Eastern Conference

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Toronto Maple Leafs

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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).

 

New Jersey Devils

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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 Additions: Steve Santini (2013), Ryan Kujawinski (2013), Scott Timmins (trade-FLA), Riley Boychuk (trade-BUF).

Key Losses: Alexander Urbom (waivers-WAS).

 

New York Rangers

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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 Additions: Pavel Buchnevich (2013), Adam Tambellini (2013), Danny Kristo (trade-MTL), Troy Donnay (UFA).

Key Losses: Christian Thomas (trade-MTL).

 

Philadelphia Flyers

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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 Additions: Samuel Morin (2013), Robert Hagg (2013), Michael Raffl (UFA), Maxim Lamarche (UFA).

Key Losses: Erik Gustafsson (graduation).

 

Pittsburgh Penguins

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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.

Key Additions: Tristan Jarry (2013), Jean-Sebastien Dea (UFA), Bobby Farnham (UFA), Harry Zolnierczyk (trade-ANA).

 

Carolina Hurricanes

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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.

Top 5 prospects: 1. Elias Lindholm, C; 2. Ryan Murphy, D; 3. Victor Rask, C; 4. Phil Di Giuseppe, LW; 5. Brett Pesce, D.

Key Additions: Elias Lindholm (2013), Brett Pesce (2013), Sergey Tolchinsky (UFA).

Key Losses: Zac Dalpe (trade-VAN), Jeremy Welsh (trade-VAN).

 

Tampa Bay Lightning

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Strengths: The Tampa Bay Lightning feature elite talent and depth at forward and in goal. All eyes are on KHL goalie Andrey Vasilevskiy, but the Lightning have other strong goaltending prospects in Jaroslav Janus and Adam Wilcox. Jonathan Drouin headlines a diverse and skilled group of forwards. The system is also flush with prospects who are already contributing in the NHL, including forwards Alex Killorn, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, and Richard Panik, as well as defensemen Radko Gudas, Andrej Sustr, and Mark Barberio. The Lightning have other intriguing prospects further down the pipeline, including Vladislav Namestnikov, Tanner Richard, Matthew Peca, and Henri Ikonen. Special attention should also be given to prospect Nikita Kucherov, who has been nothing short of sensational since coming to North America last season.

Weaknesses: The Lightning do not have a lot of top-flight center in the system. The group is, on whole, not all that big, either. The defense is lacking in high-end talent as well, at least compared to what they have on wing and in net.

Top 5 Prospects: 1. Jonathan Drouin, C/W; 2. Andrey Vasilevskiy, G; 3. Vladislav Namestnikov, C; 4. Nikita Kucherov, RW; 5. Slater Koekkoek, D.

Key Additions: Jonathan Drouin (2013), Adam Erne (2013), Henri Ikonen (2013).

 

Washington Capitals

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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-NJD).

 

Columbus Blue Jackets

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Strengths: The forward depth for the Columbus Blue Jackets is as strong as it has been in years. Leading up front is big center Boone Jenner, who is already making an impact in the NHL as a rookie. Further down the line are 2013 NHL Draft picks Kerby Rychel and Alexander Wennberg, both of whom project as quality NHL players. After them, the system features a number of skilled forwards to take note of, namely Marko Dano, Oliver Bjorkstrand, and the undersized Jonathan Marchessault. The organization also has a vast stable of defensive prospects, with Ryan Murray, David Savard, and Dalton Prout all currently playing in the NHL. The team also remains very high on Tim Erixon and Cody Goloubef as long-term NHL options.

Weaknesses: Aside from Jenner and Rychel, the Blue Jackets do not have many forward prospects with size and toughness. Though the Jackets have some intriguing goaltending prospects in Oscar Dansk, Joonas Korpisalo, Martin Ouellette, and Anton Forsberg, all are still a couple years away from being considered viable NHL goaltenders.

Top 5 Prospects: 1. Ryan Murray, D; 2. Boone Jenner, C/W; 3. Kerby Rychel, LW; 4. Tim Erixon, D; 5. Alexander Wennberg, C.

Key Additions: Alexander Wennberg (2013), Kerby Rychel (2013), Marko Dano (2013), Oliver Bjorkstrand (2013), Ilari Melart (UFA).

Key Losses: Cam Atkinson (graduation).

 

Florida Panthers

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Strengths: The Florida Panthers have stockpiled a large amount of high draft picks over the past several seasons, many of which are just breaking into the NHL. They are particularly deep at center, with Aleksander Barkov, Nick Bjugstad, Drew Shore all showing they can play in the NHL. They also have good talent along the wings, with players such as Christopher Clapperton and Quinton Howden possessing top-six potential. The organization has solid depth on defense, led by NCAA blueliners Mike Matheson and Ian McCoshen.

Weaknesses: Though the Panthers have good defensive depth, none of their blue line prospects can match the pedigree the organization has at forward. The organization also has fair depth in net, but has struggled to develop their goaltending prospects over the years.

Top 5 prospects: 1. Aleksander Barkov, C; 2. Nick Bjugstad, C; 3. Drew Shore, C; 4. Alex Petrovic, D; 5. Quinton Howden, LW.

Key Additions: Aleksander Barkov (2013), Ian McCoshen (2013), Christopher Clapperton (2013).

Key Losses: Jonathan Huberdeau (graduation), Jacob Markstrom (graduation), Scott Timmins (trade-NJD), Corban Knight (trade-CGY).