Hockey’s Future Organizational Rankings, Spring 2011 21-30

By HF Staff
Photo: Beau Bennett, one of the top-ranked prospects for the Pittsburgh Penguins, could develop into a complementary linemate for Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)

Below is the bottom third of the NHL organizations in terms of prospects as voted on by Hockey’s Future staff. To determine the ranking, each team’s entire prospect pool was taken into consideration. For reference, just the top five prospects are listed. To be eligible, a prospect must meet HF’s prospect criteria. The rankings are done twice a year, in the fall and spring.

21. Pittsburgh Penguins

Strengths: There are a number of offensively gifted forwards such as Beau Bennett, Eric Tangradi, Paul Thompson, and Tom Kühnhackl who could develop into complementary wingers for Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. The Penguins also boast a deep group of big-bodied defensemen headlined by Simon Despres and Robert Bortuzzo. Players such as Philip Samuelsson, Brian Strait, and Joe Vitale bring a lot of grit and toughness to the prospect pool. Many such as Tangradi and Dustin Jeffrey have already seen time in the NHL and will compete for top-nine roles in the NHL next season. Weaknesses: Aside from solid netminding prospects Brad Thiessen and Patrick Killeen, the system lacks goaltending. There are no potential powerplay quarterbacks in the defensive pool. The prospect pool is relatively small as well. Top 5 Prospects: 1. Simon Despres, D, 2. Eric Tangradi, LW, 3. Beau Bennett, RW, 4. Dustin Jeffrey, C, 5. Tom Kühnhackl, C.

22. Washington Capitals

Strengths: Evgeny Kuznetsov could develop into a potential linemate for Capitals stars Alex Ovechkin or Nicklas Backstrom while Cody Eakin and Stanislav Galiev have the potential to develop into solid secondary scoring options. Dmitri Orlov and Patrick Wey provide a solid mobile presence on the blue line. Braden Holtby gives the Caps yet another young option in net. Weaknesses: The majority of young talent in the system has graduated leaving only a handful of promising prospects in the system. Most of the depth players like Jay Beagle have limited potential. Top 5 Prospects: 1. Evgeny Kuznetsov, RW, 2. Braden Holtby, G, 3. Dmitri Orlov, D, 4. Mathieu Perreault, C, 5. Cody Eakin, C. Lost to graduation: Karl Alzner, John Carlson, Marcus Johansson, Michal Neuvirth, Semyon Varlamov.

23. Colorado Avalanche

Strengths: Despite the trade of top young rearguard Kevin Shattenkirk, the blue line remains Colorado’s top organizational strength. Cameron Gaunce and Jonas Holas saw time with the Avalanche this year while the likes of Stefan Elliott, Joel Chouinard and Tyson Barrie also are not far off from achieving their NHL dreams. Offensively the Avs lack depth but do feature some solid players down the middle in centers Joey Hishon, Marc Olver and Brad Malone. Weaknesses: A lack of overall depth and skill among forwards, particularly on the wing is a growing concern for the Avalanche. The club’s wingers all fit the mold of fourth line/fringe players at this point and there isn’t really a player who projects as a high-scorer at the NHL level. Top 5 Prospects: Joey Hishon, C, 2. Calvin Pickard, G, 3. Stefan Elliott, D, 4. Cameron Gaunce, D, 5. Joel Chouinard, D. Lost to Graduation: Kevin Porter, Brandon Yip. Lost to trade: Colby Cohen.

24. Boston Bruins

Strengths: The Bruins have a solid group of forwards currently playing at the AHL level headlined by Jordan Caron, Maxime Sauve, and Zach Hamill, all of whom have top-nine potential in the NHL. There are also similarly talented forwards at the CHL level like Ryan Spooner and Jared Knight. Weaknesses: Many of the top prospects such as Tyler Seguin or Joe Colborne either graduated or were traded away. While there is solid depth at every position, there remains little in the way of top-end talent. The defensive pool does not have much in the way of puck-moving defensemen. Top 5 Prospects: 1. Jordan Caron, RW, 2. Ryan Spooner, LW, 3. Maxime Sauve, C, 4. Jared Knight, RW, 5. Steven Kampfer, D. Lost to graduation: Brad Marchand, Adam McQuaid, Tyler Seguin. Lost to trade: Mikko Lehtonen, Levi Nelson, Joe Colborne, Sean Zimmerman, Jordan Knackstedt, Jeff LoVecchio, Jeff Penner.

25. San Jose Sharks

Strengths: The Sharks have established a reputation for gleaning skilled forwards and versatile rearguards from the amateur ranks. They have also consistently maintained a deep goaltending stable. Those trends persist within their current crop of prospects. Having recently developed several talented forwards such as Ryan Clowe and Logan Couture, San Jose has sought players who fit a similar mold. They are not Miikka Kiprusoff or Vesa Toskala but goalies Alex Stalock and Thomas Greiss likely have NHL futures. Weaknesses: Other than power forward Charlie Coyle, there does not seem to be a prospect in the San Jose system who projects as a potential elite player. Compared with their recent periods of success, the depth in their organization is just average at present. Top 5 Prospects: 1. Charlie Coyle, RW, 2. Alex Stalock, G, 3. Taylor Doherty, D, 4. Thomas Greiss, G, 5. Benn Ferriero, C. Lost to Graduation: Logan Couture, Jason Demers.

26. Minnesota Wild

Strengths: Better drafting in recent years makes the future a little brighter in Minnesota. Top prospect Mikael Granlund has starred at the highest level in Finland for the past two years and is not far away from making an NHL impact. Blueliners Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella impressed in extensive action with the Wild this year, while numerous others made their NHL debuts. Two-way types like Colton Gillies and Cody Almond are safe bets for bottom-six NHL careers. Matt Hackett has established himself as a legitimate NHL prospect. Weaknesses: Aside from Granlund, there’s no top-end talent in the system. The right wing is an area of major concern and there’s little depth in goal. As a whole, the Wild’s prospect group is fairly old. Top 5 Prospects: 1. Mikael Granlund, C, 2. Marco Scandella, D, 3. Matt Hackett, G, 4. Jason Zucker, LW, 5. Tyler Cuma, D. Lost to trade: Anton Khudobin.

27. Vancouver Canucks

Strengths: The Canucks prospect pool is headlined by Cody Hodgson, one of the few two-way forwards in a gifted group featuring offensive talents such as Anton Rodin, Sergei Shirokov, and Jordan Schroeder. A well-rounded blue line group features puck-moving options like Kevin Connauton and Patrick McNally as well as steadier types such as Chris Tanev and Yann Sauve. Eddie Lack had a breakout season in the AHL, giving the Canucks another possible option in net after Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider. Weaknesses: There is little surefire talent up front, with most of the team’s forward prospects being of the hit-or-miss variety. The system lacks an elite blueliner and depth in goal. Top 5 Prospects: 1. Cody Hodgson, C, 2. Anton Rodin, RW, 3. Sergei Shirokov, LW, 4. Jordan Schroeder, C, 5. Billy Sweatt, LW. Lost to trade: Evan Oberg.

28. Philadelphia Flyers

Strengths: The Flyers have mined the free-agent prospect pool and invested late picks judiciously to augment their ongoing lack of early-round draft selections. In addition to the recently graduated goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, three of the Flyers’ top ten prospects were free-agent signings. Of the other seven, none were first-rounders and only one was a second-round selection. They possess respectable depth on the wings as well as the blue line to complement a relatively complete team bursting with talented centermen at the NHL level. Weaknesses: Philadelphia has been in win-now mode, adding big-ticket veterans to a young core of players on the big club. That approach has left them with few assets to invest in highly bankable prospects in terms of both their long-term ceiling and their immediate ability to contribute. Despite the development of Bobrovsky and their top-rated prospect Joacim Eriksson, lingering uncertainty in goal casts its shadow over the present and future of the organization. Top 5 Prospects: 1. Joacim Eriksson, G, 2. Eric Wellwood, LW, 3. Erik Gustafsson, D, 4. Brendan Ranford, LW, 5. Joonas Lehtivuori, D. Lost to Graduation: Andreas Nodl, Oskars Bartulis, Sergei Bobrovsky. Lost to Trade: Patrick Maroon.

29. Atlanta Thrashers

Strengths: Atlanta has stockpiled aggressive, high-character, two-way forwards and sought to develop strong organizational depth on defense. Their main roster continues to be among the youngest in the NHL, and they have not been shy about giving first-year pros roster spots and ice time. Winger Carl Klingberg, center Patrice Cormier, and defenseman Arturs Kulda are all big, high-motor players who bring sturdiness and grit. Weaknesses: While some players like Spencer Machacek are beginning to show linear development that may firm up an NHL career, the Thrashers seem to be in a bit of flux overall. Prospects such as Angelo Esposito and Akim Aliu have underperformed so far in their professional careers. Plenty of promise remains but results and direction seem to be lacking. Top 5 Prospects: 1. Carl Klingberg, LW, 2. Patrice Cormier, C, 3. Spencer Machacek, RW, 4. Paul Postma, D, 5. Arturs Kulda, D. Lost to graduation: Alex Burmistrov

30. Calgary Flames

Strengths: There aren’t a lot of bright lights shining on the Flames prospect list, but Tim Erixon is one player to get excited about. He just finished a tremendous SEL season (and a wonderful WJC showing) and should be knocking on the NHL’s door as early as next season. Beyond that it is a list that is big on heart, grit and leadership, with a number of blue-collar, character players. Weaknesses: Lack of talent. The Flames have traded away picks and drafted poorly over the past four or five years, and it shows in their prospect pool. They are a lunch pail crew with bottom-sixers and second and third pairing defensemen. There is also not much in the way of goaltending depth. Top 5 Prospects: 1. Tim Erixon, D, 2. Greg Nemisz, RW, 3. Mitch Wahl, C, 4. T.J. Brodie, D, 5. Ryan Howse, LW. Lost To Graduation: Mikael Backlund, Brendan Mikkelson.