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)
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)
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)
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)