Welcome to the Hockey's Future Spring NHL Team Rankings, the staff's ranking of each NHL team's system based on the strength of the entire prospect pool. For reference, just the top five prospects are listed. To be eligible, a prospect must meet HF's prospect criteria. The ranking is done twice a year, with this edition being an update to the Fall ranking.
The Columbus Blue Jackets maintained their spot at the head of the bottom third of the rankings. Two of the club's top defensive prospects, Tim Erixon and Dalton Prout, have logged significant ice time in the NHL this season.
The Washington Capitals were among the biggest movers in the ranking, moving from 18th overall in the Fall to 25th on this list due to the loss of two top prospects. Overall the bottom group consists of a wide range of organizations, from perennial playoff contenders who have graduated much of their prospect talent to middling teams with poor histories drafting and developing talent.
21. Columbus Blue Jackets
Strengths: Ryan Murray's Columbus debut was delayed a year by a shoulder injury, but he remains one of the top defensive prospects outside of the NHL. The Jackets already have had contributions from defensive prospects Tim Erixon, David Savard, Dalton Prout, and Cody Goloubef during the 2012-13 season. Matt Calvert graduated to the NHL club and Cam Atkinson is not too far behind him. Boone Jenner and Lukas Sedlak are examples of the size and grit in the forward pipeline. Oscar Dansk and Joonas Korpisalo were added at the 2012 NHL Draft to give the Jackets multiple options in goal down the road.
Weaknesses: After Atkinson graduates, the scoring potential in the system decreases sharply. Jonathan Audy-Marchessault and T.J. Tynan have both been productive at their respective levels of play but there are questions about whether the undersized forwards can maintain that production in the NHL. There is little depth to be found at the left wing and center positions.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Ryan Murray, D; 2. Cam Atkinson, RW; 3. Tim Erixon, D; 4. Boone Jenner, C; 5. Oscar Dansk, G.
22. San Jose Sharks
Strengths: The Sharks have a good variety of defensemen in the prospect system: offensive puck-movers, excellent skaters, as well as big, physical defenders who can play the shutdown role. The organization has good quality of depth at the goaltender position. San Jose has a wealth of depth at the center position and could convert some of those prospects to the wings. The Sharks are among the best at scouting and developing NCAA talent.
Weaknesses: San Jose has little to no depth after Matt Nieto at the wing positions. There is a lack of high-end prospects in the organization that might be top-six forwards at the NHL and only Tomas Hertl has impact talent potential. The rest of the Shark's forward prospects are possible role or depth players with some offensive talents and upside if all goes well with their development. The Sharks have too many high-risk/high-reward type prospects that are still a few years away from possibly playing at the NHL level.
23. Winnipeg Jets
Strengths: The Jets have potential core players in center Mark Scheifele and defenseman Jacob Trouba, both of whom could be playing in the NHL sooner rather than later. Wingers Ivan Telegin and Carl Klingberg provide balance to the forward corps while the likes of Zach Redmond and Paul Postma provide valuable blue line depth at the pro level. Winnipeg's system is well balanced and several depth prospects, such as goaltender Connor Hellebuyck and power forward Jordan Samuels-Thomas, had standout seasons at their respective levels of play.
Weaknesses: Even the top two prospects are still developing and have yet to realize their full potential, leaving the Jets with very few sure things in the pipeline. The center depth behind Scheifele is suspect.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Mark Scheifele, C; 2. Jacob Trouba, D; 3. Ivan Telegin, LW; 4. Paul Postma, D; 5. Carl Klingberg, LW.
24. Toronto Maple Leafs
Strengths: The Maple Leafs have a strong group of defense prospects, led by 2012 first-round pick Morgan Rielly. Rielly has the potential to be an elite defenseman in the NHL and possesses game-breaking ability. Matt Finn and Jesse Blacker round out a solid top three on the back end. Although Joe Colborne has had an inconsistent season in the AHL, he still has the potential to be a forward that can provide offense at the NHL level.
Weaknesses: The graduations of Nazem Kadri and Matt Frattin really hurt the Leafs prospect pool. Outside of Colborne they do not have many forwards with the potential to be a scoring threat in the NHL. In goal, Ben Scrivens has enjoyed some success this season and Garret Sparks had a good season in the OHL, but there is not any depth beyond that.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Morgan Rielly, D; 2. Joe Colborne, C; 3. Matt Finn, D; 4. Carter Ashton, RW; 5. Jesse Blacker, D.
Lost to Graduation: Nazem Kadri, Matt Frattin.
Added: Kevin Marshall.
25. Washington Capitals
Strengths: The Washington Capitals have arguably the best player not playing on this side of the Atlantic in Yevgeni Kuznetsov. They also have a prospect with power forward potential in Tom Wilson. The organization has a wide array of promising prospects capable of filling a variety of different roles including Michael Latta, Chandler Stephenson, and Garrett Mitchell. There are also several promising goaltending prospects led by Philipp Grubauer.
Weaknesses: The Capitals have traded many of their assets over the past several years for NHL roster players and it has left them with large holes in their prospect pool. The biggest hole is on defense, where they have many solid prospects such as Tomas Kundratek, but none who project to play in a top-four role. Some of the Capitals most promising prospects, such as Riley Barber or Connor Carrick, remain long-term projects. The fact Kuznetsov remains non-committal about when or if he will play in North America is another major issue.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Yevgeni Kuznetsov, RW; 2. Tom Wilson, RW; 3. Tomas Kundratek, D; 4. Philipp Grubauer, G; 5. Stanislav Galiev, LW.
26. Carolina Hurricanes
Strengths: The Carolina Hurricanes possess a solid group of defensive prospects led by puck-mover Ryan Murphy. They also possess a few talented two-way forwards, including Victor Rask, Zac Dalpe, and Chris Terry. Additionally, the Hurricanes have many speedy forwards capable of filling a checking role. Daniel Altshuller and Matt Mahalak headline a relatively deep group of goaltending prospects.
Weaknesses: Outside of possibly Murphy there is not much high-end talent in the Hurricanes prospect pool. The team also lacks skill at forward, with their top prospect Rask being known more for his two-way ability than as a sniper or playmaker. Many of the prospects in the Hurricanes pool are long-term projects and will not be ready for many years.
27. Vancouver Canucks
Strengths: The Vancouver Canucks have a decent amount of forward prospects that look ready to make an impact in the near future. Right wing in particular has several up-and-comers with Nicklas Jensen leading the charge. At center, Jordan Schroeder has started to taste NHL action and Brendan Gaunce has done well captaining the Belleville Bulls of the OHL. While Eddie Lack looks like a potential star in goal, recent hip surgery puts a question mark on his future. However, that does not take away from the fact that Lack is one of the brighter talents in the system.
Weaknesses: Like many other teams low in the rankings, Vancouver has drafted low over the past several years, and as a result, suffers from a lack of quality outside of the likes of Nicklas Jensen and Jordan Schroeder. The left wing position is particularly lacking and has no real quality prospects. The loss of Kevin Connauton to Dallas leaves just Frank Corrado and Patrick McNally as the future defensively.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Nicklas Jensen, RW; 2. Eddie Lack, G; 3. Jordan Schroeder, C; 4. Brendan Gaunce, C; 5. Frank Corrado, D.
28. New Jersey Devils
Strengths: The Devils greatest strength is their depth on defense and in goal at the pro level. Jon Merrill is a blue-chip prospect, leading a defensive corps that includes Alexander Urbom and Eric Gelinas at the pro level and Damon Severson at the junior level. The club is well-stocked in goal at the pro level, with Scott Wedgewood leading the group in terms of long-term potential. Stefan Matteau, who already made his NHL debut with the Devils during the 2012-13 season, and Reid Boucher have the potential to develop into productive players at the NHL level.
Weaknesses: The New Jersey system lacks the overall level of talent to match up with most teams. Beyond the team's top two forward prospects, there is a steep drop in terms of talent and potential offensive impact. Depth at forward, particularly on the right wing, is lacking. Beyond the three goalie prospects at the pro level, the team does not have any more netminders at lower levels of play.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Jon Merrill, D; 2. Scott Wedgewood, G; 3. Alexander Urbom, D; 4. Eric Gelinas, D; 5. Damon Severson, D.
Lost to Graduation: Andrei Loktionov.
29. Colorado Avalanche
Strengths: The Avalanche maintain solid depth on defense and in goal at the pro level. Tyson Barrie and Stefan Elliott have each found some success in the NHL but are still in the process of developing consistency at the pro level, while Duncan Siemens and Gus Young are two more promising defensive prospects coming down the pipe. Calvin Pickard leads a deep, talented group of goalies at the minor league level. At forward, Michael Sgarbossa made a smooth transition to the pro level during his rookie pro season. The Avalanche also have a prospect in Joey Hishon with high upside as a potential scorer, but he must prove he can stay healthy.
Weaknesses: Beyond Sgarbossa and potentially Hishon, Colorado's forward prospects are largely longshots to make an impact at the pro level. Neither wing positions feature much depth. The trade of Cameron Gaunce, along with the possible graduations of Elliott and Barrie, could leave the Avalanche with a lack of depth on the blue line.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Tyson Barrie, D; 2. Michael Sgarbossa, C; 3. Stefan Elliott, D; 4. Duncan Siemens, D; 5. Calvin Pickard, G.
30. Philadelphia Flyers
Strengths: The Philadelphia Flyers have a multitude of players with NHL experience, including Erik Gustafsson, Oliver Lauridsen, Brandon Manning, Tye McGinn, and Eric Wellwood. They also possess fairly good depth on defense and have a lot of prospects who should develop into checking forwards in the NHL. Scott Laughton and Nick Cousins both look like they could be good top-nine forwards in the NHL.
Weaknesses: Anthony Stolarz is a decent prospect in net, but beyond him, there is not much in the way of goaltending prospects. The Flyers have good depth at forward and defense, but lack any prospects with elite potential. The lack of elite depth is particularly concerning on defense, as the Flyers already have a promising group of young forwards in the NHL.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Scott Laughton, C; 2. Erik Gustafsson, D; 3. Nick Cousins, C; 4. Shayne Gostisbehere, D; 5. Anthony Stolarz, G.
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