The Journey examines Dobber’s top prospect defensemen list and assesses the fast risers in the November rankings. You can find the Top 50 list here.
Nikita Zaitsev – Toronto Maple Leafs – Up to 4th from 17th Overall
Much has been written about Zaitsev in this space over the last couple months. His emergence, along with his fellow rookies has been crucial for the Maple Leafs being over .500 early in the season.
The 25 year-old Russian blueliner has averaged nearly 22 minutes per night playing alongside Morgan Rielly at even strength and just over two minutes with the man advantage. His peripheral stats are strong, ranking third among rookie defensemen with seven assists, second behind Stephen Johns with 41 hits and is tied for fourth with 30 blocked shots.
With his competence in both the offensive and defensive zones, and his puck moving ability, Zaitsev will be an integral part in the Leafs rebuild over the next few seasons.
Brady Skjei – New York Rangers – Up to 10th Overall from 42nd Overall
Skjei is a player who has not gotten enough recognition for a strong start to his year. A season ago with the AHL’s Hartford Wolf Pack, Skjei posted 28 points in 68 games in his first full season in professional hockey.
In 18 games this season, the former first rounder leads all rookie defensemen with 10 assists despite playing just over 15 minutes on average per game. He has points in seven of his last nine games with increased ice time. Skjei’s production offensively is likely to dwindle a bit, but he has proven that he does have the ability get hot and post points. If he is not producing offensively, he can help with nearly two hits and one shot on goal and blocked shot per game.
Brandon Carlo – Boston Bruins – Up to 34th Overall from 104th Overall
As a 19-year-old, Carlo leads all rookie defensemen in average time on ice with 22:24 minutes per night. He has been an important piece of the Bruins blueline, being partnered for nearly every shift this season with Zdeno Chara. They have made up one of the biggest defensive pairings in the league with Carlo at 6’5” and Chara at 6’9”.
Although he hasn’t posted a point in six games, Carlo has chipped in with nine penalty minutes, eight shots on goal, four hits and eight blocked shots over that span. He hasn’t received much in the way of way of power play time, which caps his offensive ceiling at this point, but Carlo should be a consistent multi-category player for some time in the NHL. His play in his rookie season has been impressive.
Oliver Kylington – Calgary Flames – Up to 43rd Overall from 60th Overall
Kylington has taken a step forward with his play in his second professional season, showing more confidence as a 19 year-old for the Stockton Heat. He was one of the youngest players in his draft year, and will only improve as he gains strength and experience.
The two-way defenseman is a great skater who transitions well whether he is skating the puck out of the zone or head manning the puck. He has recorded six points in his first 10 games of the season, averaging nearly two shots per game. Likely the Flames will take their time with Kylington, but he’s one to watch down the road.
Rasmus Andersson – Calgary Flames – Up to 45th Overall from 69th Overall
Kylington’s teammate in Stockton is Andersson, who was drafted with 53rd pick of the 2015 draft, seven picks before his Swedish counterpart. Unlike Kylington, Andersson played his junior hockey in North America for the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League, posting 60-point seasons in his two years before turning professional prior to 2016-17.
The offensive defenseman has seven assists on the year in his first 10 games of his AHL career. He put up six points in his first five games but has hit a bit of a skid recently, with only one point in his last five. This kind of inconsistency is to be expected from a first year player, still adjusting to the professional game. Andersson is a terrific distributor who has NHL size at 6’1” and 215 pounds. Calgary fans should watch Kylington and Andersson closely, as they will be a big part of the team’s blueline in the future.
Ryan Sproul – Detroit Red Wings – Up to 48th Overall from 54th Overall
After playing 215 games at the American Hockey level, the 2011 second round pick has eyes on securing a full time NHL spot in 2016-17. He had his best season from an offensive perspective in 2015-16 with 35 points in 75 regular season games, and added a nine points in nine playoff games for the Grand Rapids Griffins.
So far this season, Sproul has played in seven games for the Red Wings with one goal and three assists, while averaging 15 minutes of ice time. He has been given an opportunity to thrive offensively, playing over three minutes per game with the man advantage and has rewarded Detroit with three power-play points. Sproul has been a volume shooter at the NHL level this season, with 16 shots on goal in his limited action.
Although he doesn’t offer much currently in the way of hits and blocked shots, the young defenseman could be productive from a points standpoint if he continues to see ample power play minutes, so watch his deployment carefully in deep leagues.
Give Kevin a follow @kleblanchockey for NHL prospect talk and happenings.
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