Eastern Conference

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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).

 

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).

 

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).

 

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).

 

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).

 

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).