Below is the middle section 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 HF staff. For reference, just the top five prospects 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 middle third of the rankings is headed by the Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators, two teams who, despite losing some good talent to trade and graduation, continue to have deep prospect pools to draw from. Behind those clubs, upstarts like the Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets find themselves inside the top-20 teams after bringing in quality draft picks over the summer.
11. Montreal Canadiens
Strengths: The Montreal Canadiens added even more depth to an already deep prospect pool this past offseason. Despite losing Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher to graduation, the organization has a strong prospect pool, with a balanced mix of toughness, character, talent, and speed. The defense also remains a strength for the system, led by Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi. The offseason addition of Zachary Fucale gives the Canadiens a blue-chip goaltending prospect for the future.
Weaknesses: The Canadiens are still in need of more big, physical forwards and crease-clearing defenders. Many of the Canadiens high-skill forward prospects are unproven in the pros.
Key Losses: Alexander Galchenyuk (graduation*), Brendan Gallagher (graduation*), Danny Kristo (trade-NYR).
12. Ottawa Senators
Strengths: The Ottawa Senators provided their prospects with a number of great opportunities in 2012-13. Many of those turned into permanent NHL jobs, but the team still has a number of youngsters it will be able to insert into the lineup at any given moment. The goalie of the future, Robin Lehner, is now being worked in slowly via the back-up position. At the same time, forward prospects such as Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Mark Stone, and Derek Grant are being inserted into the lineup whenever needed, and have each given various reasons to believe they can assume a regular role at some point.
Though the Senators lost a lot of talent up front by trading Jakob Silfverberg and Stefan Noesen in the offseason, they still have several top-six forward prospects in the system, namely Curtis Lazar and Matt Puempel.
Weaknesses: The Senators have graduated a lot of their own defensive prospects in recent years, including Erik Karlsson, Jared Cowen, and Patrick Wiercioch, leaving the current defensive prospect crop lacking any elite defensive talent.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Robin Lehner, G; 2. Curtis Lazar, C/W; 3. Cody Ceci, D; 4. Mark Borowiecki, D; Jean-Gabriel Pageau, C.
13. Calgary Flames
Strengths: The Calgary Flames have strengthened their organizational depth and talent in their prospect pool over the last several years. They have added leadership, character, physicality, and better speed to their system. The organization possesses a good group of versatile forwards, including several with high-end potential at center and left wing, led by current NHL players Sean Monahan and Sven Baertschi. The Flames have a good young goaltender with NHL potential in Providence College goalie Jon Gillies.
Weaknesses: The right wing position is lacking in depth and its overall skill level still requires upgrading. Despite having a good mix of size, physicality, and skill among their defensemen, the Flames are still in need of a mobile, offensive puck-mover in their prospect pipeline. The goaltending pool is shallow and the Flames could stand to add more depth.
Strengths: The Nashville Predators have a potential generational talent in defenseman Seth Jones. They also did well at the 2013 NHL Draft, replacing a large graduation class from the spring with a number of talented skaters like Jonathan-Ismael Diaby, Felix Girard, and Tommy Veilleux. Pontus Aberg and Taylor Beck are also developing into fine forward prospects and Austin Watson is equally intriguing. Like Jones, Mattias Ekholm is already playing NHL games and doing so with noteworthy play. Overall, the Predators have good players at every position and have done well to fill in gaps with a variety of talent.
Weaknesses: Nashville does not have an overwhelming amount of top-six talent and most of their forward prospects look to be bottom-six or complementary top-nine players. They are also undersized at forward. It has been a double-edged sword drafting so heavily from Europe, as many of the players do have skills, they just have a more European style to their game which may be difficult to transition over to North American hockey. There is a substantial drop in defensive talent after Jones and Ekholm.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Seth Jones, D; 2. Filip Forsberg, LW; 3. Taylor Beck, LW; 4. Pontus Åberg, LW; 5. Mattias Ekholm, D.
Key Additions: Seth Jones (2013), Jonathan-Ismael Diaby (2013), Felix Girard (2013), Juuse Saros (2013).
15. Phoenix Coyotes
Strengths: Defense has long been the strength of the Coyotes prospect pool, but the team's last two draft classes have shifted the balance of power to the forwards. Max Domi is the highly-skilled forward the system has always lacked, while Henrik Samuelsson, Lucas Lessio, and Laurent Dauphin give the group some grittier and more versatile options. Brandon Gormley heads the defensive unit, which still features plenty of upside with the likes of David Rundblad and Connor Murphy. Phoenix has a deep stable of goaltenders at the professional level, led by Mark Visentin.
Weaknesses: Some of the Phoenix forward prospects, like Andy Miele, Brendan Shinnimin, or Tobias Rieder, have offensive potential but still have to prove they can cut it in the NHL. Although Domi is a fine addition, the system is still short on top-six upside among the forwards.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Brandon Gormley, D; 2. Max Domi, C; 3. Henrik Samuelsson, C; 4. David Rundblad, D; 5. Lucas Lessio, LW.
Key Losses: Michael Stone (graduation*)
16. Winnipeg Jets
Strengths: The Jets 2013 draft class added depth at center, on defense, and in net. Jacob Trouba and Mark Scheifele remain atop their respective positions, but now talented junior players like Josh Morrissey and Nicolas Petan are backing them up. Winnipeg did the same in goal, adding Eric Comrie to a group that already has plenty of potential developing in the NCAA with the likes of Connor Hellebuyck and Jason Kasdorf. That NCAA talent extends to the skaters as well; Jordan Samuels-Thomas, Andrew Copp, and Peter Stoykewych are promising players that lend to that organization's great depth and balance.
Weaknesses: Neither wing position is particularly deep, nor do they possess the same top-level talent of the other positions. There is a good mix of skill along with character and grit, but the Jets pool drops off after the top tier of prospects.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Jacob Trouba, D; 2. Mark Scheifele, C; 3. Josh Morrissey, D; 4. Nicolas Petan, C; 5. Adam Lowry, LW.
Strengths: The Penguins have a bevy of talented defensive prospects led by blue-chippers Olli Maatta and Derrick Pouliot. Beyond those two, defensive prospects such as Simon Despres, Brian Dumoulin, and Scott Harrington also have high NHL pedigree. Beau Bennett leads a large group of forward prospects who play a high-octane style of game. The organization has also continued to improve their goaltending depth and has talent staggered over every level of competition.
Weaknesses: While the organization has a lot of quality forward prospects in the NCAA, most project to be a few years away from playing in the pros, let alone the NHL. In general, most of the Penguins prospects are long-term projects and will have to develop well for many years in order to meet their potential.
Top 5 prospects: 1. Derrick Pouliot, D; 2. Beau Bennett, RW; 3. Simon Despres, D; 4. Olli Maatta, D; 5. Scott Harrington, D.
18. Boston Bruins
Strengths: The Bruins have done a good job of making sure they have a variety of skilled prospects at all positions. They are particularly well stocked on defense, where Dougie Hamilton and Torey Krug have already made an impact at the NHL level. The minor league system also has a variety of forwards who are close to being NHL regulars, such as Matt Fraser, Seth Griffith, and Ryan Spooner. The system also has good size and toughness throughout.
Weaknesses: Past Hamilton, there is a drop in overall talent and pedigree in the system. Despite great depth, the Bruins do not have any star forwards in their ranks. Players such as Alexander Khokhlachev or Anthony Camara could end up developing into impact forwards, but they remain several years away from realizing that potential.
19. St. Louis Blues
Strengths: Coming into the 2013-14 season, the St. Louis Blues' prospect pool was headlined by talented wingers Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz. The system loses some of its luster with Schwartz graduated and Tarasenko, who missed part of the 2012-13 season to injury, very close behind him. Dmitrij Jaskin and Ty Rattie are among the next wave of wingers that will be knocking on the door to the NHL in the near future. Goaltending is another position that is poised to churn out prospects, with Jake Allen already on the cusp of regular NHL time. On the blue line, St. Louis has plenty of upside, even if players like Tommy Vannelli, Jordan Schmaltz, and Colton Parayko still have some developing to do before they contribute at the pro level.
Weaknesses: The center position is extremely shallow and lacks talent. Pivots like Evgeny Grachev and Philip McRae have gone overseas for the 2013-14 season, leaving the team extremely bare at the minor league level. Many of the Blues defensive prospects are longer term projects.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Vladimir Tarasenko, RW; 2. Jake Allen, G; 3. Ty Rattie, RW; 4. Dmitrij Jaskin, RW; 5. Jordan Binnington, G.
Key Additions: Pat Cannone (trade-OTT), Tommy Vannelli (2013), William Carrier (2013).
Key Losses: Jaden Schwartz (graduation).
20. Edmonton Oilers
Strengths: Edmonton's biggest strength is the overall depth and variety throughout their talent pool. With both quantity and quality, the defense prospects are the strongest position in the organization's farm system. Darnell Nurse now stands as the Oilers top prospect after winger Nail Yakupov and defenseman Justin Schultz graduated to the NHL club. The defense behind Nurse features a good mix of size, physicality, and good overall skill levels. There is a wide variety of talent in the forward group and good size at the center position.
Weakness: Yakupov's graduation creates a lack of high-end talent in the forward pool. The right wing position in general lacks talent and depth. Though they have taken measures to improve their goaltending situation, the Oilers need to continue adding depth for the future.
Key Losses: Nail Yakupov (graduation*), Justin Schultz (graduation*).
*Denotes prospect who, although short of 65 NHL regular season games played, was considered graduated to the NHL for the purposes of this ranking.
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