Alexander Wennberg is the runaway boy in this year’s Future Watch. That’s one nugget that emerged in the early stages of feedback from NHL scouts.
Future Watch is one of our most popular issues each year because it ranks the top prospects in each NHL team’s system. Then we get a committee of scouts to rank the top 50 NHL-affiliated prospects in the game.
Wennberg, I must admit, wasn’t on my radar as a top 10 or even top 20 guy heading into the project. But as ballots come back from our scouts, it looks as though he might make the top five on a strong list of future NHL regulars. He’s already first on one ballot and second on another.
This is what I’ve learned about Wennberg, the 14th overall selection by the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2013.
As one of the oldest players available in the 2013 draft, Wennberg plays a very mature game and his hockey sense with or without the puck is off the charts. At 19, Wennberg leads Djurgarden in the Swedish League with 16 goals in 44 games. In his second WJC with Sweden, he had three goals and seven points in seven games.
“He knows what to do when he has the puck and that doesn’t mean just scoring goals,” one scout said. “He’ll be a top-six forward not just for his offense, but because he plays a smart game.”
Wennberg is a natural center and it’s not hard to imagine him and Ryan Johansen locking down the top two lines in Columbus for the next decade-plus when the Swede comes to North America.
That could be as soon as next season. At 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, Wennberg isn’t huge, but one scout calls him “hockey strong.”
The Blue Jackets made Wennberg the first of three first-round picks in last year’s draft. The others are Kerby Rychel (19th) and Mark Dano (27th). They’re also part of the Columbus top 10 list, which will rank among the top two or three team lists in the league.
We still have a few more ballots coming in before finalizing our top 50 list for Future Watch 2014, but it’s almost a certainty Wennberg will surpass four or five prospects selected ahead of him in the 2013 draft.
That’s how the scouting community at large sees it right now.
Of course, how that translates at the NHL level in the seasons to come is up in the air.
Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior editor and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Brian Costello on Twitter at @BCostelloTHN