Top 50 NHL prospects: Ranking the best young players in hockey

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As teams begin to fall out of the NHL playoff picture and more are looking ahead to the future, it's as good a time as any to take a look at how the top prospects have progressed. Sorry to those teams that are both out of the playoff picture and a little light on top-50 prospects.

There was a big shakeup at the top from our preseason list. Over 20 players from the summer list reached "graduate status," meaning they've played at least 26 games in the NHL this season. Basically, if a player's Calder Trophy eligibility for 2019-20 has been spoiled by games played this season, they're not eligible to be included here. There are a few on the list that are likely to be graduates before the season ends.

For those still eligible, this was a much tougher list to compile at the top, but one player took such huge strides in his development that I think he leaped over a whole host of players that were ahead of him in the preseason edition of the rankings. Here we go:

1. Cale Makar, D, Colorado Avalanche

Previous: 20
Current team: UMass (Hockey East)

Of every drafted player I've watched this season, none has impressed me more than Makar. He is an elite skater with high-end puck skills, excellent distribution skills and adequate defensive play. A one-man transition who can get up the ice as fast as anybody outside of the NHL right now, this is a player who has taken significant steps to solidifying his projection as a likely top-pairing stalwart.

There are a few other factors that put Makar at No. 1 after a relatively low No. 20 spot at preseason. There has been noticeable and marked improvement in all facets of his game. Makar plays a ton, in all situations and the team goes as he goes. I have not seen a single skater make this level of an impact on his collegiate team since Jack Eichel helped put Boston University back on track as a freshman. It's just not an easy thing for one guy to do, but Makar is doing it.

Lastly, Makar's character is such an important piece of his skill set. Greg Carvel, coach at UMass, told me that Makar is simply "one of the guys," blends in and has been coachable, despite his pedigree as a top-5 NHL draft pick. Makar needed to work on his defensive game and picking his spots offensively, and has done so. Carvel also noted that in his career as a college head coach, he has not seen a player as good as Makar. A former coach with the Ottawa Senators, Carvel worked with Erik Karlsson, just as an FYI. To me, Makar has taken his game to a level that I did not necessarily see as possible a year ago based on his freshman performance. As one opposing coach put it, "He doesn't even belong in our league. He should be in the NHL right now."

2. Quinn Hughes, D, Vancouver Canucks

Previous: 9
Current team: Michigan (Big Ten)

One of the most naturally gifted skaters you'll see, Hughes uses his feet to his advantage in all zones. His edgework allows him to deceive oncoming checkers, and he has the vision and hockey sense to make high-end plays. Hughes can sometimes take a few too many risks and get burned, but he's such a unique talent that you live with those plays. At his best, Hughes is a one-man breakout who often turns that rush into offense at the other end.