Over the five years I've been taking part in the Top 25 Under 25 lists, there always seems to be someone left off the top 25 that makes a nice jump and even appears in a few NHL games. However, we've yet to have anyone who missed the top 25 completely that has made the NHL permanently. That might change thanks to last year, when Dustin Tokarski finished 29th in our voting before ending the season starting for the Canadiens in the Eastern Conference Finals. Others to miss the cut in recent years include Magnus Nygren (26th in 2012), Greg Pateryn (27th in 2011 and unranked in 2010), and fresh faced late round picks like Charles Hudon, Sven Andrighetto, and Martin Reway. All of these guys are in the top 25 this year, so opinion can change quickly. The players this low on the list aren't exactly write-offs, they could improve significantly or our group of 16 could just be plain wrong about them.
So, it is my duty to show which guys we are more likely to be wrong about than others. A couple of patterns emerge: guys that are older that have had a dropoff in play, or just not quite make an advancement (Nygren, Pateryn, Tokarski), and new guys to the organization we aren't all that familiar with (Hudon, Andrighetto, even going back a ways to one time call-up Brendon Nash). But this year also saw a bit of a theme amongst the panel: the NCAA prospects seemed to slide under the radar a bit.
Mac Bennett, LD
Bennett has been a staple on our Top 25 since it's inception. He finally turned professional after completing his musicology studies at the University of Michigan, and he was the captain of the Big Ten school in his senior year. Bennett possesses elite skating but has not developed into a high end offensive defenseman like many had predicted. However, the skill set is still there for him to make an impact as a professional player. Scouting reports on him have become less and less, as his team wasn't a contender this year for the NCAA title and it's been five years from his draft date. Luckily for us, SBN's College Hockey Blog took a thorough look at him back in December, noting the massive minutes he had to play with Jacob Trouba leaving Michigan, his excellent one-on-one defending, and aggressive fronting of the puck when defending the front of the net. They also highlight his strong passing ability. In terms of raw tools, I like Bennet a bit more than others ahead of him on the list, but at age 23 without any professional action, it is tough to rank him against guys like Darren Dietz, Dalton Thrower, or even his former Michigan defence partner Greg Pateryn.
In reality, I expect Bennett to step into a top four role with the Bulldogs this season, perhaps getting broken into the professional circuit with his old collegiate partner, Pateryn. If you're in the top four in the AHL as a rookie (even at age 23), you have a legitimate shot at making it in the NHL. I had Bennett in my top 20, but he narrowly missed the cut from the panel as a whole, finishing 26th in a very close vote for 25th.
Daniel Carr, LW
Another recent NCAA graduate, Daniel Carr has the opposite problem of Bennett, even though he's only a few months younger. Carr was undrafted and no Canadiens fan was really following his career, unless you also doubled as a NCAA fan from upstate New York. Carr played for tiny Union College after a prolific AJHL and BCHL career. In his four years there, Carr put up 157 points in 160 games on a team that won three ECAC titles. Carr finished his senior year as a second team Eastern All-American with 50 points in 39 games, and then went on to help lead Union to it's first ever NCAA Div 1 title of any kind with a 7-4 win over the much more decorated University of Minnesota, just a couple days after knocking off another NCAA powerhouse in Boston College.
Chris Peters of CBS wrote on his old The United States of Hockey blog about Carr when he signed, noting his 200 foot game, speed, smart decision making with the puck, and ability to help drive his team's 'electric puck-possession style.' Sounds good to me. I expect Carr to be a key part of the Bulldogs top 9 forwards, especially with younger players like Jacob De La Rose, Charles Hudon and Tim Bozon as the main options on the left side. I ran a basic search for statistical comparables with similarly aged NCAA graduates from recent seasons and the list revealed some interesting names:
|Name||GP||G||A||Pts||Pts/GP||AHL GP||AHL Pts/GP||NHL GP||NHL Pts/GP|
Carr compares pretty favourably to this group, and was the best goal scorer of the bunch. Two of these guys have made the NHL, with two more being higher up AHLers getting a shot at making the NHL. I expect Carr to project similarly to these players.
Brett Lernout, RD
Lernout was an interesting draft pick from the Canadiens, who traded up in the third round to pick the defensive defenseman out of Swift Current of the Western Hockey League. In my work for the Saskatoon Blades, I saw Lernout a number of times although I can't say I was ever watching him specifically. He was the fourth defenceman on team with a winning record, but ultimately bowed out in the first round of the playoffs in six games. He fits the prototype of the new breed of larger, defensive defensemen in that he has strong skating skills and can make strong plays with the puck even if he lacks offensive creativity. While his point totals were far from spectacular, he did finish a respectable 31st amongst draft eligible CHL defencemen in points/60 at ES (although it should be noted this is an estimated rank). He could turn professional as soon as next year, but I wouldn't be surprised if the Canadiens held him back a year much like they did with Dalton Thrower this past year. He's new to the system, but if Timmins sees a potential professional player, you have to keep him on your radar.
That's obviously not it for all the players that missed the cut. Patrick Holland played NHL games last year but his lack of standout skills seemed to become more apparent this season and he missed the top 25 cut this year. Josiah Didier has yet to grab our attention on the Top 25 list but he's a NCAA defensive defenseman who has had favourable scouting reports in his career there. Players known a bit more for their muscle than their puck skills like Connor Crisp could make an impact in the professional ranks in a low impact role as well. And, of course, goalies can be a bit of a wildcard: newly drafted Haydn Hawkey was the USHL's goaltender of the year last year, but he's a year away from going to the NCAA so it'll be hard for us to really rank him until that NCAA career starts.