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.
16. Calgary Flames
Strengths: The Flames pool is an ever-improving and often underrated group, led by Dustin Boyd who split time between the AHL and the NHL in his pro rookie season. Daniel Ryder racked up the points as an OHL rental player. Leland Irving was one of the WHL‘s top goaltenders again this past season and Russian Andrei Taratukhin‘s tied for team high in scoring in Omaha. The Flames deepest position is between the pipes where aside from Irving they also have Curtis McElhinney who ranked third in the AHL in wins, second in goals-against average, and tied for first in shutouts. Another WHL standout Matt Keetley backstopped the Medicine Hat Tigers to the Memorial Cup tournament.
Weaknesses: Offense on the wings and the blue line should be of concern as there are few potential impact players to be found although there are a plethora of role players who could contribute at the NHL level.
Top Five Prospects: Dustin Boyd (C), Leland Irving (G), Daniel Ryder (C), Andrei Taratukhin (C), Mark Giordano (D)
Key Graduates: none
17. Buffalo Sabres
Strengths: Buffalo has a great cadre of talented offensive centermen, headlined by Marek Zagrapan and the pint-sized NCAA sniper Nathan Gerbe. They have good top-end talent on the wings, with Drew Stafford already producing with the Sabres, and Clarke MacArthur putting up a breakthrough season with Rochester. They also have a strong group of underrated defensemen, with Andrej Sekera and Marc-Andre Gragnani bringing excellent offensive awareness and defensive responsibility to the table. Add Michael Funk‘s strong defensive play to the table, and the Sabres are looking good on the point.
Weaknesses: Jhonas Enroth is the Sabres only quality netminding prospect. With Ryan Miller around for the foreseeable future, it is not a pressing issue, but more depth should be added to the mix. Beyond Stafford, the Sabres lack size among their better forwards. Daniel Paille is their only quality prospect on the left side.
Top Five Prospects: Drew Stafford (RW), Clarke MacArthur (C), Andrej Sekera (D), Marek Zagrapan (C), Daniel Paille (LW)
Key Graduates: none
Strengths: The Avalanche are by far the strongest on offense, with prospects spread across all three forward positions. This may seem surprising after several of their top offensive prospects graduated over the course of the season, including rookie of the year candidate Paul Stastny and sniper Wojtek Wolski. Most of the team’s top forward prospects are now playing in the NCAA. Michigan’s Hensick leads this group. There are some intriguing defensemen, starting with Kyle Cumiskey, who may make the jump to the NHL this fall after a short stint in 2006-07.
Weaknesses: There is very little in the goaltending pipeline, and none of them blue-chippers. The Avalanche blue line is also thin beyond a few top players, and adding a couple of pointmen should be a priority at this year’s entry draft.
Top Five Prospects: T.J. Hensick (C), Ryan Stoa (C), Chris Stewart (RW), Kyle Cumiskey (D), Denis Parshin (RW)
Key Graduates: Wojtek Wolski, Paul Stastny, Brad Richardson
Strengths: Although the top three prospects are not defensemen, the Thrashers prospect pool is very deep in this area. Eight of the team’s top 14 prospects play at this position. Nathan Oystrick, Tobias Enstrom and Chad Denny are all potential power play quarterbacks. Between the pipes, Ondrej Pavelec is starter-caliber and is the team’s top prospect. Up front, Bryan Little was sixth in OHL scoring this year and Brett Sterling was AHL Rookie of the Year. A good number of rookies will likely join the big club this fall.
Weaknesses: While there is good talent at the top of the list, all of the top prospects have significant question marks surrounding them for one reason or another. At the other end of the spectrum, the talent pool lacks depth in positions other than defense, particularly after the departure of their previous top prospects Braydon Coburn and Alex Bourret in deadline deals.
Top Five Prospects: Ondrej Pavelec (G), Bryan Little (C), Brett Sterling (RW), Mark Popovic (D), Grant Lewis (D)
Key Graduates: none
20. Anaheim Ducks
Strengths: The Ducks strength lies on the right side of their forward unit, with both Bobby Ryan and Bryce Swan potential power forwards, displaying great hands along with good size and some physicality. In Jean-Philippe Levasseur, the Ducks have a quality goaltender of the future. Mark Mitera and Brendan Mikkelson are two quality potential top four defensemen for the Ducks, each bringing a different aspect to the table, with Mitera’s safe, stay-at-home style being contrasted by Mikkelson’s better offensive skills.
Weaknesses: The Ducks main weakness is overall depth. They have one or two decent prospects at all positions, but one failing to pan out leaves them bare at that position. Injuries have been in the background of several of Anaheim’s prospects in recent years, with Swan, Mikkelson, and Tim Brent having missed sizeable chunks of time in their young careers, though those past injury issues seem to be just that – in the past.
Top Five Prospects: Bobby Ryan (RW), Mark Mitera (D), Jean-Philippe Levasseur (G), Brendan Mikkelson (D), Bryce Swan (RW)
Key Graduates: Dustin Penner
Strengths: Goaltending and defensive help are prevalent all throughout the organization’s depth chart: Luc Bourdon, Alexander Edler, and Kirill Koltsov are the standard-bearers for the club’s future. And now that skilled blue liners are at a premium, they enable the Canucks to have the flexibility to shore up other areas in need of support. Between the pipes, Cory Schneider has good solid potential.
Weaknesses: A lack of offense was the Canucks’ undoing in these NHL playoffs, and, unfortunately, there is little in the way of elite offensive potential on the horizon. For a team suddenly starved for offense, players like Michael Grabner and long-shot prospect Jannik Hansen offer glimpses of the dynamic play and offensive firepower that could potentially provide spark.
Top Five Prospects: Luc Bourdon (D), Cory Schneider (G), Alexander Edler (D), Michael Grabner (RW), Kirill Koltsov (D)
Key Graduates: Kevin Bieksa
22. San Jose Sharks
Strengths: San Jose has been a good drafting team in the last decade. The current roster is made up mostly by homegrown talent – many of which are shrewd late-round selections, which is vital in the new-age NHL. The top prospect in the system is Joe Pavelski who was drafted in the seventh round of the 2003 NHL entry draft. He has been very impressive this season and seems to be a lock to make the team. Devin Setoguchi and Jamie McGinn could play on the top three lines a few years time with their speed and scoring touch. On the defensive end, hulking Ty Wishart tops the pool.
Weaknesses: The prospects pipeline is running a bit dry in San Jose right now, after several youngsters were promoted in the last few years. The team doesn’t have a bona fide blue-chipper at any position, as their system is made up by several solid but unspectacular prospects. Two prospects who could have been identified as blue-chippers are former first rounders, Lukas Kaspar and Mike Morris, but they haven’t been progressing as the team had hoped.
Top Five Prospects: Joe Pavelski (C), Ty Wishart (D), Devin Setoguchi (RW), Taylor Dakers (G), Jamie McGinn (LW)
Key Graduates: Matt Carle, Steve Bernier, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Ryane Clowe
23. Florida Panthers
Strengths: The Panthers are strongest up front. Michael Frolik is a slick playmaker taken in early in the 2006 draft, and is already playing well in North America in the QMJHL. Kenndal McArdle and Anthony Stewart fit the mold of a power forward, but Stewart has somewhat plateaued in his development. Newly arrived Shawn Matthias, like the aforementioned wingers, also brings skill and physicality to the table. Tyler Plante, who turns pro this fall, is the team’s top goaltending prospect, and could be the answer for the Panthers between the pipes a couple years down the road. The addition of Noah Welch at the trade deadline boosted the defensive pool that was getting dangerously thin.
Weaknesses: With some former top picks not panning out, the pipeline is thin overall, perhaps thinnest at defense. The team had a good 2006 draft, and added quality prospects in the lead-up to this past season’s trade deadline, so things are looking up.
Top Five Prospects: Noah Welch (D), Michael Frolik (C), Kenndal McArdle (LW), Anthony Stewart (RW), Tyler Plante (G)
Key Graduates: none
Strengths: The Penguins greatest strength lies on the blue line, with a solid group of both offensive-minded and defensively responsible defensemen. Kristopher Letang headlines both groups, bringing exceptional offensive skill with solid two-way play. Alex Goligoski is in a more offensive mold. Carl Sneep and Brian Strait bring strong play in their own end to the table. The Pens also have a deep group of centermen, headed up by Ryan Stone. Goaltending has emerged as a burgeoning strength, largely on the back of Bobby Goepfert‘s breakout season.
Weaknesses: Pittsburgh’s top-end skill among forwards took a plummet after the graduation of their top two prospects, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal. While Jonathan Filewich and Tyler Kennedy have posted modest offensive numbers, they are in a minority up front, among a group that is already thin.
Top Five Prospects: Kristopher Letang (D), Alex Goligoski (D), Jonathan Filewich (RW), Ryan Stone (C), Carl Sneep (D)
Key Graduates: Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, Colby Armstrong
Strengths: The Leafs strength lies between the pipes with Justin Pogge as the goalie of the future. The Leafs have many depth blue liners and small but speedy wingers. The Leafs also have players like Nikolai Kulemin and Johan Dahlberg – boom or bust prospects who could rapidly raise the club’s fortunes, or sink them if they don’t pan out.
Weaknesses: The club has some elite talent, but not a lot. Tlusty looks good, but probably doesn’t project to first-line talent. The blue liners in the organization are probably fifth and sixth defensemen at best, and there’s not much size up front. With lack of draft picks the past few years, depth remains an issue.
Top Five Prospects: Justin Pogge (G), Jiri Tlusty (C), Robbie Earl (LW), Nikolai Kulemin (LW), Jeremy Williams (RW)
Key Graduates: Carlo Colaiacovo, Ian White
26. Ottawa Senators
Strengths: The current Senators lineup shows the one benefit of several years of losing, as many of their players were drafted high due to the club’s once-woeful showing. However, years of success haven’t greatly impacted the club’s ability to find talent to keep the cupboards relatively stocked. Josh Hennessy, obtained in the Martin Havlat trade, is the club’s bestprospect, but they also have some solid potential on the blue line (Brian Lee, Kirill Lyamin) and between the pipes (Brian Elliott). In addition, with gritty players like Cody Bass and Nick Foligno in the system, the Senators may soon be able to shed that all-style-no-substance criticism that’s dogged them for years.
Weaknesses: A little top-heavy in terms of overall depth. Lee is probably the club’s best blue liner, but his performance has slipped a bit. Behind him the pickings are slim. Once you get past the top five or six players, there’s little in the organization that projects to a long-term NHL career.
Top Five Prospects: Josh Hennessy (C), Brian Lee (D), Nick Foligno (LW), Igor Mironov (C), Kirill Lyamin (D)
Key Graduate: none
27. Dallas Stars
Strengths: The Dallas Stars have been very successful in drafting European prospects and developing them in their system, as five of the top six prospects hail from Europe. The top ranked prospect is right-winger Loui Eriksson who has seen quite a few games in Dallas this past season and should be a contender for a regular spot next year. Right behind him is a highly intelligent center, Perttu Lindgren who has had a minor setback in his development this past season after putting in a monster year two years ago. He has the making of a future top-six forward. The Stars also have solid depth on the point, where they mix size, grit and skill with the likes of Ivan Vishnevskiy, Niklas Grossman, Matt Niskanen and Mark Fistric.
Weaknesses: Goaltending is a position where the Stars lack quality depth. They have only one goaltender ranked in the top 20, Tobias Stephan. He’s a solid prospect but behind him there aren’t many that appear to be future NHLers. The team could also use a few bigger bodies up front as most of their forward prospects are smaller, skilled guys.
Top Five Prospects: Loui Eriksson (RW), Matt Niskanen (D), Perttu Lindgren (C), James Neal (C), Niklas Grossman (D)
Key Graduates: none
Strengths: The Devils netminder prospect, Jeff Frazee, has had a wonderful season both as a member of the University of Minnesota and playing in the 2007 World Junior Championships. Frazee could be the heir apparent to inherit the starting job from Martin Brodeur, after Ari Ahonen – among others – were unable to live up to the expectations. Additionally, New Jersey has two very good winger prospects within the organization in Nicklas Bergfors and Alexander Vasyunov.
Weaknesses: The Devils organization is devoid of first-line forward or first-pairing defensive prospects. A generally weak crop of young players are on the Devils protected list at present. Strategic trades and outstanding drafting over the next few years is a necessity, or else the Devils organization will be hard-pressed to build from within.
Top Five Prospects: Nicklas Bergfors (RW), Matthew Corrente (D), Andy Greene (D), Alexander Vasyunov (LW), Petr Vrana (C)
Key Graduates: Cam Janssen, Travis Zajac
Strengths: With three netminders among the top six Lightning prospects, the organization is strongest between the pipes. None of the three, Karri Ramo, Riku Helenius, and Vasily Koshechkin is ready to be a starter at the NHL level, but all three have the potential to be number-one netminders in the NHL somewhere down the line. The Lightning still has a solid group of strong, mobile, stay-at-home defensemen. The bulk of Tampa Bay’s prospects are already playing professional hockey.
Weaknesses: Tampa Bay has a severe shortage of good forward prospects. Many of those who turned pro last season had underwhelming rookie seasons. Additionally, while the team has quite a few legitimate young, big blue liners, there is a noticeable lack of a good offensive defenseman among them. Kevin Quick could yet fill that role, but he is still a bit of a wildcard, as he has not played beyond the high school level.
Top Five Prospects: Karri Ramo (G), Riku Helenius (G), Matt Smaby (D), Andy Rogers (D), Blair Jones (C)
Key Graduates: Shane O’Brien, Nick Tarnasky
Strengths: Goaltending continues to be the strongest point for the Hurricanes. Justin Peters, a pro rookie this season with the ‘Canes new Albany River Rats AHL affiliate, is capable of developing into solid pro goaltender. Beyond Peters, the Hurricanes also have several middling netminding prospects in the system. The Hurricanes system is also has a number of decent defensive prospects such as Brett Carson, and defensive defenseman Casey Borer. Up front, Bobby Hughes is the best of the group.
Weaknesses: The Hurricanes have graduated or traded away most of their top prospects in the last year. Sharing both an AHL and ECHL affiliate, they don’t stock the system very heavily with depth players either. Lacking both quality and quantity puts the defending Stanley Cup champions at the bottom of the pack.
Top Five Prospects: Justin Peters (G), Bobby Hughes (C), Casey Borer (D), Harrison Reed (RW), Jamie McBain (D)
Key Graduates: Cam Ward, Andrew Ladd, Anton Babchuk
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