21. Anaheim Ducks
Strengths: Jean-Phillippe Levasseur tops an interesting cast of characters in net. Also, four of the Ducks’ top ten prospects are defensemen, led by big, smooth-skating Mark Mitera of the University of Michigan. However, the defense prospects after Mitera, including Brendan Mikkelsen, Brian Salcido and John deGray are all somewhat one-dimensional players.
Weaknesses: Drew Miller is arguably the organization’s best left wing prospect and he projects as only a third or fourth line forward in the NHL. Logan MacMillan is a solid, hard-working center prospect who can score, but the pivot position is quite thin overall in the system.
Strengths: Despite the lack of high draft picks in recent years, the Red Wings have managed to find some quality prospects. Detroit has a bright future in the net with top prospect Jimmy Howard, who has the potential to be an NHL starter but still needs to develop his consistency. Johan Ryno has had some injury troubles, but he has the size and skill to be a top six scoring winger in the NHL. Jan Mursak, also a potential top six forward, brings tremendous speed, skill and hockey sense. Jakub Kindl, a mobile defenseman with offensive ability, is on his way to being a top pairing defenseman in the NHL.
Weaknesses: While they have a few potential NHL players on the horizon, on a whole, Detroit has very little depth at any position. The biggest weak spot is at center, where the top prospect is Darren Helm, a potential checking-line forward. Aside from Jonathan Ericsson, they have few big, stay at home defensemen.
Strengths: The Thrashers strengths are at goaltender and forward. Between the pipes, Pavelec is starter-caliber and is the team’s top prospect. Behind him, Alex Kangas is making some noise at Univ. of Minnesota. Up front, Little is promising as an offensive centerman and Brett Sterling continues to light up the AHL. Defenseman Tobias Enstrom is a candidate for NHL Rookie of the Year.
Weaknesses: The defensive position has some depth, but there are no prospects ready to step into the lineup. Boris Valabik is probably the closest, but he does not project highly, lacking an offensive game. Andrei Zubarev remains an intriguing blueliner in Russia, but there are a lot of question marks with the other blueliners.
24. Buffalo Sabres
Strengths: With a slew of talented offensive forwards, quality up front remains one of Buffalo’s main strengths. Clarke MacArthur, Marek Zagrapan, Mark Mancari, Nathan Gerbe, and Corey Tropp, who was acquired at the 2007 draft, all have plenty of talent and have all been productive for their respective teams. Buffalo also boasts a strong group of defensemen. With Andrej Sekera and Marc-Andre Gragnani bringing excellent offensive awareness and Michael Funk providing the defensive responsibility, the Sabres are looking adequate on the point, especially after the additions of TJ Brennan and Drew Schiestel are factored in, both acquired at the 2007 draft.
Weaknesses: Though not a pressing need, the Sabres could use more depth in goal with Jhonas Enroth the only quality netminding prospect. Also, the Sabres lack size among their forwards and they are extremely thin on left wing. With a number of offensive graduations over the past couple of seasons, the pool of high-end forward talent has virtually dried up.
25. Florida Panthers
Strengths: New additions to the Panthers prospect system have brought some highly promising defensemen, an area lacking talent in the past. Keaton Ellerby, drafted 10th overall by the Panthers in 2007, is a tough physical player with good size. Noah Welch, who also possesses good size and is a strong two-way defenseman, came to the Panthers via trade with the Penguins and could make an impact in the near future. Still holding the top spot among forwards in the Panthers system, Michael Frolik has the speed and skill to put up points at the NHL level. While not as heralded as some of the team’s high-end prospects, Tanner Glass, Anthony Stewart and Kamil Kreps have found spots on Florida’s roster this season.
Weaknesses: The biggest weakness for the Panthers is between the pipes. Their top goaltending prospect, Tyler Plante, is probably not an elite goaltender, while the next in line, David Shantz, is struggling to make a name for himself at the minor league level. Behind Kenndal McArdle, there is very little depth at left wing, and on a whole, there are very few players that are sure bets to ever see NHL ice.
26. Ottawa Senators
Strengths: Nick Foligno, Josh Hennessy, Ilya Zubov, Alexander Nikulin, and Igor Mirnov all have the skill to be top six forwards and there is no lack of gritty two-way energy forwards like Cody Bass and Shawn Weller. There are also several offensive projects including Danish star Peter Regin, and 2007 draft picks Jim O’Brien and Ruslan Bashkirov.
Weaknesses: On defense, Brian Lee heads up a group of underrated and relatively unknown but talented puck-movers including Tomas Kudelka and RSL regulars Kirill Lyamin and Vitaly Anikeyenko. But the defensive group lacks depth overall and even their top prospects on the blueline are over-shadowed by more talented groups in the league. The Senators most apparent weakness is the lack of high-end prospects. Between the pipes, Brian Elliott could be a steal, but Jeff Glass has slipped significantly and Ryan Daniels has a long way to go.
27. Dallas Stars
Strengths: Matt Niskanen, highly-skilled Ivan Vishnevskiy, Sweden‘s Niklas Grossman and burly Mark Fistric are four defensemen who will likely play at the NHL level in varying capacities. James Neal might surprise as a power forward. Last season at Plymouth, Neal was a member of a power line that was virtually unstoppable, leading the Whalers to the CHL finals.
Weaknesses: Dallas’ best goalie prospects, Tobias Stephan and undersized Richard Bachman, have uphill development curves and fairly long odds of becoming regular NHL netminders. The entire prospect pool completely lacks top-end potential or future franchise cornerstones. The forward position does not have a game-breaker and even the best are still development projects. While defense has some potential NHL stalwarts, the group as a whole is severely lacking depth.
Strengths: New Jersey has one good young forward in the organization in No.1 overall prospect Nicklas Bergfors. After that, it’s a steep drop off to Tony Romano. They do have several checking line, role-playing forwards like David Clarkson, Rod Pelley, and 2007 pick Mike Hoeffel. Jeff Frazee is the top goaltending prospect. With Matthew Corrente and Andy Greene among the top five prospects, defense is another strong point. The deep blue line group also includes Mark Fayne, Mark Fraser, and Kirill Tulupov.
Weaknesses: The organization is devoid of elite or high-end prospects. On top of this, they are relying on several ‘boom or bust’ offensive players such as Alexander Vasyunov and Barry Tallackson. There is also a lack of goaltending quality and depth. Generally speaking, this is a relatively weak group of young players and the Devils will be hard-pressed to build from within over the next few years.
Strengths: Goaltending is a clear strength to their prospect pool. Karri Ramo and Riku Helenius are potential NHL starters and if only one of the two develops into Tampa Bay’s starter for the foreseeable future, it will be a tremendous success. Blair Jones, Luca Cunti and Dana Tyrell are intriguing prospects, but are a long way from being top prospects, while Matt Smaby is a maybe.
Weaknesses: Outside of possibly Ramo and Helenius, none are potential NHL stars. Developing top-end talent is only one criterion for analyzing a prospect pool, but it is a very important criterion. Tampa Bay has solid depth in second and third-tier prospects, but the overall depth is average relative to other organizations.
Strengths: When an organization finishes dead last in terms of prospect talent, there is little that can be considered a strength. Brandon Sutter is the only prospect with a high likelihood of having a significant impact at the NHL level, and even he is not an elite prospect. Carolina does have good depth on the blueline and in net, but none are sure-fire NHL starters. Brett Carson has a good combination of size with some offensive capabilities.
Weaknesses: With only a single player that qualifies as a prospect at left wing, there is an obvious and enormous hole. The rest of the forward corps, while containing some intriguing prospects in Bobby Hughes and Sutter, lacks depth and franchise caliber players as a whole. While Carolina can point to a prospect or two as having the potential to make a lasting impact in the NHL, it lags well behind all other organizations in terms of both quantity and quality. Carolina is not completely devoid of talent, it just does not have enough of it to compare favorably to other organizations in terms of prospects.