Below is the top 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.
1. Nashville Predators
Strengths: The Predators’ greatest strength is their vast depth and diversity at forward. Colin Wilson, Austin Watson, Taylor Beck, and Zach Budish all have the potential to be top six contributors while forwards such as Blake Geoffrion, Cal O’Reilly, and Andreas Thuresson are capable of filling top nine roles with the team. The Predators also boast one of the more talented groups of defensemen in the league. Jonathan Blum has top-pairing potential while Charles-Oliver Roussel and Ryan Ellis are potential power play quarterbacks. Goaltending depth is another strength, with Chet Pickard heading an excellent group that also includes Anders Lindback, Atte Engren, and Mark Dekanich. Weaknesses: While the top end of Nashville’s defense is excellent, they are not particularly deep. The forward corps is impressive in breadth but lacks a truly elite talent. Top 5 Prospects: 1. Colin Wilson, C, 2. Jonathan Blum, D, 3. Charles-Olivier Roussel, D, 4. Chet Pickard, G, 5. Taylor Beck, LW. Lost to Graduation: Cody Franson.
Strengths: The Kings’ biggest strength is on the back end. Derek Forbort, Thomas Hickey, and Vyacheslav Voynov headline a dynamic group that is equal parts skill and grit. Elite talent Brayden Schenn is the backbone of a deep and varied group of forwards, which is comprised of highly-skilled players like Andrei Loktionov, Tyler Toffoli, and Brandon Kozun as well as two-way talents Kyle Clifford, Jordan Weal, and Trevor Lewis. In goal, top prospect Jonathan Bernier is the team’s future in net, while Martin Jones and Jeff Zatkoff provide depth at the professional level. Weaknesses: Though many of their centers can play multiple positions, the team lacks high-end talent on both wings. Schenn looks to have a promising future in the team’s top six, but the Kings do not have a bona fide top-line prospect. Top 5 Prospects: 1. Jonathan Bernier, G, 2. Brayden Schenn, C, 3. Derek Forbort, D, 4. Andrei Loktionov, C, 5. Thomas Hickey, D.
Strengths: Edmonton is blessed with elite talent, depth, and diversity up front. Led by young stars Taylor Hall, Magnus Paajarvi, and Jordan Eberle, there are also secondary skill forwards (Linus Omark, Toni Rajala, Tyler Pitlick), complete two-way talents (Chris Vande Velde, Anton Lander, Curtis Hamilton) and everything in between. The Oilers are stacked up front. Weaknesses: It is a different story on the blue line and between the pipes. Jeff Petry has shown flashes of brilliance and Martin Marincin has looked good early in his North American career, but there are no elite talents on the back end. The lack of a legitimate top flight offensive defenseman also hurts the blue line group. Devan Dubnyk has been uninspiring in net, while Olivier Roy has upside but is still a work in progress. Top 5 Prospects: 1. Taylor Hall, LW, 2. Magnus Paajarvi, LW, 3. Jordan Eberle, RW, 4. Jeff Petry, D, 5. Tyler Pitlick, C. Lost to Trade: Riley Nash
Strengths: New addition Erik Gudbranson is the keystone of a formidable group of defensive prospects, which includes Keaton Ellerby, Colby Robak, and Alexander Petrovic. In net, the Panthers possess an elite talent in Jacob Markstrom. Recent draftee Nick Bjugstad exemplifies the big, physical talent that the team has accumulated up front. He joins similar two-way forwards Quinton Howden, A.J. Jenks, and Drew Shore. The team also has a few offensively-charged options with upside in Michal Repik, John McFarland, and Evgeni Dadonov. Weaknesses: Though the Panthers are deep at all three forward positions, they lack a definite top-line talent. Many of their forward are hit-or-miss prospects. Though the team has plenty of defensive talent, they lack a quality puck-mover on the back end. Top 5 Prospects: 1. Jacob Markstrom, G, 2. Erik Gudbranson, D, 3. Nick Bjugstad, C, 4. Keaton Ellerby, D, 5. Colby Robak, D.
Strengths: With Jose Theodore’s exit comes a new era of goaltending in Washington. The tandem of Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth are the foundation of a strong Capitals’ prospect group. Equally promising are the team’s two top defensive prospects, John Carlson and Karl Alzner. Marcus Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetzov, and Mathieu Perreault headline an offensively talented group of forwards, which is especially deep at center. Weaknesses: The Capitals have depth issues on both wings, particularly on the left side. Aside from Carlson, Alzner, and possibly Dmitri Orlov, the Capitals have very few sure NHLers on the back end. The Capitals look to have lost a talented prospect in Anton Gustafsson, their 2008 first round pick who recently stepped away from the game of hockey. Top 5 Prospects: 1. Semyon Varlamov, G, 2. John Carlson, D, 3. Karl Alzner, D, 4. Michal Neuvirth, G, 5. Marcus Johansson, C. Lost to Trade: Stefan Della Rovere.
Strengths: Having graduated a host of forward talent over the last two seasons, the Blues began to restock the cupboards by selecting four forwards in the first three rounds of the 2010 draft. While Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko are the cream of the crop, Swedish sniper Sebastian Wannstrom and Minnesota-native Max Gardiner also add skill and offensive upside to the organization. The Blues have a deep and talented group of defensive prospects with Alex Pietrangelo, Ian Cole, and Cade Fairchild leading the way. Jake Allen and Ben Bishop strengthen a solid group in net. Weaknesses: Left wing lacks depth and is the only position without any top-line potential. Top prospects like Jonas Junland and Jori Lehtera have recently signed contracts overseas, raising questions about their willingness to play in North America. Top 5 Prospects: 1. Alex Pietrangelo, D, 2. Vladimir Tarasenko, RW, 3. Jaden Schwartz, C, 4. Jake Allen, G, 5. Ian Cole, D. Lost to Trade: Lars Eller, David Rundblad, David Warsofsky.
Strengths: The Bruins have quietly started to procure a group of forwards that is right up there with the best in the NHL. Second overall pick Tyler Seguin headlines a host of talented offensive weapons which includes Joe Colborne, Brad Marchand, Jordan Caron, Ryan Spooner, and Zach Hamill. The defense does not have any flashy names but it is still a solid group with notable prospects Yuri Alexandrov, Tommy Cross, Adam McQuaid, and Maxim Chudinov. Weaknesses: Goaltending is the Bruins obvious weakness. Michael Hutchinson, Matt Dalton, Zane Gothberg and Adam Courchaine are not exactly elite prospects and leave the Bruins with little depth behind Tim Thomas and Tuuka Rask. Top 5 Prospects: 1. Tyler Seguin, C, 2. Joe Colborne, C, 3. Brad Marchand, RW, 4. Yuri Alexandrov, D, 5. Jordan Caron, RW.
8. Columbus Blue Jackets
Strengths: Left winger Nikita Filatov remains the prized prospect for the Blue Jackets. After graduating many of the team’s other top forward prospects, Columbus focused on forwards at the start of the 2010 draft. The team added a diverse group with playmaking pivot Ryan Johansen, speedy winger Petr Straka, and the physical Dalton Smith in the first two rounds. Columbus also boasts a talented group of blue line prospects in John Moore, Cody Goloubef, and David Savard, while Theo Ruth and Brent Regner provide some depth for the organization. Weaknesses: The organization lacks a top-shelf goalie prospect, though that position was addressed at the draft with the selection of Mathieu Corbeil-Theriault and through free agency with Swedish import Gustaf Wesslau. The center position lacks depth and talent after Johansen. Top 5 Prospects: 1. Nikita Filatov, LW, 2. Ryan Johansen, C, 3. John Moore, D, 4. Cody Goloubef, D, 5. Matthew Calvert, LW.
Strengths: The Rangers are absolutely loaded up front, particularly at center. Derek Stepan and Evgeny Grachev headline the center position, while Ethan Werek, Roman Horak, Ryan Bourque, and Andrew Yogan give New York spectacular depth down the middle. The wingers are also very strong with the likes of Chris Kreider, Mats Zuccarello-Aasen, Carl Hagelin, and Christian Thomas all ranking among the club’s top 10 prospects. Weaknesses: The Rangers have question marks in net with free agent signing Chad Johnson and fifth round pick Scott Stajcer leading the way. Johnson has played well in the AHL and has also appeared in five NHL games but he and the other goaltending prospects do not figure to be viable future replacements for Henrik Lundqvist. Top 5 Prospects: 1. Chris Kreider, LW, 2. Evgeny Grachev, C, 3. Derek Stepan, C, 4. Mats Zuccarello-Aasen, LW, 5. Ryan McDonagh, D. Lost to Trade: Ryan Hillier, Bobby Sanguinetti, Tomas Zaborsky.
Strengths: The Red Wings have a great amount of depth at the forward position, specifically at center. Justin Abdelkader and Jan Mursak have begun to establish themselves as solid pro players and Tomas Tatar has only started to scratch the surface of his potential after a year in the AHL. Gustav Nyquist and defenseman Brendan Smith have already dominated the NCAA level and Smith will now begin to ply his trade in the AHL. Newcomers Riley Sheahan, Teemu Pulkkinen and Calle Jarnkrok only solidify the deep forward group that is likely to produce several NHL players over the next few seasons. Weaknesses: There is not a pressing need for a blue chip goaltending prospect and the organization will wait for one to emerge in their system. Red Wing fans can expect a patient approach for former first round pick Thomas McCollum, similar to the way the Wings handled the development of Jimmy Howard. Detroit could compliment their defensive depth by adding a mean, defensive defender. Additionally, despite the depth and versatility at center, the system could also use more natural wingers. Top 5 Prospects: 1. Jakub Kindl, D, 2. Brendan Smith, D, 3. Tomas Tatar, C, 4. Gustav Nyquist, C, 5. Riley Sheahan, C.