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)
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)
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)
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)
Strengths: The Oilers have good depth at every position, led by two blue chip prospects in forward Leon Draisaitl and defenseman Darnell Nurse. The Oilers are particularly well stocked with forwards, many of whom have the potential to develop into the type of players who can complement the Oilers young core at the NHL level. Beyond Nurse, there is a large quantity of defensemen, most of whom are playing at the minor league level. There are no blue chip goaltending prospects, but there is plenty of depth in net.
Weaknesses: Edmonton has not adequately developed talent over the past few years. Consequently, many of the prospects currently playing at the professional level do not look like they will develop into anything more than depth forwards. Goaltending remains a concern for the Oilers, and while they have some depth in net, none of the goalie prospects look like they’ll develop into NHL-caliber starters, at least at this point in their development.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Darnell Nurse, D; 2. Leon Draisaitl, C; 3. Laurent Broissoit, G; 4. Jujhar Khaira LW; 5. Dillon Simpson, D.
Key Additions: Eetu Laurikainen (Free Agent)
Key Losses: Oscar Klefbom (Graduation), Martin Marincin (Graduation)
Strengths: Even with the graduation of Bo Horvat, the Canucks have a fair amount of high-end talent among their forward prospects, namely Nicklas Jensen, Jake Virtanen, and Jared McCann. There is also a lot of depth at defense, led by puck-mover Adam Clendening. Goaltender Thatcher Demko, while a long-term project, looks like he could one day develop into a starting goaltender for the Canucks.
Weaknesses: While the Canucks have a lot of high-end talent among their forward prospects, they lack system-wide depth, especially along the wings. While there is a lot of depth on defense, the majority of them do not project as more than depth players at the highest level. In general, there is a substantial drop in talent past the top one or two prospects at every position.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Jake Virtanen, RW; 2. Jared McCann, C; 3. Thatcher Demko, G; 4. Cole Cassels, C; 5. Nicklas Jenson, RW.
Key Additions: Adam Clendening (Trade – CHI), Andrey Pedan (Trade – NYI), Ashton Sautner (Free Agent)
Key Losses: Alexandre Mallet (Trade – NYI), Bo Horvat (Graduation)
Strengths: Dallas has extracted great value out of late-round draft picks, first with Jamie Benn, now with John Klingberg. General Manager Jim Nill has a reputation as a scouting man, and has already re-acquired a pair of Red Wings picks with whom he was familiar in Mattias Janmark and Mattias Backman. This system has quite a few intriguing names and several players ready to graduate into NHL players.
Julius Honka leads a very deep pool of defenders. As a junior-eligible player playing as a rookie in the AHL, his scoring was modest and he made mistakes, but got excellent experience. Jamie Oleksiak is ready for a depth NHL role, and the same can be said for Patrik Nemeth, who suffered an injury early in the season. Esa Lindell had a spectacular season in Finland. Even after Lindell, there are several names that project to be good pros, starting with big and rough Jyrki Jokipakka, who got a two-year deal after establishing himself as a dependable presence for Dallas over the course of last season.
Though maybe not elite talents, players like Jason Dickinson, Brett Pollock, Radek Faksa and Curtis McKenzie project to be depth players with excellent upside that comes from their work ethic.
Weaknesses: Jack Campbell was a highly-touted first round pick, but he has not looked ready to be a number one goaltender at the NHL level. The organization is being patient but could stand to bolster that position.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Julius Honka, D; 2. Brett Ritchie, RW; 3. Jamie Oleksiak, D; 4. Jack Campbell, G; 5. Jason Dickinson, LW.
Key Additions: Mattias Janmark (Trade – DET), Mattias Backman (Trade – DET)
Strengths: The Arizona Coyotes have slowly amassed an underrated prospect core through a series of trades. The emergence of Christian Dvorak and the acquisition of Anthony Duclair from the Rangers gives them superb left wing depth. Brendan Perlini, Lucas Lessio, and Anton Karlsson all provide additional upside on the wing.
Max Domi might not end up playing center in the NHL, but he is a competitive and highly-skilled player with tremendous puck-handling ability. Henrik Samuelsson might not score much but he has the strength and checking ability to play a major role. Maxim Letunov, acquired from St. Louis, is another young center with elite abilities who could arrive in two years or so as a scoring threat. Another potential contributor is Laurent Dauphin who has been productive in the AHL after a low-key, but prolific, career with Chicoutimi.
Weaknesses: After Brandon Gormley, who has come along slowly but possesses top-four defensive ability, there is little depth along the blue line. Klas Dahlbeck, acquired from Chicago, helps alleviate that issue. Phil Samuelsson was the top scorer among defensive prospects for the Portland Pirates and provides some decent depth. The goaltending depth looks suspect as well, but a healthy return for Marc Visentin corrects that in a hurry, as would a solid rookie season from Marek Langhamer.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Dylan Strome, C; 2. Max Domi, LW; 3. Christian Dvorak, C; 4. Nick Merkley, C; 5. Brendan Perlini, LW.
Key additions: Anthony Duclair (Trade – NYR), Klas Dahlbeck (Trade – CHI), Philip Samuelsson (Trade – PIT), Maxim Letunov (Trade – STL)
Key Losses: Tobias Reider (Graduation)
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)
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)