Below is the top-10 section of 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.
While the rankings on the whole were difficult to come to a consensus on, the top section was probably the most troublesome. Unlike in previous years, there was no clear favorite for the number one spot. The top three ranked teams all have prospects with superstar potential and strong depth at every position. Beyond the top three, some teams are on the rise after successful off-seasons, while the other groups that round out the top-10 strike a balance between strong depth and high-end talent.
1. Minnesota Wild
Strengths: The Minnesota Wild have spent several years rebuilding their system and now boast one of the deepest, most talented group of prospects in the NHL. Leading their system is potential star Mikael Granlund. Behind Granlund there are a multitude of talented, offensively minded forwards that includes Charlie Coyle, Zack Phillips, and Jason Zucker. They also have a very talented group of two-way forwards that includes Johan Larsson, Brett Bulmer, and Erik Haula. Leading the defense are puck-moving defensemen Jonas Brodin and Mathew Dumba. The Wild also have very good goaltending prospects in Matt Hackett and Darcy Kuemper.
Weaknesses: Beyond Dumba and Brodin, the defensive talent is average. Though there are several promising wingers, the organization could probably use more depth at wing.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Mikael Granlund, C; 2. Jonas Brodin, D; 3. Charlie Coyle, C; 4. Mathew Dumba, D; 5. Johan Larsson, C.
2. Florida Panthers
Strengths: The Panthers are loaded with NHL talent at forward, defense, and in goal. They are extremely deep at center, with Nick Bjugstad, Jonathan Huberdeau, Rocco Grimaldi, Kyle Rau, and Drew Shore, all showing great promise. Many of their top center prospects are also very versatile and able to play the wing. On defense, Colby Robak and Alex Petrovic provide size, grit, and two-way play from the back end. The Panthers filled a need for a pure offensive blue line talent over the summer by drafting Mike Matheson 23rd overall. Jacob Markstrom remains one of the top netminder prospects in the world.
Weaknesses: Many of the prospects in the organization have been added over the past three drafts, meaning that the majority of the team's top prospects are still in their teens and a few years from making an NHL contribution.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Jonathan Huberdeau C/LW; 2. Nick Bjugstad, C; 3. Jacob Markstrom, G; 4. Quinton Howden, LW; 5. Alex Petrovic, D.
3. Edmonton Oilers
Strengths: The Oilers have among the strongest crop of prospects in the NHL. The organization continues to stockpile highly skilled forwards and the addition of Nail Yakupov, the number one selection in the NHL draft this past summer, provides the team with a potential superstar. Notably weak along the blue line in the past, the Oilers are now strong, led by SEL defenseman Oscar Klefbom and free agent signing Justin Schultz.
Weakness: The Oilers' major weakness is in net. There is no clear number one prospect in the system. Neither of the two top goaltending prospects, Olivier Roy and Tyler Bunz, have much experience at the pro level, and it is unclear whether either prospect will ever reach the NHL.
Lost to Graduation: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
Added: Justin Schultz.
4. Ottawa Senators
Strengths: Ottawa has a talented group of talented, versatile forwards led by Mika Zibanejad, Jakob Silfverberg, Stefan Noesen, and Matt Puempel. Further down the depth chart, the Senators have many players with top-nine potential such as Shane Prince, Mark Stone, and Andre Petersson. They also possess a diverse group of defensive prospects led by offensive defenseman Cody Ceci and stay-at-home defenseman Fredrik Claesson. Goaltending prospect Robin Lehner is among the top netminders in the AHL.
Weaknesses: While the organization has several quality goaltending prospects, they are short on depth at that position. The Senators could also stand to add some more depth on the right wing.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Mika Zibanejad, C; 2. Jakob Silfverberg, RW; 3. Robin Lehner, G; 4. Stefan Noesen, RW; 5. Cody Ceci, D.
5. St. Louis Blues
Strengths: The Blues have stocked up on youth for quite some time now and have a lot to show for their efforts. Elite forwards Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz are among the best prospects in the world right now. Ty Rattie and Jani Hakanpaa also project to be quality players. Ian Cole heads a firm and deep blue line that should help back-fill the Blues defense for a while. In net, Jake Allen and Jordan Binnington could suit up for the Blues in the future. Overall, the Blues have a terrifically deep and diverse prospect pool that will help supplement their future NHL lineups and plug holes where necessary.
Weaknesses: The blue line lacks elite punch but there may be some hidden gems underneath the rugged exterior. The Blues, especially when factoring in their current playing style, could probably use some more grinders and defensive forwards in their lower ranks as opposed to longshot, one-dimensional players. The center depth is an intriguing mix, but whether it yields what management is looking for is a question that looms.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Vladimir Tarasenko, RW; 2. Jaden Schwartz, LW; 3. Ty Rattie, RW; 4. Ian Cole, D; 5. Jake Allen, G.
6. New York Islanders
Strengths: The Islanders are strong at both forward and on defense. The team has many potential top six forwards, including Nino Niederreiter, Ryan Strome, Brock Nelson, and Anders Lee. On the blue line, Griffin Reinhart was one of the most talented defensemen available in the 2012 Draft and, when added to prospects Matt Donovan, Ville Pokka (also selected in 2012), Scott Mayfield, and Calvin de Haan, the prospect pool is very deep along the blue line.
Weaknesses: The biggest weakness within the Islanders prospect pool is the fact so many of their players graduate to the NHL at a young age, leaving the organization with few prospects at certain positions. For example, they have among the fewest prospects on the wing of any team in the NHL.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Ryan Strome, C; 2. Griffin Reinhart, D; 3. Matt Donovan, D; 4. Calvin de Haan, D; 5. Brock Nelson, C.
7. Tampa Bay Lightning
Strengths: The Lightning was among the most-improved teams coming out of the 2012 NHL Draft. Slater Koekkoek, limited by injury for much of his draft season, showed enough at the combine for the Lightning to draft the smooth-skating blueliner 10th overall and then another OHL defenseman 30 picks later in Dylan Blujus. The club also made Andrey Vasilevskiy the first goaltender taken in the draft, adding a blue-chipper to a position that had grown weak. Some forward prospects in the organization have top-six potential, most notably Vladislav Namestnikov and Richard Panik.
Weaknesses: The Lightning's prospect pool could use more depth at center, and there are no true goal-scorers in the pipeline either. There is a steep drop-off in talent on defense behind Mark Barberio and the 2012 picks.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Andrey Vasilevskiy, G; 2. Vladislav Namestnikov, C; 3. Richard Panik, RW; 4. Mark Barberio, D; 5. Slater Koekkoek, D.
Added: Artem Sergeev
8. Montreal Canadiens
Strengths: The Montreal Canadiens' greatly improved their organizational prospect pool during the off-season through the draft. The Canadiens have really improved their depth and skill level up the middle of the ice with the additions of the talented Alex Galchenyuk and physical two-way center Brady Vail. The right wing position however is still the most offensively talented prospects of Montreal's talent pool. Defense also remains a great strength of the organization. The left wing, once a weakness in the system, has been dramatically improved with the addition of 2012 NHL Draft picks of Tim Bozon and Charles Hudon.
Weaknesses: The goaltender position is still the weakest of the organizations' positions, with only two young pro prospects at this time, and no depth at lower levels.
9. Chicago Blackhawks
Strengths: The Blackhawks system boasts depth at every position, especially center and on defense. At forward, they balance potential top-six NHL players like Brandon Saad, Teuvo Teravainen, and Brandon Pirri with more versatile players like Phillip Danault, Jimmy Hayes, and Andrew Shaw. There are also high-risk/high-reward prospects like Kyle Beach and Jeremy Morin in the Blackhawks' system. The defense and goaltending pipelines may not possess many surefire NHL players, but the organization has quantity and diversity at each position.
Weaknesses: The lack of a blue-chip goaltending prospect is perhaps the biggest mark against the Blackhawks. The NHL club's tandem of Corey Crawford and Ray Emery was shaky in 2011-12, but whether or not there is any help on the way from the likes of Carter Hutton or Kent Simpson anytime soon is unknown.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Brandon Saad, LW; 2. Teuvo Teravainen, C; 3. Phillip Danault, C; 4. Mark McNeill, C; 5. Brandon Pirri, C.
10. Detroit Red Wings
Strengths: The Red Wings have a balanced and deep prospect pool. Brendan Smith and Gustav Nyquist have put in their time in the minors and are ready for NHL duty, while the next wave including scoring winger Tomas Jurco and goalie Petr Mrazek are making their professional debuts in 2012-13. Skill, hockey sense, and work ethic are the hallmarks of their deep and talented forward pool. There is a steady stream of defenseman at all levels of play, including junior prospects and second-round picks in 2011 Ryan Sproul and Xavier Ouellet each with the potential to crack the Wings' top-four defensemen in the future.
Weaknesses: The organization lacks goaltending depth behind rookie pro Petr Mrazek. Many of Detroit's prospects are boom-or-bust and may not live up to their potential.