On the heels of our midseason update of the best NHL players and prospects under the age of 23 this week, today I thought I would highlight the young players who saw their prospect stocks rise the most in the first half among the higher echelon names.
Alexander Nikishin, LHD, Carolina
Calling Nikishin a riser may be an understatement. After being a third-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, he’s looked like a top five pick this season in the KHL. He’s been arguably the best defenseman in the KHL as a 21-year-old. His skating, physicality and size made him very interesting as an NHL prospect, but he’s added much more offense than I thought he had. Nikishin is making difficult plays with the puck now on a consistent basis to go with his bomb from the point. Now he has all the tools you want in an NHL player. The issue is his contract from him. After SKA traded for him this summer, they extended him until the end of the 2024-25 KHL season (this is according to SKA’s GM Roman Rotenberg). Thus, this could be another Yevgeny Kuznetsov/Kirill Kaprizov situation — a wait for a major Russian prospect.
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Tyler Boucher, RW, Ottawa
It’s a little weird to be profiling a recent 10th overall pick who I think projects as a middle-six winger, but after how tough Boucher’s 2021-22 season went, it wasn’t clear that was going to be his projection. He looks a lot better between his play than him in the OHL and world juniors this season. The most important thing I’ve seen on top of some more offensive touch is that his game has more pace to it to go with his usual physicality. That combination of traits should translate into a good pro, presuming he can stay healthy.
Filip Bystedt, C. San Jose
Bystedt has looked solid versus men this season and with Sweden’s U20 team at various tournaments throughout the year including the world juniors. His toolkit has always been highly enticing, but the consistency wasn’t always there. That part of his game still isn’t perfect, but it’s been better this season. So now you have a tall, fast, skilled center who can score and shows up more often; it makes for an exciting pro prospect.
Ryan Greene, C, Chicago
Greene was a tough player to figure out as a draft eligible. In the USHL you saw the talent he had. He was a good skater with legit skill, playmaking and finishing ability who also killed penalties for his junior team. Yet in his draft season he was 30th in league scoring and well below a point/game. I still liked him because of his talent but it wasn’t over the moon about him. This season we’ve seen that talent again as a freshman at Boston University, but it’s on display more consistently. Greene has been excellent in college and came very close to making Canada’s U20 team.
Things are going quite well for Wyatt Johnston and the Dallas Stars of late. After being the best player in the OHL last season, Johnston made Dallas as a teenager and hasn’t looked out of place in one of the league’s best offenses. He’s been on a steep upward trajectory ever since his significant growth spurt a few years ago to go with his great skill, vision and competitiveness. The knock on him has been a lack of top-end speed, but given those strengths and weaknesses I’ve talked to NHL scouts this season who compare his game to David Krejci. So far he’s shown his weaknesses aren’t holding him back in the big leagues.
Jiri Kulich, LW Buffalo
Kulich has been very good in the AHL for an 18-year-old, playing a significant role on Rochester’s team. Kulich has skill and can score goals. That’s been evident in how he’s scored against men and juniors historically, but it’s his style of play that has really appealed to scouts. He is a competitor who gives an honest effort every night, goes to the high traffic areas, and has good pace in his game. I wouldn’t call him a dynamic player, but he does a lot of things very well and just continues to produce, coming off a great world juniors as well.
Carter Mazur, R.W. Detroit
Mazur’s significant upward trend of development over the last few years has carried into this season, where he’s been one of the very best players in college hockey. His skating and compete level have always been positives in his game, but the level of offense he’s showing right now is quite significant compared to a few seasons ago. Mazur can shoot the puck, has good hands and offensive sense to go with his speed and direct style of play. He’s looking like someone who could be a top six winger in the NHL one day.
Parssinen has to be one of the best prospect stories of the season and the biggest riser overall. After being a seventh-round pick in 2019, Parssinen has often lined up as Nashville’s first-line center this season. While I don’t think he’s an actual 1C, more of a 2/3 for me, that is a massive add to the organization from one of the very last selections of his draft class. Parssinen’s skating is still not great, but he’s shown a ton of skill and natural playmaking ability in the years since his draft. I saw flashes of skill when he was younger but he did not see this level of puck game coming. He combines that with a good sized frame and a willingness to attack the inside with that frame. That pro-style mentality to go with his creativity di lui has and will continue to lend itself to a lot of success.
Jimmy Snuggerud, RW, St. Louis
Snuggerud has been great this season, being a top scorer in college and then at the world juniors. Snuggerud was a top line forward with the USNTDP in his draft season but he was never *the guy* on that team. In fact, four other forwards on that team were picked ahead of him. Snuggerud was always viewed as a skilled goal scorer who worked hard but there were questions about his foot speed and how dynamic he was offensively. He’s shown this season he has another level of offense while still being one of the harder workers on the ice. Snuggerud is trending to be a strong top-six winger.
William Wallinder, LHD, Detroit
Wallinder has been excellent in the SHL this season, as the 20-year-old has been one of the top players for Rogle. As a 6-foot-4 defenseman who can skate quite well for his size and is showing a lot of offense this season, you can one day envision Wallinder in an NHL top four. His defending and physicality could use some improvement, but he’s not deficient as a defender. The tools he has distinguish him as a pro prospect, especially with the level of skill and playmaking he’s showing right now.
(Photo of Carter Mazur: Lawrence Scott/Getty Images)