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Gauthier, Nikishin lead Button’s Top 50 NHL-affiliated prospects list

Cutter Gauthier Cutter Gauthier - Images on Ice
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Boston College centre Cutter Gauthier and SKA St. Petersburg defenceman Alexander Nikishin are the top-ranked players on TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s top 50 NHL-affiliated prospects list.

Gauthier, who was drafted fifth overall by the Philadelphia Flyers in 2022, made waves when his NHL rights were dealt to the Anaheim Ducks on Jan. 8 in exchange for defenceman Jamie Drysdale and a 2025 second-round pick. It was reported that Gauthier did not intend on signing with the Flyers.

Despite the controversy, Gauthier is enjoying a strong sophomore campaign with Boston College, scoring 26 goals with 43 points through 29 games this season. He also helped the United States capture gold at the World Juniors, taking home Best Forward honours after netting 12 points in seven games.

“I think Gauthier has elite written all over him,” said Button. “He’s a AA prospect. [He] very well could be a Hobey Baker finalist.

“What matters is the type of game he plays. It’s complete, it’s well-rounded. To me, it’s elite skating, hockey sense, puck skills, playmaking ability, scoring ability – all the things that make you elite. He checks elite just right across the board.”

At No. 2 is Nikishin, who is tearing up the KHL for a second straight year. The 22-year-old defenceman has scored 16 goals with 54 points through 65 games this season. Two years ago, he helped ROC earn silver at the 2022 Olympics in Beijing.  

Drafted in the third round (69th overall) by the Carolina Hurricanes in 2020, Nikishin has yet to skate in North America with his KHL contract running through 2024-25.

Button says Nikishin, who is 6-foot-4 and 216 pounds, is capable of playing any kind of game you want him to play.

“He can play it physically, he can play it offensively,” said Button. “He can shoot the puck; he can make plays. He is an impact player.

“In a lot of ways and I will say this, if I was Carolina, I would try to get him over to just play with Brent Burns. A big man that plays that game forward and with initiative.”

Boston College continues to reign supreme on Button’s list, as he has three of Gauthier’s teammates also in the top 10, with No. 3 Will Smith (San Jose Sharks), No. 4 Ryan Leonard (Washington Capitals) and No. 7 Gabe Perreault (New York Rangers), who have been skating on the same line together since their days with the USNTDP.

After dominating the U18 level, the trio has carried that success over to college. Perreault is leading the NCAA in scoring with 14 goals and 48 points while Smith is second with 16 goals and 45 points. Leonard is eighth with 21 goals and 41 points.

“They are so good it’s scary,” said Button of the trio. “I’m in awe of them. They just complement each other. Their hockey sense is all off the charts. They all compete in different ways but all at high level. They all have unique skills that just work perfectly with one another.

“I think one of the best things that they understand, and this is what translates so well for me, is that they understand when they’re playing the game and who they’re playing with, what they need to do to contribute to their linemates and to the games. Gabe Perreault knows he’s a really good playmaker. Will Smith knows he can score and make plays. Ryan Leonard is a hard-driving, more of a rugged, physical player.”

They led the United States to gold at the U18s last year and also paced the Americans to gold at the World Juniors.

The top end of Button’s list is dominated by American and European players, with Oshawa Generals forward Calum Ritchie (No. 6) one of just two Canadians in the top 20, along with Buffalo Sabres goaltender prospect Devon Levi (No. 20). The Brampton, Ont., native is also the only current CHL player in the top 22. 

Ritchie was taken 27th overall by the Colorado Avalanche in last June’s draft. In 37 games this season, he has 19 goals and 60 points as the Generals are third in the OHL’s Eastern Conference with 65 points, five behind the Sudbury Wolves and Brantford Bulldogs, who have 70 points.

Button cites Ritchie as the main reason the Generals have risen up the standings this season after finishing eighth in the conference in 2022-23.

“Elite hockey sense,” said Button of Ritchie. “High-end skill and flexibility in his game. He can make plays; he can score goals. He can use his size to gain advantages. He can play a quick and fast game.”

NOTE: Players are graded AA (elite), A (starting goalie, top-pair defenceman, first-line forward), B (tandem goalie, top-four defenceman, top-six forward) or C (backup goalie, depth defenceman, bottom-six forward).

 

Top 50 NHL-affiliated Prospects

 
RK Name Age NHL Rank 2023-24 Team GP G P
1 Cutter Gauthier, C 20 Ana AA Boston College (NCAA)  29 26 43
2 Alexander Nikishin, D 22 Car AA St. Petersburg (KHL) 64 16 54
3 Will Smith, C 18 SJ AA Boston College (NCAA)  29 16 45
4 Ryan Leonard, RW 19 Wsh AA Boston College (NCAA)  29 21 41
5 Matvei Michkov, RW 19 Phi AA Sochi (KHL) 44 17 38
6 Calum Ritchie, C/RW 19 Col AA Oshawa (OHL) 37 19 60
7 Gabe Perreault, LW 18 NYR AA Boston College (NCAA)  29 14 48
8 Axel Sandin-Pellikka, D 18 Det A Skelleftea (SHL) 30 9 13
9 Tom Willander, D 19 Van A Boston University (NCAA)  28 4 16
10 Jonathan Lekkerimaki, RW 19 Van A Orebro (SHL) 37 14 23
                 
11 Rutger McGroarty, C/LW 19 Wpg A Michigan (NCAA) 25 12 38
12 Dustin Wolf, G 22 Cgy A Calgary (AHL) 30 2.25 .928
13 Noah Ostlund, C 19 Buf A Vaxjo (SHL) 29 9 18
14 Jiri Kulich, LW 19 Buf A Rochester (AHL) 35 17 27
15 Jimmy Snuggerud, RW 19 StL A Minnesota (NCAA) 32 19 31
16 Lane Hutson, D 20 Mtl A Boston University (NCAA)  28 12 37
17 Yaroslav Askarov, G 21 Nsh A Milwaukee (AHL) 27 2.12 .920
18 Dmitri Simashev, D 19 Ari A Yaroslavl (KHL) 60 4 10
19 Jesper Wallstedt, G 21 Min A Iowa (AHL) 28 2.82 .906
20 Devon Levi, G 22 Buf A Rochester (AHL) 10 2.38 .930
                 
21 David Jiricek, D 20 CBJ B Cleveland (AHL) 36 1 9
22 Logan Stankoven, C/RW 20 Dal B Texas (AHL) 46 24 57
23 Oliver Bonk, D 19 Phi B London (OHL) 47 21 58
24 Matt Coronato, RW 21 Cgy B Calgary (AHL) 36 14 37
25 Simon Edvinsson, D 21 Det B Grand Rapids (AHL) 42 6 25
26 Dalibor Dvorsky, C 18 StL B Sudbury (OHL) 38 31 59
27 Colby Barlow, LW 19 Wpg B Owen Sound (OHL) 37 31 45
28 Mavrik Bourque, C 22 Dal B Texas (AHL) 46 17 55
29 Olen Zellweger, D 20 Ana B San Diego (AHL) 40 10 32
30 Joshua Roy, LW 20 Mtl B Montreal (NHL) 40 13 32
                 
31 Shakir Mukamadullin, D 22 SJ B San Jose (AHL) 45 6 27
32 Danila Yurov, RW 20 Min B Magnitogorsk (KHL) 59 21 47
33 David Reinbacher, D 19 Mtl B Kloten (SUI) 30 1 11
34 Ville Koivunen, C/LW 20 Car B Karpat (SM Liiga) 50 17 46
35 Frank Nazar, C 20 Chi B Michigan (NCAA) 30 14 35
36 Jagger Firkus, RW 19 Sea B Moose Jaw (WHL) 49 41 94
37 Easton Cowan, RW 18 Tor B London (OHL) 42 27 75
38 Logan Mailloux, D 20 Mtl B Laval (AHL) 48 11 35
39 Ethan Del Mastro, D 21 Chi B Rockford (AHL) 47 6 25
40 Conor Geekie, C 19 Ari B Swift Current (WHL) 42 32 75
                 
41 Rodwin Dionicio, D 19 Ana B Saginaw (OHL) 46 20 58
42 Jani Nyman, RW 19 Sea B Ilves (SM Liiga) 42 20 34
43 Josh Doan, RW 22 Ari B Tucson (AHL) 47 21 35
44 Shane Wright, C 19 Sea B Coachella Valley (AHL) 43 18 32
45 Elias Salomonsson, D 19 Wpg B Skelleftea (SHL) 22 1 7
46 Riley Heidt, C 18 Min B Prince George (WHL) 54 31 95
47 Maveric Lamoureux, D 20 Ari B Drummondville (QMJHL) 28 7 28
48 Fabian Lysell, RW 21 Bos B Providence (AHL) 46 14 40
49 Gavin Brindley, C/RW 19 CBJ B Michigan (NCAA) 29 18 39
50 Jackson Blake, RW 20 Car B North Dakota (NCAA) 30 17 40