Eastern Conference

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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).

 

New York Islanders

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Strengths: The New York Islanders own one of the largest groups of defensive prospects in the entire NHL. They do not just have quantity along the blue line, either, as Matt Donovan, Griffin Reinhart, Ville Pokka, Ryan Pulock, and Scott Mayfield all project as top-four defensemen in the NHL. Up front, the team is led by Ryan Strome, who is currently heading the attack for the Islanders' AHL affiliate in Bridgeport. After Strome, the team appears confident that Brock Nelson has a future in the NHL as a top-nine forward. Anders Lee is another prospect who possesses good NHL potential.

Weaknesses: With so many young forwards joining the Islanders in recent years, and with the team's overall emphasis on drafting defensemen, the forward ranks are looking thin at the moment. Swedes Johan Sundstrom and Viktor Crus Rydberg are considered to be very promising but are long-term projects. Goaltending remains an issue as well, with Kevin Poulin and Anders Nilsson struggling at the professional level. The organization has taken some measures to address their depth in net but remains years away from reaping any potential benefits.

Top 5 Prospects: 1. Ryan Strome, C; 2. Griffin Reinhart, D; 3. Ryan Pulock, D; 4. Brock Nelson, C/LW; 5. Matt Donovan, D.

Key Additions: Ryan Pulock (2013), Eamon McAdam (2013), Stephon Williams (2013).

Key Losses: Casey Cizikas (graduation), Nino Niederreiter (trade-MIN).

 

Detroit Red Wings

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Strengths: The Red Wings regularly fill their prospect pool with quality talent despite frequently picking late in the NHL Draft. They take a slow and steady approach to their player development and allow their prospects to develop at their own pace in the minor leagues. The Wings have a potpourri of talented forwards. Forwards Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar are both ready for NHL duties after spending several years in the minors. Highly-touted Swede Calle Jarnkrok has joined the Wings AHL affiliate after several excellent seasons in Sweden. Riley Sheahan and Tomas Jurco both finished their 2012-13 seasons strongly, and appear to have taken the next step in their development. Not to be forgotten up front are the likes of Teemu Pulkkinen, Martin Frk, and Landon Ferraro, all of whom are felt to have strong NHL potential at some point in the future. The Wings own a vast and talented group of defensive prospects too, led by Dan DeKeyser, Ryan Sproul, and Xavier Ouellet.

Weaknesses: Goaltending continues to be one of the thinner organizational areas, even if Petr Mrazek is seen as a top NHL goaltending prospect after having guided Grand Rapids to the Calder Cup championship last spring. Jake Paterson is considered by some to be quite the battler, but his statistics have not yet pointed towards him having an NHL future.

Top 5 Prospects: 1. Anthony Mantha, LW; 2. Gustav Nyquist, LW; 3. Petr Mrazek, G; 4. Tomas Tatar, LW; 5. Calle Jarnkrok, C.

Key Additions: Luke Glendening (UFA), Anthony Mantha (2013), Zach Nastasiuk (2013), Tyler Bertuzzi (2013), Mattias Janmark-Nylen (2013).

 

Boston Bruins

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Strengths: The Bruins have done a good job of making sure they have a variety of skilled prospects at all positions. They are particularly well stocked on defense, where Dougie Hamilton and Torey Krug have already made an impact at the NHL level. The minor league system also has a variety of forwards who are close to being NHL regulars, such as Matt Fraser, Seth Griffith, and Ryan Spooner. The system also has good size and toughness throughout.

Weaknesses: Past Hamilton, there is a drop in overall talent and pedigree in the system. Despite great depth, the Bruins do not have any star forwards in their ranks. Players such as Alexander Khokhlachev or Anthony Camara could end up developing into impact forwards, but they remain several years away from realizing that potential.

Top 5 prospects: 1. Dougie Hamilton, D; 2. Malcolm Subban, G; 3. Ryan Spooner, C; 4. Alexander Khokhlachev, C; 5. Joe Morrow, D.

Key Additions: Peter Cehlarik (2013), Joe Morrow (trade-DAL), Matt Fraser (trade-DAL), Reilly Smith (trade-DAL).

 

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).

 

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).

 

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