Today's Top 10 examines several players who find themselves in a position to make a run at an NHL roster spot this season. Appearing on this list are players who are 1990 and younger born. This cutoff was used to limit the players appearing on this list to those who would have to return to the OHL (with a few exceptions) should they not make the NHL. Obviously some quality 1989 born players have a chance to make NHL rosters like Logan Couture, Eric Tangradi and P.K. Subban. However, should these guys fail to crack the NHL, they'd be sent down to the AHL, rather than return for their overage season in the OHL.
The exceptions to the cutoff on the list are guys like John Carlson, Evgeni Grachev, and Andrei Loktionov. They were drafted by NHL teams from outside of the OHL, and thus there are no restrictions on them being sent down to the AHL should they not make the NHL. So it is very unlikely we will see them again in the OHL, even if they don't make the NHL. The rest of the guys on this list are NHL or back to the OHL though.
The list is ordered according to the potential impact the players could have in the NHL.
Enough talking, let's see the list!
10. Calvin de Haan - Oshawa Generals/New York Islanders
I admit, this is a huge long shot. However, crazier things have happened. Calvin wouldn't be the first player to go from Tier 2, to the CHL, to the NHL (Patrice Bergeron). While he may not appear strong or fast enough for the professional game at this point, reports out of the Islanders Prospect Development Camp suggested he was the best player on the ice. Keep in mind that the camp included other prospects and not NHL players, so his strength and size may not have been given an adequate test. The real test will come when NHL training camp opens. But also keep in mind de Haan is a player who relies on his intelligence and poise. He intends to outthink the opposition, not out muscle them. Could he be good enough to supply the Islanders with the secondary offense they need from the back end behind Mark Streit? Not likely, but you never know!
9. Tyler Cuma - Ottawa 67's/Minnesota Wild
Having already lost a year of development because of injury, it's pretty unlikely that the rehabbing Cuma will make the Wild. That being said, Cuma is 100% again and apparently playing better than ever. Having read some reports, it sounds like he excelled at the Team Canada Summer camp. While the 67's are obviously banking on him returning to anchor their blueline, the Wild could also potentially use his services. They've got a bit of a hole on their 3rd pairing (with average to below average defenders Greg Zanon and Shane Hnidy holding down the spots), so if Cuma performs very well at Wild training camp, he could easily put himself in the mix for a roster spot.
8. Nazem Kadri - London Knights/Toronto Maple Leafs
While I think Kadri could definitely use another season in the OHL (at least), the holes in the Maple Leafs top 6 forward spots could give him an invaluable opportunity to make the team. His offensive capabilities might be too hard for Leafs brass to overlook considering that the team badly needs offensive support. While I do expect Kadri to be back in London this year, I also wouldn't be surprised to see him get a 10 game look from the Leafs in order to properly evaluate his abilities and give him things to work on in London.
7. Ryan Ellis - Windsor Spitfires/Nashville Predators
I don't think there is any question in anyone's mind as to whether Ryan Ellis is ready to play defence in the NHL, because he's not. However, his powerplay capabilities could help just about any team in the league. This is especially true for Nashville who finished 5th last in the league in 2008-09 for powerplay percentage. And with some openings on defence, the Preds could afford to take on Ellis as a powerplay specialist, limiting his minutes 5 on 5. The bigger question would be, is this good for Ellis' development? I'd say no, but that is opening up a whole other can of beans.
6. Evgeny Grachev - Brampton Battalion/New York Rangers & Andrei Loktionov - Windsor Spitfires/Los Angeles Kings
Both of these guys technically should not be on this list, because if they don't make the NHL, they'll be playing in the AHL as 1990 born players, not the OHL. Since they were drafted out of Russia, and not the OHL, this is not prohibited. Grachev has the best chance to crack the NHL out of the two. He's strong enough and fast enough to play a scoring role in the NHL right now. He was apparently quite impressive at the rookie camp too. With a few openings in the Rangers bottom six, he's got a chance to catch on right away. Loktionov is less likely, since the Kings have a fair amount of depth at forward. However, he is exceptionally skilled and his performance at the Memorial Cup suggested he was hungry for more.
5. John Carlson - London Knights/Washington Capitals
Carlson is another guy not likely returning to the OHL, even if he doesn't make the NHL. Being drafted out of the United States Hockey League, Carlson would not need to be returned to the OHL as a 1990 born player. Considering that he jumped right into the line up of the Hershey Bears for their Calder Cup run following the elimination of London from the playoffs, I'd say he's ready for the next step. Whether that next step puts him in Washington or Hershey, is the question. Carlson is a strong two way defender who has recently been performing very well at the United States WJC Summer camp.
4. Alex Pietrangelo - Niagara IceDogs/St. Louis Blues
Considering Pietrangelo played for St. Louis to start the 2008-09 season, I'd say most people expect he'll be there for good this season. I'm not quite as convinced. He didn't really take a step forward in his development this year and could be better served by working on his defensive game in the OHL, and anchoring a 2010 Canadian WJC team blueline. Blues President John Davidson has even alluded to the fact that Pietrangelo may not be ready for NHL duty this season. However, the Blues do have some gaps on their blueline. Whether those gaps get filled by Alex, or another one of the Blues strong prospects, remains to be seen.
3. Matt Duchene - Brampton Battalion/Colorado Avalanche
Quite frankly, I'd be very surprised if Duchene returns to Brampton this year. I fully expect the recent 3rd overall pick to be anchoring the Avs second line in 2009-10. He's incredibly talented, but also a determined two way player who should not be in over his head at the next level. With Duchene already under contract with the Avs, the Battalion appear ready to move on as well, as they look poised for a rebuilding season. Duchene on the other hand should be a Rookie of the Year candidate, that is if the young Avs can score enough goals to get him the points.
2. Cody Hodgson - Brampton Battalion/Vancouver Canucks
The other reason the Battalion appear poised to rebuild, Hodgson figures to be a lock for a spot with the Canucks this season. Many prognosticators have him pegged for serious Rookie of the Year contention and a spot in Vancouver's top 9 forwards. Like Duchene, his solid two way play should make his transition to the NHL rather smooth. The Canucks could be serious contenders this year if they can get a strong performance out of Hodgson.
1. John Tavares - London Knights/New York Islanders
About the only player you can truly pencil in to an NHL line up, as of this moment. The chances of Tavares playing outside Long Island are slim to none. The Islanders need offence, in particular goals, and Tavares can supply that. Not to mention the hype surrounding his arrival, which the Isles are using to help sell tickets. Tavares has nothing left to prove at the OHL level and his goal scoring prowess should continue to the NHL rather effortlessly. An interesting tidbit is that Tavares is actually eligible for the AHL this season, should he not make the NHL. Much like Jason Spezza in the past, Tavares has played 4 full seasons in the OHL, despite being a late 1990 born player and recent draft selection. Like Spezza, his early OHL entrance gives him the necessary playing time in order to move on. That being said, don't be expecting him in Bridgeport either, Sound Tiger fans!
Stay tuned next week, as we begin to prepare for the 2009-10 OHL season, with a new season themed top 10.