Strengths: The Nashville Predators took the league by storm last season and will look to turn surprise into success going forward. Leading the rush are a deep and balanced unit of forwards who attack with speed and push the tempo. Many of these players, including Kevin Fiala, Pontus Aberg, and Viktor Arvidsson, are in the pros and appear on the cusp of jumping from the AHL to the NHL. On defense, Jack Dougherty seems to be the next rising star on a deep, defensive-oriented unit. Goaltending prospects Juuse Saros, Magnus Hellberg, and Marek Mazanec have shown promise and will be competing in the pros next season.
Weaknesses: Nashville is a bit undersized up front and could use a power forward to complement the speed and skill of the team. The center depth needs a boost in talent, while most of the better right wing prospects are in Europe and are not expected to become more than depth players. Graduations on the blue line have left the defense with little high-end talent outside of Dougherty. The system could use more puck-moving defensemen. While there is talent in the crease, no one has yet emerged as a potential heir to Pekka Rinne.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Kevin Fiala, LW; 2. Juuse Saros, G; 3. Vladislav Kamenev, LW; 4. Jimmy Vesey, LW; 5. Magnus Hellberg, G.
Key Additions: Kristian Nakyva (Free Agent)
Key Losses: Filip Forsberg (Graduation), Calle Jarnkrok (Graduation), Brendan Leipsic (Trade – TOR), Taylor Beck (Graduation)
Strengths: The Blues feature two excellent prospects in Ivan Barbashev and Robbie Fabbri, both of whom have played center as juniors and might challenge for NHL time later in the upcoming season. The Blues have several defensive prospects, too, who might step up in the next year or two, such as Jordan Schmaltz and Colton Parayko. The goalie situation is good as well. Although Jake Allen graduated last season, Jordan Binnington has been good so far in the AHL, and 2014 fourth-rounder Ville Husso made Team Finland’s World Junior squad last year and played well in relief, but more importantly has been a good pro in Finland’s Liiga over the past two seasons.
Weaknesses: A commitment to winning in the present has depleted some of the depth, and the team has no first round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, either. Particularly in terms of its forwards, the Blues lack bodies in the system.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Ivan Barbashev, C; 2. Robbie Fabbri, C; 3. Jordan Binnington, G; 4. Ty Rattie, RW; 5. Jordan Schmaltz, D.
Key Losses: Maxim Letunov (Trade – ARI), Dmitrij Jaskin (graduation)
Strengths: The Colorado Avalanche boast solid depth on defense in terms of prospects. Chris Bigras has shown excellent growth at the junior level and may be ready to take that next step in his career, while Stefan Elliot and Duncan Siemens are finding their way at the pro level. Will Butcher, Kyle Wood and recent free-agent signing Mason Geertsen add interesting pieces to the organization’s defensive core. Goaltender Calvin Pickard had a very impressive showing with the Avalanche last season, breaking through after three years in the AHL. He should get a chance to improve in the NHL full time next season.
Weaknesses: Skill. Colorado has quantity in prospects who could fill bottom-six roles in the NHL, but the organization is low on high-end, skilled prospects. Connor Bleackley will turn pro after back-to-back point-per-game campaigns in the WHL, but the center projects more as a high-energy, third-line pivot.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Chris Bigras, D; 2. Connor Bleackley, C; 3. Calvin Pickard, G; 4. Stefan Elliot, D; 5. Duncan Siemens, D.
Key Additions: Mason Geertsen (free agent), Mat Clark (trade-ANA)
Strengths: Dallas has extracted great value out of late-round draft picks, first with Jamie Benn, now with John Klingberg. General Manager Jim Nill has a reputation as a scouting man, and has already re-acquired a pair of Red Wings picks with whom he was familiar in Mattias Janmark and Mattias Backman. This system has quite a few intriguing names and several players ready to graduate into NHL players.
Julius Honka leads a very deep pool of defenders. As a junior-eligible player playing as a rookie in the AHL, his scoring was modest and he made mistakes, but got excellent experience. Jamie Oleksiak is ready for a depth NHL role, and the same can be said for Patrik Nemeth, who suffered an injury early in the season. Esa Lindell had a spectacular season in Finland. Even after Lindell, there are several names that project to be good pros, starting with big and rough Jyrki Jokipakka, who got a two-year deal after establishing himself as a dependable presence for Dallas over the course of last season.
Though maybe not elite talents, players like Jason Dickinson, Brett Pollock, Radek Faksa and Curtis McKenzie project to be depth players with excellent upside that comes from their work ethic.
Weaknesses: Jack Campbell was a highly-touted first round pick, but he has not looked ready to be a number one goaltender at the NHL level. The organization is being patient but could stand to bolster that position.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Julius Honka, D; 2. Brett Ritchie, RW; 3. Jamie Oleksiak, D; 4. Jack Campbell, G; 5. Jason Dickinson, LW.
Key Additions: Mattias Janmark (Trade – DET), Mattias Backman (Trade – DET)
Strengths: Though the Evander Kane trade to Buffalo helped solidify the Winnipeg Jets prospect base, it was far from bare prior to the deal. High-end prospects Joel Armia and Brendan Lemieux were added to the organization, but 2014 first round pick Nikolaj Ehlers is one of the most skilled prospects in hockey; Josh Morrisey’s skating is rivaled by few; and Nic Petan, who is set to turn pro, has been a standout junior for the past three seasons in Portland. The Jets have depth at every position, even between the pipes. Eric Comrie was one of the top goaltenders in junior this past season and Connor Hellebuyck rose to prominence with a strong season in St. John’s as well as at the 2015 World Championship for the United States.
Weaknesses: While the team has defensive depth, it lacks potential top-four candidates past Morrisey and Jan Kostalek, who impressed in the Memorial Cup with Rimouski – and even putting him in that category is a stretch. It’s nitpicking, but defense is an area where the Jets would probably like to add in the upcoming draft.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Nikolaj Ehlers, LW; 2. Josh Morrisey, D; 3. Nicolas Petan, C; 4. Joel Armia, RW; 5. Connor Hellebuyck, G.
Key Additions: Joel Armia (Trade-BUF), Brendan Lemieux (Trade-BUF)
Key Losses: Adam Lowry (Graduation)
Strengths: The defensive depth for the Minnesota Wild is not bad, though it is untested. Gustav Olofsson’s injury was a setback for his development, but he and Christian Folin project as dependable NHL defenders at the very least. After those two, Dylan Labbe is ready to start his pro career and has some skill at defending and moving the puck. Miami University sophomore Louie Belpedio is the best of the rest, and his skating ability and offensive zone presence intrigue.
Kaapo Kahkonen is a long-term project at goaltender, but with his pedigree and development so far, he could evolve into a number one much further down the road. After him, Steve Michalek has been a good college netminder for Harvard, and free agent signing Brody Hoffman out of the University of Vermont provides additional depth to replace Johan Gustafsson, who left the AHL for Sweden after an abysmal showing over the last two seasons.
Weaknesses: Alex Tuch is currently the only forward prospect who seems likely to play a top-six role in the NHL. Squandered opportunities at the 2011 NHL Draft coupled with the lack of a first round pick in 2013 means the pool is in poor shape. The team desperately needs more elite talents in the system. A true number one center prospect is the obvious priority, but any forward with elite upside would be welcomed.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Alex Tuch, RW 2. Tyler Graovac, C 3. Kaapo Kahkonen, G 4. Gustav Olofsson, D 5. Louie Belpedio, D.
Key Additions: Jared Knight (Trade – BOS)
Key Losses: Matt Dumba (Graduation), Zack Phillips (Trade – MIN)
Strengths: The recent Stanley Cup winners have one of the deepest prospect pools in the NHL in terms of depth. Teuvo Teravinen looks like he will be a star in the NHL, and behind him other forwards such as Joakim Nordstrom, Mark McNeill, Phillip Danault, and Ryan Hartman all look ready to contribute at the NHL level. There is some good defensive depth in the system, too, with Michael Paliotta, Stephen Johns, and Trevor van Riemsdyk looking like they can push for NHL jobs next season. In general, the Blackhawks are positioned well for the future, with talented players staggered across various leagues and different stages of development.
Weaknesses: The Blackhawks are lacking in the goaltending department, at least compared to other positions. Antti Raanta and Mac Carruth had respectable seasons at the professional level, but neither looks like a full time starter at the NHL level, at least not yet . Although there is a lot of depth along the blue line, it remains to be seen if any of the Blackhawks defensive prospects will develop into top-pairing, or even top-four defensemen at the NHL level.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Teuvo Teravainen, C; 2. Nick Schmaltz, C; 3. Ville Pokka, D; 4. Mark McNeill, RW; 5. Stephen Johns, D.
Key Additions: Gustav Forsling (Trade – VAN)
Key Losses: Klas Dahlbeck (Trade – ARI), Adam Clendening (Trade – VAN)