Is Justin Schultz the best prospect in the NHL?

Jonathan Willis
December 15 2012 11:26AM

According to former Calgary Flames general manager Craig Button, the answer is “yes.”

On Friday, Button put out a list of the players he sees as the 30 best drafted prospects in the NHL. The Oilers had three players on the list – Schultz in the top spot, Nail Yakupov at number five, and Oscar Klefbom at number 18.

The fact is that there is a case for Schultz as the best prospect in the league. The 22-year old defenceman is leading the entire AHL in scoring – in a lockout year, no less – as a rookie professional. His 35 points this season are three more than second-place Jordan Eberle, and eight more than the next-nearest skater (diminutive Columbus prospect Cam Atkinson).

Schultz entered this season with high expectations after being the subject of an off-season recruiting war after he opted not to sign with the Anaheim Ducks, the team that drafted him. However high those expectations were, he’s blown them out of the water. Oklahoma coach Todd Nelson calls him the best player in the AHL – and Nelson has Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall skating for him.

Schultz is the only AHL’er in the top-five – likely in no small part because other top AHL’ers are already bona fide NHL players. The KHL, however has three prospects in Button’s upper echelon:

  • Second: Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington. The 26th overall pick in 2010, Kuzentsov has evolved into a near point-per-game player in the KHL. Kuznetsov as brilliant for Russia at last year’s World Juniors, managing six goals and 13 points in seven games. He can do it all offensively.
  • Third: Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis. Another 2010 first round pick (16th overall), Tarasenko just turned 21 and has eclipsed the point-per-game mark in the KHL through 23 contests so far. Unlike Kuznetsov, Tarasenko has made it clear he plans to make the jump to the NHL immediately.
  • Fifth: Nail Yakupov, Edmonton. It’s hard for me to look at Yakupov’s KHL performance – both in terms of numbers and from having watched a bunch of games – and see him ranked below Tarasenko and Kuznetsov. Yakupov’s commitment to North America – including the fact that he played two years in the OHL in the lead-up to getting drafted – is clear, and he’s putting in a highly comparable KHL performance to the other two despite having just turned 19.

Morgan Rielly, a near point-per-game defenceman with Moose Jaw and the fifth overall pick last year, rounds out the list.

For my money, the top spot on the list is a toss-up between Yakupov and Justin Schultz. Schultz is older, and his results almost defy belief in an extremely tough AHL. In terms of pure offence, Yakupov stacks up fairly against any of the Oilers young guns; he might already be the best shooter in the system (though Jordan Eberle will contest that).

Other Highlights

Brett Ritchie is an interesting choice for the 10th spot. A 2010 draft pick with a 6’4” frame, the winger’s numbers have never been terribly impressive until this year. In 32 OHL games he has scored 27 goals and 50 points.

Dougie Hamilton at 12 is a tough one to take. The OHL’s best defenceman last year, Hamilton isn’t particularly mean but he’s good at everything else; I’m guessing he suffers here because of comparisons to Jay Bouwmeester. He’s a brilliant prospect, and a guy I’d take earlier.

Malcolm Subban goes from being the 24th best prospect (according to NHL scouts) in the 2012 Draft to the 15th spot on Button’s list. I like Subban a lot, and clearly Button does too but I’m leery about putting that kind of value on any young goaltender.

Rielly and Yakupov both get spots in the top-five on Button’s list, and Alex Galchenyuk just falls shot, but the rest of 2012’s top-five is conspicuous by their lack of impact. Ryan Murray is ranked a lowly 26th (I’m assuming injury has something to do with this) and Griffin Reinhart is omitted entirely.

Recently by Jonathan Willis

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#1 book¡e
December 15 2012, 03:56PM
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You know what doesn't suck? - The debate as to whether the Oilers have the top two prospects or the top prospect and the 5th best prospect.

It's like the great Ice Cream vs Cake debate.

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#2 Chris
December 15 2012, 01:09PM
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Lowetide wrote:

Button is a former NHL GM and his entire family (Dad, brother) are scouting men. His Dad started the Central Scouting Bureau mid-70s. I think his lists are interesting in that they inform us about why scouting lists can be so different.

For me, Yakupov is clearly #1 based on his performance in the KHL at a young age. Schultz is an outstanding talent, but is also an older player. Can you imagine what Yakupov might do in the KHL at age 22?

Let's hope we don't get to find out what yakupov might do in the khl at 22!

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#4 Bicepus Maximus - Huge fan boy!
December 16 2012, 01:32AM
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DSF wrote:

Very, very weak.

The author admits he doesn't have a clue.

Something you should try doing.

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#5 Lowetide
December 15 2012, 11:30AM
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Button is a former NHL GM and his entire family (Dad, brother) are scouting men. His Dad started the Central Scouting Bureau mid-70s. I think his lists are interesting in that they inform us about why scouting lists can be so different.

For me, Yakupov is clearly #1 based on his performance in the KHL at a young age. Schultz is an outstanding talent, but is also an older player. Can you imagine what Yakupov might do in the KHL at age 22?

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#6 David S
December 15 2012, 12:21PM
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Sanaa Montana wrote:

No?

NOOOO!!!! *Repetitive double fist pumps*

*Has no idea what's going on*

*Bored out of skull due to no NHL*

Eff you NHL.

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#7 DSF
December 15 2012, 12:24PM
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Sanaa Montana wrote:

No?

No.

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#8 Sliderule
December 15 2012, 12:31PM
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Buttons list is ranked not by potential but who is best now.

Schultz is leading the AHL on steroids in scoring for cripes sake.He deserves to be number one.

The last defenceman to win the accuracy shooting at the all star game was Bourque.Schultz for my money will be the next.

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#9 Oilertown
December 15 2012, 09:56PM
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DSF wrote:

You have no idea what Galchenyuk would be doing the KHL.

Thing is, he IS doing it in the OHL.

I've always thought Galchenyuk would have been a better pick.

We'll see when they go head to head, if that ever happens.

Given how the CBA talks are going, Yakupov may never play in the NHL.

And you have no idea what Yakupov would be doing in the OHL so give it up buddy.

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#10 DSF
December 15 2012, 11:24PM
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Oilertown wrote:

And you have no idea what Yakupov would be doing in the OHL so give it up buddy.

No, it's all speculation.

Just like Button, just like you...just like me.

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#11 Bicepus Maximus - Huge fan boy!
December 16 2012, 01:12AM
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Sanaa Montana wrote:

What happens to the NHL rosters is the Union breaks up and all hell breaks lose?

Would the teams who have contracts with players have the first right to them?

DSF is retarded.

NHL is arguing that if the union decertifies or disclaims interest, the contracts should be void. However, because that isn't specifically stated in the contracts, it would be a tough thing to prove in court, according to TSN's legal analyst Eric Macramalla.

So basically, it's either (1) not likely the court will rule in favour of NHL's argument (and the "poor" Oilers will be stuck with Hallsy, Nuge, Ebs, Schultz, and Yak) or (2) if it does, the NHL and the PA will likely not want to deal with the consequences and settle prior, like the NBA did.

Link: http://www.startribune.com/sports/blogs/183635241.html

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#12 Oilertown
December 16 2012, 02:25AM
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Bicepus Maximus - Huge fan boy! wrote:

Something you should try doing.

Hahahahahaha Frig that was awesome.

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#13 John Chambers
December 16 2012, 08:44AM
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@book¡e

You may very well be correct. I'm of the mind that a much larger (and less vocal) segment of the PA is fairly risk-adverse and pretty eager to just get back to playing hockey.

It would be awesome to see that vote fail because the Corey Potters of the world don't see 5-year contracts as the hill they want to see their careers die on.

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#14 Gazmort
December 16 2012, 10:10AM
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@DSF

"Good grief"

It's also not quite as good as you think.

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#15 DSF
December 16 2012, 06:51PM
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Oilertown wrote:

I dunno Wes I just see Gally as a 60-80 point player in his prime and see Yak as a 80-100. Just my opinion.

Based on nothing.

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#16 GVBlackhawk
December 16 2012, 09:01PM
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OilersBrass wrote:

Also Jonathon, Galchenyuk centred Yakupov on the stings. It was his play making ability that helped Yakupov score a lot of those goals.

Yes, especially in their draft year. Yakupov really benefited from Galchenyuk's play-making ability then.

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#18 spOILer
December 15 2012, 11:43AM
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Agreed completely, JW. I happened to read Button's list just before seeing your article and was left wondering the same things.

Seems political almost, his ranking. Or populist maybe.

Another standout for me: I couldn't rank Grigorenko that low. Certainly not behind Brett Ritchie.

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#19 ItsTheBGB
December 15 2012, 11:48AM
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I love Morgan Rielly, always thought he was the best WHL defenseman from the 2012 draft, but Yak >>>> Morgan, without a doubt.

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#20 The Oilers Shot Clock
December 15 2012, 11:49AM
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Grigorenko behind Forsberg is odd considering Forsberg shouldn't even be on the list. Reilly at 5 is a bit wishfull too but I'm biased. This list will get a serious shuffle when the WJC are over anyways.

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#21 striatic
December 15 2012, 11:52AM
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i think it is also important to look at the talent Kuznetsov and Tarasenko are playing alongside versus who Yakupov is playing with.

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#22 The Oilers Shot Clock
December 15 2012, 11:52AM
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And I wish goalies didn't even make these lists. Add a sidebar where you rank the top ten separately.

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#23 Sanaa Montana
December 15 2012, 11:58AM
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What happens to the NHL rosters is the Union breaks up and all hell breaks lose?

Would the teams who have contracts with players have the first right to them?

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#24 DSF
December 15 2012, 12:04PM
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Sanaa Montana wrote:

What happens to the NHL rosters is the Union breaks up and all hell breaks lose?

Would the teams who have contracts with players have the first right to them?

No

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#25 Oiler Al
December 15 2012, 12:06PM
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@The Oilers Shot Clock

I dont know? I havent seen too many teams win games without a goalie in net. Franchises, build their teams from the goalie out in many cases. They are one of the most vital positions for a teams success. They should be part of the list, even, if teams don't like drafting them in the top 30.

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#26 Oiler Al
December 15 2012, 12:06PM
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@The Oilers Shot Clock

I dont know? I havent seen too many teams win games without a goalie in net. Franchises, build their teams from the goalie out in many cases. They are one of the most vital positions for a teams success. They should be part of the list, even, if teams don't like drafting them in the top 30.

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#27 Sanaa Montana
December 15 2012, 12:07PM
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Oh, and you have to rank Nail ahead of J Schu. J Schu is three years older and has taken his sweet time to develop. Two years ago no one heard or care much about J Schu but everyone knew Nail would be the sh!t. Now think where Nail will be in three years.

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#28 Sanaa Montana
December 15 2012, 12:08PM
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DSF wrote:

No

No?

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#29 Sanaa Montana
December 15 2012, 12:25PM
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@David S

No?

Not any.

no one

There is no water left.

No hot dogs were sold yesterday.

No customer personal data will be retained unless it is rendered anonymous.

Not any possibility or allowance.

No smoking

There's no stopping her once she gets going.

Not; not properly, not really; not fully.

My mother's no fool.

Working nine to five every day is no life.

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#30 OilersBrass
December 15 2012, 12:27PM
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Sanaa Montana wrote:

Oh, and you have to rank Nail ahead of J Schu. J Schu is three years older and has taken his sweet time to develop. Two years ago no one heard or care much about J Schu but everyone knew Nail would be the sh!t. Now think where Nail will be in three years.

Taken his sweet time? He chose to get an education before going pro, and there's only so much a person can develop playing hockey in University.

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#31 Toro
December 15 2012, 12:33PM
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Ya kinda funny how Rielly is rated better then Yakupov, wonder why he wasn't drafted 1st overall then, or even 2nd ... Or 3rd .... Or 4th..... Must be to get the Leaf fans some hope.

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#32 jay
December 15 2012, 12:39PM
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its nice to be excited, but lets keep expectations reasonable. ahl is full of guys who put up huge numbers never to be heard from again

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#33 OilClog
December 15 2012, 12:40PM
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Yakupov is #2, Button makes some crazy choices, must be a close friend of milbury

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#34 Walter Sobchak
December 15 2012, 12:50PM
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Button know's where his money comes from that's why Rielly is ahead of Yakupov, you cant tell me the Leaf's would not have drafted Yakupov never mind what that moron Burke said.

Yakupov plays on a horrific team and was or is close to a point per, pretty impressive for a kid who just turned 19.

Yakupov might be the best of the kid's but not as good without them.

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#35 They're $hittie
December 15 2012, 01:31PM
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OilClog wrote:

Yakupov is #2, Button makes some crazy choices, must be a close friend of milbury

yup

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#36 They're $hittie
December 15 2012, 01:35PM
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You guys this is Button, he is the stupidest man in hockey.

Mark Schiefilie is not better than huberdeau or strome. Some one please tell me what he does better than these guys. All his attention is because he is a jet. GO look at the draft again and figure out where you would draft him.

Brodin and Klefbom are a little high for my liking. They are playing higher level hockey or more of it but are injured so tough to gauge.

Button is a huge homer, and he gives extra points to canadian teams picks.

Yes Rielly is good, but watch how many of his shots get blocked. He may put up points but he wastes a lot of shots with the potential of the play going the other way.

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#37 dessert1111
December 15 2012, 01:43PM
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I'm always skeptical with Button's lists but the guy isn't afraid to go against the grain and a lot of times I think he looks smart in the end. He misses some too -- dropping Grigorenko as much as he did pre-draft was a bit much, I think -- but he appears to have compelling reasons why he sees things the way he does. Fifth is nothing to sneeze at, and he has Klefbom above Murray, so that's interesting.

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#38 Kent Wilson
December 15 2012, 02:43PM
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Flames have 2 players on the list.

This is totally foreign territory for me.

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#39 Professor Q
December 15 2012, 02:55PM
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Sliderule wrote:

Buttons list is ranked not by potential but who is best now.

Schultz is leading the AHL on steroids in scoring for cripes sake.He deserves to be number one.

The last defenceman to win the accuracy shooting at the all star game was Bourque.Schultz for my money will be the next.

Was it not Kaberle?

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#40 book¡e
December 15 2012, 03:55PM
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They're $hittie wrote:

yup

Yep?

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#41 B S
December 15 2012, 04:28PM
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Button builds his list politically. He moves prospects up and down based on how much WOW factor it will add, and how much he can get away with and still be taken seriously. He seems rank players differently just to be different, and from all I've read by him, he ranks, then reasons why a player belongs there, often resulting in hypocritical rankings (Rielly high despite being injured, Grigorenko sick drops in the rankings). End result is that I don't take his rankings seriously.

With an obvious hometown bias I'd rank Schultz 1st and Yak 2nd. I'd also rank Huberdeau lower, but only because skilled-but-stupid is still stupid.

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#42 Wanyes bastard child
December 15 2012, 04:48PM
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@book¡e

Your a smart man, a lot smarter than me when it comes to these things, I was wondering if you could explain to me the current state of the negotiations?

Just a simple answer since being in the courts now I'm wondering if talks can still go on and something can be reached outside of court or what not.

Mainly I just want mah hockeyz :( and wondering if we are doomed now....

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#43 Oilertown
December 15 2012, 05:01PM
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Sanaa Montana wrote:

No?

You will have to excuse DSF I think he is probably pretty damn pissed right now that Schultz is rated number one and he didn't choose the Knuckleheads.

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#44 They're $hittie
December 15 2012, 05:14PM
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@Oilertown

ya he is probably not happy about the granlund and brodin ranking. I wonder how the SB nation wild site is taking it. The seem to think granlund is going to be the best player in the nhl.

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#45 DSF
December 15 2012, 06:06PM
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They're $hittie wrote:

ya he is probably not happy about the granlund and brodin ranking. I wonder how the SB nation wild site is taking it. The seem to think granlund is going to be the best player in the nhl.

Not at all.

Granlund and Brodin are right about where I would peg them.

Thing is, the Wild prospect depth doesn't stop there.

With Granlund, Brodin, Coyle, Zucker, Phillips, Larsson, Graovac, Genoway and Dumba, the Wild prospect cupboard is bulging while the Oilers have just the high end kids and a lot of meh.

You'll notice the Houston Aeros are ahead of the Barons in the AHL standings.

There's a reason for that.

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#46 Max Powers - Team HME Evans
December 15 2012, 06:28PM
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@DSF

What would your prospect ranking be, DSF? It seems to me not too long ago someone asked you that in the comments section and you listed Yakupov as #5, Huberdeau #1 and Granlund somewhere in between there. Care to elaborate?

A list of 1-10 would be awesome, if you were generous enough to bless us with your wisdom.

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#47 RyanCoke
December 15 2012, 06:38PM
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I always took buttons lists and analysis with a grain of salt. He is an idiot IMO and anyone of us regular old fans can put a list together that is more accurate than his and analyze hockey better than him.

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#48 DSF
December 15 2012, 06:51PM
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@Max Powers - Team HME Evans

Tough to do since I haven't seen some of them play but I'll give it a go with that proviso.

These things evolve as a season progresses and injuries always have an effect.

1) Schultz (exceeding everyones expecations)

2) Galchenyuk (almost 2PPG in the OHL)

3) Tarasenko (killing the K)

4) Rielly (turning into a dominant defensemen and much younger than Schultz)

5) Yakupov (obvious skill but very inconsitent in the KHL)

6) Baertschi (putting up good numbers on a VERY defensive team

7) Huberdeau (not having a great season but apparently quite a leader)

8) Ryan Strome (killing the OHL - 62 points in 32 GP)

9) Granlund (would be much higher without the injury)

10) Brett Ritchie (27 goals in 32GP)

I can't rank Kuznetsov since I've never seen him play and he apparently doesn't want to play in the NHL in any case.

Honourable mentions to Dougie Hamilton, Mark Schiefle and Jonas Brodin who could also have cracked the top ten if not injured.

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#49 They're $hittie
December 15 2012, 07:00PM
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@DSF

Pretty good list DSF

Mine would be

1) Schultz 2) Taresenko (because he is older) 3) Yakupov 4) Strome (too much offense) 5) Huberdeau 6) Hamilton 7) Murray 8) Granlund 9) Galchenyuk (lower because his offense is not where stromes was even pre-draft, still good with out yak) 10) Reilly

Dishonorable mention... Schiefilie, so over rated because he is a jet.

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#50 Oilertown
December 15 2012, 07:02PM
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DSF wrote:

Tough to do since I haven't seen some of them play but I'll give it a go with that proviso.

These things evolve as a season progresses and injuries always have an effect.

1) Schultz (exceeding everyones expecations)

2) Galchenyuk (almost 2PPG in the OHL)

3) Tarasenko (killing the K)

4) Rielly (turning into a dominant defensemen and much younger than Schultz)

5) Yakupov (obvious skill but very inconsitent in the KHL)

6) Baertschi (putting up good numbers on a VERY defensive team

7) Huberdeau (not having a great season but apparently quite a leader)

8) Ryan Strome (killing the OHL - 62 points in 32 GP)

9) Granlund (would be much higher without the injury)

10) Brett Ritchie (27 goals in 32GP)

I can't rank Kuznetsov since I've never seen him play and he apparently doesn't want to play in the NHL in any case.

Honourable mentions to Dougie Hamilton, Mark Schiefle and Jonas Brodin who could also have cracked the top ten if not injured.

Wow and you don't think Yak would be putting up almost 2 PPG in the OHL if he was still there Galchenyuk would have no where near the numbers Yakupov has in the KHL this year. Your reaching again as per usual. So that would put Yakupov second on your list.

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