Below is the middle third of the NHL organizations in terms of prospects as voted on by Hockey’s Future staff. To determine the ranking, each team’s entire prospect pool was taken into consideration. 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: Several years of smart drafting has led to Chicago having incredible depth at both forward and defense. The Hawks benefited from forwards Ben Smith and Marcus Kruger in the playoffs this year but the most impressive performance was turned in by rookie blueliner Nick Leddy who played with poise beyond his years. Big wingers Jeremy Morin, Kyle Beach and Kevin Hayes all project as power forwards with the ability to both score and use their large bodies to play an effective grinding game. The defense is headlined by a number of offensively gifted defensemen with the aforementioned Leddy leading the way. Weaknesses: Although Corey Crawford is becoming a star in the NHL, Chicago’s depth between the pipes in terms of prospects continues to be the club’s biggest weakness. Top 5 Prospects: 1. Nick Leddy, D, 2. Dylan Olsen, D, 3. Jeremy Morin, LW, 4. Kyle Beach, LW, 5. Kevin Hayes, LW. Lost to graduation: Viktor Stalberg.
Strengths: The Red Wings have 15 centers in their system, including eight prospects with first or second line potential. Top among the centers is Tomas Tatar, who is expected to become a full time NHLer in 2011-12. Detroit also has two top defensive prospects within the organization, including Brendan Smith, who should be competing for a roster spot next season and 2010 draftee Ben Marshall, who may be another great late round find for the Red Wings. On the wing, another 2010 draft selection, Teemu Pulkkinen, has first line potential, and if he can be convinced to come and play in North America, Pulkkinen has the potential to be a star. Weaknesses: Detroit has very few prospects that naturally play on the wing within their organization. Goaltending depth could also be improved. Top 5 Prospects: 1. Brendan Smith; 2. Tomas Tatar; 3. Jan Mursak; 4. Gustav Nyquist; 5. Teemu Pulkkinen. Lost to graduation: Justin Abdelkader.
Strengths: Overall, the system is strong in all positions. The losses of Jamie McBain and Jeff Skinner have impacted the system, but the Hurricanes still boast a handful of interesting top-six forwards and top-four defensive options. Zac Dalpe and Zach Boychuk both posted around a point per-game in the AHL. On defense, the Hurricanes boast a variety of options led by impressive NCAA rookie Justin Faulk and Brian Dumoulin. Weaknesses: Adding elite defensive-defensemen to pair with their high-skilled defensive prospects would make the defensive-corps all the more impressive. Most of the top wingers in the system are a little undersized. Goaltending is not a necessity with Cam Ward between the pipes, but shouldn’t be overlooked either. Top 5 Prospects: 1. Zac Dalpe, C, 2. Zach Boychuk, C, 3. Justin Faulk, D, 4. Brian Dumoulin, D, 5. Drayson Bowman, LW. Lost to Graduation: Jamie McBain, Jeff Skinner.
14. Buffalo Sabres
Strengths: A major strength for the Sabres is the fact that may of their top prospects are NHL-ready, something that isn’t always the case when dealing with young players. Zack Kassian, Luke Adam, T.J. Brennan, Marcus Foligno and Drew Schiestel to name a few all possess the physical stature to play in the NHL right now. While none of them project to be high-scoring front-line players, they are all players who can be plugged in on any line and can play any role that they may be requested to play. The Sabres also feature a strong core of defensemen and a goalie that already has NHL experience in Jhonas Enroth. Weaknesses: As mentioned, Buffalo has considerable depth at forward but no one who appears to be a top-end scorer at this point. There is a lack of skilled play-makers, especially down the middle where the Sabres are very thin. Top 5 Prospects: 1. Zack Kassian, RW, 2. Jhonas Enroth, G, 3. Luke Adam, C, 4. Drew Schiestel, D, 5. T.J. Brennan, D. Lost to graduation: Tyler Ennis, Nathan Gerbe, Mike Weber.
Strengths: With forward prospects Mattias Tedenby and Jacob Josefson, the Devils have added two potent offensive prospects over the last few years. Further, the additions of Jon Merrill, Alex Urbom and Mark Fayne have increased the potential potency of its blue line. Finally, there are many depth forwards within the organization who will be able to play third-line roles. Weaknesses: The Devils do not have an heir apparent to Martin Brodeur within the organization. Junior netminders Maxime Clermont and Scott Wedgewood both have backup potential, but elite goaltending potential is needed within the organization. Top 5 Prospects: 1. Jon Merrill, D, 2. Mattias Tedenby, LW, 3. Jacob Josefson, C, 4. Alexander Urbom, D, 5. Brandon Burlon, D. Lost to graduation: Mark Fraser, Vladimir Zharkov.
16. Ottawa Senators
Strengths: Defensive depth is the name of the game for the Ottawa Senators. Jared Cowen and David Rundblad lead the pack as two cornerstones that provide uniquely contrasting styles. Rundblad had a sensational season in the Swedish Elite League scoring at a remarkable pace. Patrick Weinroch and Eric Gryba are two former NCAA defenders who’ve completed their first full seasons in the AHL. The Senators also have a variety of two-way forwards who are close to competing for a regular NHL job. Weaknesses: Robin Lehner gives the Senators a reason for hope between the pipes, but there is no depth in goal after him. Despite the great breadth of forward talent, there does not appear to be any with game-breaking talent. Top 5 Prospects: 1. David Rundblad, D, 2. Jared Cowen, D, 3. Robin Lehner, G, 4. Jakob Silfverberg, C, 5. Patrick Wiercioch, D. Lost to Graduation: Zack Smith.
Strengths: Brett Connolly is an elite prospect with game-breaking potential. The organization also has a lot of solid secondary scoring talent such Johan Harju, Richard Panik, and Carter Ashton. There is solid defensive depth led by puck-movers Mark Barberio and Adam Janosik. Dustin Tokarski headlines an underrated group of goaltending prospects. Weaknesses: The defensive pool does not have much in the way of big-bodied blueliners. Most of the top-end prospects such as Ashton or Panik are still several years away from contributing at the NHL level. Barberio and Janosik are both promising puck-moving defensemen, but are still young and inexperienced. Top 5 Prospects: 1. Brett Connolly, C, 2. Carter Ashton, RW, 3. Richard Panik, RW, 4. Johan Harju, LW, 5. James Wright, C. Lost to graduation: Dana Tyrell. Lost to trade: Juraj Simek.
18. Dallas Stars
Strengths: One of the top goaltending prospects in hockey, Jack Campbell had a rough developmental year, but still has a bright future. Alex Chiasson, Scott Glennie, Reilly Smith, and Tomas Vincour, who looked impressive with the big club this season in a limited role that grew as the year went on, lead a solid group of wingers. Weaknesses: Save for puck-mover Philip Larsen and hulking lynchpin Patrik Nemeth, the blue line group is unimpressive. There is no dependable high-end talent up front, with skill types such as the maligned Perttu Lindgren being a rarity. Goaltending is lacking in depth and could be a major concern if Campbell fails to pan out. Top 5 Prospects: 1. Jack Campbell, G, 2. Philip Larsen, D, 3. Alex Chiasson, RW, 4. Scott Glennie, RW, 5. Reilly Smith, RW.
19. Phoenix Coyotes
Strengths: The Coyotes biggest strength is without question their blue line which is loaded with young defensemen who are quickly developing into players that are approaching NHL caliber. Oliver Ekman-Larsson played in 48 games this year for Phoenix and remains one of the top defensive prospects in hockey, while the likes of Maxim Goncharov, Chris Summers, Michael Stone and 2010 first-round pick Brandon Gormley give Phoenix a group of defenders that is as impressive as any team in the league. The crease is also looking solid with Mark Visentin, Mike Lee and Louis Domingue all posting excellent seasons in net this year. Weaknesses: Although they are starting to improve, the overall depth of talent at forward has to be considered an organizational weakness at this point. High-scoring winger Brett MacLean remains the club’s top prospect up front but after him is a considerable drop-off. Top 5 Prospects: 1. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, G, 2. Brett MacLean, LW, 3. Brandon Gormley, D, 4. Chris Summers, D, 5. David Schlemko, D.
Strengths: The strength of the Canadiens system comes from their depth on forward and defense. With the amount of injuries that have hit the roster over the year, the depth in the system has assured the competitiveness of the NHL squad. The graduation of P.K. Subban and Lars Eller have shocked the system a bit, but it still boasts a good range of future NHLers. Weaknesses: While goaltending is certainly not a primary concern for the parent club due to Carey Price, the Canadiens still lack strong goaltending depth. The need for high-end skilled forwards that can step into top-six roles with the club is also an area that requires focus. A shot in the arm of top-nine forwards with grit would also be beneficial. Top 5 Prospects: 1. Danny Kristo, RW, 2. Louis Leblanc, C, 3. Jarred Tinordi, D, 4. Yannick Weber, D, 5. Aaron Palushaj, RW. Lost to Graduation: P.K. Subban, Lars Eller, Tom Pyatt.