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)