Below is the middle section of 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 middle third of the ranking is headed by the Detroit Red Wings and Dallas Stars, two teams who have relied upon their prospect pool this season to replace the production of departed veterans. The Wings have played top prospects Brendan Smith and Gustav Nyquist in the NHL, but perhaps the biggest impact has come from free agent signing Dan DeKeyser. In the case of the Stars, the club's playoff push was helped along by the play of prospects like Brenden Dillon and, prior to a shoulder injury, Alex Chiasson. As fate would have it, Dallas' run was finally ended recently by Detroit in a victory over Nashville.
11. Detroit Red Wings
Strengths: The Red Wings have depth at every position in the system. Although they have a lot of players with boom or bust potential, players like Brendan Smith, Gustav Nyquist, and Tomas Tatar have already enjoyed some success at the NHL level. Recent free agent signing Dan DeKeyser adds to an already stacked defensive pool that includes 2012-13 OHL Defenseman of the Year Ryan Sproul and Xavier Ouellet. Highly-touted Swedish forward Calle Jarnkrok has made the transition to North America and is adjusting well to the AHL. Jarnkrok has the potential to be a top-six playmaker.
Weaknesses: Goaltending is one position where the Wings should look to add. Petr Mrazek has adjusted well to the professional game and Jake Paterson arguably carried the Saginaw Spirit into the playoffs on his back, but outside of those two there is not much depth.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Brendan Smith, D; 2. Gustav Nyquist, LW; 3. Petr Mrazek, G; 4. Tomas Tatar, LW; 5. Calle Jarnkrok, C.
Added: Dan DeKeyser, Jared Coreau.
12. Dallas Stars
Strengths: The Stars lead off in net with Jack Campbell, whose steady rookie season in the AHL should ease concerns about his struggles at the junior level. On defense, the club added mobile puck-mover Joe Morrow to bigger, two-way defensemen like Brenden Dillon and Jamie Oleksiak. The acquisitions of Kevin Connauton and Cameron Gaunce also added blue line depth at the pro level while a longterm project like Ludvig Bystrom develops at the pro level overseas. The top forward prospects, Alex Chiasson, Brett Ritchie, and Radek Faksa, possess a mixture of size and scoring ability, leading a deep group up front of potential role players.
Weaknesses: Dallas has plenty of forward depth but many are high-risk/high-reward prospects. The goaltending depth behind Campbell does not inspire much confidence.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Jack Campbell, G; 2. Jamie Oleksiak, D; 3. Alex Chiasson, RW; 4. Brett Ritchie, RW; 5. Radek Faksa, C.
13. Anaheim Ducks
Strengths: The Anaheim Ducks possess a diverse group of players at all positions. Their forward crew, even with the loss of Kyle Palmieri to graduation, has high-end talent with Emerson Etem, Rickard Rakell, and Peter Holland. Nicolas Kerdiles also looks like an intriguing future prospect, and Devante Smith-Pelly still projects as a useful utility player in the future. Defensively, Sami Vatanen and Hampus Lindholm are impressive puck-movers who could be potential top-four defenseman. In terms of goaltending John Gibson is a rising star, and Igor Bobkov has built himself up at the pro level slowly after an impressive 2011 World Junior Championships.
Weaknesses: The left wing position lacks a true scoring threat, although Max Friberg could grow into such a player, and is primarily made up of character grit players with limited upside. Outside of Lindholm and Vatanen, the drop off in defensive talent is rather significant.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Emerston Etem, RW; 2. Sami Vatanen, D; 3. Rickard Rakell, RW; 4. Peter Holland, C; Hampus Lindholm, D.
14. Pittsburgh Penguins
Strengths: Even with the loss of defenseman Joe Morrow, the Penguins have one of the best groups of defensive prospects in the league, led by Derrick Pouliot, Simon Despres, and Olli Maatta. Beyond their blue chip defensive prospects, they have others such as Scott Harrington and Brian Dumoulin who have good NHL potential. Beau Bennett is a skilled winger who is already an electrifying NHL talent.
Weaknesses: The organization lost some depth on the wing with the trade of Ken Agostino and Ben Hanowski to Calgary. With the exception of Bennett, the group of forward prospects is either limited in their overall potential or, in the case of those with some upside, many years away from realizing whatever potential they may have.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Derrick Pouliot, D; 2. Simon Despres, D; 3. Beau Bennett, RW; 4. Olli Maatta, D; 5. Brian Dumoulin, D.
15. Phoenix Coyotes
Strengths: The Coyotes are loaded with talented defenseman in their system. Brandon Gormley and David Rundblad continue to adjust to the professional level and both players have the potential to be top-pairing defensemen. Up front, Henrik Samuelsson and Lucas Lessio have the highest potential to be two-way forwards that can contribute on the score sheet at the NHL level, with Tobias Rieder not far behind.
Weaknesses: Like the NHL club, the Coyotes pipeline lacks a player with game-breaking offensive potential. Outside of the few skilled forwards, most of the forward prospects have the ceiling of bottom-six grinders with a strong work ethic.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Brandon Gormley, D; 2. David Rundblad, D; 3. Henrik Samuelsson, C; 4. Lucas Lessio, LW; 5. Michael Stone, D.
16. Nashville Predators
Strengths: The Predators have excellent quantity and quality in their group of prospects, but supplemented it with the addition of an elite two-way forward prospect in Filip Forsberg. The organization has been very successful for years at developing and drafting to fit their defensive system. Nashville has stockpiled many two-way forwards, some of whom have already been called upon at the NHL level.
Weaknesses: Outside of Forsberg, the system lacks players with any sort of offensive pedigree and, in general, suffers from an overall lower level of talent than many teams ahead of them. Nashville has a lack of depth on the right wing and center but still has versatility amongst their forward prospects.
17. New York Rangers
Strengths: The Rangers have two players in J.T. Miller and Chris Kreider who are close to being impact forwards in the NHL. They also have several others, such as Christian Thomas, Jesper Fasth, and Marek Hrivik who have the potential to be talented top-nine forwards in the NHL. Dylan McIlrath and Brady Skjei are defensemen with top-four potential who bring distinctively different skill-sets to the organization.
Weaknesses: The Rangers need an offensive defenseman capable of logging a lot of minutes in all situations. Beyond McIlrath and Skjei, there are no top-four defensive prospects. The organization lacks an heir apparent to Henrik Lundqvist.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Chris Kreider, LW; 2. J.T. Miller, RW; 3. Dylan McIlrath, D; 4. Jesper Fasth, RW; 5. Christian Thomas, LW.
18. Los Angeles Kings
Strengths: Over the years, the Kings have accumulated a significant amount of depth on the blue line and that again continues to be the strength of the organization. With Derek Forbort finishing up his career in the NCAA, and Kevin Gravel slowly turning into one of the most reliable shut down defenseman in the WCHA, they have several key pieces at defense, including outstanding NHL rookie Jake Muzzin. Tyler Toffoli projects as an elite scoring talent, while blue collar forwards Tanner Pearson and Linden Vey round out a rather top-heavy forward pool. Goaltenders Martin Jones and Christopher Gibson continue to develop and, while they lack consistency, the pieces are there for game-stealing ability.
Weaknesses: As mentioned, the Kings have few real elite forwards past Toffoli and perhaps Vey, who has developed very well in recent seasons. There are a lot of question marks after the top players in every category, and the prospect pool has been somewhat homogenized with projected third- and fourth-line grinders. While these depth players have plenty of quantity and quality, whether they will make an NHL impact is up for debate.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Tyler Toffoli, RW/C; 2. Tanner Pearson, LW; 3. Derek Forbort, D; 4. Linden Vey, C/RW; 5. Jake Muzzin, D.
19. Boston Bruins
Strengths: Boston has excellent depth and talent at the goaltender position along with a blue chip prospect in Malcolm Subban. The organization is quite deep with defensive prospects and owns a good mix of skills amongst the group led by high-end talent, Dougie Hamilton. There is some versatile talent at all of the forward positions.
Weakness: The Bruins' prospect group is very shallow at the forward positions and the quality of offensive talent falls off after the top five players. After years of success, the organization is lacking a high-impact forward with size in their minor league system.
20. Calgary Flames
Strengths: The Flames have slowly improved their organizational depth and talent pool over the last few years. Calgary has added some high-end talent at the center and left wing positions while acquiring and developing more versatile depth prospects. The Flames also have a very good stock of young goaltenders who are playing well in their respective leagues.
Weaknesses: The right wing position is the weakest of the Flames' talent pool in terms of its depth and the overall skill level. Calgary has no highly-skilled prospects at right wing. Despite having several quality defensemen, the Flames lack the high-end puck-mover in their prospect group.
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