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)