Hockey’s Future Organizational Rankings, Spring 2011 1-10

By HF Staff
Photo: The top prospect for the Los Angeles Kings, Brayden Schenn will be expected to regularly contribute at the NHL level in the 2011-12 season. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)

Below is the top 10 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.

1. Los Angeles Kings

Strengths: The Kings’ boast an impressive blue line group featuring Derek Forbort, Slava Voynov, and Nic Deslauriers. Equally impressive is the team’s group of centers, headlined by offensive talents Brayden Schenn and Andrei Loktionov. In net, Jonathan Bernier possesses top starter potential while Martin Jones and Jeff Zatkoff pushed each other with solid AHL seasons. Tyler Toffoli had a strong OHL campaign, giving the Kings the top talent on the wing that they have been sorely lacking. Weaknesses: There are a handful of potential top-six forwards in the system, but none with sure top-line upside. The Kings have worked to fill out the wings in recent years, but they are still a point of concern; the right side is particularly lacking in depth. Top 5 Prospects: 1. Brayden Schenn, C, 2. Jonathan Bernier, G, 3. Andrei Loktionov, C, 4. Tyler Toffoli, RW, 5. Derek Forbort, D. Lost to graduation: Kyle Clifford, Trevor Lewis, Davis Drewiske. Lost to trade: Colten Teubert.

2. Florida Panthers

Strengths: It’s hard to find anything but strengths with the Panthers group currently. They have elite talents with players like Erik Gudbranson and Jacob Markstrom, an incredible second-tier talent with the likes of Nick Bjugstad, Colby Robak, and Michael Repik, and depth at every position. A.J. Jenks and Drew Shore are also promising talents who should be able to contribute at the NHL level in several years. The Panthers prospect pool boasts quality, diversity, depth, and is oozing with talent. Weaknesses: It is hard to find any real weaknesses. There is a lack of elite scoring talent. Many of the top players like Bjugstad are still several years away. Top 5 Prospects: 1. Jacob Markstrom, G, 2. Erik Gudbranson, D, 3. Nick Bjugstad, C, 4. Colby Robak, D, 5. Michal Repik, RW. Lost To Graduation: Keaton Ellerby, D, Jason Garrison, D, Jack Skille, RW.

3. Nashville Predators

Strengths: Nashville’s system remains flush at every position with players able to fill a variety of roles. Austin Watson, Tayler Beck, and Zach Budish bring skill to a deep and gritty group of forwards. Ryan Ellis and Jonathan Blum highlight a deep and diverse group of defensemen. The team also has exceptional goaltending depth led by Anders Lindback and Mark Dekanich. Weaknesses: While Watson, Beck, and others remain viable top-six prospects, the team still lacks an elite offensive forward. Top 5 prospects: 1. Jonathan Blum, D, 2. Taylor Beck, LW, 3. Ryan Ellis, D, 4. Austin Watson, RW, 5. Roman Josi, D. Lost to graduation: Colin Wilson, Cody Franson, Cal O’Reilly, Nick Spaling.

4. Columbus Blue Jackets

Strengths: The Jackets possess one of the top prospects in hockey in Ryan Johansen, along with another in Nikita Filatov who has upper echelon talent but has not put it all together. Filatov headlines a solid group of wingers that includes Matthew Calvert and Tomas Kubalik, both of whom had impressive rookie professional seasons. The future is also bright on the back end, where the Jackets possess a deep and varied array of blueliners featuring John Moore, David Savard, and Cody Goloubef. Weaknesses: Goaltending is a major question mark, particularly with the regression of starter Steve Mason. Developmental issues in the franchise’s history are a cause for concern. There is an overemphasis on finesse in regards to the team’s top prospects. Top 5 Prospects: 1. Ryan Johansen, C, 2. Nikita Filatov, LW, 3. John Moore, D, 4. Matthew Calvert, LW, 5. David Savard, D.

5. St. Louis Blues

There are two major strengths for the Blues: elite talent at the forward position and a pair of high quality netminders. The duo of Tarasenko and Schwartz up front is among the best one-two punches on any club’s prospect list. Both players had very impressive seasons and boast skill levels at the upper echelon of their peer group. Between the pipes both Jake Allen and Ben Bishop look to be NHL caliber netminders who are just starting to emerge. Both goalies were solid in the AHL this season and are helping to push each other in their development. Not to be overlooked is the depth of the Blues prospect pool either, as there are legitimate NHL prospects from top to bottom. Weaknesses: It may be somewhat unfair to point to the lack of elite blue line talent as a weakness considering this is a team that graduated both Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk this year, but on the current prospect list it’s the lone area that is lacking. Ian Cole, Jonas Junland, Brett Ponich and the like are solid prospects, but aren’t top level talent. Top 5 Prospects: 1. Vladimir Tarasenko, RW, 2. Jaden Schwartz, C, 3. Jake Allen, G, 4. Ian Cole, D, 5. Philip McRae, C. Lost To Graduation: Alex Pietrangelo, Kevin Shattenkirk.

6. New York Islanders

Strengths: Any discussion of the Islanders strength has to begin with Nino Neiderreiter, one of the top ten NHL prospects today. Although most top forward prospects go directly to the NHL in this organization, besides Neiderreiter, the Islanders have Rhett Rakhshani and several enigmatic but talented forwards (including Kirill Petrov, Casey Cizikas, and Kirill Kabanov) within the organization. However, currently the depth of the prospect pool in this organization is on defense. Travis Hamonic, Calvin de Haan, Ty Wishart, and Matt Donovan are expected to become regulars on the Islanders blue line within a year. Finally, goaltending is a strong area too with Kevin Poulin expected to develop into an NHL backup, and possibly fighting for a number one job this coming season. Weaknesses: Currently, the Islanders organization is only lacking a top notch clear the crease defensive blueliner who also can fight. Top 5 Prospects: 1. Nino Neiderreiter, LW, 2. Travis Hamonic, D, 3. Calvin de Haan, D, 4. Kirill Petrov, RW, 5. Ty Wishart, D. Lost to graduation: Michael Grabner, Matt Martin, Andrew MacDonald.

7. New York Rangers

Strengths: The Rangers have excellent forward prospects, led by 2009 first round draft selection Chris Kreider. In addition to three diminutive snipers, including Chris Thomas, Ryan Bourque and Mats Zuccarello, the Rangers also have Carl Hagelin and Roman Horak, each of whom is expected to be a third-line contributor. New York’s recent drafting and one trade with Montreal in 2009 have also brought some excellent defensive prospects into the organization, with Ryan McDonagh already contributing at the NHL level, and Pavel Valentenko and Tomas Kundratek no more than a year away. Weaknesses: The Rangers are weak in goaltending prospects, with only two free agents and a junior netminder in the organization. None of those netminders projects to be a number one goaltender in the NHL, and there are questions whether any of them will even be able to serve as an NHL backup in the coming years. Top 5 Prospects: 1. Chris Kreider, LW, 2. Ryan McDonagh, D, 3. Christian Thomas, RW, 4. Evgeny Grachev, C, 5. Mats Zuccarello, LW. Lost to graduation: Derek Stepan, Michael Sauer.

8. Anaheim Ducks

Strengths: Much like their main roster, the Ducks prospect system remains replete with offensive potency. Boasting an intriguing mix of power forwards, speedy playmakers and offensive-minded defensemen, Anaheim appears poised to restock its skill positions as some of their veterans progress toward retirement. Their top four forward prospects are all versatile players with the capability to contribute in all situations. The offensive forays of their two top prospects on the blue line, Sami Vatanen and Justin Schultz, dazzled fans within the foreign pro and college ranks respectively this season. Weaknesses: Anaheim has experienced a great deal of difficultly developing bigger defensemen and will need to address the lack of hard-nosed rearguards at all levels of their organization. The quality of the goaltending prospect pool lacks, particularly given the health concerns of netminder Jonas Hiller. Top 5 Prospects: 1. Emerson Etem, RW, 2. Peter Holland, C, 3. Kyle Palmieri, RW, 4. Sami Vatanen, D, 5. Devante Smith-Pelly, LW. Lost to graduation: Cam Fowler, Luca Sbisa, Dan Sexton, Matt Beleskey. Lost to Trade: Jake Gardiner, Stefan Chaput.

9. Toronto Maple Leafs

Strengths: With the additions of Joe Colborne, Jake Gardiner, and recently signed Mark Owuya the Maple Leafs continue to benefit from strong depth in all positions. Nazem Kadri has shown flashes of brilliance, James Reimer has provided top-notch goaltending, and Keith Aulie impressed enough that management made room in the top-six for him. Weaknesses: While adding the likes of Colborne and Gardiner has supported the system, the Maple Leafs still lack cornerstone talent in which to build around – specifically a top-line center. They must continue adding highly-skilled forwards and offensive-defenders to the system to build on their competitiveness. Top 5 Prospects: 1. Nazem Kadri, C, 2. Joe Colborne, C, 3. Jake Gardiner, D, 4. James Reimer, G, 5. Keith Aulie, D. Lost to Graduation: Tyler Bozak, Carl Gunnarsson, Jonas Gustavsson. Lost to Trade: Mikhail Stefanovich.

10. Edmonton Oilers

Strengths: Despite graduating some elite talents this season (along with quality role players) the Oilers still boast deep and diverse group of prospects. A look up and down the list shows size, skill, grit, and flair both up front and on the blue line. There is a nice mix of younger prospects like Tyler Pitlick or Curtis Hamilton and older NHL ready prospects such as Limus Omark. In goal, Olivier Roy and Tyler Bunz both have solid upside. Weaknesses: Unlike the beginning of the year when Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi where in the stable waiting to be let loose, the high-end talent is no longer a hallmark of the Oilers prospect pool. There is also a lack of goaltending depth. Top 5 Prospects: 1. Martin Marincin, D, 2. Jeff Petry, D, 3. Tyler Pitlick, C, 4. Curtis Hamilton, LW, 5. Linus Omark, RW. Lost To Graduation: Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi, Devan Dubnyk, Theo Peckham.