Hockey’s Future Fall 2006 Organizational Rankings (1-15)

By HF Staff

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. Key graduates are players who have played their threshold of NHL games since the last ranking. Teams ranked 16-30 are found here. 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.

1. Pittsburgh Penguins

Strengths: Dating back to the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, the Penguins have had two first overall, two second overall and a fifth overall draft pick, so it’s no surprise they have consistently had one of the better prospect pools in the league. Currently they’re loaded at center where they have Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, Maxime Talbot, and Ryan Stone, making this almost certainly the best prospect pool up the middle. Defense is also fairly good despite the graduation of Ryan Whitney, with Noah Welch, Alex Goligoski and Kristopher Letang all showing good pro potential.
Weaknesses: The most glaring shortcoming of the Penguins system is that they have no top goaltending talent, the highest ranked being Bobby Goepfert. Colby Armstrong is their only strong prospect on the wing, but they do have a number of third and fourth line potential wingers such as Jonathan Filewich, Michael Gergen and Daniel Carcillo.
Top Five Prospects: Evgeni Malkin (C), Jordan Staal (C), Colby Armstrong (RW), Noah Welch (D), Alex Goligoski (D)
Key Graduates: Ryan Whitney (D)

2. Los Angeles Kings

Strengths: Over the last year, the Kings have lost a number of top prospects to trade (Jeff Tambellini, Denis Grebeshkov, Tim Gleason) or graduation (Mike Cammalleri, Dustin Brown), however, they made two key offseason acquisitions that buoy their ranking greatly in Patrick O’Sullivan from the Wild and Jack Johnson from the Hurricanes. They also have a number of big and talented forwards including Anze Kopitar, Brian Boyle, and Lauri Tukonen. Behind Johnson on defense, the Kings have Richard Petiot, who has a season of NHL and AHL under his belt, and T.J. Fast and Joe Ryan, who each have some potential to be effective pros one day.
Weaknesses: In goal, Jonathan Bernier has the potential to possibly be an NHL starter as he continues to develop well in the QMJHL. Others are projects: Jonathan Quick is developing in college, and Barry Brust has yet to break out and show he belongs as a pro. At right wing, the Kings have Tukonen and Petr Kanko, but this position as a whole is not as good as some other organizations.
Top Five Prospects: Patrick O’Sullivan (C), Anze Kopitar (C), Brian Boyle (C), Lauri Tukonen (RW), Jonathan Bernier (G) with Jack Johnson (D) added after Top 20 ranking.
Key Graduates: None

3. Chicago Blackhawks

Strengths: The Blackhawks have been able to build a deep pool of prospects through the entry draft. Center is the position of greatest depth for the organization, with Toews heading up an enviable list. Of the Top 20 prospects, 18 have developed their skills on North American ice, showing a real change in approach from previous regimes. Five players (Cam Barker, David Bolland, Dan Bertram and Michael Blunden) were members of the gold-medal winning Canadian team at the 2006 WJC, while Jack Skille was a member of Team USA.
Weaknesses: If there is a question mark within the system, it may be in goal. The depth Chicago built up at this position is mostly out of the system now, but two college goalies in Joe Fallon and Joe Palmer could be the answer. Left wing lacks depth as well.
Top Five Prospects: Cam Barker (D), Jonathan Toews (C), David Bolland (C), Jack Skille (RW), Corey Crawford (G)
Key Graduates: Brent Seabrook (D)

4. Washington Capitals

Strengths: The Capitals have several forwards with great potential. Alexander Semin is a very skilled offensive winger who is making his return to the NHL in dramatic fashion. Nicklas Backstrom was the team’s first-round pick in 2006 and should be close to contributing. Eric Fehr has all the makings of a terrific sniper, and Tomas Fleischmann has been a big contributor at the AHL level. On the blue line, former first rounder Mike Green is now in the NHL full time.
Weaknesses: Washington lacks the overall depth that the other top organizations have, with more suspects than prospects past the top dozen or so. After Green, there is a significant drop-off among the defensive prospects.
Top Five Prospects: Nicklas Backstrom (C), Alexander Semin (LW), Mike Green (D), Eric Fehr (RW), Tomas Fleischmann (LW)
Key Graduates: none

5. Columbus Blue Jackets

Strengths: Even with the graduation of Dan Fritsche, the Blue Jackets system is still well stocked with both skilled and gritty forwards including Gilbert Brule, Derick Brassard, Adam Pineault, and Alexandre Picard. In goal, Pascal Leclaire is performing well in the NHL. Both Aaron Johnson and Ole Kristian Tollefsen made the team out of camp on the blue line, and Kris Russell was named the WHL’s top defenseman last season.
Weaknesses: Goaltending is an area of concern for the Blue Jackets. After Leclaire there are some middle-range pro prospects in net like Dan Lacosta, Tomas Popperle and Steve Mason. Restocking on defense after some imminent graduations will be important in the upcoming draft.
Top Five Prospects: Gilbert Brule (C), Pascal Leclaire (G), Derick Brassard (C), Adam Pineault, (RW), Alexandre Picard (LW) Key Graduates: Dan Fritsche (C)

6. Montreal Canadiens

Strengths: The Canadiens are particularly deep up front and between the pipes, with standout prospects in both areas. Guillaume Latendresse headlines a deep and offensively gifted group of forward talent, cracking the NHL roster at the tender age of 19 and may be the power forward for which the Habs have been searching for years. Between the pipes, junior-aged Carey Price headlines a rich crop of netminders, including Yann Danis and Jaroslav Halak, both of whom have enjoyed notable success in the AHL. Overall depth at all positions is the hallmark of this organization.
Weaknesses: The Habs are thinnest on the blue line, but have started to address that deficiency with the recent drafting of David Fischer, Mathieu Carle, and Cameron Cepek. In addition, while the club is deep in speedy, offensively gifted forwards, they lack a solid foundation of players with size and grit.
Top Five Prospects: Guillaume Latendresse (RW), Andrei Kostitsyn (RW), Carey Price (G), Kyle Chipchura (C), Yann Danis (G)
Key Graduates: Alex Perezhogin (RW), Tomas Plekanec (C)

7. Minnesota Wild

Strengths: The Wild are perhaps strongest at forward even after trading center Patrick O’Sullivan to the Los Angeles Kings. Roman Voloshenko had a strong AHL rookie campaign in 2005-06 and his foot speed issues appear to be resolved. Benoit Pouliot, James Sheppard, Danny Irmen and Matt Foy are all NHL-caliber forwards. System depth is also fairly strong on defense with A.J. Thelen, Shawn Belle, and Clayton Stoner leading the pack.
Weaknesses: In goal, the Wild have only one clear pro prospect in Josh Harding, although he might be the team’s best overall prospect. Anton Khudobin has returned to Russia after a season with the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades and Kristofer Westblom isn’t off to the start he needed to have with the Kelowna Rockets. Thelen was once expected to be a top offensive-defenseman, but his troubles with Michigan State and only above-average performances in the WHL have some seeing the former first rounder as an underachiever.
Top Five Prospects: Roman Voloshenko (LW), Josh Harding (G), Benoit Pouliot (LW), James Sheppard (C), A.J. Thelen (D)
Key Graduates: Mikko Koivu (C)

8. Anaheim Ducks

Strengths: The club was so confident in its depth that it was able to shed top-flight players and prospects, including Ladislav Smid, in order to obtain Chris Pronger. But while the cost of a trade like that would gut several organizations, the Ducks’ cupboard is still full. Smid was replaced by 2006 first-rounder Mark Mitera in the draft. Up front and on the blue line, the club has enviable depth and quality.
Weaknesses: Anaheim falls from the top spot last spring due to graduations of two of their top forward prospects, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. The area of biggest need right now is between the pipes. Jean-Phillipe Lavasseur and David McKee are good prospects, but certainly aren’t turning the world on its ear. However, they have time for development with a quality NHL goaltending tandem that has youth on its side.
Top Five Prospects: Bobby Ryan (RW), Dustin Penner (LW), Mark Mitera (D), Brendan Mikkelson (D), Bryce Swan (RW)
Key Graduates: Ryan Getzlaf (C), Corey Perry (RW)

9. Boston Bruins

Strengths: The Bruins have addressed some of the weaknesses in their prospect system with the addition of new talent up front, headlined by their top pick from the 2006 Entry Draft, center Phil Kessel. He is possibly the first potential star forward drafted by the team since Joe Thornton. Behind Kessel are two potential starting goaltenders in Hannu Toivonen and Tuukka Rask. Defensemen with Mark Stuart and Matt Lashoff make the top five very well-rounded. Between the draft and some free agent acquisitions, the Bruins have increased depth on both wing, and a growing collection of skilled and mobile forwards.
Weaknesses: While the Bruins appear to have improved their depth at forward, the number who can make an impact at the NHL level is still questionable. Both wings, while improved, have serious holes, with right wing being the most questionable. At center the talent levels off considerably behind the first couple prospects, and is filled with many players that may never see more than third or fourth line duty in the NHL.
Top Five Prospects: Phil Kessel (C), Hannu Toivonen (G), Tuukka Rask (G), Mark Stuart (D), Matt Lashoff (D)
Key Graduates: none

10. San Jose Sharks

Strengths: Five prospects survived cuts and began the season on the Sharks’ roster for opening night. Three of those players, Matt Carle, Josh Gorges and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, play defense, which continues to be one of the strongest areas in the Sharks’ prospect pool. Right wing Devin Setoguchi could provide some top line quality offense in the future, while high-end power forward Steve Bernier has the chance to prove himself at the NHL level this season. They are a club with very few obvious holes.
Weaknesses: While the Sharks do have a diverse group of prospects, they also have very few high-ranking prospects at any position and marginal depth at center. Aside from Kasper, or possibly McGinn and Clowe, they are weakest on the left wing, where there are very few potential impact players. In the net, the Sharks lack quality, but do have quantity.
Top Five Prospects: Matt Carle (D), Devin Setoguchi (RW), Steve Bernier (RW), Ty Wishart (D), Marc-Edouard Vlasic (D)
Key Graduates: none

11. New York Rangers

Strengths: Competition was tight for the final roster spots with the Rangers, but after strong camp performances, forward Nigel Dawes and defenseman Thomas Pock would be the only prospects remaining on the roster for opening night. The decision was made difficult by superb camp performances from players like center Brandon Dubinsky, who has a legitimate chance to earn a call-up at some point in the season, as does another of the Rangers’ top forward prospects, Jarkko Immonen. Overall, the Rangers have a diverse group of prospects in their system, with a Top 20 headlined by defenseman Marc Staal, and a number of viable third or fourth line talents. Al Montoya is the top goaltender in the system and projects to be an NHL starter.
Weaknesses: On a whole, there are some good prospects at every position, but very few impact players and plenty of question marks. Wing is an area of weakness after Hugh Jessiman and Nigel Dawes. After Montoya, the Rangers are sorely lacking goaltending prospects.
Top Five Prospects: Marc Staal (D), Al Montoya (G), Jarkko Immonen (C), Nigel Dawes (LW), Bobby Sanguinetti (D)
Key Graduates: Petr Prucha (C)

12. Nashville Predators

Strengths: The Predators remain deep along the blue line. Shea Weber is a big contribuor in Nashville this season, and Kevin Klein is very close to contributing. Cody Franson and Ryan Parent are prominent CHLers, while Teemu Laakso is off to a good start in Finland. Among forwards, Alexander Radulov brings high-octane offensive skills to a system that has long been thin up front.
Weaknesses: The Preds system has not produced any reliable, consistent scorers in recent years, and there are few in the pipeline either. A number of highly-touted Russian and European draft picks have been hesitant to play in North America, where the Preds would be better able to direct their individual development. In goal, Pekka Rinne is making the organization take notice, but beyond the AHL all-star, there are no standouts.
Top Five Prospects: Shea Weber (D), Alexander Radulov (RW), Scottie Upshall (RW), Pekka Rinne (G), Kevin Klein (D)
Key Graduates: none

13. Atlanta Thrashers

Strengths: The Thrashers prospect pool is balanced, with top prospects spread across positions. Braydon Coburn leads a deep group of defensive prospects including Mark Popovic, Boris Valabik, Grant Lewis, Chad Denny and Nathan Oystrick. Nine of the team’s top 20 prospects play at this position. Up front, Bryan Little is off to a blazing hot start in the OHL and fellow 2006 draftee Riley Holzapfel is doing well in the WHL. Between the pipes, Ondrej Pavelec is starter-caliber while Dan Turple and David Caruso provide depth.
Weaknesses: While there is a good amount of talent, all of the top players have significant question marks surrounding them for one reason or another. The blue line lacks an elite offensive defenseman, and the forwards lack size.
Top Five Prospects: Braydon Coburn (D), Alex Bourret (RW), Ondrej Pavelec (G), Bryan Little (C), Mark Popovic (D)
Key Graduates: Kari Lehtonen (G), Jim Slater (C)

14. St. Louis Blues

Strengths: The Blues system benefited from two first round draft choices in 2006, including defenseman Erik Johnson, taken first overall. Patrik Berglund adds to the considerable depth at center, where the Blues already had TJ Oshie and Carl Soderberg. In the net, the Blues have potential starter Marek Schwarz and good goaltending depth behind him.
Weaknesses: While the Blues have vastly improved their prospect pool, there are still some issues. Johnson is a much-needed addition to the blue line, but there are a number of question marks behind him. The quality drops significantly on both wings as well. Timofei Shishkanov, who was picked up from Nashville in 2006, is an example of a prospect who has loads of potential, but considerable question as to whether he can fulfill it.
Top Five Prospects: Erik Johnson (D), TJ Oshie (C), Marek Schwarz (G), Patrik Berglund (C), Timofei Shishkanov (LW)
Key Graduates: Jay McClement (C), Dennis Wideman (D), Lee Stempniak (F)

15. New York Islanders

Strengths: The Islanders prospect pool has improved with recent addition of Jeff Tambellini from Los Angeles and solid recent draft picks like winger Kyle Okposo. Ryan O’Marra, now in his last year of junior, should have an impact at the pro level. Blake Comeau is scoring at a torrid pace for a rookie in the AHL. Bruno Gervais, Dustin Kohn and Wes O’Neill are all developing well within the organization. Gervais remains in the NHL lineup.
Weaknesses: Petteri Nokelainen (2004) and Robert Nilsson (2003) are first round picks who are overdue in terms of demonstrating to the organization that they belong in the NHL. The organization is weak in goaltending prospects, but given the long-term commitment made by the Isles to Rick DiPietro, the battle among the competent prospects in goal will be for the backup role for the foreseeable future.
Top Five Prospects: Robert Nilsson (LW), Petteri Nokelainen (LW), Kyle Okposo (RW), Ryan O’Marra (C), Jeff Tambellini (LW)
Key Graduates: none

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