Eastern Conference

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Buffalo Sabres

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Strengths: The Buffalo Sabres have a stacked prospect group that will help their rebuild at the NHL level over the next few years. The team added 11 newly drafted prospects, including two towering physical defensemen in Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov. Their talent pool is extremely deep at the center, defense, and goaltending positions. The organization has many prospects already playing in the NHL, led by forwards Zemgus Girgensons, Johan Larsson, and Mikhail Grigorenko.

Weaknesses: Buffalo is not especially deep with natural wingers, particularly on the left side. The organization also lacks an elite, goal-scoring forward. Though many of their top prospects are already playing in the NHL, it will still take some time for them to reach their potential.

Top 5 Prospects: 1. Mikhail Grigorenko, C; 2. Rasmus Ristolainen, D; 3. Brayden McNabb, D; 4. Mark Pysyk, D; 5. Matt Hackett, G.

Key Additions: Nikita Zadorov (2013), Rasmus Ristolainen (2013), JT Compher (2013), Gustav Possler (2013).

Key Losses: Riley Boychuk (trade-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).

 

Montreal Canadiens

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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.

Top 5 Prospects: 1. Nathan Beaulieu, D; 2. Jarred Tinordi, D; 3. Sebastian Collberg, RW; 4. Mike McCarron, RW; 5. Charles Hudon, LW.

Key Additions: Mike McCarron (2013), Zachary Fucale (2013), Christian Thomas (trade-NYR), Stefan Fournier (UFA), Mike Condon (UFA).

Key Losses: Alexander Galchenyuk (graduation), Brendan Gallagher (graduation), Danny Kristo (trade-NYR).

 

Ottawa Senators

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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.

Key Additions: Curtis Lazar (2013), Marcus Hogberg (2013), Vincent Dunn (2013), Ludwig Karlsson (UFA)

Key Losses: Patrick Wiercioch (graduation), Mika Zibanejad (graduation), Cory Conacher (graduation), Jakob Silfverberg (trade-ANA), Stefan Noesen (trade-ANA), Pat Cannone (trade-STL).

 

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).

 

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).

 

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).