Which NHL Draft prospects have the most upside? Corey Pronman ranks the top 31

I’ve decided to try a new idea: a draft ranking based on pure upside. In other words, ranking players by the best case scenario in their projection.

To be clear, this is not a new draft list for me. I put one out last week and that is my actual list. What is different about this list? This is how I would rank the draft-eligibles based purely on how I rate the players’ tools, without incorporating any statistics and performances at various events and within their club teams as I do with my actual list.

Thus, just based on the prospects’ traits, here is how I would list them.

1. Logan Cooley, C, USNTDP-USHL
When I pose the question to scouts: “Who has the most potential in this draft to be a NHL star?” the answer is almost always Logan Cooley. He’s not that big, but he’s a dynamic combination of speed, skill and offensive creativity to go with a high compete level. He’s not my No. 1 ranked player in the draft because he doesn’t have that kind of track record, but he absolutely has the potential to pop and become a star No. 1 center who teams build their franchise around.

2. Juraj Slafkovsky, LW, TPS-Liiga
Slafkovsky is a player built for this type of list. As a 6-foot-4 forward who can skate and has a lot of skill and scoring ability, he passes every aesthetic test for the NHL as a potential star. He didn’t produce huge numbers in Liiga albeit playing on a top team, but he has shown the skill level is very high at various tournaments throughout the season including versus men.

3. Cutter Gauthier, C/LW, USNTDP-USHL
Gauthier has everything you look for in an NHL player. He’s 6-foot-2, is a strong skater, has offensive skill, an elite shot, and provides value at both ends of the ice. He kept growing on me as the season went along. His numbers aren’t gaudy this season, hence not being this high on my actual big board, but if we fast forwarded five to 10 years and you told me he turned into a perennial All-Star I wouldn’t blink.

4. Shane Wright, C, Kingston-OHL
The projected No. 1 pick comes in at No. 4 in this exercise, and despite not having the most incredible draft season, him being this high should tell you there is still a lot to like about this player tools-wise. He has a lot of NHL assets, with his feet, hands, brain, shot and compete all being NHL quality, and with no discernible weakness. It’s not a toolkit that gets you riled up at No. 1 overall, but it’s a clear top pick set of abilities to go with an elite track record.

5. Ivan Miroshnichenko, LW, Avangard-VHL
Miroshnichenko was a top 5 player for me prior to his Hodgkin’s lymphoma diagnosis. He was rated that high due to a very well-rounded pro toolkit, showing NHL speed, skill, frame, an elite shot and a great motor. Obviously his health is the main thing we’re all concerned about and why he won’t go close to this range on draft day, but Miroshnichenko thankfully has been making positive progress in dealing with his illness.

6. David Jiricek, RHD, Plzen-Czechia
Jiricek is a 6-foot-3 defenseman with legit offensive ability. He can make plays, has a great point shot, and is hard to play against physically. He’s not the prettiest skater but almost every other attribute in his game yells high in the lineup NHL defenseman.

7. Simon Nemec. RHD, Nitra-Slovakia
Nemec doesn’t have the pure physical package that some of the players ranked right ahead of him do in terms of great size or skating, but when you watch him his pure skill/IQ combo is quite evident. He’s the best puck-mover on defense in the draft and has PP1 potential in the NHL.

8. Danila Yurov, RW, Magnitogorsk-KHL
Despite Yurov barely getting ice time in the KHL this season and having a very good albeit not amazing season at the junior level, scouts rate Yurov highly because of how talented he is. He’s one of the best stick handlers in the draft, he can skate, he competes well enough at both ends and has decent size with a frame you expect will fill out with time.

9. Lian Bichsel, LHD, Leksands-SHL
Bichsel is a 6-foot-5 defenseman with decent mobility who plays hard. When you watch him on the ice he’s easy to dream on and imagine a world where he becomes the next Darnell Nurse or the like. He didn’t have a big statistical season though, and exactly how much offense/how pure a puck-mover he is versus men is the debate on him and why I don’t have him rated this high on my actual list.


Matthew Savoie. (Chris Tanouye / Getty Images)

10. Matthew Savoie, C, Winnipeg-WHL
Savoie is a very talented offensive player. He skates quite well, has great puck skills, high-end vision and can shoot the puck too. He has everything you want except the frame as he measures in at about 5-foot-9. Despite his lack of size he measures up well on a list like this because of all the other assets he has.

11. Jani Nyman, LW, Koovee-Mestis
Nyman has a chance to be a first round pick but he’ll probably go in the second. Although he was quite productive versus men in Finland’s second tier league he didn’t really have a big season between his club or international play. He’s rated this high though because as a large, highly skilled winger who can score goals there is a lot about his game to project. He’s a very young 2004 birthdate too so there could be a lot of projection in Nyman’s game.

12. Kirill Dolzhenkov, RW, CSKA-MHL
Dolzhenkov is a mountain of a man at 6-foot-6 and has legit offensive skill and playmaking to go with his massive frame. There aren’t a lot of NHL forwards who look like him, but when you watch him play the pro upside and abilities he has stand out even though his skating needs a lot of work. He played on a top junior team but didn’t put up big numbers and we didn’t get to see him in international play to see how he’d fare in a different context. He’s going to be a big swing type of pick for an organization.

13. Marco Kasper, C, Rogle-SHL
Kasper won’t be the best on his NHL team at any one thing, but he’s got a well-rounded skill set that will accomplish a lot as a pro. He can skate and handle pucks like an NHLer. He sees the ice well and can finish plays. He competes hard and has an edge in his game. I don’t know if his scoring numbers will ever be incredible, but when you watch him you can envision someone having a long career.

14. Daniil Zhilkin, C, Guelph-OHL
Coming into the season I thought Zhilkin would be a comfortable first round pick. He looked like a prospect with all the attributes. He has decent size down the middle, a very high skill level, good feet, a strong shot and overall offensive IQ. The production didn’t come this season. He’d show you stretches of what he could be, but he was wildly inconsistent.

15. Filip Bystedt, C, Linkoping-Sweden Jr.
It’s easy to watch Bystedt and imagine what he could be in the NHL as a 6-foot-3 center who can move and has some offense. When he’s flying up the ice and making a play or scoring a goal from the dots you can think of a world where he becomes an important player for an NHL team. Those moments were infrequent though and there were games I barely noticed him.

16. Kevin Korchinski, LHD, Seattle-WHL
Korchinski stands out when you watch him. He always has the puck on his stick as a mobile defenseman with great hands and offensive instincts. When you combine that with a 6-foot-2 frame the tools are easy to see, and and it’s easy to think of a scenario where he becomes a quality top four defenseman in the NHL even if he’s never an all-world defender.

17. Jiri Kulich, LW, Karlovy Vary-Czechia
I wouldn’t have thought Kulich would slot this highly on a pure tools ranking most of the season, but after how good he looked at the U18s in Germany I have no issue slotting him here. He looks like a very well-rounded offensive player who can beat you with speed, skill, playmaking, his shot or through his compete.

18. Cam Lund, RW, Green Bay-USHL
From the first time I saw Cam Lund in the summer through the end of the season he always popped off the page to me. When you have his 6-foot-2 frame and can skate like he can and bring legit offensive touch to the table it’s hard not to spot that guy on the ice. His effort level wavers and he didn’t score close to a first round pick type of player in the USHL this season, but if he hits you’ll get a player. He’s a June 2004 birthday so I can see the argument to bet on the projection with him too.

19. Pavel Mintyukov, LHD, Saginaw-OHL
Mintyukov wasn’t hard to spot on the ice during Saginaw games. He was the defenseman with a decent frame who could skate and was constantly activating into attacks and making plays. He’s an easy player to like, and it’s easy to see the offensive potential he has. He’ll have to learn to reign in his style as he gets to the pros but there are a lot of traits to work with for an NHL team.

20. Frank Nazar. C, USNTDP-USHL
Nazar lacks the frame of many of those above him on this type of list, but what he does have is a ton of speed and he brings a lot of offense. Nazar can make the flashy plays, but he also plays with courage and attacks the high percentage areas with frequency leading him to standing out often in my viewings.

21. Conor Geekie, C, Winnipeg-WHL
Geekie is a tall center with very good puck skills and offensive IQ. The argument for me about why Geekie should be a high pick revolves less around how he looked this season and what he could be. Due to playing on a stacked team to go with his heavy feet and average compete he didn’t have a huge season, but you can envision him being a great pro and really popping in the future.

22. Matyas Sapovaliv, C, Saginaw-OHL
Sapovaliv doesn’t have as much name recognition as someone like Conor Geekie, but as a 6-foot-3 center with good hands and vision who can play at both ends of the ice he is a player getting a lot of NHL attention. Given he doesn’t skate well and I didn’t love his performances in junior or internationally when I watched him I’m not as high on him as some scouts I talk to, but I admit there is a lot of potential in his game if he hits.

23. Denton Mateychuk, LHD, Moose Jaw-WHL
From a pure skating/skill standpoint, Mateychuk is one of the most talented defensemen in the class. He can make plays off the rush and from the offensive blue line that few others in the class can. The skating gets you excited about his NHL projection, but there is also a reality that he’s a 5-foot-11 defenseman and not many of those become top players in the NHL.

24. Tristan Luneau, RHD, Gatineau-QMJHL

Luneau is a player who I struggled rating all season. I like the idea of him, as a 6-foot-2 right-shot defenseman with legit puck-moving touch and a hard point shot. I didn’t love his season overall though. It was fine but he didn’t jump off the page to me when I watched mostly due to his skating. He has first-round tools — I will admit that even if I didn’t think he had a first-round caliber season.

25. Brad Lambert, RW, Pelicans-Liiga
Some may be surprised to see Lambert so low given how talented he is. He’s a fantastic skater with a lot of offensive skill. Him being only at 25 shows you how I thought he looked this season, with very inconsistent effort in club play, and how much my top 15 ranking on my actual list is a deference to what I’ve seen him do over time.

26. Rutger McGroarty, LW, USNTDP-USHL
McGroarty has a good toolkit. He has offensive skill, he can create and finish plays and generated a lot of offense for the USNTDP this season. He’s rated higher on my actual list than he is here though because the tools don’t jump out that much to you, due to his iffy skating stride. He was so consistent this season though, speaking to how good his compete level is and how he always wanted to make a difference in a game.

27. Devin Kaplan, RW, USNTDP-USHL
Whenever I’ve watched Kaplan over the last two years I’ve come away quite impressed by the skill set. As a tall forward with good puck skills who can create offense there is a lot of potential in his game. His performance this season was quite inconsistent offensively, even if I saw other elements like how he uses his body. If he puts it all together an NHL team could get a real player.

28. Reid Schaefer, LW, Seattle-WHL
Schaefer is a player who steadily won me over this season. He’s not an overly flashy offensive player, but he has skill and scoring ability to go with a large frame. He plays hard and seems to always impose his way onto a game. There isn’t a long track record of him being a legit scorer, but if he turned into a solid NHL player I wouldn’t be shocked.

29. Daniil Ivanov, LHD, Spartak Moscow-MHL
Ivanov is highly intriguing as a 6-foot-4 defenseman who moves well for his size and shows some offense. There were shifts when he’s carrying the puck up ice with speed or closing onto a check with force that you could easily see him in the NHL. I didn’t see him play that well consistently and when he played with the Russian U20 team at the end of the season I thought he was just OK. I didn’t rate him high on my actual list but I could buy the upside bet on him.

30. Viktor Neuchev, RW, Yekaterinburg-MHL
Neuchev was a fun player to watch this season. It felt every time he got the puck in the offensive zone he could create a highlight reel moment due to his excellent stick handling and scoring ability. His skating needs work and his effort level wavers, but there is ability for him to pop and become a legit pro.

31. Ben King, C, Red Deer-WHL
A name off the beaten trail to wrap up this piece is a player who scored 50 goals and 100 points in the WHL. King also has good size and plays the middle. When I watched him this season I liked the skill, the offensive sense and his ability to score from range. But he’s a third year eligible who doesn’t skate well and I don’t love his play away from the puck. Historically those types don’t translate to the pros so he didn’t even end up on my list, but I admit I liked him in instances and I could see him being a sleeper candidate.

(Photo of Cutter Gauthier: RvS.Media / Monika Majer / Getty Images)

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