Part 2 of NHL Core Four Ranking: #26-22
By: Zach Irwin (@ZachIrwin3196)
Happy Friday everybody and welcome back for part two of the NHL core four rankings of the best 24-and-under players on each team. Last week we discussed the bottom five teams in this ranking. Today will look at teams ranked 26 through 22 as we work our way up to see who the number one team is. If you haven’t seen part 1 yet click the link below and check it out!!
Without further ado let’s continue with the list starting with the Washington Capitals at 26
#26: Washington Capitals
1. Ilya Samsonov
2. Jakub Vrana
3. Connor McMichael
4. Jonas Siegenthaler
Samsonov is the Capitals goaltender of the future and the way current goalie Breden Holtby had played this season, possibly the present day goalie. With Holtby scheduled for free agency this upcoming offseason Samsonov could see the net sooner than later with Washington showing really no interest in bringing Holtby back.
If his rookie season is any indication Samsonov will be the backbone in Washington for years to come. After a breakout season producing 52 points (25 goals, 27 assists), Vrana has slowly turned into a very productive top-six winger with his excellent offensive tool-kit and skill. He is a big reason why the Capitals window for winning the cup hasn’t closed yet and like Samsonov will be a fixture in the Capitals organization for a long time.
McMichael tore it up in the juniors for 47 goals and 102 points in 52 games this season. Along with his great set of skills, he is also regarded as a good two-way player as well. He projects to be a good top-six forward. Siegenthaler hasn’t really received the ice-time or the attention this season due to the Capitals having a lot of depth in the big club, but when he has gotten the opportunity he’s played well and made the most of it. Look for him to breakout in the next few years when he fully gets the opportunity to do so.
#25: Minnesota Wild
1. Kirill Kaprizov
2. Kevin Fiala
3. Matthew Boldy
4. Calen Addison
Kaprizov has absolutely torn up the KHL in the last few years and in my opinion is the best player not currently playing in the NHL. Selected in the 5th round of the 2015 draft, Wild fans have been waiting for him to make the jump to North America for a few years now. Rumors of him coming to Minnesota next year has been circulating around the hockey world. And when he
does decide to make the jump to the NHL he is primed to be a star in the league for a very long time. Kevin Fiala broke out in a big way this year in his first full season as a member of the Wild after being traded to Minnesota last season at the trade deadline. Scoring 23 goals and 54 points, he truly looks comfortable in Minnesota and looks like a legit 60-70 point winger that Nashville hoped they were getting when they drafted him. Boldy had an inconsistent freshman year at Boston College this year. But with a unique combination of size, skill, anticipation, and vision he can be a very good second line winger for the Wild in the next few years.
Addison who was acquired from Pittsburgh in the Jason Zucker trade. Addison is a great offensive defenseman, but will need work on his defensive game before he thinks about stepping into the NHL. With the core on defense that Minnesota has in the coming years he will be a great addition to an already great defense-core.
#24: San Jose Sharks
1. Timo Meier
2. Mario Ferraro
3. Kevin Labanc
4. Ryan Merkley
Meier has all the skills to be one of the best power-forwards in the league. His frame and scoring ability were on display last season and carried it into the playoffs. Meier’s problem has been not being able to put all of his size and skill together. When he does he is an elite power-forward in the NHL. Ferraro on many nights was the Sharks best defenseman this season. Which is crazy to think because of the other names they have on the backend. He really moves the puck well, and defends good in all situations. Kevin Labanc took a massive nosedive this season after having an incredible breakout season the year before. Banking on himself he took a one-year-deal last offseason in hopes of replicating last season’s success into a lucrative deal.
With all that don’t expect this to be the end of Labanc, he is still a very solid second-line winger. Merkley is an unbelievable skater with great offensive sense and IQ. But with that being said, he has an attitude problem which was one of the reasons he dropped so low to the Sharks when he was drafted. The other was his very weak defensive game which has held him back on a number of occasions. With the Sharks getting much older on the defensive side he should be on the big club possibly in the next two years.
#23: Arizona Coyotes
1. Clayton Keller
2. Barret Hayton
3. Conor Garland
4. Victor Soderstrom
Keller is a supremely skilled offensive forward, but his point totals have gone down each of the last two seasons after his fantastic 65 point (23 goals, 42 assists) rookie season. Still being young, the Coyotes hope he can turn it around and become the player they hoped to build a franchise around when they drafted him in 2017. Hayton, who was drafted with the fifth overall pick in 2018, is a great two-way center with an excellent shot and plays with an offensive flair that a team like Arizona is craving for. With high-end upside, Hayton is almost guaranteed to be the second-line center for them in the coming years, but with his potential don’t count him out on being a first-line centermen for Yotes as well.
Conor Garland basically came out of nowhere this season scoring 22 goals and leading the team in goals once the regular season halted. He is a gritty player that teammates love but opponents hate to play against. Garland just seems to know where the puck is and scores his goals in front of the net. He will be a player to watch when the playoffs return this month and to see where his career can go in the upcoming years. Soderstrom who was drafted in last year’s draft is your prototypical defensemen in today’s game. He’s a smooth skater with a high offensive upside who defends well, but with time to polish can become a very good two-way defender. Definitely a top-pairing defenseman when he gets called-up, I could see a Norris trophy in his future down the line as well.
#22: Montreal Canadiens
1. Cole Caufield
2. Alexander Romanov
3. Nick Suzuki
4. Jesperi Kotkaniemi
Caulfield dropped in last year’s draft because he is very undersized standing at only 5’7-5’8. But he is an elite goal-scoring with a knack to also get into those dirty areas to score a goal as well. He dominated this season at the University of Wisconsin during his freshman year and was most likely going back to Wisconsin before Covid-19 hit the country. Don’t be surprised if Caulfield makes Montreal next season and has the same success as Nick Suzuki had his rookie season this past season. Romanov is the defenseman they’ve been looking for since they traded Mikhail Sergachev to Tampa Bay a couple years ago for Johnathan Drouin. He’s an outstanding defender who plays very physical, is a smooth skater whose pretty difficult to hit off the puck and he moves the puck well. He has top-pairing upside with all-star games written all over him in his future. Speaking of Suzuki, like I said he had a very good rookie season in a bottom-six role.
Give him more ice time and put him into a top-six role he will explode onto the scene. What makes him so good is that he is an extremely gifted playmaker with vision to see the play before it happens. He also has a very sneaky-shot that some people don’t give him enough credit for. Montreal fans should be very excited about Suzuki, they may have a number one center on their hands. After an impressive rookie campaign, Kotkaniemi struggled this season. Getting banged up a lot this season really didn’t help him regain his form and momentum that he had last season. He still has the tools to develop into a good second-line center that will make Suzuki and Kotkaniemi a very good one-two punch for the Canadiens.