing time. He’s been a fixture for Stockton, but hasn’t moved the needle offensively as much as other teammates have.
#9 – C Matthew Phillips
Phillips may be the most NHL-ready player in the system right now. He’s smart, he’s fast, and he can play all over the place. He’s the straw that stirs the drink for Stockton in basically every situation.
#10 – D Jeremie Poirier
Poirier has been as advertised: great offensively and a bit of a work in progress defensively. From all accounts, though, his defensive game has improved somewhat this season with Saint John. He’s got another full QMJHL season ahead of him before he can go pro.
#11 – C Adam Ruzicka
Ruzicka may be the most improved player in the system. The knock on him when he was drafted was “Hey, he’s super talented but he hasn’t had to work hard yet.” Well, he’s showed some consistency this season and combined with his talent and size, that’s made him one of the more dangerous offensive players in Stockton. If he can take a step over the summer, the Flames may have a gem on their hands.
#12 – D Yan Kuznetsov
Kuznetsov played college hockey and played at the World Juniors. Neither team set the world on fire in their respective tournaments, but he was pretty decent. The Flames signed him to an entry level deal after his season was up.
#13 – C Ilya Nikolayev
Nikolayev had a weird season. He was a top player for his junior team and was called up to minor pro. He found a niche as a bottom-six shutdown centre in minor pro, but that team missed the playoffs (and he got hurt) so he was returned to the junior team. The junior team was a powerhouse and by the time he got back to action, their key spots were filled up so he was used as a secondary player. He needs a consistent season to take a step in his development.
#14 – D Johannes Kinnvall
Kinnvall was great when he was healthy, maintaining his status as one of the top offensive defenders in the SHL. He missed a good chunk of the season with a couple injuries, though – first a shoulder and later a foot.
#15 – RW Eetu Tuulola
Tuulola bounced around a bit, playing in Sweden’s Allsvenskan and Finland’s SM-Liiga before the AHL started up. He’s played primarily in the bottom six for Stockton and has been solid if unspectacular.
#16 – C Luke Philp
Philp was basically how he was last season. He’s one of the team’s best pure goal-scorers, but he arguably lacks high-end attributes elsewhere (aside from perhaps hockey sense, which puts him in the spots to score all those goals).
#17 – RW Martin Pospisil
Pospisil is an unlucky person injury-wise, and hopefully he’s due for better luck. Since his pro career began, he’s missed time due to a concussion, COVID-19, and more recently both shoulder surgery and a knee injury. When he’s healthy, he’s arguably the organization’s best non-Tkachuk agitator: he’s big, he gets involved and makes the other team angry.
#18 – C Ryan Francis
Francis turned out to be a very nice pickup late in the 2020 NHL Draft. He’s one of the QMJHL’s best offensive producers and the only thing you can really criticize him for is that his points tend to come in bunches. If he could find a bit more consistency, maybe he’d become close to excellence, but for his level and what he’s being asked to do, he’s been a great junior player this season. He’ll likely be a full-time pro next season.
#19 – D Alexander Yelesin
Yelesin has been a pretty effective secondary defender for Stockton this season. He’s primarily been on the second pair, and he’s played well but hasn’t really jumped off the page on most nights.
#20 – G Tyler Parsons
Parsons has missed almost all of this season due to injury. He’s dressed once as backup for Stockton.

Should’ve been higher?

In retrospect, a few players out-performed where we had them on our rankings. Most notably Ryan Francis and Adam Ruzicka, who both really made big strides this season. Our top five was, though, generally full of players that showed very well thus far in 2020-21.
There were perhaps a handful of unranked players that had a case for cracking the list: Daniil Chechelev, Ilya Solovyov, C.J. Lerby and Artyom Zagidulin all had some nice stretches, including Zagidulin appearing in his first NHL game. That said, none of them are definitive slam-dunks.

Should’ve been lower?

You can argue that Zavgorodniy, Nikolayev and perhaps Tuulola and Parsons should’ve been ranked lower based on their performances this season, but Zavgorodniy was coming off an excellent junior career when we compiled our rankings.
Which prospects on our off-season Top 20 are you most excited to see in the future? Sound off in the comments!

Check out these posts...