Below is the middle third of the NHL organizations in terms of prospects as voted on by Hockey’s Future staff. Each team’s entire prospect pool was considered to determine the ranking. For reference, just the top five prospects are listed. To be eligible, a prospect must meet HF’s prospect criteria. The rankings are done twice a year, in the fall and spring.
11. Chicago Blackhawks
Strengths: The Blackhawks required a bit of retooling to their roster over the summer and added several quality depth players in the process. Nick Leddy, Ivan Vishnevskiy, Viktor Stalberg, Jimmy Hayes, Jeremy Morin, Philippe Paradis, and Chris DiDomenico were all added through trade over the summer and have helped replace the prospect depth that has graduated the last few seasons. Both forward and defensive depth is solid with players who can play in a variety of different roles. Weaknesses: Goaltending remains a question mark for the Blackhawks. Despite adding WHL goalie Kent Simpson in the second round of the 2010 draft, the group still does not feature anyone who could be considered Chicago’s goalie of the future at this point in their career. Top 5 Prospects: 1. Dylan Olsen, D, 2. Kyle Beach, LW, 3. Nick Leddy, D, 4. Viktor Stalberg, LW, 5. Kevin Hayes, RW. Lost to Trade: Akim Aliu, Billy Sweatt.
Strengths: The Maple Leafs’ management team has done a solid job adding depth to the system. While they have dealt high-end picks for established talent, General Manager Brian Burke has done his due diligence unearthing free agent prospects to fill the ranks. Over the last six months, Burke added seven prospects through the draft, three from trade, and five through free agency. Depth-wise, it seems the Maple Leafs system is the deepest it’s been in the last few seasons. Weaknesses: With the dealing of high draft picks comes the downside of being left without top-line talent in the system to build around. The Maple Leafs roster may consist of young cornerstones such as Dion Phaneuf, Phil Kessel, and Luke Schenn, but the pipeline runs dry with Nazem Kadri currently the only projected top-line talent in the system. Top 5 Prospects: 1. Nazem Kadri, C, 2. Jonas Gustavsson, G, 3. Tyler Bozak, C, 4. Carl Gunnarsson, D, 5. Jussi Rynnas, G. Lost to trade: Viktor Stalberg, Jimmy Hayes, Alex Berry, Philippe Paradis, Chris DiDomenico, and Stefano Giliati.
13. Anaheim Ducks
Strengths: The Ducks have done a good job of strengthening their defensive stable of late. Cam Fowler, drafted 12th overall, joins Luca Sbisa, Jake Gardiner, and Sami Vatanen to form a formidable blue line core, which is accented by plenty of quality depth defensemen. Emerson Etem and Peter Holland are intriguing talents with offensive upside but the system mostly features two-way prospects like Kyle Palmieri, Nicolas Deschamps, and Brandon McMillan. Weaknesses: Though they do have some depth in net, the Ducks lack a starting goaltender prospect. Their top forward prospects are shrouded by question marks, with no sure top-six talent. Top 5 Prospects: 1. Luca Sbisa, D, 2. Cam Fowler, D, 3. Jake Gardiner, D, 4. Emerson Etem, RW, 5. Kyle Palmieri, RW. Lost to Graduation: Matt Beleskey, LW. Lost to Trade: Logan MacMillan.
Strengths: Carolina is extremely strong down the middle with 2010 first round pick Jeff Skinner leading the pack along with Zach Boychuk, Zac Dalpe, and Riley Nash. Winger Drayson Bowman is a great compliment to the team’s talented centermen. The ‘Canes also selected Justin Faulk and Mark Alt at the 2010 draft, adding great depth to an already talented group of defensemen featuring Jamie McBain, Brian Dumoulin, and Bobby Sanguinetti. Weaknesses: After Bowman, the Hurricanes lack talent and depth on both wings. The team’s emphasis on offensive-defensemen means there are no elite defensive blueliners. The organization has a couple decent netminders in Justin Peters and Mike Murphy, but lacks a top flight goalie prospect. Top 5 Prospects: 1. Jamie McBain, D, 2. Jeff Skinner, C, 3. Zach Boychuk, C, 4. Zac Dalpe, C, 5. Brian Dumoulin, D.
Strengths: Depth on the blue line and speedy, two-way forwards are the highlights of the Canadiens’ prospect roster. Headlined by P.K. Subban and boasting diverse complementary talents in Yannick Weber, Jarred Tinordi, and Mathieu Carle, the back end is brimming with options for Montreal. Similarly, top forward talents Lars Eller, Danny Kristo, and Louis Leblanc all bring a responsible and hard working two-way game to the table. Weaknesses: A small weakness is the lack of truly elite forward talent, though there are quality players who project to be contributors. More glaring is the complete lack of depth in net. Perhaps not as big a concern for a club with a young starter, it is surprising for a team with such a rich goaltending history. Top 5 Prospects: 1. P.K. Subban, D, 2. Lars Eller, C, 3. Danny Kristo, RW, 4. Louis Leblanc, C, 5. Jarred Tinordi, D. Lost to Trade: Cedrick Desjardins.
16. Ottawa Senators
Strengths: Ottawa’s primary strength is a talented and diverse group of blueliners. With an incredibly impressive trio of young rearguards, the Sens’ back end is likely to be a strength for years to come. Swedish puck-moving defenseman David Rundblad is complemented brilliantly by two-way talent Patrick Wiercioch and the imposing shutdown defenseman Jared Cowen. Weaknesses: There is a real lack of elite talent up front as Ottawa does not have any prospect with the look of an impact top six NHLer. They are also thin between the pipes, with work-in-progress Swedish butterfly goalie Robin Lehner being the lone netminder of note. Top 5 Prospects: 1. Jared Cowen, D, 2. David Rundblad, D, 3. Patrick Wiercioch, D, 4. Robin Lehner, G. 5. Louie Caporusso, C. Lost to graduation: Erik Karlsson
Strengths: The Isles have great depth and talent at all positions headlined by rookie winger Nino Niederreiter and dynamic puck-moving defenseman Calvin de Haan. The team possesses a great deal of toughness throughout the roster with physical, hard-working prospects like Travis Hamonic, Matt Martin, and Dustin Kohn. The organization is also flush with young goaltenders highlighted by Kevin Poulin and Mikko Koskinen, who are both currently playing in the AHL. Weaknesses: Many of the top talents in the system bring with them a lot of baggage. Kirill Kabanov has to put the spectacle that was the 2009-10 season behind him while others such as Kirill Petrov may never play hockey in North America. Others, such as Brock Nelson and Jason Clark, are many years removed from contributing at the professional level. Top 5 Prospects: 1. Nino Niederreiter, LW, 2. Travis Hamonic, D, 3. Calvin de Haan, D, 4. Kirill Petrov, RW, 5. Andrew MacDonald, D. Lost to Trade: Jyri Niemi.
Strengths: The Penguins boast a deep group of defensive prospects at various stages of development. Simon Despres has the potential to be a top-pairing workhorse defenseman while Brian Strait, Robert Bortuzzo, and Philip Samuelsson bring toughness to the lineup. The organization also has a diverse group of forwards with top-six potential highlighted by power forward Eric Tangradi and offensively-dynamic winger Beau Bennett. They also have several forwards who should be able to fill checking roles in Dustin Jeffrey, Joe Vitale, and Nick Johnson. Brad Thiessen leads a group of young goaltenders playing at various professional levels. Weaknesses: While diverse, the Penguins group of forward prospects is not deep, particularly at center. Aside from Despres and too a lesser extent Alex Velischek and Alex Grant, the defense does not boast many offensively-gifted defensemen. Many prospects such as Keven Veilleux or Andy Bathgate are of the boom or bust variety. Top 5 Prospects: 1. Eric Tangradi, LW, 2. Simon Despres, D, 3. Beau Bennett, RW, 4. Ben Hanowski, LW, 5. Tom Kuhnhackl, RW.
19. Buffalo Sabres
Strengths: Darcy Regier did a great job in the 2009 NHL draft addressing the lack of size in their prospect group, and in 2010 he added nine more prospects to pad the depth charts. Tyler Ennis leads a solid group that is starting to turn out pro-ready prospects for the Sabres. Luke Adam, Zack Kassian, and Nathan Gerbe headline the next wave of Sabre forwards, while Mike Weber, T.J. Brennan, Drew Schiestel, and Marc-Andre Gragnani should provide solid complimentary depth on defense. Weaknesses: With Ryan Miller locked in long term and Jhonas Enroth proving to be a solid pro goaltender, Buffalo can afford to focus their attention elsewhere in the system. An area that could require such attention is on the wing. The Sabres lack explosive talent behind small, skilled forwards Nathan Gerbe and Tyler Ennis. Top 5 Prospects: 1. Tyler Ennis, C, 2. Jhonas Enroth, G, 3. Zack Kassian, RW, 4. Luke Adam, C, 5. T.J. Brennan, D.
Strengths: The Devils have a deep group of both forwards and defensemen, many of whom, such as center Jacob Josefson and defenseman Alexander Urbom, have already earned time in the New Jersey’s lineup. Others, such as defenseman Matt Corrente and goaltender Jeff Frazee, have been ripening in the minors and will look to contribute at the NHL level in the near future. The Devils also have several players who are capable NHL role players such as defenseman Matt Taormina and forward Vladimir Zharkov. Weaknesses: While Josefson and electric forward Mattias Tedenby provide a lot of offensive punch, there is a significant drop off in talent after them. Despite using two of their five selections at the 2010 draft on goalies Scott Wedgewood and Maxime Clermont, the Devils remain very thin in net, a major concern considering franchise goaltender Martin Brodeur is 37 years old. Top 5 Prospects: 1. Mattias Tedenby, LW, 2. Jacob Josefson, C, 3. Alexander Urbom, D, 4. Jon Merrill, D, 5. Matt Corrente, D. Lost to Trade: Matt Halischuk.