Last week, NHL prospect insider Chris Peters presented his top 100 prospect list. With so many young future stars in the pipeline, we weighed in on our favorite prospects waiting to be called up, which team is acing its rebuild and whether we'd prefer to have Rasmus Dahlin or Jack Hughes.
Which prospect not currently in the NHL are you most excited for?
Greg Wyshynski, senior NHL writer: Oliver Wahlstrom. I've always been fascinated by child prodigies, and where that innate blessing of talent takes them. For every Connor McDavid, whose legend I started hearing about when he was 13 years old, there's a Freddy Adu, who turned pro at 14 only to become a soccer journeyman. Wahlstrom first arrived on my radar in 2009, scoring a spin-o-rama lacrosse goal in a minis tournament in Boston that landed him on the CBS morning show. At 11, he scored another instant classic in a shootout, lifting the puck on his blade between his legs for another lacrosse goal. He's 18 now, playing for Boston College after being selected No. 11 overall by the New York Islanders in June. He's got the potential to be an elite sniper in the NHL, although the jury's still out on the defensive side. Does he end up adding to his YouTube legend or does he become another talented kid who becomes an ordinary adult?
Emily Kaplan, national NHL reporter: Adam Boqvist. I first became impressed by the Swede when I saw him at Blackhawks development camp. At 17, the defenseman was the youngest participant there, and skated circles against far more experienced players. Boqvist then dazzled in Chicago's training camp; logical convention be damned, the 2018 draft pick almost made the opening night roster. Boqvist is a swift skater who can produce on offense. Because of his slight size, the natural comparison is countryman Erik Karlsson. Boqvist told me over the summer "I like to watch Erik Karlsson, but I try to play like Adam Boqvist." I'm excited to see what that looks like when he adjusts to the North American rinks and breaks through at the NHL level.
Chris Peters, hockey prospects analyst: Vancouver Canucks prospect Quinn Hughes. There are very few defensemen who play the game the way Hughes does. I think his skating, particularly his use of edges and the creativity with his footwork, is unique among elite prospects. Watching him progress over last season at Michigan, then seeing how he performed at this summer's World Junior camp, shows me that he's only getting better. The dynamic elements of his game are as entertaining as they are effective. What makes him fascinating to watch and why I'm excited to see what he does next is that he's on the smaller side for a defenseman, and I want to know how many NHL coaches there are out there that will simply let him be him.
And perhaps the bigger question is: Will it work? I think he's reined some of his go-go-go tendencies in just enough and picks his spots better, but when he opens it up it's really something. Michigan has had an uneven start to the season, and I haven't been able to catch any of their games yet, but based on everything else I've seen, this should be a pretty big year for him that ends with his being in a Canucks jersey come the end of his sophomore season with the Wolverines.
Ben Arledge, associate editor: Detroit Red Wings prospect Filip Zadina. He almost made the Wings out of camp and will be a focal point for a team right in the middle of its first rebuild in a long time. He has speed and scoring instincts, and he can create opportunities with elite puck skills. The Wings were no doubt excited to have the chance to get him at No. 6 in June, and after he develops a little further in the AHL, I'm equally excited to see what he can do with a team that desperately needs a glimmer of hope right now.
Sachin Chandan, ESPN The Magazine researcher: Cody Glass, of the Vegas Golden Knights. After going sixth overall in the 2017 draft, Glass scored 102 points in 64 games for the WHL's Portland Winterhawks. The 6-foot-2 center could have made the Golden Knights this season, but GM George McPhee has been patient with the team's prospects. Glass has drawn stellar reviews for his two-way play, and should be a dynamic offensive playmaker once he makes it to the show.
Which prospect ranked outside of Chris Peters' top 20 has the most NHL upside?
Wyshynski: Goalie Ilya Samsonov already has three full KHL seasons under his belt at age 21. Drafted No. 22 overall in 2015 by the Washington Capitals, he's finally now plying his trade in their system with the AHL's Hershey Bears. It's going to take some time for him to adjust to the North American game, but he's got the size (6-foot-3) and the skills to be an impact netminder in the NHL.
Kaplan: Carter Hart, G, Philadelphia Flyers. After all, he's been pegged as the savior for a franchise with decades-long goaltending woes. How could he not have the biggest upside? Perhaps my expectations are so high because Flyers management has been taking the patient, if not extremely conservative, approach. While many teams may have expedited the 20-year-old onto the opening night roster -- this is a team with legitimate playoff aspirations, but once again began the year with netminder uncertainty -- the Flyers didn't deviate. Hart is getting an AHL season for seasoning, as planned. By the time he does make the NHL roster, the bar is going to be high.
Peters: I think the Montreal Canadiens could potentially get a bigger boom out of my No. 21 prospect Nick Suzuki long-term, but a guy that I think has an incredibly bright future is the one I put at No. 22, future New York Islanders defenseman Noah Dobson. Part of what I see for Dobson's future is that he has a clear path to being the No. 1 blueliner in New York. He was dominant down the stretch last year in leading Acadie-Bathurst of the QMJHL to the Memorial Cup. When I saw him again this summer at Canada's World Junior camp, he was Canada's best defenseman by a mile. I remain moderately concerned about his overall offensive upside despite his averaging better than a point per game last season, in that he doesn't showcase high-end skills. But, he has elite hockey sense. That, plus a 6-foot-3 frame he is still growing into, a good shot from the point and an organization in desperate need of a true No.1 is why I think he has the best upside.
Arledge: Edmonton Oilers defenseman Evan Bouchard. The Oilers have been hunting for a top-pairing defenseman who can quarterback the power play for a long time, and their 2018 No. 10 overall selection looks like he can be that guy. He had 87 points with the OHL's London Knights last season, and has shown top-end puck-moving skills. Bouchard has five NHL games under his belt and ought to be a big part of Edmonton's future as it tries to give Connor McDavid some assets to work with.
Which team is best set up for the future?
Wyshynski: The future is bright in Vancouver. Well, I mean, so is the present, what with Elias Pettersson already looking Calder Trophy-worthy, an award for which forward Brock Boeser placed second last season. Quinn Hughes has the goods to be an all-around terrific defenseman in the NHL. Their smart, methodical development of Thatcher Demko is going to produce a starting goalie for years. Between center Adam Gaudette, defenseman Olli Juolevi, winger Jonathan Dahlen and winger Will Lockwood, they'll end up with a couple of other contributors, too.
Kaplan: The Buffalo Sabres. I keep going back to a conversation with a high-profile Western Conference player over the summer. I asked which team would surprise this season, and he said Buffalo, listing the many improvements GM Jason Botterill made over the summer, then finished with: "And they have Dahlin who everyone says is the real deal. They can't mess this up, right?"
Sixteen players on the current roster are 26 or younger. They've already identified their franchise No. 1 center, Jack Eichel, and locked him in long term. They have a No. 2 center, Casey Mittelstadt, who is only starting to realize his potential. They have a generational talent in Dahlin for the No. 1 defensemen. They also have exciting forward prospects like Tage Thompson (acquired from the Blues in the Ryan O'Reilly deal) and Alexander Nylander (with eight points in his first eight AHL games this season). It's going to be really hard to mess this up.
Peters: I think there's just enough that we don't know about the Sabres in terms of how else they can build around their new young core. Where I think we might start seeing more tangible results in the near future is with the Carolina Hurricanes, and it's not just because of their hot start. I actually think they're a little ahead of schedule even though they've been a trendy "they'll be better this year!" pick for the last several seasons. They have elite prospects like Andrei Svechnikov and Martin Necas, but they also have a fantastic young blue-line corps led by Dougie Hamilton and Jaccob Slavin and all seven of their current defensemen are locked up for multiple years.
Meanwhile, they have some good future options there, namely Harvard's Adam Fox, who was part of the Hamilton trade. One thing that has gotten a little undersold about Carolina, however, is that they've always had a pretty decent AHL pipeline, but it's gotten even better as showcased by the emergence of Warren Foegele this year. The missing piece at this point is a bona fide No. 1 goaltender, which is no small thing. I still think they're poised for some moderate success in the short term with a chance at something special if they stay on this path.
Arledge: The Sabres are obviously a great choice here, but I'd like to give some credit to another pair of teams from New York. The Rangers dove headfirst into their rebuild last season and have three strong forward prospects in Chris' top 40 in Filip Chytil, Lias Andersson and Vitali Kravtsov. Then there's Igor Shestyorkin, the goalie of the future for the Blueshirts, and a handful of potential defensive contributors, including 2018 first-rounder K'Andre Miller.
To the east, the rival Islanders have a pair of 2018 first-rounders to help Mathew Barzal build this team back up following the loss of John Tavares: Wahlstrom has an incredible shot, and Dobson could be a top-pairing defenseman for them down the road. In net, they have two exciting prospects in Ilya Sorokin and Linus Soderstrom. Neither team is expected to do much this season, but there's a lot of hope for the future for both of these storied franchises.
Let's play GM: Would you rather have Rasmus Dahlin or Jack Hughes?
Wyshynski: Jack Hughes, full stop. I love Dahlin, but elite defenseman typically don't win Stanley Cups without the benefit of a superlative player up front, and that's Hughes. We don't really know what the ceiling for this kid is going to end up being, because we're not sure how his body is going to fill out. But he doesn't have to be Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews; Joe Sakic wasn't Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux either, you know? Plus, Jack Hughes is an American, and I'm assuming my team is one that would like to market this aspect to my fan base.
Kaplan: Dahlin, because I agreed with this scout's take, which was quoted in Chris' recent piece: "To play with his poise -- you can't teach that, and he's only going to get better."
Picking a center might be safer, but picking a defenseman as rare as Dahlin can change the course of a franchise. No, I don't think you need a No. 1 elite defenseman to win a Stanley Cup, but it makes it a heck of a lot easier, and alleviates pressure down the rest of the roster. It's much harder to draft and develop a true No. 1 defenseman, especially one who impacts the game in such an all-around way as Dahlin does. I've already seen Dahlin seamlessly transition into the NHL, so I'm picking him as my known commodity.
Peters: I mentioned this in the ESPN+ piece, but I'd go with Hughes. What I will say, however, is that it has only brought more debate. I heard from one scout who presented this same question to a group of his friends in the scouting community and they banked hard for Dahlin. The reason I'm sticking with Hughes is that he makes everyone around him better. He wants the puck a lot, he'll take chances and he's already a few steps ahead of everyone on the ice both in speed and hockey sense.
I think it is super close between Hughes and Dahlin, and I have zero doubt that Dahlin is the best defensive prospect to come along in the last decade, if not more. I'm just leaning Hughes because I think he has the ability to at least approach the kind of impact Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews are having on their respective teams. I don't know if he can match it, but I do believe he can become an absolute star in the game, and if there's a chance at a play-driving, highly-productive center, I'm going to lean in that direction over a defenseman if it's close.
Arledge: I'd lean with Hughes. The numbers are just off the charts. At 16, Hughes rattled off 116 points in 60 games for the USA under-18 team. As Chris pointed out, the previous high was 82 for a under-17 player. Yes, he's small, but he is still young and will only get stronger and better. A defenseman of Dahlin's skill is huge for a team, but Hughes' ability to dominate a game at center and put up video game totals puts me in his corner.
Chandan: I go with Hughes off the strength of his astonishing scoring spree as a teenager with the USNTDP. Don't take this as a slight to the skills of Dahlin, but I believe that a franchise center will have a bigger effect on the game than a franchise defenseman. I would expect Hughes, with time in an NHL-level strength and conditioning program, to add size to his frame and contribute immediately in the league.