Team Rankings: Balanced group of prospects boosts status of Los Angeles Kings prospect pool

By HF Staff

Linden Vey - Los Angeles Kings

Photo: Forward Linden Vey is one of several Los Angeles Kings prospects to make his NHL debut during the 2013-14 season. Vey appeared in 18 games for the Kings. (courtesy of Fred Kfoury/Icon SMI)

Below is the 21-30 segment of the Hockey's Future 2014 Spring NHL Team Rankings. The teams are ranked in terms of the quality of their overall prospect pool as voted on by members of the HF staff. For reference, just the top five prospects are listed. To be eligible, a prospect must meet HF's prospect criteria. The ranking is done twice a year, with this edition being an update to the Fall ranking. For reference, each team's previous rank is listed in parenthesis.

Leading the bottom section of the rankings is the Los Angeles Kings. Though not particularly well stocked with high-end talent, the Kings have a lot of strong depth players, many of whom contributed to their NHL roster in 2013-14.

The Philadelphia Flyers are another team who made some headway in the rankings. Ranked last in the Fall edition, the Flyers received a boost following strong seasons from some of their top prospects, namely forward Scott Laughton and defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere.

Overall, the bottom section of the Team Rankings is an eclectic group. Many of the bottom-ranked teams are successfully run organizations that have shallow prospect pools as a result of graduations, trades, and low draft picks. There are a few, however, who are ranked low because of their inability to identify and develop NHL-caliber talent.

21. (26) Los Angeles Kings

Strengths: While the Kings are almost entirely devoid of top-end talent, they have an extremely strong group of second-tier prospects. The forward corps has been bolstered by strong collegiate careers from Michael Mersch and Nic Dowd, while Jonny Brodzinski, Valentin Zykov, and Nikolai Prokhorkin have been excelling at their respective levels. The addition of Brayden McNabb also strengthens the top end of their defensive pool, which already has two very promising players in Derek Forbort and Kevin Gravel. Martin Jones also emerged as a legitimate goaltending prospect in 2013-14. While not blue chip prospects, the Kings have a number of potentially effective players at every position.

Weaknesses: With late draft picks for several years, the Kings do not have a true elite, high-end prospect. The system is ripe with secondary scorers and character players but is limited to just that in most cases. The drop off in talent on the blue line after McNabb, Gravel, and Forbort is also quite significant.

Top 5 Prospects: 1. Martin Jones, G; 2. Brayden McNabb, D; 3. Valentin Zykov, LW; 4. Linden Vey, C; 5. Tanner Pearson, LW.

Key Additions: Brayden McNabb (trade-BUF), Jonathan Parker (trade-BUF), James Livingston (trade-SJS), Steve Quailer (trade-MTL), Andrew Crescenzi (trade-TOR), Scott Sabourin (free agent).

Key Losses: Tyler Toffoli (graduation), Hudson Fasching (trade-BUF), Nicolas Deslauriers (trade-BUF), Brandon Kozun (trade-TOR), Robert Czarnik (trade-MTL).

22. (30) Philadelphia Flyers

Strengths: The Philadelphia Flyers do not have many prospects but their top three could be with the NHL club by next fall. Center Scott Laughton is a prototypical Philadelphia forward, capable of scoring and not willing to back down from anyone. Rimouski defenseman Samuel Morin, the club's first round pick in 2013, and recent signing Shayne Gostisbehere, who won a National Championship with Union College skating on the Flyers' Wells Fargo Center ice, will both push for roster spots. Defensemen Robert Hagg and Valeri Vasiliev also show promise.

Weaknesses: The Flyers have generally relied on their AHL team to provide supplementary players, restocking their NHL team through trades and free agent signings. The result is a prospect pool full of sound two-way players with a physical edge, but also one that is limited in offensive upside. Anthony Stolarz, the organization's most viable goaltending prospect at this point, is fairly raw. The defensive group after the first five drops off significantly.

Top 5 Prospects: 1. Scott Laughton, C; 2. Samuel Morin, D: 3. Robert Hagg, D; 4. Shayne Gostisbehere, D; 5. Nick Cousins, C.

Key Losses: Michael Raffl (graduation).

23. (27) New York Rangers

Strengths: The New York Rangers have a nice mix of quick, highly skilled forwards in their prospect pool. Anthony Duclair had a breakout season in the QMJHL while Pavel Buchnevich competed in the KHL as a teenager. Closer to being NHL-ready are Danny Kristo, Jesper Fast, and J.T. Miller.

Weaknesses: The Rangers do not have much in the way of goaltending prospects at this time. There is also a sharp drop in defensive talent after Brady Skjei and Dylan McIlrath. The organization could stand to add at least one, if not several more, puck-moving defensemen. The center position appears thin after Hartford's Oscar Lindberg, the Wolf Pack's second-leading scorer, and the University of Michigan's Cristoval Nieves.

Top 5 Prospects: 1. Danny Kristo, RW; 2. J.T. Miller, RW; 3. Jesper Fast, RW; 4. Anthony Duclair, LW; 5. Pavel Buchnevich, LW.

Key Additions: Kyle Beach (trade-CHI), Ryan Haggerty (free agent), Mat Bodie (free agent), Chris McCarthy (free agent).

Key Losses: Chris Kreider (graduated).

24. (22) San Jose Sharks

Strengths: With Tomas Hertl still considered a prospect due to his near season-long knee injury, the Sharks have one of the more dynamic prospects in the NHL today. Even without Hertl they have a deep set of centers in Chris Tierney, Dan O'Regan, and Freddie Hamilton. They have also built up a strong set of defensemen, led by the steady Mirco Mueller. Eriah Hayes looks like solid NHL winger following a solid rookie season in the AHL.

Weaknesses: There are very few standout players on the wings, and the same could be said for the goaltending pipeline. Of the prospects on wing, only Hayes and Daniil Tarasov look to have impactful NHL futures. In net, top goaltending prospect Harri Sateri has struggled in his third season in the AHL.

Top 5 Prospects: 1. Tomas Hertl, C/W; 2. Chris Tierney, C; 3. Mirco Mueller, D; 4. Freddie Hamilton, C; 5. Matt Tennyson, D.

Key Additions: Barclay Goodrow (free agent), Ryan Carpenter (free agent).

Key Losses: Matt Nieto (graduation), James Livingston (trade-LAK).

25. (7) Minnesota Wild

Strengths: The Minnesota Wild have a deep group of defensemen developing at all levels, including recently-signed Christian Folin. Matt Dumba is a dynamic offensive junior defenseman who will probably drive some observers a little crazy, but looks like a player who will produce at the top level as his career progresses. Gustav Olofsson is a fast-progressing defenseman who played very well as a freshman at Colorado College before recently turning pro. Although the Wild's AHL affiliate, the Iowa Wild, struggled on the whole this past season, there are some prospects like Zack Phillips, Tyler Graovac, and Raphael Bussieres, who should improve next year. Forward Erik Haula played very well for the Wild this season, lending some proof to the theory that the Wild's player scouting and development staff has been much better in the Chuck Fletcher era.

Weaknesses: Defense is the only position with solid depth, and the forward ranks lack a sure bet for any kind of NHL player if one takes near-graduates Haula and Jason Zucker out of the mix. While 2012 second round pick Bussieres probably makes it as an agitator with some offense down the road, Phillips is coming along slowly for a first-round pick. Mario Lucia has been a good college player but has yet to show a higher gear. It is a bit early to judge the other goaltenders in the system, but Johan Gustafsson struggled as an AHL rookie.

Top 5 Prospects: 1. Matt Dumba, D; 2. Jason Zucker, LW; 3. Darcy Kuemper, G; 4. Erik Haula, C; 5. Zack Phillips, C.

Key Additions: Christian Folin (free agent), Brady Brassart (free agent), Zack Mitchell (free agent), Kurtis Gabriel (free agent).

Key Losses: Mikael Granlund (graduation), Charlie Coyle (graduation), Justin Fontaine (graduation).

26. (29) New Jersey Devils

Strengths: The New Jersey Devils possess an excellent group of defensive prospects. Jon Merrill, Eric Gelinas, Damon Severson, Alexander Urbom, and Steve Santini all project as NHL blueliners. Sniper Reid Boucher could join the Devils next year while forwards Myles Bell and Graham Black might surprise some people. Goaltenders Keith Kinkaid and Scott Wedgewood have shown stretches of excellent play in the AHL.

Weaknesses: The system is thin on right wing prospects. Besides a handful of forwards, including former first-round pick Stefan Matteau, most of the group have futures as bottom-six grunts or role players. Despite flashes this season, it remains uncertain if Kinkaid or Wedgewood can become consistent NHL goaltenders.

Top 5 Prospects: 1. Jon Merrill, D; 2. Damon Severson, D; 3. Eric Gelinas, D; 4. Reid Boucher, LW; 5. Keith Kinkaid, G.

Key Additions: Alexander Urbom (waivers-WAS).

27. (24) Vancouver Canucks

Strengths: While it has not surfaced yet, the Vancouver Canucks have some deep talent in the CHL that is going to make a difference in the next few years. Bo Horvat, Brendan Gaunce, and Hunter Shinkaruk are going to be relied upon as banner forwards for the Canucks future, and they have done extremely well at the junior level so far. Nicklas Jensen and Jordan Schroeder are also expected to be difference makers and have great potential despite some growing pains in recent years. There are also some potentially useful players mixed into the pool with Yann Sauve, Joseph Labate, and Alexandre Grenier. Frank Corrado has also shown vast improvement recently and looks ready for the NHL on the backend.

Weaknesses: It is all very far away for the Canucks, with their most talented prospects still several years away from contributing to the NHL team. In their current state, they have few impact players ready to compete at the highest level, and lack depth at goaltending and on defense.

Top 5 Prospects: 1. Bo Horvat, C; 2. Nicklas Jensen, RW; 3. Brendan Gaunce, C; 4. Jordan Schroeder, C; 5. Frank Corrado, D.

Key Additions: Jeff Costello (trade-OTT), Dane Fox (free agent), Michael Zalewski (free agent).

Key Losses: Zac Dalpe (graduation), Steven Anthony (trade-FLA), Adam Polasek (released).

28. (21) Colorado Avalanche

Strengths: The strength of the Colorado Avalanche prospect pool consists of a group of young, talented defensemen, with three of their top six prospects playing defense. Chris Bigras and Duncan Siemens were both high draft picks and Stefan Elliott should be close to making the full-time jump to the NHL. Yale's Gus Young is another big and physical defenseman who could make an impact. Calvin Pickard and Sami Aittokallio formed a solid tandem in net for Colorado's AHL affiliate, the Lake Erie Monsters, and top a pool of five goalies.

Weaknesses: Like Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog before him, rookie Nathan MacKinnon went directly to the NHL after being drafted, leaving a big hole in the Avalanche's group of forward prospects. Among the forward group only centers Joey Hishon and Michael Sgarbossa have top-six potential. While all five goalie prospects have played well at lower levels, whether any of this quintet can be a true starter at the NHL level is still a mystery. The defense group drops significantly after Young.

Top 5 Prospects: 1. Chris Bigras, D; 2. Stefan Elliott, D; 3. Calvin Pickard, G; 4. Sami Aittokallio, G; 5. Michael Sgarbossa, C.

Key Additions: Cody Corbett (free agent), Dennis Everberg (free agent), Samuel Henley (free agent).

Key Losses: Nathan MacKinnon (graduated), Tyson Barrie (graduated).

29. (28) Carolina Hurricanes

Strengths: Elias Lindholm and Ryan Murphy are the two best prospects in the Carolina Hurricanes' system. Both saw significant playing time during their rookie campaigns this season. Behind Murphy, the defense is deep and diverse with many prospects playing at the pro level. Carolina also has some interesting pieces that could develop into impactful role players, including Brock McGinn, Phil Di Giuseppe, and Jaccob Slavin.

Weaknesses: Newly appointed GM Ron Francis will have his work cut out for him. Excluding Lindholm, there are no forwards with top-six potential, and the center and right wing positions are especially shallow. Goaltending continues to be a concern with no aid coming for the foreseeable future.

Top 5 Prospects: 1. Elias Lindholm, C; 2. Ryan Murphy, D; 3. Brock McGinn, LW; 4. Victor Rask, C; 5. Jaccob Slavin, D.

Key Additions: Patrick Brown (free agent), Dennis Robertson (trade-TOR), Greg Nemisz (trade-CGY).

30. (19) St. Louis Blues

Strengths: The graduation of Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko to the NHL has left the Blues with little top-end talent. Jake Allen has proven capable of playing well in small doses so far with the Blues while Jordan Binnington is developing behind him at the pro level. Among the skaters, the Blues have some upside in offensive-minded defensemen like Tommy Vannelli and Jordan Schmaltz and potential top-six wingers in Ty Rattie and Dmitrij Jaskin.

Weaknesses: Behind their top prospects, the Blues system is shallow and has its fair share of boom-or-bust prospects. The bare-bones state of their system is particularly apparent at center. While the NHL club is deep down the middle right now, the prospect system does not appear to have any players poised to replenish the center position in the future.

Top 5 Prospects: 1. Jake Allen, G; 2. Dmitrij Jaskin, RW; 3. Jordan Binnington, G; 4. Ty Rattie, RW; 5. Tommy Vannelli, D.

Key Losses: Vladimir Tarasenko (graduation), William Carrier (trade-BUF), Cade Fairchild (trade-PHX).

Hockey's Future Spring 2014 Team Rankings
1-10 | 11-20 | 21-30

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