The St. Louis Blues remain atop Hockey’s Future’s Organizational Rankings.
Strengths: T.J. Oshie and Patrik Berglund already excelling in the NHL signifies the Blues youth movement is firmly underway. The cupboard remains well-stocked with offensive-minded prospects Lars Eller and Nikolai Lemtyugov waiting in the wings and forwards Travis Erstad, Aaron Palushaj, Philip McCrae, and Jori Lehtera still several years away. Depth defensemen like Roman Polak and Jonas Junland compliment blue-chip prospects Ian Cole and Alex Pietrangelo to round out a solid defensive core. Ben Bishop highlights a strong trio of goaltending prospects that includes Marek Schwarz and Jake Allen. Weaknesses: The weaknesses within the organization are scant, with the most noticeable being a lack of any elite goal-scoring forwards. The talent pool is a little shallow on the wings. Top 5 prospects: 1. Alex Pietrangelo, D, 2. Patrik Berglund, C, 3. T.J. Oshie, C, 4. Lars Eller, LW, 5. Ian Cole, D. Key losses to graduation: Erik Johnson, David Perron.
Strengths: Depth is not a concern and with a potential franchise blueliner and goaltender leading the way, things are looking good in LaLa Land. Drew Doughty is already showing why he was the second overall pick last June and Jonathan Bernier is a blue chipper who is adapting to the pro game. Thomas Hickey and Colten Tuebert give LA two more potential top four blueliners and Peter Harrold has already cracked the roster. Brian Boyle and Teddy Purcell are both projects who could be close, while Oscar Moller and Wayne Simmonds are providing depth and have great upside. Even junior scoring sensation Justin Azevedo is adding to the Kings’ embarrassment of riches. Weaknesses: A lack of a blue-chip, high-end forward is one drawback. Also, if there is one area that is not as deep as others, it is down the middle. Top 5 prospects: 1. Drew Doughty, D, 2. Jonathan Bernier, G, 3. Thomas Hickey, D, 4. Colten Teubert, D, 5. Ted Purcell, RW. Key losses to graduation: Jack Johnson.
Strengths: The Blue Jackets have a wealth of high-end talent in the system, spearheaded by current super rookies Derick Brassard and Jakub Voracek. Outside of their impressive upper echelon of prospects, the Jackets have adequate depth at every position in the system but center.
Weaknesses: Despite lots of options at most positions in the system, outside the high-end players there isn’t much talent that represents more than third- or fourth-line potential long-term. Also, with only two other options at center after Brassard – Kirill Starkov and Sean Collins – Columbus could seriously benefit from picking up young pivots. Top five prospects: 1. Jakub Voracek, RW, 2. Nikita Filatov, LW, 3. Derick Brassard, C, 4. Steve Mason, G, 5. Cody Goloubef, D. Key losses to graduation: Kris Russell.
Strengths: A myriad of high-quality talent populates their ranks, especially at forward. Each of their top five prospects are NHL regulars this year. The organization has a good amount of quality depth from top to bottom, even with recent graduates. They have some nice defensemen that compliment each other quite well, and some underrated blueliners in the the versatile Summers and the physical Ross and Ahnelov. Weaknesses: Goaltending remains an issue. They gained Al Montoya from the Rangers, but none of their stable are sure things. It’s shaping up to be a long year in San Antonio which won’t help the confidence of the masked men. Natural winger depth is becoming a bit of an issue. Top five prospects: 1. Kyle Turris, C, 2. Mikkel Boedker, LW, 3. Viktor Tikhonov, C, 4. Kevin Porter, C, 5. Enver Lisin, RW. Key losses to graduation: Keith Yandle, Peter Mueller, Martin Hanzal, Daniel Carcillo, Daniel Winnik.
Strengths: Oversized forwards Blake Wheeler, Joe Colborne and Maxime Sauve replace the recently graduated David Krejci, Milan Lucic, and Petteri Nokalainen, assuring that the cupboards remain well stocked with big, offensive-minded forwards. The Bruins are deep at center with Zach Hamill and Vladimir Sobotka headlining a group that also includes Brad Marchand and Carl Soderberg. The organization is also well stocked on the blue line with Matt Hunwick and Matt Lashoff highlighting a good mix of offensive and stay-at-home defensemen. With Tuukka Rask cutting his teeth in the AHL, and Kevin Regan waiting farther down the depth chart, the Bruins are secure in net for the foreseeable future. Weaknesses: Although the Bruins have a good mix of defensemen, they lack a true No. 1 blue-liner. The organization is also shallow on left wing. Outside of Blake Wheeler, they have few forwards with natural goal-scoring ability. Top 5 prospects: 1. Tuukka Rask, G, 2. Joe Colborne, C, 3. Blake Wheeler, RW, 4. Matt Lashoff, D, 5. Zach Hamill, C. Key losses for graduation: David Krejci, Milan Lucic, Petteri Nokelainen.
Strengths: Depth, depth and more depth. The best of the Chicago crop has graduated, but the Blackhawks continue to move talent through the system. Their current top five prospects all have surefire NHL potential and even beyond the cream of the crop, there are several players who will one day play in the league. Weaknesses: Not many. A case could be made that the defense needs work. But still, Jordan Hendry and Niklas Hjalmarsson will play top-six roles someday and there are other players who have potential, although maybe longer term. The Blackhawks may also want to consider replenishing their goaltending. Corey Crawford is nearing a make or break point. Top five prospects: 1. Kyle Beach, LW, 2. Petri Kontiola, C, 3. Troy Brouwer, RW , 4. Jack Skille, RW, 5. Niklas Hjalmarsson, D. Key losses to graduation: Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Cam Barker.
Strengths: The Flyers have top-tier talent in power forward James vanRiemsdyk, slick playmaker Claude Giroux, and goal-scorer Andreas Nodl. The organization is also deep on defense with 2008 pick Luca Sbisa headlining a group that includes Michael Ratchuk, Ryan Parent, Kevin Marshall, and Marc-Andre Bourdon. Zac Rinaldo, a sixth round pick from 2008 joins Jon Kalinski and Josh Beaulieu as the organization’s agitators in waiting. Forwards Patrick Maroon and Jonathan Matsumoto have raised their stock over the past season increasing the overall quality of depth of forwards. Weaknesses: The Flyers are particularly thin at center. Taking Jacob DeSerres and Joacim Eriksson in the 2008 draft addresses the Flyers weak goaltending depth but the organization is still fairly thin and lacks any elite prospects in net. Top 5 prospects: James vanRiemsdyk, LW, Claude Giroux, RW, Luca Sbisa, D, Ryan Parent, D, Michael Ratchuk, D. Key losses to graduation: Ben Eager.
Strengths: Despite on-ice success in recent years, the Canadiens still host a deep, talented prospect pool. They have a plethora of valuable blueliners that cover many different roles. Offensive-minded players like P.K. Subban, Yannick Weber and Mathieu Carle are complimented well with physical defensive players like Ryan O’Byrne, Alexei Yemelin and Pavel Valtenko. Don’t forget the next big thing on the Montreal blueline: Ryan McDonagh. They still possess a fairly strong group of forwards, despite recent graduations. Maxwell and Chipchura are the organization’s top two-way centers, while Max Pacioretty made his mark as a talented power forward who is progressing quickly. Weaknesses: The forward depth, while not awful, has taken some big losses, even if Danny Kristo becomes the sniper he’s projected to be. Despite a deep defense, the huge stalwart that eats minutes isn’t really there. There aren’t many prominent world-beaters, in terms of speed, left in the organization. Top five prospects: 1. Ryan McDonagh, D, 2. Max Pacioretty, LW, 3. Ryan O’Byrne, D, 4. Jaroslav Halak, G, 5. Ben Maxwell, C. Key losses to graduation: Carey Price, Andrei Kostitsyn, Sergei Kostitsyn, Maxim Lapierre.
Strengths: Despite the past graduations of a seemingly endless list of high-end defense prospects, blueliners continue to be the organization’s strong point. Adding blue chip prospects Colin Wilson and Chet Pickard to the top of the pile in the 2008 draft helps Nashville’s case to be among the top third of organizations in the NHL. Each of the Predators’ top five prospects have the potential to be very good NHL players, if not legit stars. Weaknesses: Wilson and Patric Hornqvist should be very good NHL forwards, but after them, potential top-six forwards are hard to come by. Top five prospects: 1. Colin Wilson, C, 2. Chet Pickard, G, 3. Cody Franson, D, 4. Kevin Klein, D, 5. Jon Blum, D.
Strengths: The Thrashers’ defensive end looks secure for years to come with Zach Bogosian and Ondrej Pavelec poised to take leading roles in keeping pucks out. The system as a whole is also quite deep, though many of the best are years away. Weaknesses: Left wing depth is a concern, as Brett Sterling is the only player at that position currently who could be a top-six solution. Scoring in general is lacking. They need Riley Holzapfel and Angelo Esposito to come through. The forwards they do have lack size. Top five prospects: 1. Zach Bogosian, D, 2. Ondrej Pavelec, G, 3. Riley Holzapfel, C, 4. Spencer Machacek, RW, 5. Andrei Zubarev, D. Key losses to graduation: Bryan Little, C.