The Hockey’s Future Organizational Rankings are an assessment of the overall state of each NHL team’s system of prospects. An overall rank is given, and strengths and weaknesses are identified. The rankings are compiled twice a year by a committee of staff members using Hockey’s Future prospect criteria. For information on individual prospects for each of the NHL teams, please visit the various team, league, or country pages here at Hockey’s Future.
30. Tampa Bay Lightning
Strengths: Although the Lightning again find their pool at the bottom of the barrel, there are some bright spots. The team possesses an impressive contingent of defensemen with considerable size and surprising mobility, headlined by Andy Rogers, Mike Egener, and Matt Smaby. A number of the Lightning’s forwards such as Ryan Craig and Darren Reid should find success as checking forwards, while others like Radek Smolenak, Adam Henrich and Stanislav Lascek have the potential to be more. Gerald Coleman, Vasily Koshechkin and Karri Ramo are intriguing prospects between the pipes.
Weaknesses: Tampa Bay’s weaknesses in their system are obvious — too many question marks, project players and character guys and not enough pure talent or dependable skill. None of these prospects appear to be ready to fill anything more than a supporting role in the NHL. Although the core Lightning players are still young, the team will have to improve their scouting and do more with their draft picks to continue to be competitive over the long run.
Top Five Prospects: Andy Rogers (D), Radek Smolenak (LW), Ryan Craig (C), Vladimir Mihalik (D), Mike Egener (D)
Key Graduates: Paul Ranger (D)
29. Dallas Stars
Strengths: Even with the departure of Shawn Belle and graduation of Trevor Daley, the Stars system is strongest on defense with Matt Niskanen, Niklas Grossman, Mark Fistric, and Johan Fransson possessing pro potential. There are some decent goaltending prospects such as Dan Ellis and Mike Smith in the system, but neither is projected to be a starter at the NHL level. Virtually all of the Stars top prospects are European.
Weaknesses: The Stars system suffers from a lack of skill that is a real concern. There are some promising two-way or defensive prospects but there just isn’t much scoring ability present. With the graduation of Jussi Jokinen and Antti Miettinen there are few worthwhile prospects left at forward.
Top Five Prospects: Loui Eriksson (RW), Matt Niskanen (D), Perttu Lindgren (C), Niklas Grossman (D), Vojtech Polak (D)
Key Graduates: Trevor Daley (D), Jussi Jokinen (C), Antti Miettinen (LW)
28. Calgary Flames
Strengths: With the graduation of Dion Phaneuf, the Calgary Flames lose the star power that was propping up their collection. Much like the big club, the Flames prospects hang their hats on hard work, leadership, and grit. Kris Chucko and Eric Nystrom project to be NHL wingers, with Nystrom close to making the jump. Matt Pelech and Tim Ramholt both have good all-around skills on the blue line and Brent Krahn is starting to perform like the Flames expected when they made him a top 10 pick in 2000.
Weaknesses: The prospects within the Flames organization mirror the professional team in their lack of star power. There seems to be no high-end snipers, nor goal scorers in the organization. The defensive pipeline will need to be restocked as well.
Top Five Prospects: Dustin Boyd (LW), Kris Chucko (LW), Eric Nystrom (C), Brent Krahn (G), Aki Seitsonen (C)
Key Graduates: Dion Phaneuf (D)
27. Philadelphia Flyers
Strengths: The Flyers strength still lies with their forwards, however, the look of the group has taken a decided turn with the graduation of Carter and Richards. The forward corps’ primary strength now is their grit and antagonist ability. Downie, Eager and Cabana relish the shutdown role, and play in-your-face styles of play reminiscent of their present General Manager. Umberger and Potulny, and to a lesser extent, Ruzicka, add scoring punch, showing that, when coupled with their grit, Philadelphia’s forward depth is still strong and deep. This depth is most readily apparent down the middle, with Umberger, Downie, Potulny and Scurko serving as an enviable crop of centers.
Weaknesses: The graduation of Carter and Richards, coupled with the trade of Sharp harms the Flyers offensive depth immensely. Umberger and Potulny are the only real quality offensive talent, and Umberger, too, nears graduation, but scoring from the wings is limited only to Ruzicka. From the blue line on back, the Flyers are dangerously thin. Picard is their only quality defensive prospect at present, and he has impressed with the Phantoms. While Jones, too, has seen a sparse play with the big club, he is more suited for a third-pairing role. In the goaltending department, Beauchemin, Houle and Duchesne are competent, but have to make great strides to become part of the Flyers long-term plans.
Top Five Prospects: R.J. Umberger (C), Steve Downie (C), Alexandre Picard (D), Ryan Potulny (C), Stefan Ruzicka (RW)
Key Graduates: Jeff Carter (C), Mike Richards (C)
26. Vancouver Canucks
Strengths: Although goaltending has long been considered a weakness for the Canucks at the NHL level, the organization has come a long way to improve this flaw. Cory Schneider, Julien Ellis-Plante and Alexandre Vincent provide potential and depth in between the pipes. Most recent first round pick Luc Bourdon is not only the club’s best prospect, but arguably its top blue line prospect since Bryan Allen was drafted in 1998. There is also some depth beyond Bourdon on the blue line, thanks to the emergence of prospects like Kevin Bieksa and Alexander Edler.
Weaknesses: Up front, the organization is extremely thin. This weakness was only further exacerbated by Ryan Kesler’s graduation this season. Jason King and Josef Balej are more suspects at this point, despite flashes of brilliance in the past, and speedster Mason Raymond is not filling the void. Another player whose stock has fallen dramatically is Kirill Koltsov, who returned to Russia last winter during the lockout. The Canucks also have a number of points where the talent level drops off significantly, most notably after Bourdon and Schneider.
Top Five Prospects: Luc Bourdon (D), Cory Schneider (G), Kevin Bieksa (D), Kirill Koltsov (D), Jason King (RW)
Key Graduates: Ryan Kesler (C)
25. Phoenix Coyotes
Strengths: The Coyotes system has a number of lower-end prospects at center, but there are several of those who still could develop into effective pros like Martin Hanzal, Kevin Porter and Oliver Latendresse. They are decent on right wing as well with Enver Lisin and Blake Wheeler, but there are no other notable wingers after those two. Goaltender David LeNeveu is nearly NHL ready, and a solid prospect.
Weaknesses: Beyond LeNeveu, the Coyotes have a big drop-off in net, with QMJHLer Pier-Olivier Pelletier coming up next. Also, aside from LeNeveu there are no top-level prospects on the farm now that Keith Ballard has graduated. With poor system depth, the Coyotes have some work ahead of them to improve their base. The move of their farm club to San Antonio did not reap any immediate rewards on the ice.
Top Five Prospects: David LeNeveu (G), Enver Lisin (RW), Matt Jones (D), Blake Wheeler (RW), Martin Hanzal (C)
Key Graduates: Keith Ballard (D), Zybnyk Michalek (D), Fredrik Sjostrom (RW)
24. Los Angeles Kings
Strengths: In spite of the departure of many quality forwards – through both graduation and trades – the Kings still boast a healthy contingent of big, talented forwards who have shown the ability to put the puck in the net on a regular basis. Kopitar has impressed in his first full season in the Swedish Elite League, Kanko and Tukonen have been showing great skill while bringing a physical presence with Manchester, Boyle and Parse have been dominant in the NCAA, and Pushkarev has continued on the road towards being a future sniper with the Kings. Los Angeles is also very deep in goaltending, with Quick and Zaba having big seasons, and Taylor, Brust, and Fukufuji progressing.
Weaknesses: The loss of Tambellini and Grebeshkov in the deadline deal with the Islanders, in addition to the graduation of Brown, Cammalleri and Gleason puts a serious dent into the top-end talent within the Kings organization, particularly the loss of Gleason and Grebeshkov which depletes the Kings already thin defensive corp. Richard Petiot is their only real quality, proven blueliner, though Fast has shown flashes of potential in his freshman season. Also, despite the potential shown in the play of Kopitar and Tukonen to become quality top-six forwards at some point in the NHL, Los Angeles does appear to lack that bona fide game-breaking offensive talent at present.
Top Five Prospects: Anze Kopitar (C), Lauri Tukonen (RW), Brian Boyle (C), Richard Petiot (D), Konstantin Pushkarev (RW)
Key Graduates: Dustin Brown (RW), Mike Cammalleri (C), Tim Gleason (D)
23. Colorado Avalanche
Strengths: The Avalanche significantly improved their prospect pipeline in the 2005 draft. With a little luck, the team should have a number of potential top six forwards to choose from in a few years. Wojtek Wolski started the year with the club, before returning to the OHL and finishing third in the league in scoring. Meanwhile, injuries opened the door to allow Brad Richardson to see some key time in the Avalanche lineup. Most of the remaining forwards of note play in the NCAA, which means the Avalanche can wait for them to develop and not use up valuable years of pro experience under the new CBA.
Weaknesses: Top goaltending prospect Peter Budaj has been inconsistent between the pipes for Colorado. He needs to prove that his strong play in the AHL can translate to the NHL. The Avalanche blue line is also woefully thin, with Johnny Boychuk the only prospect who is anywhere close to making the jump to the NHL. The Avalanche will need to upgrade their prospects on defense, especially with an aging blue line in the NHL.
Top Five Prospects: Wojtek Wolski (LW), Ryan Stoa (C), Paul Stastny (C), Peter Budaj (G), Chris Durand (C)
Key Graduates: Marek Svatos (RW), Cody McCormick (C)
22. St. Louis Blues
Strengths: The Blues have great depth at forward. While the impact talent is relatively thin, players like McClement and Stempniak have persevered with grittiness and clutch play. Oshie and Backes have shown strong leadership in the NCAA, and Shkotov and Shishkanov (who also brings a banging style of play) have been strong offensive players in the AHL. Schwarz gives the Blues a potential starting netminder in the future, while a resurging Barulin further bolsters the Blues improving stable of goalies.
Weaknesses: While Shkotov and Oshie have shown the ability to put the puck in the net regularly, the forward crop is primarily role players and third or fourth liners rather than top-flight talent. The lack of a top pairing defenseman is still a problem facing the Blues. While Wideman has come on this season in all aspects of the game, seeing quality ice with the Blues, he, Woywitka, Jackson, and Lynch are really only third pairing defensemen and/or special teams players at best. Woywitka and Lynch have also disappointed this season, following their arrival in the Pronger deal.
Top Five Prospects: T.J. Oshie (C), Marek Schwarz (G), Timofei Shishkanov (LW), Scott Jackson (D), Alexei Shkotov (RW)
Key Graduates: None
21. New Jersey Devils
Strengths: The Devils have often made the most of their draft position and as a result they have picked up a number of strong prospects at forward including centers Travis Zajac, Petr Vrana, as well as wingers like Niklas Bergfors. They also possess a number of big wingers with the potential of developing into effective power forwards. Jeff Frazee has done well as a freshman netminder with the University of Minnesota.
Weaknesses: Although they have two-way and physical forwards, the Devils on the whole are a bit weak in offensive skill. With the focus on drafting those forwards early the Devils lack any viable defensive prospects, and they have only one goaltender with NHL potential. Perhaps a change of scenery for their AHL farm club will do some good developmentally next season.
Top Five Prospects: Niklas Bergfors (RW), Travis Zajac (C), Petr Vrana (C), Barry Tallackson (LW), Jeff Frazee (G)
Key Graduates: Zach Parise (C)
20. Toronto Maple Leafs
Strengths: The Leafs system is strongest between the pipes. Their top two prospects are Tuukka Rask and Justin Pogge, both goaltenders who have starting netminder potential. They also boast a strong contingent of defensive prospects, led by Carlo Colaiacovo. This is a resource that the team has been forced to tap into during the course of the 2005-06 season. No fewer than five of their blue line prospects appeared in at least one game with the Maple Leafs due to injuries. Newly acquired Aleksander Suglobov and college player Robbie Earl are the team’s top prospects up front.
Weaknesses: Although significant progress has been made since Barry Trapp took over amateur scouting in 2002, the Leafs system is still shaking off the effects of low draft picks and poor drafting the dominated the late 1990s and early 2000s. The need to improve the overall quality and depth of the prospect pool continues, especially with the salary cap placing further importance on developing from within. The Leafs are especially thin on young forwards who can step in and replace veterans as they move on.
Top Five Prospects: Tuukka Rask (G), Justin Pogge (G), Carlo Colaiacovo (D), Aleksander Suglobov (RW), Robbie Earl (LW)
Key Graduates: Alexander Steen (LW), Kyle Wellwood (C)
19. Florida Panthers
Strengths: The Panthers are strong up front, with their top four prospects all at forward. Rostislav Olesz is a slick playmaker who has stuck with the Panthers throughout the season, although suffering through a number of injuries. Kenndal McArdle and Anthony Stewart fit the mold of a power forward, although Stewart has missed most of the season with a wrist injury. Tyler Plante was picked up in 2005 and is the top goaltending prospect. The Panthers also possess tremendous size throughout their prospect pool.
Weaknesses: It’s tough to identify the top defensive prospect in the system, as none are sure bets. The team will need to restock the blue line in the coming draft. There’s also a lack of depth up front, with a significant drop off in talent after the top half a dozen forward prospects.
Top Five Prospects: Rostislav Olesz (C), Kenndal McArdle (LW), Anthony Stewart (RW), Stefan Meyer (LW), Tyler Plante (G)
Key Graduates: Nathan Horton (C), Lukas Krajicek (D)
18. Boston Bruins
Strengths: For all intents and purposes, Hannu Toivonen has already established himself as a starting goaltender in the NHL. If it weren’t for a January ankle injury that has kept him out of the line-up, Toivonen would be considered graduated. Behind him on the goaltending depth chart is Jordan Sigalet. The team also boasts an impressive contingent of defensemen, including Mark Stuart and Milan Jurcina, both of whom have seen time on Boston’s blue line this year. Rounding out the top defensemen is Matt Lashoff, who recently signed an entry-level contract.
Weaknesses: Boston has questionable depth up front and those forwards who aren’t considered hit or miss types seem better suited for third and fourth line duty. None of the players next in line are close to contributing in the big leagues. With the 2005-06 season already written off as a disappointment, the team will be forced to look towards the free agent market this offseason for help with their scoring woes. There doesn’t appear to be any solutions within the organization.
Top Five Prospects: Hannu Toivonen (G), Mark Stuart (D), Matt Lashoff (D), Milan Jurcina (D), Petr Kalus (C)
Key Graduates: Andrew Alberts (D), Brad Boyes (C)
17. Buffalo Sabres
Strengths: Even with sniper Thomas Vanek having graduated this year, the Sabres still have four good forward prospects atop their ranks. Marek Zagrapan, Drew Stafford, Jason Pominville and Daniel Paille are all valuable prospects with different skill sets. In particular the emergence of Pominville at the NHL level this year bodes well for the future. Also, a trio of junior-aged defensemen had strong seasons this year. Andrej Sekera, Michael Funk and Marc-Andre Gragnani combined for over 170 points from the blue line, each playing in a different league.
Weaknesses: At the NHL level, the Sabres have been the envy of the league for their embarrassment of riches in goal. One consequence is that the club has neglected to replenish the system at this position, leaving an almost complete lack of goaltending prospects. Not a single netminder ranks in their top 20 at the moment. Furthermore, while the aforementioned trio of blueliners has thrived this year, none is a top prospect by any means. Even their top four forwards are to a certain extent in the same position. No remaining prospect in the organization is anywhere near the level of Vanek.
Top Five Prospects: Marek Zagrapan (C), Drew Stafford (RW), Jason Pominville (RW), Daniel Paille (C), Andrej Sekera (D)
Key Graduates: Thomas Vanek (LW), Derek Roy (C), Paul Gaustad (C)
16. San Jose Sharks
Strengths: San Jose has long been considered one of the better teams in regards to scouting and player development. At least in recent memory, there has always been good overall depth in the organization and at present this is no different. Matt Carle, Devin Setoguchi and Steve Bernier headline a solid but unspectacular group. The Sharks have also proven very capable of turning mid-round picks into great goaltenders, particularly Europeans. Evgeny Nabokov, Vesa Toskala and Miikka Kiprusoff are evidence of this fact in the NHL, and a trio of Germans, Thomas Greiss, Dimitri Patzold and Patrick Ehelechner are all talented sleeper prospects in the same vein.
Weaknesses: With Milan Michalek having graduated, there is no elite prospect in the organization, although the play of Bernier over the past month in the NHL is something to keep an eye on. Carle will have to prove himself at the professional level. Although talented, Josh Hennessy and Lukas Kaspar are two prospects with a number of question marks in their games beyond their offensive upside. With the exception of 6’3, 240lb behemoth Doug Murray, the Sharks defense prospects are below average in terms of size and physical ability.
Top Five Prospects: Matt Carle (D), Devin Setoguchi (RW), Steve Bernier (RW), Josh Gorges (D), Marc-Edouard Vlasic (D)
Key Graduates: Milan Michalek (LW), Christian Erhoff (D), Marcel Goc (C)
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