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: As the New Jersey Devils enter a transition period, their farm system will be analyzed and rebuilt across the board. One area that needs little refinement is their defense. For years, the team has done a great job of strengthening their blue line in developing talents such as Adam Larsson, Jon Merrill, Eric Gelinas, and recently, Damon Severson. There are still impact players in the pipeline too, with Joshua Jacobs and Steve Santini developing outside the pro game. There is also an abundance of versatile two-way forwards who can fill complementary roles.
Weaknesses: New general manager Ray Shero has a big task ahead of him to renovate a forward corps that has been unimpressive in the salary cap era. New Jersey has failed to develop a consistent stream of forwards, especially top-six talent ,outside of Adam Henrique. Many prospects have potential to become scorers, but they have just as good a chance to flame out like many before them. There is a need at every position for highly-skilled players, most notably at right wing. The organization could use another left-handed shooting defenseman. The goaltending pool has thinned out and will need to be addressed after the forwards.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Damon Severson, D; 2. Reid Boucher, LW; 3. Seth Helgeson, D; 4. Reece Scarlett, D; 5. Graham Black, C.
Key Additions: Joe Blandisi (Free Agency)
Strengths: American Brandon Halverson and Russian Igor Shestyorkin give the New York Rangers strength in goal, not to mention 21-year-old Mackenzie Skapski, who should soften the potential blow of losing Cam Talbot. The organization doesn’t really have any potential top-pairing defenders outside of Brady Skjei, but players like Connor Allen, Ryan Graves, Dylan McIlrath, and Daniel Walcott are all capable defensemen in their own right.
Weaknesses: The Rangers will have a shortage of decent forward prospects, and it is a problem that will compound itself as forwards like Oscar Lindberg are expected to graduate next season. Anthony Duclair, perhaps the team’s lone top-six prospect, was dealt to the Arizona Coyotes in the trade for Keith Yandle, and while Pavel Buchnevich boasts some skill, there’s a substantial drop in talent after that.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Pavel Buchnevich, LW; 2. Brady Skjei, D; 3. Brandon Halverson, G; 4. Oscar Lindberg, C; 5. Dylan McIlrath, D.
Key Losses: Anthony Duclair (Trade – ARI), Kevin Hayes (Graduation), Jesper Fast (Graduation), JT Miller (Graduation)
Strengths: The greatest strength of the Philadelphia Flyers system has to be their deep and diverse group of defensive prospects. From the bruising Sam Morin, to the fast-skating Shayne Gostisbehere, and the skilled Travis Sanheim, the Flyers have defensive prospects who can fill a variety of different roles at the NHL level. There is also some NHL-ready talent at forward, most notably Scott Laughton, who is coming off a solid rookie pro season split between the AHL and NHL. The Flyers have plenty of depth along the wings, assuring the organization will have a steady supply of affordable depth at forward.
Weaknesses: The Flyers do not have many top-tier forwards in their system, especially ones who can take on top-six scoring roles in the NHL. There is little in the way of center depth, with Laughton and Nick Cousins the only forward prospects listed at center.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Scott Laughton, C; 2. Sam Morin, D; 3. Shayne Gostisbehere, D; 4. Travis Sanheim, D; 5. Nick Cousins, C.
Key Additions: Chris Marti (free agent), Cole Bardreau (free agent), Danick Martel (free agent)
Strengths: The Pittsburgh Penguins have a handful of defensive prospects ready for the NHL, headlined by defensemen Derrick Pouliot and Brian Dumoulin. There are also several forwards who are expected to push for NHL roster spots this fall, namely center Oskar Sundqvist and wingers Kasperi Kapanen, Bryan Rust, and Scott Wilson. Past those forwards there is a fair amount of depth, and while many of the players do not project to be more than middle to bottom-of-the-lineup players in the NHL, there are several who possesses some long-term promise. The greatest strength of the Penguins system is in net, where they have two standout goaltending prospects in Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry.
Weaknesses: Kasperi Kapanen is the sole top-six forward prospect in the system, and past him there are a lot of question marks. Graduations and trades have depleted what was once one of the deepest groups of defensive prospects in the NHL. Past the handful of top prospects, there are a lot of players who have either underachieved or failed to meet their potential for one reason or another.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Derrick Pouliot; D, 2. Scott Harrington, D; 3. Oskar Sundkvist, C; 4. Kasperi Kapanen, RW; 5. Matt Murray, G.
Key Losses: Philip Samuelsson (Trade – ARI)
Strengths: The Carolina Hurricanes might lack top-end offensive talent, but the organization has plenty of players capable of filling out energy roles in the near future. Players like Brendan Woods, Clark Bishop, Brock McGinn and 2014 third round pick Warren Foegele are all regarded as good checkers who can play a physical brand of hockey. The organization also improved its defensive depth, which already features strong-skating Haydn Fleury, by adding Los Angeles Kings prospect Roland McKeown in a mid-season trade.
Weaknesses: Right wing and center are positions of weakness for Carolina. In fact, the organization has just three listed right wing prospects at the pro level, with none in junior or the NCAA. Greg Nemisz is the team’s best bet at the position and he’s close to a career minor-leaguer at this point in his career. Recently-signed Lucas Wallmark might bring some skill to the center position, but there’s not much beyond that.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Haydn Fleury, D; 2. Alex Nedeljkovic, G; 3. Brock McGinn, LW; 4. Jaccob Slavin, D; 5. Trevor Carrick, D.
Key Additions: Roland McKeown (Trade-LA)
Key Losses: Victor Rask (Graduation), Ryan Murphy (Graduation)
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)