21. Minnesota Wild
Strengths: Despite having had difficulty producing NHL defensemen since the team’s inception, the Wild have quietly put together a quality group of solid defensive prospects, headlined by Tyler Cuma and Marco Scandella. Up front, there is an abundance of talent on the left wing and up the middle with the ever-improving Benoit Pouliot, Colton Gillies, and Morten Madsen, and there is plenty of character, grit, and physicality from Cal Clutterbuck and Cody Almond. Weaknesses: After the graduation last year of Josh Harding, Anton Khudobin is the only quality goaltending prospect in the system. Two top forward prospects in Roman Voloshenko and Petr Kalus have bolted to Europe in back-to-back seasons, leading to a deterioration of the top-end offensive talent in the system. Despite being deep on the blue-line, most project to be second or third pairing defensemen. The Wild lack a bona fide top pairing blue-liner. Top 5 prospects: 1. Colton Gillies, C, 2. Benoit Pouliot, LW, 3. Tyler Cuma, D, 4. Cal Clutterbuck, RW, 5. Petr Kalus, RW. Key losses to graduation: James Sheppard, Josh Harding
22. Anaheim Ducks
Strengths: The Ducks system got bigger and stronger under the Brian Burke tenure, with increased emphasis on drafting for size, drafting physical, and drafting with responsible two-way play in mind, particularly among the forwards. Bobby Ryan, Logan MacMillan, and Eric Tangradi bring great size, physicality, and responsibility at both ends of the ice. There is top-end quality and balance in the defensive pipeline. With Mark Mitera, Jake Gardiner, and Brendan Mikkelson at the top of the list, the Ducks have a strong stay-at-homer, a power-play quarterback, and two-way puck-mover waiting in the wings. Weaknesses: While the goaltending position should be secure for the next several years, Jean-Philippe Levasseur is the only decent prospect between the pipes in the system, and he too has been slow to develop in the pros. Ryan is the only forward at present who projects to be a potential top-six scorer, as the bulk of the forwards in the system look more like depth and role players at this point. Top 5 prospects: 1. Bobby Ryan, RW, 2. Mark Mitera, D, 3. Jake Gardiner, D, 4. Logan MacMillan, LW, 5. Eric Tangradi, C.
Strengths: Michael Grabner, Jannik Hansen and 2008 first-rounder Cody Hodgson form an impressive threesome of speed and creativity at the top end of the system. Hodgson could be the center the Canucks have been looking for. While Cory Schneider is blocked by Roberto Luongo, he may force the Canucks’ hand as he has gone from really good prospect to elite level prospect in a calendar year. Weaknesses: The depth throughout the system is fairly weak. Other than Schneider, the goaltending is thin. The system also mirrors the big club as once you get past the top five prospects, the scoring and creativity depth is limited. There are a lot of projects on the back end and no depth to speak of. Top five prospects: 1. Cory Schneider, G, 2. Cody Hodgson, C, 3. Jannik Hansen, RW, 4. Michael Grabner, RW, 5. Pat White, C. Key losses to graduation: Alexander Edler, Mason Raymond, Ryan Shannon.
24. New York Rangers
Strengths: There has been widespread change among the Rangers’ group of prospects, for a variety of reasons, over the course of the year. Though Marc Staal graduated, the Rangers still showcase the defensive position, as the team drafted Michael Del Zotto with their first-round pick in 2008. Along with Bobby Sanguinetti, there is offensive potential from the blue line. The Rangers are also rich with talented two-way forwards like Artem Anisimov and Lauri Korpikoski. Goaltenders Matt Zaba and Miika Wiikman have made strides. Both signed as free agents, they now sit just outside the top 10. Weaknesses: The tragic loss of Alexei Cherepanov creates an absence of elite talent, leaving behind a glut of power and checking forwards, and few natural goal scorers. Top five prospects: 1. Artem Anisimov, C, 2. Bobby Sanguinetti, D, 3. Michael Del Zotto, D, 4. Lauri Korpikoski, LW, 5. Evgeny Grachev, C. Key losses to graduation: Ryan Callahan, Nigel Dawes, Brandon Dubinsky, Marc Staal.
Strengths: The Islanders are best equipped up front, where they enjoy a wide array of prospects at each forward position. At the top of the list, Kyle Okposo, Blake Comeau, Josh Bailey, and Robin Figren all have top-six upside. Okposo and Comeau have both already earned spots on the Isles roster full time, as now has Bailey too. Further down, the Islanders possess a few intriguing names such as Shea Guthrie and Kirill Petrov. Dustin Kohn and Aaron Ness, acquired in the 2008 entry draft, lead the way at the rearguard position. Weaknesses: Among the Isles’ top 20 prospects, there are only five defensemen, and no goaltenders. In addition to netminders Stefan Ridderwall and Jase Weslosky, the Islanders acquired Kevin Poulin in the 2008 entry draft. None of them, however, provide the stability or consistency every organization needs to have, even if your franchise goaltender is locked up until the year 2021. Top five prospects: 1. Kyle Okposo, RW, 2. Blake Comeau, RW, 3. Joshua Bailey, C, 4. Robin Figren, LW, 5. Corey Trivino, C. Key losses to graduation: Sean Bergenheim, Jeff Tambellini.
Strengths: For a team that placed dead last in our rankings a year ago, huge strides shouldn’t be expected in such a short period of time. However, the impressive ascension of Drayson Bowman last season and the drafting of sparkplug Zach Boychuk in 2008 gives hope to the organization beyond Brandon Sutter. The team still has some depth at every position but left wing as well. Weaknesses: While depth is nice, high-end or surefire NHL talent is better, and Carolina has little of the latter. Their highest-ranked player may top out as only a checker, albeit a good one. The Canes have only one left winger in the top 20, an issue that carries over from last year. Goaltending, once a strength, has thinned out considerably. Top 5 prospects: 1. Brandon Sutter, C, 2. Drayson Bowman, LW, 3. Zach Boychuk, C, 4. Jamie McBain, D, 5. Casey Borer, D.
27. Ottawa Senators
Strengths: Ottawa has languished near the bottom of the organizational rankings lately, but they do have a pair of potential top-flight defensemen waiting in the wings in Brian Lee and Erik Karlsson, who both have great offensive ability and are neither of them slouches in their own end. With youthful BCHL grad Patrick Wiercioch added to the mix this past draft as well, the Sens have put together a quality group of blue-liners. In goal, Brian Elliott will get lengthy consideration as the Senators goaltender of the future. Weaknesses: Former top offensive prospect Josh Hennessy had a disappointing year last season and has struggled to regain his form this year, adding to the bleak offensive landscape in the system. While Ilya Zubov, Zach Smith, and Kaspars Daugavins have taken steps forward recently, there are still plenty of question marks, and none project to being a top-line forward. The Sens are also very thin on the right flank. Top 5 prospects: 1. Brian Lee, D, 2. Erik Karlsson, D, 3. Brian Elliott, G, 4. Kaspars Daugavins, LW, 5. Jim O’Brien, C. Key losses to graduation: Nick Foligno.
28. Calgary Flames
Strengths: Mikael Backlund has the makings of a creative top-six forward and even though he flamed out in training camp this year, another solid season in Sweden will have him in line to crack the Flames in 2009. Goaltending is also a major strength as Leland Irving and Matt Keetley are both on the horizon in Quad City. Kevin Lalande and Bowling Green State goaltender Jimmy Spratt are also in the system. Weaknesses: A lack of attention to the farm system this decade has left Calgary in a bind. Failed early picks and trouble with their affiliates has weakened the system considerably. While they have done a better job over the past two drafts, the system is thin virtually everywhere but between the pipes. Other than Backlund and possibly this year’s late first-rounder Greg Nemisz, there isn’t one potential impact forward. Top 5 prospects: 1. Mikael Backlund, C, 2. Leland Irving, G, 3. Greg Nemisz, RW, 4. John Negrin, D, 5. Juuso Puustinen, RW. Key losses to graduation: Dustin Boyd, Eric Nystrom.
Strengths: The Penguins have a large group of hardworking forwards with some offensive ability, most notably Dustin Jeffrey, Tim Crowder, and Nick Johnson. Despite the graduation of Kris Letang and offensively gifted Alex Goligoski now playing in the NHL, the Penguins defensive cupboards remain well stocked with 2008 draft pick Nicholas D’Agostino being the newest edition. Alex Grant and Jake Muzzin, two mid-round picks from 2007, and Carl Sneep and Brian Strait, two picks from 2006, all dramatically improved their stock from a year ago. The addition of 2008 draft picks Alexander Pechurski and Patrick Killeen as well as a healthy Chad Johnson creates goalie depth not there a year ago. Weaknesses: The Penguins have graduated most of their top prospects over the past three seasons leaving the forward cupboards rather bare. Only Luca Caputi, Casey Pierro-Zabotel, Keven Veilleux, and Nathan Moon have top-six forward potential. The majority of the Penguins defensive prospects still remain several years away from making an impact in the NHL. Top 5 prospects: 1. Alex Goligoski, D, 2. Carl Sneep, D, 3. Luca Caputi, LW, 4. Dustin Jeffrey, C, 5. Brian Strait, D. Key losses to graduation: Kris Letang.
Strengths: Mattias Tedenby, acquired in the 2008 Entry Draft, joins fellow countryman Nicklas Bergfors at the top of the list of New Jersey Devils prospects. Both are exceptionally gifted and well-rounded players. Beneath them, however, viable top-six forwards are scarce. Matt Halischuk and Mike Hoeffel are part of a quality cast of checking forwards. The Devils also boast a fairly deep and diverse group of blueliners, from the gritty Matt Corrente and Mark Fraser, to Brandon Burlon and Anssi Salmela. The Devils organization possesses size throughout. Weaknesses: A significant problem for the Devils is their lack of quality prospects between the pipes. The Devils haven’t drafted any goaltenders since 2005, when they took Jeff Frazee. Once highly touted, he was unseated as Minnesota’s starting netminder and turned pro early. He is off to a decent start so far as a pro. Top five prospects: 1. Nicklas Bergfors, RW, 2. Mattias Tedenby, LW, 3. Matt Corrente, D, 4. Peter Vrana, C, 5. Nick Palmieri, RW. Key losses to graduation: David Clarkson, Andy Greene.