It’s been 20 years since The Hockey News first published a top 50 ranking of NHL prospects in its Future Watch issue. No player from that list is still active in the NHL, but a few are working in the front office or members of the media.
The Hockey News has been publishing a special issue dedicated to NHL prospects since the late 1980s. What began as an “In The System” theme issue gave way to Future Watch in 1992. Our first top 50 list of prospects – compiled by canvassing a panel of scouts – appeared in Future Watch 1994 with Paul Kariya as the No. 1 prospect. The following season – 20 years ago – Ed Jovanovski was the chosen one. The headline read:
NHL’s premier prospect no ordinary Jovanovski
In this edition of Throwback Thursday, here’s how that winter, 1995 cover story by Ken Campbell read:
Nobody has to tell Windsor Spitfires’ coach Mike Kelly that defenseman Ed Jovanovski is the best player outside the NHL.
He sees evidence of it all the time.
Just the other night Jovanovski decided he wanted to score. So he picked up the puck behind the net and skated through the entire Peterborough Petes team.
Kelly had the best view in the house standing behind the Spitfires’ bench.
“I looked at my assistant coach and said. ‘This kid is just unbelievable,’ ” Kelly said. “He’s a great talent, but I’m telling you something you don’t already know.”
You’d have to be one of the Hanson brothers not to have figured that out by now.
Jovanovski, 18, was chosen first overall by the Florida Panthers in the 1994 NHL entry draft. He had a good training camp, but was returned to the Ontario League. After a slow start, he has dominated with six goals, 28 points and 86 penalty minutes in 17 games.
Jovanovski’s combination of skill, toughness and character prompted scouts to rank him the world’s best NHL-affiliated prospect.
In a Hockey News poll of 11 NHL chief scouts and directors of player personnel, Jovanovski placed first on seven ballots. He was no lower than fourth on the others. Not bad for a guy who didn’t start skating until age 11 and was playing at the bantam level just three years ago.
“I’m not saying I should be No. 1, but I certainly worked hard for this,” Jovanovski said. “I just hope I can live up to it.”
Jovanovski’s position and disposition gave him a large boost in the rankings. NHL teams covet skilled, belligerent defensemen – mostly because they are so hard to find.
If Radek Bonk was the “slam-dunk” choice for first pick in last year’s entry draft, as one NHL Gm insisted, Jovanovski represented a three-point play.
“I’ve seen a lot of other players and they’re outstanding talents,” said Panthers’ GM Bryan Murray, “but Eddie brings a little more to the point.”
He may be taking it to Florida this season if the labor dispute is resolved. Jovanovski and the Panthers didn’t agree on a contract before the lockout, but could conceivably close one quickly if a labor agreement is reached. That would permit the Panthers to recall Jovanovski this year.
Murray said the Panthers could sign Jovanovski and leave him in the OHL this season. That would give him the opportunity to dominate at the major junior level and represent Canada at the World Junior Championship.
In THN voting for best prospect, Jovanovski finished ahead of Bonk, the Ottawa Senators’ prospect who is playing with the International League’s Las Vegas Thunder.
Bonk, 18, could yet be a Senator this season if his agent, Mike Barnett, can make a deal with the Senators – provided, or course, the lockout ends.
No. 3 prospect Saku Koivu, whose rights are held by the Montreal Canadiens, won’t be in the NHL this season and for that, other players can be thankful.
One NHL GM described him admiringly as “a jerk” on the ice. Koivu led the Finnish Elite League in scoring with 32 points in 21 games this year and is a world-class agitator.
Koivu fulfilled his obligation to the Finnish military in November after spending 18 months learning how to shoot down planes.
The 20-year-old said he didn’t hit a single plane. That may mean the Winnipeg Jets, Philadelphia Flyers and Mighty Ducks of Anaheim are safe. But other teams had best beware: Koivu has top-shelf offensive talent.
Choosing prospects for this year’s list was complicated by the lockout.
Several players who have yet to play an NHL games are not among the prospects because it was expected they would be playing in the NHL if not for the work stoppage.
Also worth noting is that several players are ranked higher on our top 50 list than they are on their own teams. For example, Ryan Smyth is our No. 5 prospect and Mats Lindgren No. 6. But on the Edmonton Oilers’ list, Lindgren is No. 1 and Smyth No. 2.
That’s because the two lists were compiled using different sources. The team lists are based largely on information obtained from club sources and the composite top 50 is voted upon.
The largest jump among last year’s ranked players was recorded by Washington Capitals goaltending prospect Jim Carey. The masked man was 46th in last year’s rankings; eighth this season.
Things didn’t go as well for Mike Dunham, another member of the U.S.-born goaltending fraternity. The New Jersey Devils’ prospect was ranked eighth overall last year and dropped out of the top 50 this season.
Here’s our presentation of the top 50 from 1995.
1. Ed Jovanovski, D, Florida
2. Radek Bonk, LW, Ottawa
3. Saku Koivu, C, Montreal
4. Jeff O’Neill, C, Hartford
5. Ryan Smyth, LW, Edmonton
6. Mats Lindgren, RW, Edmonton
7. Jamie Storr, G, Los Angeles
8. Brendan Witt, D, Washington
9. Corey Hirsch, G, New York Rangers
10. Landon Wlson, RW, Quebec
11. Eric Fichard, G, Toronto
12. Jim Carey, G, Washington
13. Jamie Langenbrunner, C, Dallas
14. Mattias Ohlund, D, Vancouver
15. Niklas Sundstrom, LW, New York Rangers
16. Eric Daze, LW, Chicago
17. Nolan Baumgartner, D, Washington
18. Ethan Moreau, LW, Chicago
19. Jason Botterill, LW, Dallas
20. Stanislav Neckar, D, Ottawa
21. Anders Eriksson, D, Detroit
22. Brian Rolston, C, New Jersey
23. Andrei Nazarov, RW, San Jose
24. Mattias Norstrom, D, New York Rangers
25. Jason Bonsignore, C, Edmonton
26. Manny Fernandez, G, Dallas
27. Jesper Mattsson, RW, Calgary
28. Michael Sykora, D, San Jose
29. Curtis Brown, C, Buffalo
30. Aaron Gavey, C, Tampa Bay
31. Nikolai Tsulygin, D, Anaheim
32. Michael Grosek, LW, Winnipeg
33. Vadim Sharifjanov, RW, New Jersey
34. Dan Cloutier, G, New York Rangers
35. Denis Pederson, C, New Jersey
36. Radim Bicanek, D, Ottawa
37. Kevin Brown, RW, Los Angeles
38. Cory Stillman, C, Calgary
39. Wayne Primeau, C, Buffalo
40. Valeri Bure, RW, Montreal
41. Wade Belak, D, Quebec
42. Chris Wells, C, Pittsburgh
43. Mike Knuble, RW, Detroit
44. Marek Malik, D, Hartford
45. Shean Donovan, RW, San Jose
46. Robert Petrovicky, C, Hartford
47. Garth Snow, G, Quebec
48. Alexander Kharlamov, RW, Washington
49. Deron Quint, D, Winnipeg
50. Chris Dingman, C, Calgary