Below is the 21-30 segment of the Hockey's Future NHL Team Rankings. The teams are ranked in terms of the quality of their overall prospect pool as voted on by members of the HF staff. For reference, just the top five prospects for each club are listed. To be eligible, a prospect must meet HF's prospect criteria. The rankings are done twice a year, with this ranking meant to represent the state of the prospect pools in the early stages of the 2013-14 season.
The lockout-shortened 2012-13 season left a number of established NHL players entering the 2013-14 season with 15-20 games left to meet the 65-game threshold. As the NHL season now approaches the quarter pole, a number of NHL players were graduated to better reflect the team's prospect pools moving forward.
The bottom section of the Team Rankings is an eclectic group. Some of the bottom-ranked teams are successfully run organizations that have shallow prospect pools as a result of graduations, trades, and low draft picks, while other teams are ranked low because of their inability to identify and develop NHL-caliber talent.
Strengths: Adding Nathan MacKinnon would make any team's pipeline jump in the ranking. Like top picks before him, Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog, MacKinnon will not be long for prospect status as long as he continues to look as comfortable burning past NHL defensemen as he did last year in the QMJHL. The 2013 NHL Draft also yielded Chris Bigras, adding another potential top-four blueliner to the defensive corps. The goaltending position is very deep at the pro level, with the 2013 draft yielding yet another strong addition to that position in Spencer Martin.
Weaknesses: There is a substantial drop in talent beyond MacKinnon, particularly among the forward prospects. The wing positions are especially weak in terms of both quality and quantity. For all the top picks in the Avalanche system, prospects like Duncan Siemens and Calvin Pickard have not quite developed as expected so far.
Key Additions: Nathan MacKinnon (2013), Chris Bigras (2013), Spencer Martin (2013).
22. San Jose Sharks
Strengths: The Sharks have a good variety of players within their system, the most notable being Tomas Hertl, who has had an electric start to his NHL career. The organization also has a seemingly constant supply of talented players from the NCAA, led by NHL rookie Matt Nieto. The addition of Mirco Mueller is a good pickup to an already solid blue line group. Centers and defenseman seem to be the greatest areas of strength for the Sharks, and they have good variety and talent within those groups.
Weaknesses: The Sharks lack top-end punch. Outside of Hertl, the system is primarily made up of bottom-six players. In particular, they lack depth at the wing position, where only Nieto and free-agent signing Daniil Tarasov look to be potential threats. While their back end strength is good, the team has holes at the forward positions.
Strengths: The Toronto Maple Leafs have one of the top defensive prospects in the NHL in Morgan Rielly. Past Rielly, the organization has several defensemen such as Matt Finn and Stuart Percy who should develop into serviceable NHL players over the next couple years. There are also several forwards who are pressing for time in the NHL, most notably Josh Leivo, Carter Ashton, and Greg McKegg. The Leafs also have many role players in their system, assuring they can keep their bottom-six well stocked with affordable talent.
Weaknesses: There are no forwards with star potential in the system. Goaltending prospects Garret Sparks and Christopher Gibson have a lot to prove before they can be considered viable NHL backups, let alone starters. Several promising forward prospects, such as Frederik Gauthier and Carter Verhaeghe, remain projects at this point in their development.
Top 5 prospects: 1. Morgan Rielly, D; 2. Frederik Gauthier, C; 3. Josh Leivo, LW; 4. Matt Finn, D; 5. Stuart Percy, D.
Key Additions: Frederik Gauthier (2013), Carter Verhaeghe (2013), Fabrice Herzog (2013), Christopher Gibson (UFA).
Key Losses: Joe Colborne (trade-CGY).
Strengths: The 2013 NHL Draft additions of Bo Horvat and Hunter Shinkaruk further solidified a group of forwards that already included Nicklas Jensen, Jordan Schroeder, and Brendan Gaunce. Defensively, Frank Corrado is a solid defensive prospect who is on the fringes of the NHL. Vancouver is a top-heavy system, but there are college prospects with potential, such as Wisconsin forward Joseph Labate and Maine defenseman Ben Hutton.
Weaknesses: Like many perennially successful teams, the Canucks have not had the luxury of stockpiling high draft picks and lack quality depth as a result. While the additions of Horvat and Shinkaruk strengthen their top-end talent, there is a drop in quality after that. They have very little in the defensive pipeline as well, and even Corrado, their top defenseman, has questionable staying power at the NHL level.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Nicklas Jensen, RW; 2. Bo Horvat, C; 3. Brendan Gaunce, C; 4. Jordan Schroeder, C; 5. Frank Corrado, D.
Strengths: The most obvious strength of the Capitals prospect pool is super talent Yevgeni Kuznetsov. Winger Tom Wilson looks formidable as an NHL rookie and Tomas Kundratek, Michael Latta, Connor Carrick, Nate Schmidt, Philipp Grubauer, and Alexander Urbom have all seen NHL time. In terms of big upside, the pool is heavily dependent on Kuznetsov, recent first round pick Andre Burakovsky, and right-handed defenseman Madison Bowey.
Weaknesses: Much of the top talent in the organization has graduated or moved on in some fashion. Outside of Kuznetsov, there is very little in terms of high potential among the forward prospects. There is not much in the way of depth or talent at the center position. The blue line has been augmented by clever drafting and free agent signings, but the defensive prospect pool lacks a blue-chip talent.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Yevgeni Kuznetsov, RW; 2. Tom Wilson, RW; 3. Andre Burakovsky, LW; 4. Tomas Kundratek, D; 5. Philipp Grubauer, G.
Key Additions: Andre Burakovsky (2013), Madison Bowey (2013), Zach Sanford (2013), Alexander Urbom (waivers-NJ).
Strengths: The Kings have at least one strong player at just about every position outside of goaltending. Defensively, the team is waiting on Kevin Gravel to come out of college as a prime shutdown candidate while Derek Forbort has already begun playing in the AHL. Linden Vey still figures as the team's primary center prospect, while Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson round out the wings. The addition of hard working Valentin Zykov is a boost to the left wing corps. There is also variety in their top players, with a sniper, a set-up man, a power-forward, and two-way and shutdown defensemen.
Weaknesses: There is a considerable drop in talent past the Kings top prospects. While the organization has used late-round draft picks well in the past, and they do have a meaty group of potential role players, the system overall is a toss-up at best.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Tyler Toffoli, RW; 2. Tanner Pearson, LW; 3. Valentin Zykov, LW; 4. Linden Vey, C; 5. Derek Forbort, D.
27. New York Rangers
Strengths: The Rangers own a diverse group of prospects with not only good upside, but the ability to fill a variety of roles at professional level. There are several prospects with intriguing NHL potential, including Chris Kreider, Danny Kristo, Oscar Lindberg, and Jesper Fast. The smooth skating Brady Skjei and the rugged Dylan McIlrath should provide depth down the line. Pavel Buchnevich and Anthony Duclair are among a handful of prospects who possess high potential, but are long-term projects at this point in their careers.
Weaknesses: The depth chart is quite shallow all the way around. The Rangers' blue line depth at the NHL needs to remain together because there is little in the way of quality reinforcements on the way. The blue line is in particular need of a puck-moving defenseman who can lead the power play. The depth at center also lacks much offensive upside. The organization does not appear to have a goaltending prospect who possesses NHL starting potential.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Chris Kreider, LW; 2. Danny Kristo, RW; 3. J.T. Miller, RW; 4. Jesper Fast, RW; 5. Dylan McIlrath, D.
Key Losses: Christian Thomas (trade-MTL).
Strengths: The Hurricanes have two quality prospects playing their rookie seasons in the NHL in Elias Lindholm and Ryan Murphy. The system overall is well stocked with defensemen, many of whom are playing at the professional level. There are also several prospects in the system who could develop into serviceable NHL players, such as Brock McGinn or Danny Biega.
Weaknesses: Outside of Lindholm, there are no forwards with top-six potential. In general, the system lacks overall depth at forward. The goaltending ranks are also thin, with no heir apparent for Cam Ward on the near horizon.
Key Additions: Elias Lindholm (2013), Brett Pesce (2013), Sergey Tolchinsky (UFA).
Key Losses: Zac Dalpe (trade-VAN), Jeremy Welsh (trade-VAN).
Strengths: The brightest spot in the system is the Devils defense. After losing Alexander Urbom on waivers, the group is headed by Jon Merrill, Damon Severson, Eric Gelinas, and Steve Santini, all of whom have NHL potential. Goal-scorer extraordinaire Reid Boucher ranks highly and recent draft pick Myles Bell might surprise some people. The organization has also made a strong effort to bolster their goaltending depth.
Weaknesses: The most obvious weakness is having one natural right winger, a 25-year-old minor-leaguer, in the group. The forward depth is rather concerning in general. Behind a couple of left wingers and former first-round pick Stefan Matteau, the group is pretty uninspiring. The Devils should learn a lot about the pro goaltenders in the system this season. Scott Wedgewood and Keith Kinkaid seem to be the only relevant ones right now and it remains unclear if they have upside beyond backup status.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Jon Merrill, D; 2. Damon Severson, D; 3. Reid Boucher, LW; 4. Scott Wedgewood, G; 5. Eric Gelinas, D.
Key Losses: Alexander Urbom (waivers-WAS).
Strengths: Defensive prospects Samuel Morin and Robert Hagg really augment a blue line group who lacked upside outside of Shayne Gostisbehere. The Flyers have a very athletic goalie project to work on in Anthony Stolarz, who is now in a pro-style system with London (OHL). Down the middle, Scott Laughton and Nick Cousins are good two-way players who are close to being NHL ready.
Weaknesses: There are a lot of potatoes but not much meat. The lack of elite talent is noteworthy and the depth at each position is very questionable, if not anonymous. There are some serviceable role players to be had, but not much more than any other organization. There are a lot of high-risk/high-reward prospects, but without a quality base to support, it creates a group that is hard to believe in.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Scott Laughton, C; 2. Nick Cousins, C; 3. Samuel Morin, D; 4. Shayne Gostisbehere, D; 5. Anthony Stolarz, G.
Key Losses: Erik Gustafsson (graduation).
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