Team Rankings: Florida Panthers system remains deep despite numerous graduations

By HF Staff

Aleksander Barkov - Florida Panthers

Photo: Aleksander Barkov leads the Florida system. The rookie center scored eight goals and 24 points in 54 NHL games before suffering a knee injury at the Olympics (courtesy of Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

Below is the 11-­30 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. Each team’s Fall ranking is listed in parenthesis next to their Spring ranking.

Leading the middle group of the Spring rankings is Florida. The Panthers are led by Aleksander Barkov, a player who would have likely been in the Calder Trophy conversation for 2013-14 if not for an injury that cut short his rookie season. The Panthers were one of several teams who dropped in the rankings because of trades and graduations.

Moving up in this group is Washington, a team that boasts high-end offensive talent in the form of Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky. The Capitals' depth has also improved, and while the team may not possess many blue chip prospects on defense or in goal, they have several who are extremely promising.

11. (6) Florida Panthers

Strengths: Aleksander Barkov headlines a deep, talented group of forward prospects that also includes Kyle Rau, Vince Trocheck, and Rocco Grimaldi. The Panthers have a solid group on defense as well, with Mike Matheson and Ian McCoshen leading the way. Many of the Panthers prospects are either close to, if not ready to play in the NHL, including forwards Barkov, Trocheck, and Quinton Howden as well as defenseman Alex Petrovic.

Weaknesses: Though the Panthers have several talented players in their goaltending pool, namely Michael Houser and Sam Brittain, none project as more than a backup at the NHL level. The Panthers also have traded and graduated many of their higher profile prospects, leaving them with a pool made up of mostly mid-to-later round picks and free agent signings.

Top 5 Prospects: 1. Aleksander Barkov, C; 2. Mike Matheson, D; 3. Alex Petrovic, D; 4. Brandon Pirri, C; 5. Vince Trocheck, C.

Key Additions: Brandon Pirri (trade-CHI), Steven Anthony (trade-VAN), Ryan Martindale (trade-EDM), Shayne Taker (free agent).

Key Losses: Drew Shore (graduation), Dylan Olsen (graduation), Jimmy Hayes (graduation).

12. (15) Phoenix Coyotes

Strengths: Despite trading David Rundblad, the Coyotes defensive pipeline remains a strength with both Brandon Gormley and Connor Murphy on the verge of establishing full-time NHL roster spots. Many forward prospects like Henrik Samuelsson, Lucas Lessio, and Laurent Dauphin project as players that can provide offense while also playing the responsible game required by Coyotes' head coach, Dave Tippett. Mark Visentin, now with two seasons of pro hockey under his belt, leads the goaltending pool.

Weaknesses: The lack of a blue chip prospect keeps the Coyotes system from being ranked higher on the list. A lot of the pool's success will depend on how well younger, offensive-minded players like Max Domi, Tobias Rieder, and Andy Miele eventually settle into the Coyotes' style of play.

Top 5 Prospects: 1. Brandon Gormley, D; 2. Max Domi, C; 3. Henrik Samuelsson, C; 4. Connor Murphy, D; 5. Lucas Lessio, LW.

Key additions: Cade Fairchild (trade-STL), Tyler Gaudet (free agent), Greg Carey (free agent), Daniel O'Donoghue (free agent).

Key losses: Chris Brown (trade-WAS), David Rundblad (trade-CHI).

13. (25) Washington Capitals

Strengths: Former Capitals' GM George McPhee did a good job stockpiling the team with mobile, puck-moving defensemen. The Capitals also have a nice mix at forward, with skilled players like Andre Burakovsky and Evgeny Kuznetsov balanced with physical players like Chris Brown and Michael Latta. There are also several players who appear close to being NHL ready, including forwards Brown, Latta, and Kuznetsov, as well as defensemen Nate Schmidt and Connor Carrick.

Weaknesses: Though goaltender Philipp Grubauer has shown some promise in short bursts at the NHL level, there is not much behind him in the prospect pool. Most of the Capitals top defensive prospects are more offensively oriented and the system does not have any big, mobile, shutdown defensemen.

Top 5 Prospects: 1. Evgeny Kuznetsov, C; 2. Andre Burakovsky, LW; 3. Madison Bowey, D; 4. Philipp Grubauer, G; 5. Riley Barber, RW.

Key Additions: Chris Brown (trade-PHX), Pheonix Copley (free agent).

Key Losses: Tom Wilson (graduation), Alex Urbom (waivers-NJD).

14. (14) Nashville Predators

Strengths: Patience and good drafting has given the Predators a very deep system, with good and well-rounded prospects at every position. Even with the graduations of Seth Jones and Mattias Ekholm, there are still some good defensemen in the system who project as impact players. There is also good depth in the forward group. It is hard to imagine the Predators' next head coach not making more use of young players such as Filip Forsberg, Calle Jarnkrok, Miikka Salomaki, Colton Sissons, and Pontus Aberg next season. Brendan Leipsic is an edgy player who scored prolifically as a junior while Jimmy Vesey, Zach Budish, and Chase Balisy are outstanding college products who may need more time. Goaltender Marek Mazanec received some NHL experience with Pekka Rinne injured and there is good depth beyond him in the system.

Weaknesses: The graduation of Seth Jones means there is no true blue chip prospect in the system (though Forsberg has great upside). The Nashville philosophy of drafting players for their size and defensive acumen, rather than for the ability to move the puck or score goals, means there is some redundancy in the system that boxes out higher-skilled players.

Top 5 Prospects: 1. Filip Forsberg, LW; 2. Calle Jarnkrok, C; 3. Pontus Aberg, LW; 4. Taylor Beck, RW; 5. Colton Sissons, C.

Key Additions: Calle Jarnkrok (trade-DET).

Key Losses: Seth Jones (graduation), Mattias Ekholm (graduation).

15. (18) Boston Bruins

Strengths: The Bruins system is deep across the board. Goalie Malcolm Subban and center Alexander Khokhlachev made their AHL debuts as 19-year-olds and are both considered to have high upside. Besides right wing, where Brian Ferlin is the Bruins' top prospect, Boston has depth everywhere. Forwards Ryan Spooner, Anthony Camara, Seth Griffith, Matt Fraser, and Justin Florek are all pushing for NHL spots while right wing Peter Cehlarik skated in Sweden's SHL as a teenager. Defenseman Kevan Millar played well after being called up mid-season and looks like a solid NHL player. Boston University's Matt Grzelcyk and Russia's Maxim Chudinov show promise, though Chudinov has shown no inclination to leave the KHL.

Weaknesses: Other than Ferlin, who signed with the Bruins in April following his junior season at Cornell, the Bruins appear thin at right wing. The forward group as a whole does not seem to have leading scorer types, though all fit in with the successful formula that the Bruins have employed the past few seasons. The defensive corps drops off after Grzelcyk, although Yale's Rob O'Gara could be a late-round surprise.

Top 5 Prospects: 1. Malcolm Subban, G; 2. Ryan Spooner, C; 3. Alexander Khokhlachev, C; 4. Joe Morrow, D; 5. Seth Griffith, C.

Key Losses: Dougie Hamilton (graduation), Torey Krug (graduation), Reilly Smith (graduation).

16. (16) Winnipeg Jets

Strengths: Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba graduated to full-time NHL roles in 2013-14, leaving the next wave of high-end prospects to lead the pool. Forward Nicolas Petan and defenseman Josh Morrissey are two talented prospects who could potentially develop into core players for Winnipeg. The club also has forwards like Adam Lowry, Andrew Copp, and J.C. Lipon with the grittier skill sets to complement those skilled players. The goaltending position is also impressive, from talented prospects like Connor Hellebuyck and Eric Comrie to more established professionals like Michael Hutchinson and Ed Pasquale providing depth for the organization.

Weaknesses: The Jets recently graduated two of their top prospects, but GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has stockpiled picks in recent years and maintained the system's depth. Whether any prospects currently in the system are ready to step up and make an impact in 2014-15 is still up for debate, but with another top-10 pick coming up at the 2014 NHL Draft, the Jets' prospect pool should be looking up again.

Top 5 Prospects: 1. Josh Morrissey, D; 2. Nicolas Petan, C; 3. Adam Lowry, LW; 4. Connor Hellebuyck, G; 5. Eric Comrie, C.

Key Losses: Mark Scheifele (graduation), Jacob Trouba (graduation).

17. (17) Pittsburgh Penguins

Strengths: Though they have graduated a fair amount of talent over the past season, the Pittsburgh Penguins continue to have one of the better, more talented pools of defensive prospects. The Penguins have also done a good job of stockpiling talent at the NCAA level. The organization has several promising goaltending prospects, led by WHL standout Tristan Jarry. There are also many strong skaters in the prospect pool, both on the blue line and at forward.

Weaknesses: There are lots of chippy, physical forwards in the prospect pool but few possess much in the way of size and most are under 6’1” in height. The Penguins have very talented goaltending prospects, but all of them are inexperienced and need several years of seasoning in the pros.

Top 5 Prospects: 1. Derrick Pouliot, D; 2. Beau Bennett, RW; 3. Brian Dumoulin, D; 4. Scott Harrington, D; 5. Tristan Jarry, G.

Key Losses: Simon Despres (graduation), Olli Maatta (graduation), Paul Thompson (trade-CBJ).

18. (20) Edmonton Oilers

Strengths: Edmonton's biggest strength is the overall depth and mix of skills throughout their talent pool. With quantity and quality, the defense prospects, led by Darnell Nurse, Martin Marincin, and Oscar Klefbom, are the strongest position in the organization's farm system. They are a good mix of size, physicality, and overall skills. There is good variety of talent and size in the forward group, as well.

Weaknesses: The Oilers' right wing position is lacking depth and the forward group as a whole needs higher end talent. Edmonton's goaltending prospects have improved with the addition of Laurent Brossoit but still need more starting caliber talent.

Top 5 Prospects: 1. Darnell Nurse, D; 2. Martin Marincin, D; 3. Oscar Klefbom, D; 4. Mitchell Moroz, LW; 5. Jujhar Khaira, LW.

Key Additions: Laurent Brossoit (trade-CGY), Jordan Oesterle (free agent).

Key Losses: Oliver Roy (trade-CGY), Cameron Abney (trade-TOR), Teemu Hartikainen (trade-TOR), Ryan Martindale (trade-FLA).

19. (12) Ottawa Senators

Strengths: Despite many key losses from last year, Ottawa’s system is still stocked with talent at every position. The Senators failed to reach the playoffs, but many prospects stepped up into key roles throughout the season. Defensemen Cody Ceci and Mark Borowiecki appear to be NHL-caliber defensemen with distinctly different styles of play. Curtis Lazar and Matt Puempel continue to develop and could make their pro debuts as early as next season.

Weaknesses: With Ceci likely to stay in the NHL, the Senators need to replenish their defensive pool. The organization could also add some more size to their forward prospects.

Top 5 Prospects: 1. Curtis Lazar, C/W; 2. Cody Ceci, D; 3. Chris Driedger, G; 4. Mark Stone, RW; 5. Jean-Gabriel Pageau, C.

Key Additions: Garrett Thompson (free agent).

Key Losses: Robin Lehner (graduation).

20. (23) Toronto Maple Leafs

Strengths: The Leafs have built a pretty good system of skaters who might effectively supplement the current team's back half. This depth is present at different stages of development and at every position. Connor Brown, a somewhat undersized forward, has the scoring skill of a top-six forward. Frederik Gauthier has the potential to be a shutdown center as his career evolves. Matt Finn and Stuart Percy both project to be at least bottom-pairing defensemen in the NHL. The Marlies have been a good team, so Toronto has that source of developmental strength in terms of the organization as a whole, as well.

Weaknesses: There is a distinct lack of upside in this system, the byproduct of an overly conservative approach at the draft table. The goaltending situation is particularly dire, with no clear-cut candidate to become so much as an NHL backup. The depth overall is not particularly good, signaling perhaps the need for a systemic overhaul.

Top 5 Prospects: 1. Frederik Gauthier, C; 2. Connor Brown, RW; 3. Josh Leivo, LW; 4. Matt Finn, D; 5. Stuart Percy, D.

Key Additions: Brandon Kozun (trade-LAK), Teemu Hartikainen (trade-EDM), Cameron Abney (trade-EDM).

Key Losses: Morgan Rielly (graduation), Peter Holland (graduation), Jesse Blacker (trade-ANH).

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

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