Well, not exactly. The Top 25 Under 25 is back for the first time since the Summer 2014 rankings, and that has me feeling excited about hockey in August, which is never a bad thing. Because of the longer gap between editions, there have been a mountain of changes too: Jordan Eberle, Justin Schultz, and Philip Larsen have all graduated based on age; Travis Ewanyk and Liam Coughlin have been traded; and Marco Roy, Jackson Houck, Curtis Hamilton, Frans Tuohimaa, Tyler Bunz, John McCarron, and Brad Ross (who was an Oiler for about a week) were all deemed unworthy of a(nother) NHL contract by new GM, Peter Chiarelli.
So we're back! But we're only kind of opening with Eetu Laurikainen. You see, a few players on our list were a touch more divisive than others (maybe it's all the new blood among the rankers; a lot of new blood there too). Laurikainen was one of them, and I'm here to tell you that, even though he didn't make the consensus top 25, he absolutely should have.
Previous Rank: N/A
You'll notice that Jeff and Shona seem to think that they were ranking Keven Bouchard here (NB: both of them actually have Bouchard ahead of Laurikainen; I don't know what to make of that) and that I like Laurikainen a lot more than everybody else even if you do dismiss the two obscenely low rankings. A big part of that is my penchant for betting on guys that have a small chance to provide huge value rather than guys that have a better chance to provide very limited value. Is Iiro Pakarinen more likely to play future NHL games? Absolutely. Is he more likely to become an impact player? Nope.
So what gives me hope with Laurikainen? Well, he's always been pretty good, for one thing. After posting save percentages of .922 and .914 with the Swift Current Broncos in 2012-13 and 2013-14 (compared to his back-up's .897 and .901), Laurikainen went to Finland and played in the SM-liiga where he posted a .933 save percentage as the starter for the Espoo Blues. Not only does that number once again dwarf his back-up (.901), it was good enough for second in the league among goalies with at least twenty games played. That's impressive! Or at least it should be. After all, there are just ten other goalies who have posted a save percentage of .925 or better in the SM-liiga at age 21 or younger since 1999-00:
Granted, most of the guys who made it to the NHL had their big SM-liiga as teenagers, but Laurikainen was busy playing in the WHL at the time so didn't have the opportunity. Does that mean we're probably looking at the next Tuukka Rask? No, but I wouldn't have bet on Rask becoming "the next Tuukka Rask" after his twenty-one year-old season either (.915 in the AHL and a cup of coffee with the Bruins). All I'm saying is that there's enough uncertainty here for us to think that Laurikainen has a respectable chance to help an NHL team at a premium position.
Others Missing the Cut:
Evan Campbell is suddenly becoming a little bit more interesting. Campbell scored 27 points in 34 games at UMass-Lowell, which plays in Hockey East. That's a big jump for Campbell, but after an underwhelming freshman year, everyone in the group felt that we'd need to see at least one more (half-)season of improvement before putting him in the Top 25.
William Lagesson played in the USHL in 2014-15, his first season in North America. The defenseman made a pretty darn good transition too, finishing second on the team with a +/- rating of +18 while registering 12 of his 16 points at even strength. Lagesson will play next season with the University of Massachussets, so the Oilers will hold his rights for the next several years as they watch the 6'2'' Swede develop.
Aidan Muir was drafted from the hockey hinterlands by the Oilers in 2013, and has continued to develop (from basically ground zero) at an impressive clip. He arrived at Western Michigan a year earlier than originally expected in 2014-15 and posted a respectable 15 points in 36 games as a 19-year-old. With seniors Justin Kovacs and William Kessel moving on to pro hockey, Muir will likely get much more ice time in 2015-16. The 6'4'', 212 lb. winger will need to muster more offense in order to make the Top 25 down the line, but with that increased ice time and the development arc he's been on over the last two years, it might just happen.
Tyler Vesel is another college player who, like Muir and Campbell, had a respectable season. Vesel finished fourth on his team in scoring with 23 points in 39 games during his freshman year and will be staying at the University of Nebraska-Omaha for the 2015-16 season. At 5'11'' and 182 lbs., a lack of size may be an issue for Vesel, but if his 21-year-old season tops a point per game, he'll likely make the cut next time around.