Last summer, we here at The Painted Lines did a deep dive on the top 100 prospects at every position heading into the 2019-2020 season. Many of the players on that list have made the jump to the NHL, and now seemed like a good time to take a look at who are the 20 best drafted prospects not currently in the NHL (note this is a drafted prospect article, so this list does not include 2020 draft center prospects).
Top 100 Drafted NHL Centers
1. Trevor Zegras, Boston University (HE) 31-11-23-34-43
Zegras has had a decent start to his NCAA career. His coming-out party was the World Junior Championship where he posted great numbers and pulled off some highlight-reel plays, even in limited minutes to begin the tournament. Zegras is an elite playmaker and could see himself in the NHL as soon as next season.
2. Dylan Cozens, Lethbridge Hurricanes (WHL) 49-36-45-81-34
Cozens has almost matched his point total from last year in 20 fewer games played so far this season. A tall, lanky skater, Cozens boasts a high-end tool kit. He had an excellent World Junior Championship, posting 9 points in 7 games. The Sabres’ first-rounder will likely be in the NHL next season, at center or wing.
3. Alex Turcotte, University of Wisconsin (Big-10) 27-9-17-26-18
Turcotte has had a difficult transition to the NCAA. Some scouts had him as the third-best prospect in last year’s draft, but many have dropped his rating so far this year. I haven’t given up on him, and I think that he still has strong upside and at minimum is likely a middle-six center. He may not be in the NHL as quickly as some thought, but he could be a year or two away.
4. Alex Newhook, Boston College (HE) 32-19-21-40-8
I was a big fan of Newhook last season, and his play has given me no reason to doubt his ability. Newhook has excellent wheels and is a very creative player. The Avs will take his time with him, so expect him to spend at least another year in the NCAA.
5. Connor McMichael, London Knights (OHL) 49-43-54-97-26
McMichael was a borderline first-rounder last season, taken late by the Washington Capitals. At the time, he was considered to be a decent middle-six option, but his offense has exploded this year and he is showing a side to his game that scouts had not seen before. McMichael is unlikely to post the lofty numbers he has accumulated in junior, but nonetheless, he is likely like a top-six option. He could compete in camp for a spot, though making the Capitals as a youngster is always difficult.
6. Josh Norris, Belleville Senators (AHL) 53-31-29-60
Norris is a player I’ve gone back and forth on quite a bit. However, his stellar first pro season has led me to believe he is the real deal. Norris has 30 goals in the AHL this season as a rookie, a remarkable number for any player. He recently was recalled by the Ottawa Senators and is likely to be a staple in their lineup next season. Norris plays a strong two-way game and looks like a second-line center at the NHL level.
7. Jack Studnicka, Providence Bruins (AHL) 56-22-24-46-30
Like Norris, Studnicka has had a stellar rookie campaign in the NHL and is showing he can create offensively at the pro level. Studnicka is still likely a middle-six forward, but he is a valuable one as he can play all forward positions and in all situations. He has been an injury call-up for the Bruins this season and is likely to be bumped up full-time next season.
8. Ryan Suzuki, Saginaw Spirit (OHL) 41-18-37-55-24
Suzuki is a polarizing player, but in general, I’m a fan. Suzuki is fast and skilled and has excellent vision and playmaking ability. However, his overall game can be inconsistent and he can go through decent scoring slumps. Some scouts think he doesn’t play in the “tough” areas enough and he is too much of a perimeter player. I think Suzuki has shown improvement in this area this season, and it is likely to continue as he matures. He looks like he could be a second-line center with a decent offensive ceiling if everything comes together.
9. Ty Dellandrea, Flint Firebirds (OHL) 47-32-38-70-33
Dellandrea has shown this season an ability to play not only a strong defensive game but his offense has increased significantly in the OHL. Dellandrea is unlikely to tear it up offensively in the NHL but looks like a solid middle-six two-way player.
10. Alex Khovanov, Moncton Wildcats (QMJHL) 47-32-63-95-88
I’ve been a fan of Khovanov since his draft year, but injuries and inconsistencies derailed him a bit the past few seasons. However, this season he has looked like what his toolkit suggested. Khovanov has excellent hands and offensive instincts. He looks like a potential top-six forward with offensive potential. He will likely start next year in the AHL.
11. Gabe Vilardi, Ontario Reign (AHL) 32-9-16-25-14
I couldn’t be happier to see Vilardi finally get healthy. In his draft year, Vilardi was considered to be a top 10 talent, but after having some major back and knee issues, it looked like the Kings prospect may not ever play hockey again. Vilardi missed a bit of time at the beginning of the season, but since then has come back in full form. The Kings recently called him up and he looks like an NHL player. The main concern surrounding Vilardi was his skating, especially given the injury issues he has dealt with. However, what Vilardi lacks in speed he makes up for in hockey sense and positioning. He could be a regular NHLer next season with rebuilding LA.
12. Rusmas Kupari, Ontario Reign (AHL) 26-6-8-9
Another King, Kupari’s season has been basically a write-off after getting injured at the World Juniors. Kupari had also struggled to transition to the North American pro game after tearing up the Finnish league last season. He isn’t the only young Finnish player struggling with the transition, and the speed and skill are there. Kupari will likely start next season in the AHL, but if he starts well, he could see some NHL games in relief duty.
13. Phil Tomasino, Oshawa Generals (OHL) 60-39-59-98-32
I really like Tomasino’s game, and I was disappointed he didn’t get a shake on Team Canada at the World Juniors. Tomasino has a deceptive shot and plays a uniquely creative style of play. He isn’t afraid to attack opposing defenders, using his speed and tenacity to create scoring opportunities. He is still at least another season away from NHL consideration.
14. Jaret Anderson-Dolan, Ontario Reign (AHL) 51-8-20-28-31
After making the Kings as last season as an 19-year-old (though he was sent down to the WHL quickly), Anderson-Dolan has spent this season adjusting to the pro game for Ontario in the AHL. Anderson-Dolan is a fun player to watch. He is a heart and soul type player, but he also has strong offensive instincts. He is a tenacious forechecker and can play in all situations. JAD is likely a third-line type NHL player who can move up and down your lineup.
15. Akil Thomas, Peterborough Petes (OHL) 45-20-55-75-60
The fourth (yes, fourth!) Kings player on this list, Thomas had a relatively quiet World Junior tournament until he scored the game-winning goal for Canada late in the third period of the gold medal game. Thomas has produced at the OHL level in every season he has played. Teammates love him, both due to his playmaking ability and his personality. Thomas’ biggest knock is his quickness, but similarly to Vilardi, Thomas compensates with a strong on-ice awareness. He will likely start in the AHL next season.
16. Tyler Madden, Northeastern University (HE) 27-19-18-37-34
Okay, on to Kings prospect number five here (notice the trend, the Kings will be good again in a couple of seasons). Tyler Madden, the son of former NHL player and NHL assistant coach John Madden, is a fast, skilled two-way center that the Kings acquired in the Tyler Toffoli deal. Madden has been on a tear in the NCAA this season and is looking more and more like a solid secondary scoring player at the NHL level.
17. Alex Barre-Boulet, Syracuse Crunch (AHL) 57-26-29-55-22
Undrafted, Barre-Boulet has torn up the AHL the past two seasons and on a worse team would likely be in the NHL already. Not many players manage close to a point-per-game in the AHL at his age, but he has managed to do so twice. Barre-Boulet is small but quick with excellent vision. At the NHL level, he is likely a secondary scoring option and could find himself moving over to the wing.
18. Joe Veleno, AHL 51-11-11-22-18
After playing five years in the QMJHL, Veleno made the jump to the AHL this season with the Grand Rapids Griffins. Veleno had an okay showing at the World Juniors for Canada, and likely showed the type of player he is going to be at the NHL player. Much hyped in junior, Veleno looks like a two-way who could find himself in the skill-strapped Detroit Red Wings line-up as soon as next season.
19. Shane Pinto, University of North Dakota (NCHC) 31-16-11-27-46
Pinto’s offensive game has been a bit of a surprise this season. The freshman who plays for North Dakota is scoring at almost a point-per-game pace. I had him originally pegged as a third-line center, but he has shown he may have the upside to be a second-line, two-way center. Pinto looked great for the U.S. at the World Juniors, even running the powerplay at moments.
20. Liam Foudy, London Knights (OHL) 42-26-37-63-22
Foudy might be the fastest skater on this list. At the World Juniors for Canada, Foudy showed off his speed regularly on the penalty kill. Foudy has produced offensively at the OHL level and even got into a handful of OHL games this season. However, Foudy is more of a north-south type of player, using his speed off the rush to create chances. For this reason, he is likely a third-line player at the NHL level, though a useful one that can move up and down your line-up, even playing wing if need be.