Strengths: The Capitals have a lot of quality goaltending prospects who seem relatively close to making an impact. Semen Varlamov heads the group by a growing margin, but Michal Neuvirth and Daren Machesney are also playing the pro game at this point. 2008 draft pick Braden Holtby is the newest addition to the Caps talented goaltending ranks. Washington owns a wealth of offensive defensemen as well. From the recently-signed John Carlson to the trigger-happy Josh Godfrey to the slick Sami Lepisto, the Caps blueline scoring isn’t likely to dry up any time soon. The top of their pool displays a lot of size as well, none of their top six prospects are shorter than 6’2. Weaknesses: At forward, it’s a bit unclear who will emerge. As a group, the forwards don’t have the top-end talent that the Capitals used to feature and the skill of the forwards trails off dramatically after the top four or five. Besides Alzner, the Caps lack defensive-minded rearguards. Too many prospects, for a variety of reasons, are falling short of expectations and potential. Top five prospects: 1. Karl Alzner, D, 2. Anton Gustafsson, C, 3. Semen Varlamov, G, 4. John Carlson, D, 5. Eric Fehr, RW. Key losses to graduation: Nicklas Backstrom, Jeff Schultz.
12. Edmonton Oilers
Strengths: Once a loaded farm system, the Oilers have graduated many to their NHL ranks. The blueline remains strong with Jeff Petry and Taylor Chorney leading the way and Theo Peckham and Alex Plante providing depth. The forward group still has perennial prospect Rob Schremp, and Riley Nash and Jordan Eberle have the potential to one day complement Sam Gagner and Andrew Cogliano very nicely. Weaknesses: Devan Dubnyk has started off strong in Springfield this season but the Oil goaltending crop is thin and in need of a serious makeover. Size is also an issue on the wings. Top five prospects: 1. Jeff Petry, D, 2. Taylor Chorney, D, 3. Rob Schremp, LW. 4. Riley Nash, C, 5. Jordan Eberle, RW. Key losses to graduation: Andrew Cogliano, Sam Gagner, Marc-Antoine Pouliot, Tom Gilbert.
Strengths: Detroit keeps the goaltending pipeline churning. Thomas McCollum, Jimmy Howard and Daniel Larsson head a talented goaltending group. Jakub Kindl and Brendan Smith are a couple of smooth-skating offensive defensemen, while the hulking Jonathan Ericsson is a good two-way player. Logan Pyett and 2008-draftee Max Nicastro are two more with decent potential on a small, but above-average quality defense corps. The Red Wings forwards are underrated, but aren’t necessarily locks for the NHL. Abdelkader, Helm, Axelsson and Ryno might not amount to anything more than checking line forwards. There’s some higher offensive potential in guys like Mursak, Emmerton and Leino. Weaknesses: The bulk of the high-end talent has moved on to the NHL. The Wings could really use depth on defense, especially physical, defensive-minded defensemen. As alluded to, the forwards are plentiful and have some potential, but pulling a high-end scorer out of this group is not terribly likely. They also lack depth on the right wing. Top five prospects: 1. Jakub Kindl, D, 2. Thomas McCollum, G, 3. Jimmy Howard, G, 4. Jan Mursak, LW, 5. Justin Abdelkader, LW. Key losses to graduation: None.
Strengths: The Lightning have an excellent group of centermen in the organization, headlined by top prospect Steven Stamkos, after years of mediocrity up front. WHLers Dana Tyrell and Mitch Fadden bring great two-way ability, and Alex Killorn also has excellent offensive potential. Factoring in left wingers Luca Cunti and Radek Smolenak, and the Lightning are loaded with offensive potential. Karri Ramo headlines a strong goaltending group. Vladimir Mihalik, Matt Smaby and Ty Wishart are almost NHL ready, sitting atop an always-strong defensive group. Weaknesses: Two rather high-profile busts in Lascek and Kvapil have left the right flank very thin. Along the same lines, while there is much potential up front, the Lightning have had difficulty seeing forward prospects produce in the pros as of late, with Jones, Lawrence and Keller and the aforementioned rightwingers struggling to produce in the AHL. The influx of free agents with the big club may end up stagnating the development of a handful of prospects who are on the cusp of the NHL. Top 5 prospects: 1. Steven Stamkos, C, 2. Karri Ramo, G, 3. Riku Helenius, G, 4. Matt Smaby, D, 5. Vladimir Mihalik, D. Key losses to graduation: Mike Lundin, Alexandre Pickard.
15. Florida Panthers
Strengths: The Panthers enjoy a deeper group of prospects than they have in years. Up front, Michael Frolik, Shawn Matthias and Michal Repik each have top-six forward potential. The three make an interesting combination, with Frolik and Repik bringing skill, and Matthias bringing power. Meanwhile, on the back end, Keaton Ellerby and Colby Robak project to be solid top-four defensemen, each with good mobility and hockey sense. All three forwards, as well as Ellerby, made their entrance into professional hockey in 2008-09. Robak, a 2008 draft pick remains in the OHL. Another 2008 draft pick, Jacob Markstrom, is the Panthers future in goal when his contract in the Swedish Elite League is up. Weaknesses: There isn’t a lot of high-end potential in any position, particularly in goal. The talent level drops off as well, leaving primarily checking forwards and bottom pair defensemen. Top five prospects: 1. Michael Frolik, C, 2. Shawn Matthias, C, 3. Jacob Markstrom, G, 4. Michal Repik, RW, 5. Keaton Ellerby, D. Key losses to graduation: David Booth, Kamil Kreps.
16. Dallas Stars
Strengths: The number of relative unknowns who have risen through the Stars organization to become legitimate NHL prospects is encouraging. An abundance of forwards from all walks of life occupy most of Dallas’ prospect pool. Hard-working, two-way third and fourth line forwards and/or utility forwards can be found in this system at every turn. They possess pretty good speed throughout their ranks. Weaknesses: The Stars lack defensive prospects. They have an offensive defenseman in Vishnevskiy, a third pairing defenseman in Fistric who is close to graduating; after that, the cupboard is largely bare. They sorely lack bluechip prospects, even at forward. The organizaton takes on long-term, longshot projects, especially Europeans. Top five prospects: 1. Ivan Vishnevskiy, D, 2. James Neal, LW, 3. Mark Fistric, D, 4. Fabian Brunnstrom, LW, 5. Jamie Benn, LW. Key losses to graduation: Matt Niskanen, Loui Eriksson, Niklas Grossman.
Strengths: Over the past few drafts, Toronto has built one of its strongest pools in recent memory. Up front, Nikolai Kulemin, Mikhail Stefanovich, Jimmy Hayes, and Mikhail Grabovski all have the potential to be top six forwards. There were also many intriguing prospects mined in the later rounds such as NCAA products Chad Rau and Tyler Ruegsegger and QMJHL dazzler Chris DiDomenico. On the blueline, Luke Schenn could provide solid defense for years to come. Justin Pogge is still a high-end prospect in goal. Weaknesses: The lack of elite talent has been a problem in Toronto for a few years now. Also, goaltending depth is a concern. After Pogge, only two goalies are in the system — James Reimer and 2008 sixth rounder Grant Rollheiser. Both are projects at this stage. The Leafs also lack depth on the blueline as only three of their top 20 prospects are defensemen. Schenn is already in the NHL and Dmitri Vorobiev isn’t signed. Top five prospects: 1. Luke Schenn, D, 2. Nikolai Kulemin, LW, 3. Justin Pogge, G, 4. Dmitri Vorobiev, D, 5. Mikhail Grabovski, LW. Key losses to graduation: Jiri Tlusty, Anton Stralman.
Strengths: The Avalanche has a trio of talented playmaking centers in T.J. Hensick, T.J. Galiardi, and Kelsey Tessier. The Avalanche also has several power forwards in Ryan Stoa, Chris Stewart, and Justin Mercier. The top five defensive prospects are as good as any with Kevin Shattenkirk, Colby Cohen, Cameron Guance, Nigel Williams, and Kyle Cumiskey all very likely to one day see a top-four minutes in the NHL. Weaknesses: Despite drafting four goaltenders in the last three years, goaltending remains the organization’s biggest weakness with Peter Delmas the strongest prospect in the system. They’ve loaded up at goaltender, perhaps hoping that out of the larger pool, someone will emerge. Top 5 prospects: 1. T.J. Hensick, C, 2. Kevin Shattenkirk, D, 3. Nigel Williams, D, 4. Chris Stewart, RW, 5. T.J. Galiardi, C.
19. San Jose Sharks
Strengths: The Sharks are among the league’s best in regards to depth in goal. The addition of Harri Sateri to an excellent group of goaltenders that included Tyson Sexsmith and Thomas Greiss should ensure that the Sharks future between the pipes will be safe. By and large, their forward prospects have great two-way ability, as evinced by potential future captain Logan Couture, and in the tireless hustle of Jamie McGinn. Weaknesses: With the departure of Wishart in atrade with Tampa Bay, Nick Petrecki is the only quality defensive prospect in the system, as there are plenty of question marks regarding other blue-liners in the system. Top 5 prospects: 1. Logan Couture, C, 2. Nick Petrecki, D, 3. Jamie McGinn, LW, 4. Tyson Sexsmith, G, 5. Thomas Greiss, G. Key graduates: Torrey Mitchell, Devin Setoguchi.
20. Buffalo Sabres
Strengths: While in recent years the Sabres system has been stocked first and foremost with scoring forwards, defense is now their strong point. Mike Weber appears ready for NHL play, and T.J. Brennan is also coming along nicely. There is Chris Butler and the very raw, but intriguing Tyler Myers on the depth chart defensively. Up front, Tim Kennedy is a responsible forward with good instincts, who is transitioning well into the pro game. Also in the mix are the highly talented, though undersized, Nathan Gerbe, Tyler Ennis, Paul Byron, and Marek Zagrapan. Weaknesses: While the depth at the defense and forward positions is indisputable, the absence of a truly elite talent is apparent. And also, though Jhonas Enroth remains their top prospect, a lack of goaltending depth behind him persists in the organization. Top five prospects: 1. Jhonas Enroth, G, 2. Mike Weber, D, 3. Tim Kennedy, LW, 4. T.J. Brennan, D, 5. Nathan Gerbe, C. Key graduates: Clarke MacArthur, Andrej Sekera, Patrick Kaleta.