25. Minnesota Wild (25)
Strengths: The Minnesota Wild have two top forward prospects in Boston College right wing Alex Tuch and 2015 first round pick Joel Eriksson Ek, an 18-year-old Swedish center who is currently playing for Farjestad in the SHL. At the moment, those two appear to be the only clear-cut elite prospects in the system. Minnesota does have several players working their way through the college ranks. Defensemen Mike Reilly and Gustav Olofsson are skating for AHL affiliate Iowa and are the top two defensive prospects. Goalie Kaapo Kahkonen has impressed for the struggling Espoo Blues in Finland’s Liiga and played well when it counted for gold medla-winning Finland at the 2016 World Junior Championship.
Weaknesses: The Wild have depth in terms of the number of players with the potential to one day play in the NHL, but other than Tuch and Eriksson Ek, there does not appear to be a lot of high-end potential. Forwards Raphael Bussieres, Mario Lucia, and Brett Bulmer — all former second round draft picks — have never reached the level their potential suggested. After Kahkonen, the goaltending in the system appears limited.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Alex Tuch, RW; 2. Joel Eriksson Ek, C; 3. Mike Reilly, D; 4. Gustav Olofsson, D; 5. Jordan Greenway, LW
Key Additions: Joel Eriksson Ek (Draft), Mike Reilly (Free agent), Jordan Greenway (Draft), Kirill Kaprizov (Draft)
Key Losses: Matt Dumba (Graduation)
24. Carolina Hurricanes (28)
Strengths: With a new focus on rebuilding, allowing prospects time to develop rather than rushing them to the pros, the Carolina Hurricanes are on the right path. Management started restocking the system from the back end and have done well gathering promising defensemen. Noah Hanifin is the headliner and a future star on the blue line. Despite being an 18-year old, he has not looked out of place in the NHL. Trevor Carrick, Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce are other defenders on the rise in the pros. Down the pipeline, Haydn Fleury is a top-pairing defenseman who can provide an offensive punch. Of the forward positions, left wing is in good shape with a balance of talented scorers like Sebastian Aho, to two-way players like Phil Di Giuseppe.
Weaknesses: The Hurricanes rebuilding has done well to strengthen the defense but the forwards need more attention. The concern is on right wing where there are only two players at that position. Center could use more help as Joakim Nordstrom and Lucas Wallmark are the only two players that have shown potential. Goaltending has improved with Alex Nedeljkovic and Callum Booth in juniors, but there are no immediate options in case Carolina’s goaltending situation becomes dire.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Noah Hanifin, D; 2. Haydn Fleury, D; 3. Sebastian Aho, LW; 4. Alex Nedeljkovic, G; 5. Jaccob Slavin, D
Key Additions: Noah Hanifin (Draft), Sebastian Aho (Draft),
Key Losses: Victor Rask (Graduation)
23. San Jose Sharks (23)
Strengths: The San Jose Sharks have a trio of exciting defensemen in Mirco Mueller, Julius Bergman and 2015 second-round pick Jeremy Roy. There is also significant depth behind those three, so San Jose should be set at defense for the foreseeable future. The Sharks have added several offensively-gifted forwards in the past couple of years after relying on veterans at the NHL level and neglecting the system for a few seasons. Timo Meier and Nikolay Goldobin, the Sharks’ last two first-round picks, are exciting young players while Kelowna’s Rourke Chartier has the look of a late-round gold nugget. Joonas Donskoi, signed as a free agent after winning back-to-back championships in Finland with Karpat Oulu, is playing for the Sharks as a 23-year-old rookie.
Weaknesses: The Sharks acquired Martin Jones from Boston over the summer in hopes that the 25-year-old was ready to be a full-time starter. The results have been mixed so far. San Jose has seven goalies in their system behind Jones and veteran Alex Stalock at the NHL level, but at this point none appear to be certain NHL starters. In terms of forward depth, San Jose appears a lot deeper on the wings than at center.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Timo Meier, RW; 2. Nikolay Goldobin, RW; 3. Mirco Mueller, D; 4. Jeremy Roy, D; 5. Joonas Donskoi, RW
Key Additions: Timo Meier (Draft), Jeremy Roy (Draft), Joonas Donskoi (Free agent), Nikita Jevpalovs (Free agent)
Key Losses: Chris Tierney (Graduation), Sean Kuraly (Trade – BOS)
22. St. Louis Blues (17)
Strengths: The St. Louis Blues are strong down the middle, both with high-end center and defensive prospects. Though the organization has just four centers, they happen to be Ivan Barbashev, Robby Fabbri, Glenn Gawdin and Adam Musil, all of whom have legitimate top-nine potential. Defenseman Colton Parayko has surprised many as a viable top-four option in his rookie season, while Jordan Schmaltz, Tommy Vannelli and Vince Dunn all give reason to believe that the Blues defensive corps will be strong for years to come.
Weaknesses: St. Louis doesn’t have many promising prospects on the wing, partly due to the fact they haven’t selected inside the top 20 since 2010 when they took Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko at 14th and 16th overall. Ty Rattie was a prolific scorer in junior but has failed to crack the Blues lineup on a consistent basis. There are a few wingers playing in the NCAA that might carve out a career, but none that might fill a scoring-line role.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Robby Fabbri, C; 2. Ivan Barbashev, C; 3. Jordan Binnington, G; 4. Ty Rattie, RW; 5. Colton Parayko, D
Key Additions: Vince Dunn (Draft), Adam Musil (Draft), Pheonix Copley (Trade – WSH)
Key Losses: Dmitrij Jaskin (Graduation), Jani Hakanpaa (Not re-signed)
21. Ottawa Senators (26)
Strengths: While the Ottawa Senators are playing Nick Paul exclusively at center in Binghamton, the team also drafted Colin White and Filip Chlapik in 2015, giving them terrific depth up the middle. The Senators also have a large group of capable defenders, although we may not see any of them in the NHL for a few years. Matt O’Connor, Marcus Hogberg, Joey Daccord and Chris Driedger ensure that the team won’t lack for goaltending depth for a long time. Meanwhile, Francis Perron, Filip Ahl and White are having incredible seasons in their respective leagues.
Weaknesses: Although the Senators had a solid group of players graduate to the AHL this season, none of them have adjusted particularly well. Tobias Lindberg and Nick Paul started strong, but had long point droughts in November. Defenseman Ben Harpur in particular has had difficulty, with his -13 rating being the worst on the Binghamton roster. Matt Puempel and Shane Prince have both fallen out of favour in Ottawa due to inconsistent play, prompting Dave Cameron to move Mark Borowiecki to forward in their place. Unfortunately, the best players in Ottawa’s system are years away from the NHL.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Thomas Chabot, D; 2. Colin White, C; 3. Nick Paul, C; 4. Matt Puempel, LW; 5. Filip Chlapik, C
Key Additions: Thomas Chabot (Draft), Colin White (Draft), Matt O’Connor (Free agent), Gabriel Gagne (Draft), Filip Chlapik (Draft)
Key Losses: Andrew Hammond (Graduation), Jean-Gabriel Pageau (Graduation), Chris Wideman (Graduation)
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