Hockey's Future presents the top group of the 2014 Spring NHL Team Rankings. The teams are ranked by the overall quality of their prospect pool as voted on by the HF staff. For reference, the top five prospects are listed. To be eligible, a prospect must meet HF's prospect criteria. The rankings are done twice a year, with this edition being an update to the Fall rankings. Each team's Fall ranking is listed in parenthesis next to their current ranking.
The Buffalo Sabres, who are in the middle of a full-scale rebuild, lead the Spring edition of these rankings. The Sabres have done a good job of stockpiling young talent through the NHL Draft and trades, and have solid depth at every position. It will still be awhile before many of their prospects are ready to play in the NHL, but the future for the organization is bright.
The Detroit Red Wings were one of three teams, the others being the Chicago Blackhawks and the Calgary Flames, who rose significantly in the rankings since the Fall. Ravaged by injuries this season, the Red Wings were forced to test their prospect depth this year, and were rewarded with strong efforts from players like Riley Sheahan, Tomas Jurco, and Petr Mrazek.
1. (2) Buffalo Sabres
Strengths: The Sabres currently boast very good youthful depth on their NHL blue line with Mark Pysyk and Jake McCabe and will add excellent prospects Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov on a likely full-time basis next season. Center Mikhail Grigorenko disappointed this year as a pro, but he has all the tools of a top-line center. Johan Larsson also projects as a very good checking forward after another solid year in the AHL. Right wing Joel Armia had a tough regular season, but was impressive in the postseason for the Rochester Americans. College forwards Hudson Fasching and J.T. Compher, two forwards who possess intriguing NHL potential, had strong freshman seasons with their respective programs.
Weaknesses: Finishing last in the NHL usually means there are systemic problems somewhere. Matt Hackett has a very spotty track record as an NHL goaltender and, while there is several candidates, there is no sure number one goaltender in the system to take over for the departed Ryan Miller. There is good overall depth at forward, but the system is short on star potential.
Top Five Prospects: 1.Rasmus Ristolainen, D; 2. Mikhail Grigorenko, C; 3. Nikita Zadorov, D; 4. Mark Pysyk, D; 5. Jake McCabe, D.
2. (3) Anaheim Ducks
Strengths: Even with several graduations on the season, the Ducks still hold a tremendous amount of depth and high-end talent. The highlight of the system is goaltending, with John Gibson and Frederik Andersen both off to amazing starts to their pro careers. While the remaining categories are not nearly as impressive, the team still fields a solid group of second-tier prospects in players like Stefan Noesen, Nick Sorensen, and William Karlsson, along with potential higher end players like Nicolas Kerdiles, Shea Theodore, and Rickard Rakell. They do not truly have an area of particular weakness, with solid players filling out each category to a certain extent.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. John Gibson, G; 2. Sami Vatanen, D; 3. Rickard Rakell, C; 4. Frederik Andersen, G; 5. Shea Theodore, D.
3. (9) Detroit Red Wings
Strengths: The Detroit Red Wings continue to have an excellent development strategy for their prospect group. Their patient approach paid dividends this year, as numerous prospects contributed to the NHL club, including forwards Tomas Jurco and Riley Sheahan. The Wings are particularly strong at forward, with a mix of players who bring high-end skill and good hockey sense. Despite several graduations this year, the defensive group is still a very solid mix of good all-around talent and depth.
Weaknesses: Outside of Anthony Mantha, the Wings do not have a particularly big group at forward. There is little goaltending depth behind Petr Mrazek.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Anthony Mantha, RW; 2. Petr Mrazek, G; 3. Tomas Jurco, LW; 4. Riley Sheahan, C; 5. Xavier Ouellet, D.
Key Additions: Colin Campbell (free agent).
4. (10) Chicago Blackhawks
Strengths: Teuvo Teravainen has developed well since he was drafted 18th overall in 2012, becoming the best offensive prospect for Chicago since Patrick Kane. The depth at center behind him includes talented prospects at the pro level and longer-term projects making their mark in the NCAA. The team's defensive stable is similarly built with prospects Adam Clendening, Stephen Johns, and Klas Dahlbeck set to anchor the AHL team at the pro level next season, giving the defenders in college and Sweden all the time they need to develop.
Weaknesses: Teravainen excluded, the ultimate upside of top forward prospects like Mark McNeill, Phillip Danault, and Ryan Hartman remains unclear. The signing of Antti Raanta as a free agent proved to be a wise move, but the pecking order behind him amongst the goaltending prospects is murky.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Teuvo Teravainen, C; 2. Adam Clendening, D; 3. Phillip Danault, C; 4. Mark McNeill, C; 5. Stephen Johns, D.
5. (1) Tampa Bay Lightning
Strengths: The Tampa Bay Lightning remain well stocked at forward despite graduating a fair amount of talent during the 2013-14 season. The system is led by brilliant talents like Jonathan Drouin and Nikita Kucherov, but there are also many skilled depth players in the system such as Vladislav Namestnikov, Adam Erne, and Henri Ikonen. The system is also well stocked with role players like Cedric Paquette. Andrey Vasilevskiy leads a talented group of goaltending prospects that also features Olympian Kristers Gudlevskis. Though the Lightning do not have as talented a group on defense as they do at forward, they have several blueliners, including Mark Barberio and Andrej Sustr, who are already proven NHL talents.
Weaknesses: The Lightning do not have any top-pairing defensive prospects in their system, and their top prospect along the blue line, Slater Koekkoek, has been plagued by injuries since he was drafted in 2012. Though several forwards in the system have some size, the group up front is generally small.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Jonathan Drouin, LW; 2. Andrey Vasilevskiy, G; 3. Nikita Kucherov, RW; 4. Vladislav Namestnikov, C; 5. Mark Barberio, D.
6. (13) Calgary Flames
Strengths: The Calgary Flames have really strengthened their organizational depth and talent in their prospect pool with their rebuilding effort. They have added leadership, character, physicality, and more speed to their system. The organization possesses a good group of versatile forwards that can play many positions along with some potential high-end talent at the left wing position. The Flames have good NHL caliber goaltending but could use more depth at the position in their farm system.
Weaknesses: The right wing position has little depth and requires an overall upgrade in talent. Despite having a good mix of defensemen, the system lacks a high-end puck-mover in the pipeline. The Flames could also stand to add more depth in net.
7. (5) New York Islanders
Strengths: The Islanders still own one of the largest groups of defensive prospects in the entire NHL. There is quality amongst the quantity, as Griffin Reinhart, Ville Pokka, Matt Donovan, Ryan Pulock, Calvin de Haan, and Scott Mayfield all project as quality NHL defensemen. Ryan Strome continues to headline a deep group of centers and will likely start next season on Long Island. Anders Lee is another center to keep an eye on. The addition of Sebastian Collberg in the Thomas Vanek trade brings an intriguing winger to the system.
Weaknesses: The Islanders are light up top as another class of forwards prepares to graduate to the big club. The wings are especially lacking depth. Collberg is talented but will need some adjustment period when he comes to North America. The same can be said for Pokka. Goaltending continues to haunt the team, as Anders Nilsson remains an uncertainty while Mikko Koskinen (if he chooses) cannot leave the KHL until the end of next season.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Ryan Strome, C; 2. Griffin Reinhart, D; 3. Calvin de Haan, D; 4. Ville Pokka, D; 5. Ryan Pulock, D.
8. (8) Columbus Blue Jackets
Strengths: The Blue Jackets have a deep and talented group of forwards, led by first-round picks Alexander Wennberg, Marko Dano, and Kerby Rychel. Columbus also has numerous potential role players among their forward ranks, namely Michael Chaput, Sean Collins, and Lukas Sedlak. Oscar Dansk headlines a relatively talented group of goaltending prospects.
Weaknesses: The Blue Jackets graduated many of their top defensive prospects over the last season, leaving the cupboards relatively bare in terms of top-four talent. Though Columbus has good organizational depth in net, all of their goaltending prospects need more experience before they can be considered NHL caliber.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Alexander Wennberg, C; 2. Oscar Dansk, G; 3. Kerby Rychel, LW; 4. Marko Dano, C; 5. Cody Goloubef, D.
Key Additions: Carter Camper (trade-BOS).
9. (4) Dallas Stars
Strengths: The Dallas system may not feature a game-breaker following Valeri Nichushkin's quick graduation to the NHL level, but it still includes depth at every position. Brett Ritchie, Jason Dickinson, and Devin Shore are potential top-six forwards, but there are plenty of prospects behind them with the skill set to crack the NHL lineup at some point. The defensive position is deep at the pro level, and there are many longer-term prospects overseas. Goaltending is a strength, with Jack Campbell coming off his best season as a pro while Philippe Desrosiers is another talented goalie coming down the pipeline.
Weaknesses: Whether any of the Dallas defensive prospects have the potential to develop into players the team can build around is up for debate. High picks like Radek Faksa and Alex Guptill have been inconsistent at lower levels.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Jack Campbell, G; 2. Brett Ritchie, RW; 3. Jason Dickinson, LW; 4. Jamie Oleksiak, D; 5. Devin Shore, C.
Key Additions: Justin Dowling (free agent).
10. (11) Montreal Canadiens
Strengths: The Montreal Canadiens have improved the organizational depth in their prospect pool over the last couple of years. Montreal has a solid mix at the forward position, including many hard working, power forward types like Mike McCarron and Jacob de la Rose. There are also a handful of smaller but very skilled players in their pipeline, including Martin Reway and Charles Hudon. The defense position is still the main strength of the Canadiens' prospect pool, led by Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi.
Weaknesses: Though they have gone to lengths to improve, the Canadiens still need more size, physicality, and high-end skill in their forward group, as well as big, crease-clearing defensemen in their minor-league system.
Top 5 Prospects: 1.Nathan Beaulieu, D; 2. Jarred Tinordi, D; 3. Zachary Fucale, G; 4. Charles Hudon, LW; 5. Mike McCarron, C/RW.
Key Losses: Sebastien Collberg (trade-NYI), Steve Quailer (trade-LAK).
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