Hockey's Future presents the top grouping of the 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 Florida Panthers took over the number one ranking with top prospects like Jonathan Huberdeau and Jacob Markstrom each making a substantial impact for the Panthers in 2012-13, leading a prospect pool that is well-stocked with talented prospects at every position.
The Buffalo Sabres were among the biggest movers in this part of the ranking. Adding to an already versatile group of prospects, the Sabres solidified their goaltending depth at the pro level with Matt Hackett and added a steady, two-way center in Johan Larsson.
1. Florida Panthers
Strengths: The Florida Panthers possess arguably the deepest group of center and forward prospects in the NHL. Between Jonathan Huberdeau, Drew Shore, and Nick Bjugstad the Panthers have a foundation of sizable and versatile forwards to build upon for many years to come. Behind those blue chip prospects, the Panthers still have talented prospects like Vince Trochek and Kyle Rau. The Panthers are also set in goal as Jacob Markstrom is starting to take shape and adjust to the demands of being an NHL goaltending. Defensemen Colby Robak, Alex Petrovic, and Mike Matheson continue to grow and take shape as good potential two-way options on the blue line.
Weaknesses: The youth of the Florida Panthers and the sheer amount of high-end prospects they have accumulated is a good and a bad thing. With so much talent around the same age level it could create a log jam in several positions, leading to limited ice time for good players and potential movement of very talented pieces. Considering how young many of the prospects are, it will likely be several years before they are truly ready for or comfortable in the NHL.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Jonathan Huberdeau, C/LW; 2. Jacob Markstrom, G; 3. Nick Bjugstad, C/LW; 4. Drew Shore, C; 5. Quinton Howden, LW.
2. Ottawa Senators
Strengths: The Ottawa Senators prospect pool is loaded with forward depth. They have players at all three forward positions with the potential to be top-six scoring forwards. Most of the Senators forward prospects feature a strong two-way game, as well. Mika Zibanejad and Jakob Silfverberg are fitting in nicely at the NHL level and are being counted on to provide offense and play responsibly in their own end. The Senators have also benefited from the strong play of netminder Robin Lehner and defenseman Patrick Wiercioch. In general, the organization has done an excellent job of making sure they have good depth at forward and defense.
Weaknesses: Although Lehner is one of the top goaltending prospects in the world, after him the Senators lack depth in net. They could use another top offensive center as well now that they are close to losing Zibanejad to graduation.
Added: Cory Conacher.
3. Edmonton Oilers
Strengths: Edmonton is led by blue chip prospects Nail Yakupov and Justin Schultz, both of whom have been productive players in their first pro season. The Oilers' strongest position is defense, where the prospects offer a good mix of size, physicality, and a good overall skill level. There are wide varieties of talent in the forward group and good size at the center position. Edmonton added Yale captain Andrew Miller via free agency to strengthen the depth at center.
Weaknesses: The Oilers' forward group has a drop in talent after Yakupov. Although the organization has accumulated a number of promising prospects in net, it lacks the blue chip goaltending prospect that Florida and Ottawa each possess.
4. Minnesota Wild
Strengths: Despite the loss of forward prospect Johan Larsson and goaltending prospect Matt Hackett, the Minnesota Wild still boast one of the most impressive groups of prospects in the NHL. On the forward side, Minnesota is loaded with a very talented group of offensively-gifted forwards in Jason Zucker, Charlie Coyle, and Mikael Granlund, and farther down potential producers in Erik Haula and Zack Phillips. Defensively, Jonas Brodin has been a standout in his rookie season at the NHL level, and Mathew Dumba still projects to be a marvelous puck-mover at the NHL level when he is ready. Despite the loss of Hackett in net, the team still has Darcy Kuemper, who was starting to overtake Hackett, and Johan Gustafsson, who helped Lulea to an appearance in the SEL championship series.
Weaknesses: Aside from Dumba and Brodin, there is a questionable amount of talent at the back end. The same could be said for the wing corps, which suffers from a considerable drop-off in scoring talent after the top tier.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Mikael Granlund, C; 2. Jonas Brodin, D; 3. Charlie Coyle, RW/C; 4. Mathew Dumba, D; 5. Jason Zucker, C.
Lost to Trade: Matt Hackett (BUF), Johan Larsson (BUF), Chay Genoway (WAS).
5. New York Islanders
Strengths: The Islanders have depth both on forward and on defense. Ryan Strome is one of the top prospects in the world and the Islanders have surrounded him with other great offensive talent. Nino Niederreiter was rushed into the NHL last season but the Islanders have corrected their mistake and he is adjusting to the professional game quite well in the AHL. Top prospects at two positions, center Brock Nelson and defenseman Matt Donovan, have also found success as they develop in the AHL. Defenseman Griffin Reinhart has continued to build on his strong draft season and looks like he will be an impact player in the NHL sooner rather than later.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Ryan Strome, C; 2. Griffin Reinhart, D; 3. Matt Donovan, D; 4. Nino Niederreiter, LW; 5. Brock Nelson, C.
6. Montreal Canadiens
Strengths: The Montreal Canadiens have seen solid improvement in their organizational prospect pool this year. The greatest strength of the prospect pool is on defense where Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi lead a deep and diverse group. The Canadiens also have improved their depth and skill level up the middle with the additions of high-end talent, Alex Galchenyuk, and the big physical two-way center, Brady Vail. Past those two, there are numerous centers in the system with the skill level and hockey IQ to play either wing. The right wing position still has the most offensively-talented prospects of Montreal's minor league system.
Weaknesses: The goaltender position is still the weakest of the organization's positions but the acquisition of Dustin Tokarski adds depth. There are only three pro goalie prospects in the system at this time. Left wing has been greatly improved with talented scorers like Tim Bozon and Charles Hudon but still lacks overall depth compared to the other positions. The Canadiens are still lacking the tough, gritty, and physically big forwards in its minor league group.
7. St. Louis Blues
Strengths: St. Louis has the benefit of having one of the best young prospects in the world in forward Vladimir Tarasenko, who has performed as advertised in his rookie season. Aside from Tarasenko, the Blues have numerous forwards in Jaden Schwartz, Ty Rattie, and Dmitrij Jaskin who have tremendous upside. Defensive prospect Ian Cole was lost to graduation, and while the Blues lack a real blue chip prospect on defense, they have a mix of potential two-way blueliners and big, physical stay-at-home types. The Blues have quality prospects in goal as well with Jake Allen and Owen Sound Attack star Jordan Binnington leading the depth chart.
Weaknesses: The Blues lack a quality center prospect in the system. While Philip McRae may yet crack the NHL lineup, the rest of the group lacks NHL potential. The defense also lacks top talent, with the possible exception of Jordan Schmaltz.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Vladimir Tarasenko, RW; 2. Jaden Schwartz, LW; 3. Jake Allen, G; 4. Ty Rattie, RW; 5. Dmitrij Jaskin, RW.
8. Buffalo Sabres
Strengths: The Buffalo Sabres boast great depth at the center position. Mikhail Grigorenko has the potential to be an offensive superstar and has the ability to slow the game down and take over control. Recent acquisition Johan Larsson is a good two-way center and furthers the Sabres depth down the middle. Their defensive prospects are strong too as Jake McCabe, Brayden McNabb, and Mark Pysyk all look like they could end up as solid NHL players.
Weaknesses: Outside of Joel Armia and Marcus Foligno, the Sabres are lacking in winger prospects. Although Brian Flynn has been a nice surprise, the Sabres still have a hole in their pipeline at the position.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Mikhail Grigorenko, C; 2. Brayden McNabb, D; 3. Jake McCabe, D; 4. Joel Armia, RW; 5. Mark Pysyk, D.
9. Tampa Bay Lightning
Strengths: The Lightning have several talented forwards ready to make full-time NHL contributions in Alex Killorn, Tyler Johnson, and Richard Panik. There are also several skilled two-way forwards such as Vladislav Namestnikov and Matthew Peca who, in several years, should be quality NHL players. Tampa Bay also has a solid collection of defensemen, with Radko Gudas and Mark Barberio the most ready to make NHL contributions. Andrey Vasilevskiy, who is among the top goaltending prospects in all of hockey, leads a promising group of goaltenders.
Weaknesses: Though Tampa has many skilled forwards with top-nine potential, few if any project to be an elite talent. Top defensive prospect Slater Koekkoek has missed almost a full season worth of hockey over the past two years to injury. Many of the Lightning's forward prospects are undersized.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Andrey Vasilevskiy, G; 2. Vladislav Namestnikov, C; 3. Richard Panik, RW; 4. Mark Barberio, D; 5. Slater Koekkoek, D.
10. Chicago Blackhawks
Strengths: The greatest strength of the Chicago Blackhawks prospect pool is its depth and balance. The team's top prospect, Brandon Saad, has acquitted himself well at the NHL level, and depth forwards like Jeremy Morin and Jimmy Hayes are not far from joining him on the NHL roster. There is offensive skill in Brandon Pirri, the AHL's leading scorer in 2012-13, and Teuvo Teravainen as well as two-way forwards in Phillip Danault and Mark McNeill. Puck-mover Adam Clendening heads a defensive corps that is deep and versatile.
Weaknesses: The Blackhawks have a handful of goaltending options in the pipeline but none of them have yet taken commend of the group. The system as a whole lacks some of the high-end prospects of the other teams inside the top 10.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Brandon Saad, LW; 2. Teuvo Teravainen, C; 3. Adam Clendening, D; 4. Phillip Danault, C; 5. Mark McNeill, C.
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