Western Conference

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Los Angeles Kings

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Strengths: If development can be considered a strength then it has to be attributed to the Los Angeles Kings organization – and the Manchester Monarchs’ recent Calder Cup Trophy win points to that development. The Kings have done a great job turning out contributors at the NHL level despite a lack of top picks. That said, there is some high-end talent, particularly at right wing, in the Kings system. Adrian Kempe joined the Monarchs for its postseason run and the 18-year-old looked comfortable, scoring eight goals in 17 games. Valentin Zykov, meanwhile, recorded over a point per game in the QMJHL and, at 6’2 and 215 pounds, already boasts NHL size.

Weaknesses: The Kings are solid in goal at the NHL level with Jon Quick and Martin Jones, but beyond those two there’s not much on the way. Jean-Francois Berube, a 23-year-old, played 17 games in the Monarchs’ run to the Calder Cup, but posted a sub-.900 save percentage along the way and isn’t considered a top-flight prospect. He split time in the regular season with Patrik Bartosak, who is perhaps the stronger prospect. Los Angeles is also light on quality left wing prospects.

Top 5 Prospects: 1. Valentin Zykov, LW; 2. Adrian Kempe, C; 3. Nick Shore, C; 4. Derek Forbort, D; 5. Michael Mersch, RW.

Key Losses: Roland McKeown (Trade-LA)

San Jose Sharks

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Strengths: The Sharks have a number of intriguing center prospects from already-established Chris Tierney to Rourke Chartier, who had a breakout season in Kelowna of the WHL. The team also has a quality prospect at each position, with 2014 first round pick Nikolay Goldobin looking like a quality right winger already at the pro level, coming over to Worcester toward the end of the season. Left winger Nikita Jevlapovs had a great year in the QMJHL, and 2013 first round pick Mirco Mueller, a defenseman, has established himself quite well through 39 games in the NHL.

Weaknesses: Goaltending and depth. Twenty-six-year-old Aaron Dell might be considered one of the team’s best goaltending prospects after a strong 26-game stint with Worcester this past season, but he spent the previous year-and-a-half in the ECHL. And past the top layer of skill at each position there is not much in terms of potential NHL talent. The team recently signed former Panthers’ draft pick Joonas Donskoi, who might project as a top-nine forward, but it’s not a guarantee.

Top 5 Prospects: 1. Chris Tierney, C; 2. Mirco Mueller, D; 3. Nikolay Goldobin, RW; 4. Dan O’Regan, C; 5. Rourke Chartier, C.

Key Additions: Joonas Donskoi (free agent)

Key losses: Gabryel Boudreau (draft re-entry)

Winnipeg Jets

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Strengths: Though the Evander Kane trade to Buffalo helped solidify the Winnipeg Jets prospect base, it was far from bare prior to the deal. High-end prospects Joel Armia and Brendan Lemieux were added to the organization, but 2014 first round pick Nikolaj Ehlers is one of the most skilled prospects in hockey; Josh Morrisey’s skating is rivaled by few; and Nic Petan, who is set to turn pro, has been a standout junior for the past three seasons in Portland. The Jets have depth at every position, even between the pipes. Eric Comrie was one of the top goaltenders in junior this past season and Connor Hellebuyck rose to prominence with a strong season in St. John’s as well as at the 2015 World Championship for the United States.

Weaknesses: While the team has defensive depth, it lacks potential top-four candidates past Morrisey and Jan Kostalek, who impressed in the Memorial Cup with Rimouski – and even putting him in that category is a stretch. It’s nitpicking, but defense is an area where the Jets would probably like to add in the upcoming draft.

Top 5 Prospects: 1. Nikolaj Ehlers, LW; 2. Josh Morrisey, D; 3. Nicolas Petan, C; 4. Joel Armia, RW; 5. Connor Hellebuyck, G.

Key Additions: Joel Armia (Trade-BUF), Brendan Lemieux (Trade-BUF)

Key Losses: Adam Lowry (Graduation)

 

Minnesota Wild

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Strengths: The defensive depth for the Minnesota Wild is not bad, though it is untested. Gustav Olofsson’s injury was a setback for his development, but he and Christian Folin project as dependable NHL defenders at the very least. After those two, Dylan Labbe is ready to start his pro career and has some skill at defending and moving the puck. Miami University sophomore Louie Belpedio is the best of the rest, and his skating ability and offensive zone presence intrigue.

Kaapo Kahkonen is a long-term project at goaltender, but with his pedigree and development so far, he could evolve into a number one much further down the road. After him, Steve Michalek has been a good college netminder for Harvard, and free agent signing Brody Hoffman out of the University of Vermont provides additional depth to replace Johan Gustafsson, who left the AHL for Sweden after an abysmal showing over the last two seasons.

Weaknesses: Alex Tuch is currently the only forward prospect who seems likely to play a top-six role in the NHL. Squandered opportunities at the 2011 NHL Draft coupled with the lack of a first round pick in 2013 means the pool is in poor shape. The team desperately needs more elite talents in the system. A true number one center prospect is the obvious priority, but any forward with elite upside would be welcomed.

Top 5 Prospects: 1. Alex Tuch, RW 2. Tyler Graovac, C 3. Kaapo Kahkonen, G 4. Gustav Olofsson, D 5. Louie Belpedio, D.

Key Additions: Jared Knight (Trade – BOS)

Key Losses: Matt Dumba (Graduation), Zack Phillips (Trade – MIN)

Anaheim Ducks

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Strengths: Anaheim has drafted well and has good prospects throughout its system, though the upside drops off quickly in some places. The strength starts in goal with John Gibson, who lost part of the season to injury, then could not quite usurp Frederik Andersen as the starter. He remains a top goalie prospect however.

Left wing features 2014 first-rounder Nick Ritchie, whose physical style should fit with the Ducks philosophy well. Nic Kerdiles transitioned well from the University of Wisconsin to the AHL and could play a depth role in the NHL as soon as next season. Max Friberg was a fifth-round pick in 2011 who led the Norfolk Admirals in scoring this past season. Other intriguing wingers include the slick Czech Ondrej Kase and Stefan Noesen who has battled injury but has NHL talent.

Defense is really the heart of the Ducks strength though, led by standout Shea Theodore, who emerged at the World Juniors as an elite talent. Right along with him is Brandon Montour, who left UMass for the pros and transitioned well. Marcus Pettersson is a skilled pro with a big frame who will make his AHL debut this fall, affording the Ducks plenty of options to bring along at the right pace. Josh Manson looked in place as a young, physically intimidating player making his NHL debut this season, while Keaton Thompson took a big step forward in his play for North Dakota.

Weaknesses: There is no heir apparent to Ryan Getzlaf or Ryan Kesler in the prospect ranks and that lack of true centers proves costly. Number one centers can be hard to come by, but the Ducks could stand to start developing someone in the very near term.

Top 5 Prospects: 1. Shea Theodore, D; 2. Nick Ritchie, LW; 3. John Gibson, G; 4. Nic Kerdiles, LW; 5. Brandon Montour, D.

Key additions: Michael Sgarbossa (Trade – COL)

 

Chicago Blackhawks

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Strengths: The recent Stanley Cup winners have one of the deepest prospect pools in the NHL in terms of depth. Teuvo Teravinen looks like he will be a star in the NHL, and behind him other forwards such as Joakim Nordstrom, Mark McNeill, Phillip Danault, and Ryan Hartman all look ready to contribute at the NHL level. There is some good defensive depth in the system, too, with Michael Paliotta, Stephen Johns, and Trevor van Riemsdyk looking like they can push for NHL jobs next season. In general, the Blackhawks are positioned well for the future, with talented players staggered across various leagues and different stages of development.

Weaknesses: The Blackhawks are lacking in the goaltending department, at least compared to other positions. Antti Raanta and Mac Carruth had respectable seasons at the professional level, but neither looks like a full time starter at the NHL level, at least not yet . Although there is a lot of depth along the blue line, it remains to be seen if any of the Blackhawks defensive prospects will develop into top-pairing, or even top-four defensemen at the NHL level.

Top 5 Prospects: 1. Teuvo Teravainen, C; 2. Nick Schmaltz, C; 3. Ville Pokka, D; 4. Mark McNeill, RW; 5. Stephen Johns, D.

Key Additions: Gustav Forsling (Trade – VAN)

Key Losses: Klas Dahlbeck (Trade – ARI), Adam Clendening (Trade – VAN)

 

Nashville Predators

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Strengths: The Nashville Predators took the league by storm last season and will look to turn surprise into success going forward. Leading the rush are a deep and balanced unit of forwards who attack with speed and push the tempo. Many of these players, including Kevin Fiala, Pontus Aberg, and Viktor Arvidsson, are in the pros and appear on the cusp of jumping from the AHL to the NHL. On defense, Jack Dougherty seems to be the next rising star on a deep, defensive-oriented unit. Goaltending prospects Juuse Saros, Magnus Hellberg, and Marek Mazanec have shown promise and will be competing in the pros next season.

Weaknesses: Nashville is a bit undersized up front and could use a power forward to complement the speed and skill of the team. The center depth needs a boost in talent, while most of the better right wing prospects are in Europe and are not expected to become more than depth players. Graduations on the blue line have left the defense with little high-end talent outside of Dougherty. The system could use more puck-moving defensemen. While there is talent in the crease, no one has yet emerged as a potential heir to Pekka Rinne.

Top 5 Prospects: 1. Kevin Fiala, LW; 2. Juuse Saros, G; 3. Vladislav Kamenev, LW; 4. Jimmy Vesey, LW; 5. Magnus Hellberg, G.

Key Additions: Kristian Nakyva (Free Agent)

Key Losses: Filip Forsberg (Graduation), Calle Jarnkrok (Graduation), Brendan Leipsic (Trade – TOR), Taylor Beck (Graduation) 

St. Louis Blues

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Strengths: The Blues feature two excellent prospects in Ivan Barbashev and Robbie Fabbri, both of whom have played center as juniors and might challenge for NHL time later in the upcoming season. The Blues have several defensive prospects, too, who might step up in the next year or two, such as Jordan Schmaltz and Colton Parayko. The goalie situation is good as well. Although Jake Allen graduated last season, Jordan Binnington has been good so far in the AHL, and 2014 fourth-rounder Ville Husso made Team Finland’s World Junior squad last year and played well in relief, but more importantly has been a good pro in Finland’s Liiga over the past two seasons.

Weaknesses: A commitment to winning in the present has depleted some of the depth, and the team has no first round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, either. Particularly in terms of its forwards, the Blues lack bodies in the system.

Top 5 Prospects: 1. Ivan Barbashev, C; 2. Robbie Fabbri, C; 3. Jordan Binnington, G; 4. Ty Rattie, RW; 5. Jordan Schmaltz, D.

Key Losses: Maxim Letunov (Trade – ARI), Dmitrij Jaskin (graduation)

Calgary Flames

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Strengths: The Calgary Flames have a bright future ahead of them as they have transformed into a resilient team that will only get better. It was thought the rebuild would take years before the Flames would contend for the postseason, but the bar has been raised following a special year that saw them reach the second round of the playoffs through determination and skill. Most of their graduated prospects from this season were impact players, but their prospect pool is still flush with talent across the board. Markus Granlund has settled into a second/third line role while Michael Ferland stepped up in the postseason. Expect Sam Bennett to push for a spot in the NHL next season. There is also competition coming from the AHL ranks with a strong cast of players like Emile Poirier, Tyler Wotherspoon, Kenny Agostino and others fighting for an NHL job. Further down the pipeline in the NCAA and CHL, there are a host of skilled forwards with promise including Mark Jankowski, Morgan Klimchuk, and Hunter Smith. In spite of their shallowness in goal, Joni Ortio, Jon Gilles and Mason McDonald have shown prospective for the future of the Flame’s net.

Weaknesses: Calgary is fortunate to have a deep defensive pool, but the system needs a high-end, puck-moving defenseman who can transition the puck up ice and run the power play. The Flames also need more depth on the right wing and in the crease.

Top 5 Prospects: 1. Sam Bennett, C; 2. Markus Granlund, C; 3. Tyler Wotherspoon, D; 4. Emile Poirer, RW; 5. Joni Ortio, G.

Key Losses: Johnny Gaudreau (Graduation), Corban Knight (Trade – FLA), Sven Baertschi (Trade – VAN)

Colorado Avalanche

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Strengths: The Colorado Avalanche boast solid depth on defense in terms of prospects. Chris Bigras has shown excellent growth at the junior level and may be ready to take that next step in his career, while Stefan Elliot and Duncan Siemens are finding their way at the pro level. Will Butcher, Kyle Wood and recent free-agent signing Mason Geertsen add interesting pieces to the organization’s defensive core. Goaltender Calvin Pickard had a very impressive showing with the Avalanche last season, breaking through after three years in the AHL. He should get a chance to improve in the NHL full time next season.

Weaknesses: Skill. Colorado has quantity in prospects who could fill bottom-six roles in the NHL, but the organization is low on high-end, skilled prospects. Connor Bleackley will turn pro after back-to-back point-per-game campaigns in the WHL, but the center projects more as a high-energy, third-line pivot.

Top 5 Prospects: 1. Chris Bigras, D; 2. Connor Bleackley, C; 3. Calvin Pickard, G; 4. Stefan Elliot, D; 5. Duncan Siemens, D.

Key Additions: Mason Geertsen (free agent), Mat Clark (trade-ANA)

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