They may have been one of the lowly clubs in the 2014-15 season, but the Arizona Coyotes appear to have a bright future as evidenced by their top showing in the Hockey’s Future ranking of the prospect depth of each NHL organization.
To be sure, the choice of the Coyotes wasn’t an easy one. Due in part to a spate of recent deep draft pools with high-end talent towards the top, several teams have built up impressive groups of prospects through the NHL Draft as well as through some shrewd trading. An argument could certainly be made for a handful of the top 10 teams being a worthy selection for the top slot; but in the end, the staff went with a Coyotes’ organization that has some solid prospects even beyond the top 10, as well as high-end talent that would be at the head of many teams’ prospect lists.
Based on this latest edition of the team rankings, it looks like the Atlantic Division will eventually be a tough division to both compete in and against as four of the top 10 teams hail from that division. Including the Coyotes, the Pacific Division placed three teams in the top group, while the Central Division landed two places and the Metropolitan Division one.
Below is the top 10 NHL prospect pools in the Winter edition of the 2015-16 NHL Team Rankings.
10. Anaheim Ducks (3)
Strengths: The Anaheim Ducks possess a wonderful group of high-end talent in their pipeline as there is a lot to like between the likes of John Gibson, Shea Theodore, Brandon Montour, Nick Ritchie, and Nic Kerdiles. In the 2015 NHL Draft, the Ducks added Jacob Larsson and Julius Nattinen to an already deep group. They have at least one elite prospect at every position, and all have true NHL potential and skills.
Weaknesses: The problem the Ducks run into once you get past those top players is that the dip in talent is noticeable. There are few middle-ground players that look promising, while players like Kevin Roy, Deven Sideroff, and Nick Sorensen all have heavy questions surrounding key aspects of their games. Overall, it is an hourglass-shaped system, with plenty of lovely top end players, but a lot of players that leave much to be desired.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Shea Theodore, D; 2. John Gibson, G; 3. Nick Ritchie, LW; 4. Brandon Montour, D; 5. Nic Kerdiles, LW
Key Additions: Julius Nattinen (Draft), Jacob Larsson (Draft)
Key Losses: Chris Wagner (Waivers – COL), Max Friberg (Trade – MTL)
9. Detroit Red Wings (4)
Strengths: The Detroit Red Wings have impressive depth at every position, particularly on the wings. Among the 17 winger prospects, there are seven or eight that could see time in the NHL soon or have already had a cup of coffee with the top club. On defense, the Wings added to their depth with the free agent signing of Robbie Russo, who failed to sign with the New York Islanders. Russo joins free agent signing Joe Hicketts and borderline NHL defenders Ryan Sproul and Xavier Ouellet.
Weaknesses: Detroit has four goaltending prospects, but none are particularly highly regarded. That said, recent performances suggest some of the Wings goaltenders might be developing at a good pace as Jared Coreau has looked good in Grand Rapids this season and last, and Jake Paterson is handling the rigors of pro life. The Wings are a little shallow down the middle, particularly once Dylan Larkin graduates from prospect status. Dominic Turgeon and Louis-Marc Aubry are both 6’4” and 210+ pounds, but don’t have the talent to become a top-six center at the NHL level.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Dylan Larkin, C; 2. Teemu Pulkkinen, RW; 3. Evgeny Svechnikov, LW; 4. Anthony Mantha, RW; 5. Ryan Sproul, D
Key Additions: Evgeny Svechnikov (Draft), Vili Saarijarvi (Draft), Robbie Russo (Free agent)
Key Losses: Petr Mrazek (Graduation), Mattias Janmark (Trade – DAL), Mattias Backman (Trade – DAL)
8. New York Islanders (2)
Strengths: The New York Islanders remain deep across the board thanks to the productiveness of their prospects. The best new addition for the team is Matthew Barzal, who has already made an impression with his strong play in 2015-16. Michael Dal Colle has had an inauspicious season but he should nevertheless be battling for an NHL job next season. Defense remains the strongest unit in the system with Ryan Pulock, Scott Mayfield, and Adam Pelech waiting in the AHL for an opportunity. They have each grown in their respective roles and have seen some NHL ice time already. Behind them is a large pool of defenders that can fill any role the team needs filled. Between the pipes, the goaltending pool is in good hands with Ilya Sorokin, Stephon Williams and Linus Soderstrom.
Weaknesses: Talent has thinned out at forward due to consistent graduation classes, but some players that remain in the system have not developed as originally predicted. For example, Griffin Reinhart was passed on the depth chart and became trade bait. A few of these prospects were high risk/reward and it remains to be seen if they will reach their potential. Josh Ho-Sang and Sebastian Collberg are two examples. There is not much grit amongst the current forward corp, and the wings lack depth.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Michael Dal Colle, LW; 2. Ryan Pulock, D; 3. Matthew Barzal, C; 4. Anthony Beauvillier, LW; 5. Josh Ho-Sang, RW
Key Additions: Matthew Barzal, C (Draft), Anthony Beauvillier (Draft)
Key Losses: Griffin Reinhart (Trade – EDM)
7. Edmonton Oilers
Strengths: The Edmonton Oilers have had the first overall pick in four of the last six drafts, including last June when they selected center Connor McDavid. McDavid, currently out with an injury, made the jump directly from the OHL to Edmonton. Darnell Nurse, a recent first-round pick prior to McDavid, is also in his first full season with the Oilers. That duo gives Edmonton as talented a group of top prospects as any organization, and the recently graduated Leon Draisaitl just adds to that impressive, young talent. Anton Slepyshev scored 15 goals for Ufa Salavat in the KHL in 2014-15 and is shuffling between Edmonton and AHL affiliate Bakersfield in his first season in North America. Defenseman Brandon Davidson has been solid as a rookie after three seasons of minor league hockey. Rarely tested during his junior career with the powerful Edmonton Oil Kings, third-year pro Laurent Brossoit has shown steady progress and is the team’s top goaltending prospect.
Weaknesses: With so many young players already making the Oilers roster, there are few high-end prospects in the minors. The AHL affiliate in Bakersfield consists largely of energetic, power forward-type prospects and several veterans on defense. Edmonton currently has eight goalies either drafted or signed but at this point none appear to have the makings of an elite NHL starter.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Connor McDavid, C; 2. Darnell Nurse, D; 3. Griffin Reinhart; 4. Laurent Brossoit, G; 5. Jujhar Khaira, LW
Key Additions: Connor McDavid (Draft), Griffin Reinhart (Trade – NYI), Caleb Jones (Draft), Ethan Bear (Draft).
Key Losses: Liam Coughlin (Trade – CHI), Leon Draisaitl (Graduation)
6. Tampa Bay Lightning (7)
Strengths: An amazing aspect of the Tampa Bay Lightning prospect base is that they have at least one player at every position that could play top-six or first-pairing minutes in the NHL. Andrei Vasilevskiy, because of injuries, has yet to graduate from prospect status and he remains one of the top young goaltenders in hockey. Both Anthony DeAngelo and Slater Koekkoek, who are very different in terms of their skill sets, look to have promising careers ahead of them. The Lightning boast decent wingers in Adam Erne, Dennis Yan and Cristiano DiGiacinto, all of whom play with an edge, but it is the depth at center that is most impressive. The Lightning selected Mitchell Stephens and Anthony Cirelli in the 2015 draft, adding to an already strong crop that includes Matthew Peca, Tanner Richard, and Brayden Point, one of the top offensive players in junior hockey.
Weaknesses: It is not easy to sift through the Lightning’s prospect group and find a weakness. They have depth in skill, size, strength and intriguing prospects at all positions. If there is one position that might draw concern, it is left wing. Yan, Henri Ikonen and DiGiacinto are all quality NHL prospects, but have skating concerns. Their most talented prospect on the left side is Nikita Gusev, but the Russian has shown no signs that he might soon come to North America.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Andrei Vasilevskiy, G; 2. Anthony DeAngelo, D; 3. Slater Koekkoek, D; 4. Nikita Nesterov, D; 5. Adam Erne, RW
Key Additions: Dennis Yan (Draft), Mitchell Stephens (Draft), Matthew Spencer (Draft)
Key Losses: Jonathan Drouin (Graduation), Cédric Paquette (Graduation)