A series of poor finishes in the standings, stock-piling draft picks and excellent scouting of amateur talent has fueled St. Louis’s rise from the bottom half to the top of Hockey’s Future’s Organizational Rankings. Teams ranked 11-20 can be found here.
Strengths: Going into the 2007-08 season, the best prospect in the NHL in Erik Johnson broke training camp firmly established on the NHL roster. But the defensive pool does not stop with Johnson as Ian Cole headlines the second tier of defensive prospects, each with legitimate NHL potential. Even with the graduation of Hannu Toivonen, the Blues can look to Marek Schwarz as a future NHL starter who could eventually surpass Toivonen in net. The forward corps contains both high-end talent, in skilled centers T.J. Oshie and Patrik Berglund and play-making wingers David Perron and Lars Eller, and depth as their second tier is packed with forwards of second line potential that, if only a couple out of the pack reach their full potential, the Blues will have a mostly homegrown second and third line in addition to their top stars.
Weaknesses: Weaknesses are difficult to come by when you are at the top of the list. While the forwards are skilled and deep, they lack that one true franchise forward.
Top five prospects: 1. Erik Johnson (D), 2. T.J. Oshie (C), 3. Marek Schwarz (G), 4. Patrik Berglund (C), 5. Lars Eller (LW). Key graduates: David Backes and Hannu Toivonen
Strengths: Patience by Chicago has been rewarded, as years of poor performance on the ice and trades of veterans have produced a rich, deep talent pipeline, including three players in Hockey’s Future top 15 — Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Cam Barker. The organization has some softer spots, but the continual stockpiling of quality depth at most positions has vaulted the Blackhawks up the ladder again. At center, 2006 third overall draft pick Toews leads a depth chart that includes Dave Bolland, Petri Kontiola, Evan Brophey and Nathan Davis, all of whom project as possible future NHL starters. On the right wing, 2007 No. 1 overall selection Kane is already turning heads at the NHL level. Behind him is rugged, high-scoring Troy Brouwer, 2005 No. 7 overall pick Jack Skille and 2007 second rounder Akim Aliu, a player many felt could have been taken in the top 15 picks. Cam Barker, Dustin Byfuglien, Simon Danis-Pepin and Niklas Hjalmarsson should help continue the Hawks’ recent success with young defense prospects. Byfuglien might just be a revelation at defense.
Weaknesses: Corey Crawford is a solid, but not spectacular prospect as a No. 1 goaltender. After him lies a group of relatively unproven NCAA netminders. Left wing is also on the thin side.
Top five prospects: 1. Jonathan Toews (C), 2. Patrick Kane (RW), 3. Cam Barker (D), 4. Troy Brouwer (RW), 5. Jack Skille (D). Key graduates: none
Strengths: Phoenix’s No. 3 overall selection in 2007, highly-touted BCHL center Kyle Turris joined a growing stable of elite offensive prospects that has propelled Phoenix up the Hockey’s Future organizational rankings for the second straight season. Phoenix has two potential elite forwards in Turris, who has drawn comparisons to Joe Sakic, and rugged, talented WHL-veteran Peter Mueller. But the firepower doesn’t stop there. Wingers Martin Hanzal and Blake Wheeler are two more offensively gifted forwards in the Phoenix pipeline. Hanzal and Mueller are playing significant minutes with the Coyotes this season and look to be sure-fire stars.
Weaknesses: After the top four or five prospects, quality drops off significantly. Phoenix lacks overall quality and depth at goaltender, though Swede Joel Gistedt was believed to be a sleeper in the 2007 NHL draft. They also do not have any top pairing defensive prospects.
Top five prospects: 1. Kyle Turris (C), 2. Peter Mueller (C), 3. Martin Hanzal (LW), 4. Blake Wheeler (RW), 5. Keith Yandle (D). Key graduates: Matt Jones.
Strengths: The Habs have a bright future ahead and continue to boast one of the deepest prospect groups. They have elite prospects in Carey Price and talented Russians wingers Andrei Kostitsyn and Mikhail Grabovski. Complimenting the high-end talent is a group of solid if unspectacular players, including Alexei Emelin, Pavel Valentenko, and Ryan O’Byrne. There is also no shortage of two-way defensive minded forwards like Kyle Chipchura, Maxim Lapierre, Ben Maxwell, and Ryan White. Further down the depth chart are some offensively gifted projects Mathieu Aubin, Sergei Kostitsyn, and Corey Locke.
Weaknesses: While there is no shortage of talent in the system, there is a clear lack of size and grit, especially among the forward prospects. In addition, though there are several offensive-minded prospects on the blueline, they still lack a power play quarterback and a solid defensive-minded defenseman who can log big minutes. On a whole, Montreal has plenty of quality in their system, but the top three organizations had just a little more.
Top five prospects: 1. Carey Price (G), 2. Ryan McDonagh (D), 3. Andrei Kostitsyn (LW), 4. Kyle Chipchura (C), 5. Max Pacioretty (LW). Key graduates: none.
Strengths: The Kings have top talent at every position except for left wing with the recent graduation of Patrick O’Sullivan. They are particularly strong on defense with 2005 Carolina first-round draftee Jack Johnson, acquired via trade, offensively gifted Thomas Hickey and long-term conversion project Brian Boyle who is showing good offensive skills but requires work on the defensive side. They are extremely deep in second tier defensive prospects, led by potential NHL starter Peter Harrold whom is already knocking on the door. The Kings also boast matching wings with top-six ability in Ted Purcell and Oscar Moller, a solid center prospect in Trevor Lewis, and a potential franchise goalie in Jonathan Bernier.
Weaknesses: With the graduation of O’Sullivan, left wing is virtually empty of high-end talent and the depth at center is lacking.
Top five prospects: 1. Jack Johnson (D), 2. Jonathan Bernier (G), 3. Thomas Hickey (D), 4. Trevor Lewis (C), 5. Brian Boyle (D). Key graduates: Patrick O’Sullivan.
Strengths: Washington continues to have a solid tandem in net in Semen Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth. The addition of Karl Alzner adds a solid defenseman who could pay leadership dividends to the NHL roster very soon. Defensemen with size, in Jeff Schultz and Sasha Pokulok, lead a group who overall will do a great job of controlling the opposition in the defensive zone but may lack offensive skills relative to other defensive pools around the NHL. Solid down the middle with potential franchise center Nicklas Backstrom and a pair of diminutive centers Chris Bourque and Mathieu Perreault that will battle for time on the second or third line. Eric Fehr continues to knock on the door as a potential second line forward and sniper Francois Bouchard provides scoring depth to the right wing position.
Weaknesses: The graduation of Tomas Fleischmann has made an already thin left wing position even thinner. Defense lacks top potential outside of Alzner and is thin in offensive defensemen.
Top five prospects: 1. Nicklas Backstrom (C), 2. Karl Alzner (D), 3. Eric Fehr (RW), 4. Semen Varlamov (G), 5. Francois Bouchard (RW). Key graduates: Tomas Fleischmann.
Strengths: The Oilers may have had a draft to remember in 2007, selecting London Knight Sam Gagner with the sixth overall selection. Some felt Gagner’s outstanding OHL numbers were a result of playing alongside No. 1 overall pick Pat Kane, but he’s a gifted playmaker with great vision and hands in his own right. The Oilers have quality forward prospects in Gagner, Andrew Cogliano, and Rob Schremp and are deep down the middle. Opinions vary on Schremp, but he does have an abundance of potential that, if realized, can be well worth the wait on him. Gagner and Cogliano appear to have established themselves already in Edmonton. Taylor Chorney and Jeff Petry lead a group of very good defensive prospects, some of whom are contributing to the NHL roster.
Weaknesses: Devan Dubnyk is a decent goalie prospect, but after him, the Edmonton is somewhat thin in net. While the defensive group is solid top to bottom, it lacks the top elite prospect that organizations higher in this ranking boast.
Top five prospects: 1. Sam Gagner (C), 2. Andrew Cogliano (C), 3. Taylor Chorney (D), 4. Rob Schremp (C), 5. Marc-Antoine Pouliot (C). Key graduates: Robert Nilsson.
Strengths: Depth and high-end talent are what makes the Rangers prospect group so intriguing. Al Montoya is still considered a top goaltending prospect despite a rash of injuries which he has admirably battled through. Marc Staal, the second eldest of the Staal brothers, and Bobby Sanguinetti, are both projected to be big impact NHL defensemen. On top of that, they added the immensely talented Alexei Cherepanov at the 2007 draft. Not to be outdone by the defensive pool, Alex Bourret and Brandon Dubinsky both have top six potential. Further down the depth chart are talented project players like Tom Pyatt, Artem Anisimov, Michael Sauer, Lauri Korpikoski and Hugh Jessiman. The Rangers have had a great deal of success with young players making an impact in the NHL. To name a few, Ryan Callahan, Daniel Girardi, and Nigel Dawes have all seen NHL action and appear to be future regulars.
Weaknesses: The Rangers have only one goaltending prospect in their top 20, making it a significant weakness, but they did acquire Antoine Lafleur at the 2007 draft to help improve the depth.
Strengths: The Bruins have high-end talent and depth in all positions. David Krejci heads a deep forward group bolstered by the additions of Zach Hamill, eighth overall at the 2007 draft, Carl Soderberg, acquired from St. Louis, and Petteri Nokelainen, acquired from the NY Islanders. Other key forward prospects include Vladimir Sobotka, Milan Lucic, Martins Karsums, Brad Marchand, and Mikko Lehtonen. Even with the departure of Hannu Toivonen, the Bruins are solid between the pipes. No.1 prospect Tuukka Rask is widely considered to be one of the top goaltenders outside the NHL and there is also Kevin Regan developing at the University of New Hampshire. On defense, there is no lack of high-end talent with Matt Lashoff, Mark Stuart, Jonathan Sigalet, Matt Hunwick, and Yuri Alexandrov. The defensive depth was bolstered by the acquisitions of Adam McQuaid from Columbus, and Tommy Cross at the 2007 entry draft.
Weaknesses: Though the forward group is very strong, the loss of Petr Kalus creates a definitive weakness on the wings, especially in comparison to the depth down the middle. Right wing is also lacking top quality and overall depth.
Top five prospects: Tuukka Rask (G), David Krejci (C), Matt Lashoff (D), Zach Hamill (C), Carl Soderberg (C). Key graduates: Mark Stuart.
Strengths: The Flyers have an excellent mix of potential top six forwards led by 2007 second overall pick James vanRiemsdyk, who became the team’s top prospect. They also have one of the best future agitators in Steve Downie as well as the highly-skilled Claude Giroux. There are also offensive projects like Andreas Nodl and Stefan Ruzicka, while Ryan Potulny, Freddy Cabana, and Darren Reid are solid supporting role players. Ryan Parent, acquired from Nashville last season, is their top defensive prospect.
Weaknesses: With the graduations of Braydon Coburn and Alexandre Picard, the Flyers are once again thin on the blue line. They did add Kevin Marshall and Nathan Guenin at the 2007 draft and have no shortage of projects like Michael Ratchuk, Oskars Bartulis, and Denis Bodrov, but they lack a defenseman with top pair potential. In addition, though there are several decent goaltending prospects in Scott Munroe, Martin Houle, and Jeremy Duchesne, they lack a definitive top prospect.
Top five prospects: 1. James vanRiemsdyk (LW), 2. Steve Downie (C), 3. Claude Giroux (RW), 4. Ryan Parent (D), 5. Andreas Nodl (RW). Key graduates: Braydon Coburn, Alex Picard.