Below is the middle section Hockey’s Future’s NHL Team Rankings. The teams are ranked in terms of the quality of their overall prospect pool as voted on by the staff of Hockey's Future. 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, with the second scheduled to be published in the Spring.
The middle group of the rankings features several teams who were particularly active during the 2012 NHL Draft. In general, the teams in the middle rankings are all fairly successful organizations who have an overall solid group of prospects, but possess few if any players with elite potential. Or if the team does possess an elite prospect or two, there are concerns about the overall quality of the prospect pool, particularly in terms of depth.
11. Anaheim Ducks
Strengths: Goaltending and scoring talent are the primary strengths of the Ducks system, and the organization is well-balanced with skill and depth at all positions. John Gibson leads the goaltending prospects and has the potential to become a clear NHL starter in the not-too-distant future. Kyle Palmieri and Emerson Etem give Anaheim authentic scoring potential from the right wing, and others such as Devante Smith-Pelly, Rickard Rakell, and Peter Holland all look like future NHL regulars or better. There is skill at defense as well, with 2012 first-round pick Hampus Lindholm as the system’s top prospect at the back end. Sami Vatanen has thus far experienced a seamless transition to North American hockey and has plenty of offensive potential at the NHL level.
Weaknesses: Scarcity of scorers on the left wing is a problem. Although Smith-Pelly looks like he will be an NHL forward, the Ducks lack quality and depth on the left wing. On defense, past Lindholm and Vatanen, the remaining defensemen in the system are either projects or lack upside.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Kyle Palmieri, RW; 2. Emerson Etem, RW; 3. Sami Vatanen, D; 4. Rickard Rakell, RW; 5. Peter Holland, C.
Lost to Free Agency: Justin Schultz.
12. Pittsburgh Penguins
Strengths: The Penguins boast one of the deepest and most talented groups of defensive prospects in the NHL, led by former first round picks Simon Despres, Joe Morrow, Olli Maatta, and Derrick Pouliot. The team has also amassed a large amount of offensively talented forward prospects, particularly at the NCAA level. Many of the prospects playing for their AHL affiliate, such as Eric Tangradi and Robert Bortuzzo, are close to NHL ready.
Weaknesses: Goaltending remains a weakness in the system though the need for a high-end goaltending prospect is not a top priority with Marc-Andre Fleury and Tomas Vokoun on the NHL roster. Despite the presence of many promising forwards in the prospect pool, a lot of them are long-term projects.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Joe Morrow, D; 2. Simon Despres, D; 3. Derrick Pouliot, D; 4. Beau Bennett, RW; 5. Olli Maatta, D.
13. Buffalo Sabres
Strengths: The Buffalo Sabres have taken a patient approach to developing their prospects and are now reaping the rewards, with players like Marcus Foligno and Brayden McNabb on the cusp of being NHL ready. The organization has vastly improved their center depth with the additions of Mikhail Grigorenko and Zemgus Girgensons at the 2012 Draft. Buffalo's greatest strength however has to be their defense, which has solid depth, good puck-movers, and many NHL ready prospects.
Weaknesses: Though the Sabres have two talented wingers in Foligno and Joel Armia, there is a considerable drop in talent past them. They have several solid goaltending prospects, though none at this point project as NHL starters.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Mikhail Grigorenko, C, 2. Joel Armia, RW, 3. Zemgus Girgensons, C, 4. Brayden McNabb, D, 5. Mark Pysyk, D.
Added: Andrey Makarov.
14. Dallas Stars
Strengths: Ever improving quality backed with a sea of useful and versatile depth, the Stars possess an impressive prospect pool. On the wings, top talents such as Reilly Smith, Alex Guptill, and Brett Ritchie have shown a lot of promise. Another pillar of strength is their eclectic blue line, featuring a couple of load-bearers like Jamie Oleksiak and Patrik Nemeth and guys with bigger offensive upsides such as Ludvig Bystrom. The center depth is on the rise, as it has been a focus of management’s attention recently. They also have a blue chip prospect in goal with Jack Campbell.
Weaknesses: While the Stars recently invested a few draft picks into natural centers and acquired Cody Eakin from Washington, it is not yet clear how much they will actually supplement their professional ranks. Below Jack Campbell, who struggled in juniors, there is not a ton of promise as of yet. Efforts to replace the venerable Sergei Zubov have yielded disappointing results to date.
Added: Cody Eakin.
15. Phoenix Coyotes
Strengths: The strength of the Coyotes organization is easy to spot. Six of their top 10 prospects play defense, and at least two of them, Brandon Gormley and David Rundblad, have top-four potential at the NHL level. Although Louis Domingue has seen his share of struggles along the way, he and Mark Visentin combine to form a good core for the goaltender group. The forwards in the system have a nice combination of toughness and two-way energy in players such as Henrik Samuelsson, Lucas Lessio, and Andy Miele, all of whom could eventually make an impact for the Coyotes.
Weaknesses: There is a severe shortage of skilled forwards, particularly scorers. The organization lacks balance and depth beyond their remarkable collection of defenders.
Lost to Trade: Harrison Ruopp, Marc Cheverie.
16. Nashville Predators
Strengths: The Predators have quantity and quality of depth prospects that are well suited for play at the NHL level like Ryan Ellis, Roman Josi, Jonathon Blum, Gabriel Bourque and many others. Nashville has stockpiled many two-way players who can move up into the NHL if needed. The organization always has other prospects making their way up the organizational depth chart that can be plugged into their NHL team system.
Weaknesses: The biggest weakness of the Predators is that the team lacks high-end offensive forwards. Nashville also has a lack of depth on the right wing but can still plug the holes with other forwards.
17. New York Rangers
Strengths: The Rangers have focused on building a team based on speed over the last five years. Top prospect Chris Kreider was one of the fastest skaters in the NHL during last season's playoffs. New York continues to add defensive prospects, and although several of the young players have graduated to the NHL, the organization continues to have a strong corps along the blue line.
Weaknesses: The Rangers' NHL number one goaltender, Henrik Lundqvist, is one of the best netminders in the league, however, New York has not been able to either draft or sign a successor to groom for the position. Additionally, there is no potential first line center within the system.
Lost to Graduation: Carl Hagelin.
Lost to Trade: Tim Erixon.
18. Washington Capitals
Strengths: The Capitals boast an impressive trio of forwards with elite potential in Yevgeni Kuznetsov, Filip Forsberg, and Tom Wilson. They also have a proven young goaltender with NHL playoff experience in Braden Holtby and substantial depth in net. The organization has done a good job of stockpiling physical, depth forwards.
Weaknesses: Past the top five prospects in their system, most of the Capitals prospects possess either limited upside or are long-term projects. Kuznetsov’s seemingly lukewarm interest in playing in North America slightly diminishes his overall value as a prospect. There is not much skill at the defensive position either, though that is a byproduct of many recent graduations.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Yevgeni Kuznetsov, RW; 2. Braden Holtby, G; 3. Filip Forsberg, LW; 4. Stanislav Galiev, LW; 5. Tom Wilson, RW.
Lost to Graduation: Dmitri Orlov.
Lost to Trade: Cody Eakin.
19. Boston Bruins
Strengths: The Bruins high-end prospects match very well against the rest of the league. With an elite prospect like Dougie Hamilton leading the charge for defense, first round pick Malcolm Subban in net, and skilled forwards Ryan Spooner and Alexander Khokhlachev at forward, the Bruins feature a well-balanced top group of prospects.
Weaknesses: The talent at forward drops off rather considerably after the high-end guys, but given the Bruins fairly young NHL roster, that should not be a huge concern organizationally. Similarly, after Hamilton on the defensive depth chart, there is a noticeable drop in talent.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Dougie Hamilton, D; 2. Malcolm Subban, G; 3. Ryan Spooner, LW; 4. Alexander Khokhlachev, C; 5. Jared Knight, RW.
Added: Niklas Svedberg.
20. Toronto Maple Leafs
Strengths: Morgan Rielly leads a strong group of defensive prospects that also includes Matt Finn, Jesse Blacker, and Stuart Percy. In addition, they have a handful of skilled forwards with NHL experience like Nazem Kadri, Joe Colborne, and Carter Ashton.
Weaknesses: Many of the forwards are third and fourth line prospects, who have more grittiness than offensive skill. Additionally, Toronto has a fluid situation in net, both on the NHL level, as well as down the pipeline. The strongest netminder in the system is Mark Owuya, but he is off to a very slow start this season and may go the way of many highly touted Maple Leafs' goaltending prospects of the recent past.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Morgan Rielly, D; 2. Nazem Kadri, C; 3. Joe Colborne, C; 4. Jesse Blacker, D; 5. Matt Finn, D.
Previous Rankings: 21-30