Okay, so these guys aren’t exactly old, but they have to be at least 22 by the start of the 2011-12 season to be included. In most cases these players have proven themselves in the AHL and are due for a serious look at some NHL ice time. There are some hidden gems in this list and in some cases all these defencemen need is a break. Most of them are stuck in organizations with a lot of blue line depth. Because of their age, there is more pressure for the organization to play them sooner rather than later and that’s good if you need to shore up your blue line next year in a keeper league. These are good defensive prospects that are very close.
Jonathan Blum, Nashville, Turns 23 on Jan. 30th, 2012 – Unlike many on this list, Blum is going to get his chance to play next season. Last season he scored 34 points in 54 AHL games and played in 23 NHL games. When Nashville let Cody Franson go, it was to open a spot for Blum who they feel can play in their top six. Blum could put up as many as 35 points next season and should be a 50-point defenceman at some point.
Marc-Andre Gragnani, Buffalo, Turns 25 on March 11th, 2012 – The recently signed Gragnani is in an interesting position. The Sabres have signed eight defensemen and although Gragnani signed a two-way deal, he must play at least 58 NHL games for the Sabres or he’ll become a Group six (unrestricted) free agent. Group six free agency occurs when skaters have reached age 25, have 3 accrued years of professional experience, and whose contracts have expired, but have played less than 80 NHL games. So if the Sabres don’t play him in 58 games they’ll lose him for nothing. Gragnani won the Eddie Shore Award as the AHL’s best defenceman and he led the Sabres in playoff scoring with seven points in seven games. Expect him to get top-six even strength ice time and play on the second power play. He should score 30 points and like Blum is capable of scoring 50 points later in his career.
Brendan Smith, Detroit, Turns 23 on Feb. 8th, 2012 – After a successful run with the WCHA (NCAA) Wisconsin Badgers, Smith turned pro last season. He scored 12 goals and 32 points in 63 AHL games for Grand Rapids. Smith would likely see a lot of NHL ice time on any other team. Unfortunately for him, he’s playing in Detroit so he won’t play much unless there are a lot of injuries at the back end. Smith is a future star and he’ll likely get his chance in 2012-13. If you have room on your farm team, grab him.
Jakub Kindl, Detroit, Turns 25 on Feb. 10th, 2012 – While he doesn’t have the same upside as Gragnani, Kindl will also be a Group six free agent unless he plays 29 games for Detroit. Whether he does or not, Detroit has to make a decision on him soon. He played 48 games for the Red Wi