Western Conference

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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)