Strengths: After struggling in almost incomprehensible fashion this season, the Buffalo Sabres are nearly ready to climb back to respectability. The team will add a franchise-changing center at the 2015 NHL Draft, but already in the system is Sam Reinhart. Reinhart is an offensively-gifted player who processes play at an elite level, and should make his linemates more effective for years to come. After him, the center pipeline is still solid, with JT Compher and Connor Hurley both top college prospects with whom the organization can afford patience.
There are several solid prospects at right wing too, with Justin Bailey and Nick Baptiste projecting as gritty supports with some upside, and Hudson Fasching a finesse player with size. Jake McCabe is a top defensive prospect who joins a solid core led by Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov.
Weakness: Buffalo cashed in some prospects in order to acquire more experience in the forms of winger Evander Kane and defenseman Zach Bogosian, which hurts the prospect depth even as it presumably helps the NHL team. Having struggled in goal throughout the season, Buffalo does not have a blue-chip netminding prospect. The defensive depth is also not a point of promise, although the recent graduates make up for it.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Jack Eichel, C 2. Sam Reinhart, C 3. Jake McCabe, D 4. Justin Bailey, RW 5. Nick Baptiste, RW
Key Additions: Jason Kasdorf (Trade – WIN)
Key Losses: Joel Armia (Trade – WIN), Brendan Lemieux (Trade – WIN), Nikita Zadorov (Graduation), Mikhail Grigorenko (Graduation), Johan Larsson (Graduation)
Strengths: The Montreal Canadiens remain one of the fastest teams in the NHL thanks to their speed and skill on the wing led by the vibrant Nikita Scherbak. Jacob de la Rose has earned the trust of the coaching staff and played a supporting role in the postseason. Other forwards like Charles Hudon and Sven Andrighetto are NHL-caliber players. Goaltender Zachary Fucale is a raw talent who has shown he has starting potential and will have plenty of time to fully develop.
Weaknesses: Montreal has quantity on defense but lacks in quality behind Tinordi. The same can be said for the center position, which lacks a creative playmaker. Their forward prospects need to prove themselves at the pro level.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Jarred Tinordi, D; 2. Nikita Scherbak, RW; 3. Charles Hudon, LW; 4. Mike McCarron, RW; 5. Sven Andrighetto, RW.
Key Losses: Nathan Beaulieu (Graduation), Jack Nevins (Trade – BUF)
Strengths: There have been only a handful of organizations that have undergone the amount of turnover that the Ottawa Senators have in recent seasons, so credit to them for continuing to get the most out of their underrated group of prospects. Among the forwards, Matt Puempel and Shane Prince are pushing for NHL jobs. Nicholas Paul could one day become a daily contributor. Andrew Hammond became the darling of the hockey world in the spring and will get the chance to show he can develop into a full-time NHL goaltender this fall.
Weaknesses: As Ottawa has pushed many of its more promising prospects to the NHL, it has left the system depleted of elite talent. That is no clearer than on defense as the depth chart has craved another skilled blueliner since the graduation of Cody Ceci. Size is also a concern amongst the forwards.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Thomas Chabot, D; 2. Colin White, C; 3. Matt Puempel, LW; 4. Andreas Englund, D; 5. Shane Prince, LW.
Key Losses: Curtis Lazar (Graduation), Mark Stone (Graduation), Jean-Gabriel Pageau (Graduation)
Strengths: The Leafs have a trio of exciting prospects around whom a restructuring might occur. Center William Nylander is a dynamic and creative player in the Patrick Kane mold, and new Head Coach Mike Babcock is tasked with making him a complete and responsible presence. Wingers Brendan Leipsic and Connor Brown are also smaller-framed players, but each topped 100 points in a season during his CHL career and, most importantly, showed the ability to translate that junior offense to the AHL last season. A new regime in Toronto might mean that there is little allegiance to incoming prospects, but there is some additional depth in players like defenseman Stuart Percy, checking center Frederik Gauthier, and 2013 third-rounder Carter Verhaeghe. A European prospect like Pierre Engvall, or puck-moving defenseman Matt Finn, might also be ready for extended looks.
Weaknesses: As suggested above, the size factor of the top offensive prospects creates a bit of redundancy. Toronto’s drafting was below-average for several years, leaving the pool overall in a depleted state.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. William Nylander, C; 2. Connor Brown, RW; 3. Stuart Percy, D; 4. Frederik Gauthier, C; 5. Brendan Leipsic, LW.
Key Additions: Brendan Leipsic (Trade – NSH)
Strengths: The Tampa Bay Lightning lost a few players to graduation this season, including highly-skilled Jonathan Drouin, but the team’s prospect base remains fairly strong. The organization’s strength is between the pipes with the top goaltending prospect in all of hockey, Andrey Vasilevskiy. Beyond the big Russian, the Lightning also have Latvian Kristers Gudlevskis and recently-signed Adam Wilcox, who just finished a very impressive three-year career at the University of Minnesota. The Lightning are also deep at defense, with CHL Defenseman of the Year Anthony DeAngelo leading the way; Slater Koekkoek, Nikita Nesterov, Johnathan MacLeod and Dylan Blujus are all legitimate NHL prospects at defense, as well.
Weaknesses: Tampa lacks quality prospects on the left side, minus Nikita Gusev, who is still in Russia. At the NHL level, it’s still a very young team so the lack of quality forward prospects is not much of a concern yet. That said, beyond Adam Erne, who will turn pro next season, there’s not much to get excited about on the right side, either.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Andrey Vasilevskiy, G; 2. Anthony DeAngelo, D; 3. Vladislav Namestnikov, C; 4. Adam Erne, RW; 5. Brayden Point, C.
Key Additions: David Broll (Trade-TOR)
Key Losses: Jonathan Drouin (Graduation), Cedric Paquette (Graduation)
Strengths: The Florida Panthers have a young core in place and look to support them with complementary pieces. Their strength lies on defense with Mike Matheson, Ian McCoshen, Alex Petrovic, and Jonathan Racine, all of whom look like capable NHL defensemen. Florida is also well-stocked at center with Rocco Grimaldi, Jayce Hawryluk, and Kyle Rau.
Weaknesses: Much of the Panther’s high-end talent from over the years has graduated, leaving this deep system limited on skilled forwards, especially on the wings. Now with Aaron Ekblad in the NHL, there does not appear to be a true top-end offensive defenseman in the system. While Roberto Luongo’s contract expires in 2022, there is currently no goaltender in the system that stands above the rest as the future in net.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Mike Matheson, D; 2. Ian McCoshen, D; 3. Rocco Grimaldi, C; 4. Alex Petrovic, D; 5. Jayce Hawryluk, C
Key Losses: Aaron Ekblad (Graduation), Vincent Trocheck (Graduation), Brandon Pirri (Graduation)
Strengths: The Detroit Red Wings have one of the finest developmental systems in the NHL and have churned out NHL contributors on a regular basis for many years. Their system is loaded with talent up front, with winger Teemu Pulkkinen pressing for regular NHL duties and former first-round picks Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha not far behind. There are also several very talented defensemen in the system, headlined by Xavier Ouellet, Ryan Sproul, and Alexey Marchenko – all of whom appear to have promising NHL careers in front of them. Beyond the prospects who are pushing for a spot in the NHL, there is good depth at every position.
Weaknesses: There are several Red Wings prospects who have decent size, but the majority are a little undersized, especially at forward. The goaltending depth could probably stand to be upgraded now that Petr Mrazek has graduated from prospect status. The Red Wings could probably use a little more depth on defense , as well.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Dylan Larkin, C; 2. Anthony Mantha, RW; 3. Teemu Pulkkinen, RW; 4. Xavier Ouellet, D; 5. Ryan Sproul, D.
Key Losses: Mattias Janmark (Trade – DAL), Mattias Backman (Trade – DAL), Tomas Jurco (Graduation), Petr Mrazek (Graduation)
Strengths: Goaltending is an obvious strength for the Boston Bruins, with Tuukka Rask firmly planted in the NHL as the team’s starting goaltender. High-end prospect Malcolm Subban is likely to earn some playing time as a backup in the near future, while Zane McIntyre, a 2010 sixth round pick, has posted back-to-back banner seasons at the University of North Dakota. Down the middle of the ice, neither Ryan Spooner nor Alexander Khoklachev project as number one centers, but give the organization NHL-level depth at that position. They’re joined by Seth Griffith, as well as Ryan Donato and Ryan Fitzgerald, who have yet to turn pro.
Weaknesses: The Bruins have 11 defensemen in the organization still regarded as prospects, but none really stand out. Joe Morrow, who is already with his third team, is the team’s top prospect on the blue line, and while he looked okay in 15 games for the Bruins last season, he does not project as much higher than a bottom-pairing defenseman. Matt Grzelcyk has more offensive potential from the back end, but is returning to Boston University for his fourth and final season in 2015-16.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Malcolm Subban, G; 2. Ryan Spooner, C; 4. Alexander Khoklachev, C; 4. David Pastrnak, RW; 5. Zane McIntyre, G.
Key Additions: Noel Acciari (free agent), Zack Phillips (Trade – MIN)
Key Losses: Jared Knight (Trade – BOS)