Who are the NHL prospects climbing the rankings the fastest?
Kyle Connor – Winnipeg Jets – Up to 6th from 24th Overall
College hockey’s leading scorer made waves this week, forgoing the rest of his University of Michigan career and signing an entry-level contract with the Winnipeg Jets. Connor was first in multiple scoring categories during his freshman season in Ann Arbor, including goals (35), points (71), points per game (1.87), power-play points (24) and was tied for the most hat tricks on the season with two. The Hobey Baker finalist could have a spot in the Jets top six as early as this fall will play for the United States at the World Championships in May.
Jimmy Vesey – Free Agent – Up to 9th Overall from 36th Overall
At this point, most of the hockey world is in the loop on Vesey’s decision not to sign his entry-level contract with Nashville and opt for free agency. This year’s Hobey Baker award winner could have helped the Predators down the stretch and into the playoffs as a secondary scoring option. He could rise or fall down this list based on fit when he finds an NHL home, but there is no doubt Vesey is a top offensive player who could help fantasy teams as early as next season.
Sebastian Aho – Carolina Hurricanes – Up to 14th Overall from 65th Overall
If the 2015 Entry Draft was redrafted today, Aho would likely jump up from his early second round draft slot based on the season he has had with his Finnish club, Kärpät. Playing alongside potential 2016 top five pick Jesse Puljujärvi, Aho scored 45 points in just 45 regular season games, and added another 13 points in 13 playoff games before losing in Game 7 of the Liiga semi-finals. There are rumblings in Carolina that he is a good camp from being on the Hurricanes roster for opening night next year.
Brayden Point – Tampa Bay Lightning – Up to 35th Overall from 91st Overall
Outside of the disappointment that was Canada’s WJC Tournament, Point has had the best season of his young career. Tampa’s third-round pick from 2014 (79th overall) is undersized, but he plays a well-rounded, 200-foot game and is at his best when setting his teammates up for opportunities in the offensive zone. His 53 assists for Moose Jaw this season ranked in the top ten of WHL players, despite only playing 48 games, and his 1.83 points per game finished tied with Florida prospect Jayce Hawryluk for tops in the league. Moose Jaw will need a strong comeback in their playoff series against Brandon if they are going to keep their season alive.
Vladislav Kamenev – Nashville Predators – Up to 42nd Overall from 110th Overall
Kamenev, a Russian second rounder from the 2014 draft has been great this season for Milwaukee (AHL) in his first campaign on North American soil. Finishing among the top-25 rookie scorers in the AHL, Kamenev provided secondary scoring for the Central Division winning Admirals and will gain valuable experience in the AHL playoffs. Strangely enough, another player from this list (Vesey) spurning the Predators following his college season could open up a spot in Nashville’s top nine in the coming future. Kamenev could likely use another year of development at the AHL level before making the jump to an NHL roster, though.
Zach Werenski – Columbus Blue Jackets – Up to 11th Overall from 18th Overall
Having nothing left to prove at the collegiate level, Werenski turned pro after the end of the University of Michigan’s season and will be helping Lake Erie’s push towards a Calder Cup for the rest of the year. He finished second among NCAA defensemen in scoring with 36 points in 36 games, and has the unique ability to control tempo from the backend both at even strength and on the power play. In his first seven AHL games, he has one goal, a plus-2 rating and has averaged nearly three shots per game.
Jaccob Slavin – Carolina Hurricanes – Up to 29th Overall from 86th Overall
Slavin came out of virtually nowhere to have one of the most underrated seasons by a rookie defenseman in the NHL this year. The Colorado College product played alongside a rotating door of defensive partners but rarely looked the part of a 22 year old playing his first professional season. Slavin played just under 21 minutes per night in 63 games and scored 20 points, despite limited power-play opportunities early in the season. For deeper leagues, he is a player who averaged nearly two blocks per game this year and could be multi-category asset as his career progresses.
Jake Walman – St. Louis Blues – Up to 37th Overall from 128th Overall
Walman missing the NCAA Championships was a huge blow to defending champions Providence, who ended up losing a two overtime thriller to Minnesota Duluth in their first game. Despite only playing 27 games, Walman finished the season with 28 points and led NCAA defensemen in goals (13), power-play goals (8) and game-winning goals (4). A third-round pick in 2014, Walman may be the next mid-round defensemen to play a prominent role on the Blues blue line, following in the footsteps of this year's breakout rookie, Colton Parayko.
Give Kevin a follow @kleblanchockey for NHL prospect talk and happenings.
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