A team with a handful of prospects possessing some good, long-term upside tops the 21-30 group of the latest Hockey’s Future NHL Team Rankings, which ranks the NHL clubs on the basis of the quality of their prospect depth.
The bottom third of what has turned into the Winter, 2016 version of this list features a few teams that are among the top clubs in the NHL at the midseason point, plus a few more teams that are not strangers to the lower reaches of this list. Eight of the 10 teams in the 21-30 range this time around were also sitting in this range when this list was last released.
In terms of the conference breakdown, five teams from the both the Eastern and Western Conferences landed in this group, with four teams coming from the Metropolitan Division, three from the Central Division, two from the Pacific Division, and one from the Atlantic Division.
Here, then, are the NHL teams ranked 21 through 30 in the Winter edition of the 2015-16 Team Rankings.
30. Colorado Avalanche (29)
Strengths: In terms of depth, the Colorado Avalanche boast solid depth on defense in terms of prospects. The trio of Brandon Gormley, Chris Bigras and Duncan Siemens are projected as top-four defenders developing in the AHL. They may become the anchors of Colorado’s defense in the future, although Gormley’s future is somewhat cloudy after he recently passed through waivers. Top prospect Mikko Rantanen is quickly learning the pro game in the AHL. He is not flashy but is an effective scorer that gets the job done. There are also underrated forwards like Conner Bleackley and J.T. Compher who are skilled, two-way players that can contribute in all three zones. Goaltending is a strength, especially in Calvin Pickard who has shown growth following a short stint in the NHL last season.
Weaknesses: Colorado has many prospects who could fill bottom-six roles in the NHL, but the organization is low on high-end, skilled prospects. The wings are lacking depth and the centers leave much to be desired.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Mikko Rantanen, RW; 2. Chris Bigras, D; 3. Calvin Pickard, G; 4. Conner Bleackley, C/RW; 5. Nicolas Meloche, D
Key Additions: Mikko Rantanen, RW (Draft)
Key Losses: Stefan Elliott, D (Trade – ARI)
29. New Jersey Devils (30)
Strengths: Under new management, the New Jersey Devils‘ system has seen an overall uptick in performance. Center is the deepest position, starting with top prospect Pavel Zacha. The Czech Republic native is the first potential star forward the Devils have had in some time. Joe Blandisi, Blake Coleman, and John Quenneville represent the Devils’ identity of two-way forwards who can contribute at both ends of the rink. While Reid Boucher and Stefan Matteau are getting the chance to show their worth in the pros, Miles Wood is having a breakout season with Boston College. Defense remains a strength, with the defensive-minded Steve Santini and offensive-minded Joshua Jacobs progressing well. The rest of the group provide a specific role that could help shore up the second and third pairings. Goaltending was redeveloped and strengthened over the summer with the additions of Mackenzie Blackwood and Ken Appleby.
Weaknesses: The forward group is limited on top-tier scorers. The number of boom-or-bust prospects has decreased under new management, but a few still remain. Right wing remains a concern with Connor Chatham being the only dedicated player at that position. The defensive pool has started to thin out due to graduation.
Top 5 Prospects: Pavel Zacha, C; 2. Steve Santini, D; 3. Mackenzie Blackwood, G; 4. Reid Boucher, LW; 5. Blake Coleman, C
Key Additions: Pavel Zacha, C (Draft) Mackenzie Blackwood, G (Draft)
Key Losses: Damon Severson, D (Graduation)
28. Pittsburgh Penguins (19)
Strengths: The Pittsburgh Penguins don’t have much to boast about, but Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry both have potential in goal (Murray in particular). Daniel Sprong, taken in the 2015 NHL Draft, livened up a right side that was largely made up of role-players beforehand, but he has now been returned to the Charlottetown Islanders of the QMJHL. Derrick Pouliot should be an All-Star one day, but he has yet to get into the NHL lineup this season (he spent 34 games in Pittsburgh during the 2014-15 season).
Weaknesses: For the first time in years, the Penguins are having trouble scoring goals. Even more troubling is the lack of help on the way. Aside from Sprong, the Penguins do not have any wingers that have the potential to become goal-scorers in the NHL anytime soon (if ever). NCAA forwards Jake Guentzel and Teddy Blueger could provide scoring help someday, but they will need at least a year or two of conditioning in the AHL before they are ready to contribute. Aside from Derrick Pouliot and Brian Dumoulin, there is a severe lack of NHL talent on the back end. Pittsburgh’s scouting staff has their work cut out for them this year, and in the near future.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Derrick Pouliot, D; 2. Daniel Sprong, RW; 3. Matt Murray, G; 4. Oskar Sundqvist, C; 5. Brian Dumoulin, D
Key Additions: Daniel Sprong (Draft)
Key Losses: Scott Harrington (Trade – TOR), Kasperi Kapanen (Trade – TOR)
27. New York Rangers (27)
Strengths: The New York Rangers have two of the top young goaltending prospects in 2014 draft picks Brandon Halverson and Igor Shestyorkin. Pavel Buchnevich is the leading scorer for Cherepovets Severstal in the KHL as a 20-year-old. Seattle Thunderbirds forward Ryan Gropp and Finnish center Aleksi Saarela also have scoring ability. Oscar Lindberg, thought to be organizational depth at the start of the season, has put up points at a surprising pace as an NHL rookie. Former Minnesota Golden Gopher Brady Skjei is in his first season of pro hockey with AHL affiliate Hartford and is the Rangers’ top defensive prospect. Skjei’s Wolfpack teammate, Ryan Graves, also shows promise at that position.
Weaknesses: New York’s depth chart drops significantly after its top tier prospects. With the push to win a Stanley Cup, the Rangers have not had a first-round pick since 2012 and have used several other picks and prospects to acquire veteran talent. The AHL roster in Hartford consists primarily of older minor league veterans with few genuine NHL prospects. While there are a few quality prospects in junior, college and Europe, few are of the high-end variety.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Pavel Buchnevich, LW; 2. Brady Skjei, D; 3. Igor Shestyorkin, G; 4. Brandon Halverson, G; 5. Ryan Graves, D.
Key Additions: Ryan Gropp (Draft), Magnus Hellberg (Trade – NSH), Robin Kovacs (Draft), Brad Morrison (Draft), Aleksi Saarela (Draft)
Key Losses: Conor Allen (Not re-signed)
26. Los Angeles Kings (24)
Strengths: The Los Angeles Kings have a fairly hefty number of role players, grinders, and players with a loaded toolbox and a developing ability to potentially use those tools. But outside of the big boys like Mike Mersch, Nick Shore, Adrian Kempe, and Valentin Zykov, the Kings have a glut of aggressive, mobile defensemen and two-way forwards. Mike Amadio is developing extremely well at the junior level, and players like Kevin Gravel, Nick Ebert, Zach Leslie, and Alex Lintuniemi are attempting to refine their wealth of skills at the pro level. They also have a decent amount of center depth with Amadio and Nic Dowd stepping forward.
Weaknesses: The Kings have no blue chip prospects, and therein lies the real knock on their system. They have not one single game-breaking talent. There is not a great deal of meat in this sandwich, but there are plenty of condiments, and decent ones at that. But without a few, true-blue killer prospects, it is hard to separate the Kings from the mid- to low-tier teams. Their goaltending pipeline is nearly non-existent.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Adrian Kempe, W; 2. Michael Mersch, W; 3. Valentin Zykov, W; 4. Derek Forbort, D; 5. Alex Lintuniemi
Key Additions: Erik Cernak (Draft)
Key Losses: Nick Shore (Graduation), J.F. Berube (Waivers – NYI), Colin Miller (Trade – BOS), Roland McKeown (Trade – CAR), Jordan Weal (Trade – PHI)