15. Nashville Predators (12)
Strengths: The Nashville Predators have a healthy stable of prospects that will keep them in contention going forward. While Filip Forsberg has graduated, the forwards remain in good condition with Kevin Fiala, Pontus Aberg and Viktor Arvidsson currently in the AHL waiting for reassignment to Nashville. Strengthening this group is the burgeoning Jimmy Vesey, who appears to be a special player in the college ranks. On defense, Jack Dougherty is next in a line of rising Predators defensemen. Conor Allen is the next best in a deep, defensively oriented unit.
Weaknesses: The graduation of Forsberg has left the system in need of more firepower at forward. The center position has received a boost in numbers, but the better players are uncertain to reach their potential. That goes especially for those prospects in the minors. Right wing needs an influx of talent as Max Gortz is the only readily available player, while depth wingers Saku Maenalanen and Patrick Cehlin are still in Europe. Behind Dougherty, there is little high-end talent and a need for more puck-moving defensemen.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Kevin Fiala, LW; 2. Juuse Saros, G; 3. Jimmy Vesey, LW; 4. Vladislav Kamenev, C/LW; 5. Viktor Arvidsson, LW
Key Additions: Yakov Trenin, C (Draft), Steve Moses, RW (Free agent) and Conor Allen, D (Free agent)
Key Losses: Filip Forsberg, (Graduation) Magnus Hellberg (Traded – NYR)
14. Vancouver Canucks (15)
Strengths: The Vancouver Canucks are surprisingly deep up front in terms of skill, particularly on the wing. Hunter Shinkaruk, Jake Virtanen and Brock Boeser all have top-six potential. The Canucks are deep down the middle, but lack potential game-changers. Cole Cassels, Jared McCann and Brendan Gaunce, however, should all become full-time NHL players. And while they have just one goaltending prospect, the Canucks are happy with Thatcher Demko, who has been the best goaltender in the NCAA this season.
Weaknesses: Defense is undeniably the organization’s biggest weakness, which should be no surprise; when the Canucks selected defenseman Guillaume Brisebois in the third round of the 2015 NHL Draft, he was the first defender the team has selected in the top three rounds since Kevin Connauton was chosen in the third round in 2009. Ben Hutton, Jordan Subban and Andrey Pedan might have a future in the NHL, but none are potential first-pairing defenders.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Jake Virtanen, RW; 2. Jared McCann, C; 3. Cole Cassels, C; 4. Thatcher Demko, G; 5. Brock Boeser, RW
Key Additions: Brock Boeser (Draft), Guillaume Brisebois (Draft)
Key Losses: Bo Horvat, (Graduation), Adam Clendening (Trade – PIT)
13. Chicago Blackhawks (8)
Strengths: Chicago hit a home run with the free-agent signing of Russian forward Artemi Panarin, who has stepped right into the lineup for the Blackhawks. University of North Dakota sophomore Nick Schmaltz is one of the top forwards in his age group and should be an impact playmaker. Defensively, Ville Pokka has had to be patient skating for AHL affiliate Rockford due to the depth in Chicago but should one day move into a top-four role. Trevor van Riemsdyk is seeing full-time minutes with Chicago as a rookie and has not looked out of place with a deep group of potential NHL defensemen waiting behind that pair.
Weaknesses: The Blackhawks made several trades en route to the 2015 Stanley Cup championship, parting with several talented young prospects and sending their first-round pick in 2015 to Arizona as part of the deal for Antoine Vermette (who is back with the Coyotes). As a result, the organizational depth below the top prospects consists largely of role players or lower-line types. Goaltending is also a concern. Matt Tomkins and Ivan Nalimov—both late round, project picks—are the only young goaltenders in the system.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Marko Dano, C; 2. Nick Schmaltz, C; 3. Ville Pokka, D; 4. Artemi Panarin, LW; 5. Mark McNeill, RW
Key Additions: Artemi Panarin (Free agent), Marko Dano (Trade – CBJ), Graham Knott (Draft), Kyle Baun (Free agent)
Key Losses: Teuvo Teravainen (Graduation), Stephen Johns (Trade – DAL), Michael Paliotta (Trade – CBJ), Joakim Nordstrom (Trade – CAR)
12. Columbus Blue Jackets (10)
Strengths: The Columbus Blue Jackets possess a fairly average group across the board mixed with some good headlining talent. Sonny Milano, Gabriel Carlsson, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Zach Werenski, and Kerby Rychel all have a good shot at becoming impact NHL players. They also have a good follow-up wave of prospects like Kole Sherwood, Markus Nutivaara, Keegan Kolesar, and Vlad Gavrikov to name a few. There is a good overall balance of talent at every position except for goaltending. The headliners are of significant quality and would likely show up on a number of top 50 lists. There is a high skill level to this Columbus pipeline.
Weakness: There is a fair amount of worthwhile although undersized talent in the Blue Jackets’ pipeline. There is no lack of quality, but there may be a lack of diversity overall. Their goaltending, outside of possibly Dansk, is also a question mark.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Zach Werenski, D; 2. Kerby Rychel, LW; 3. Sonny Milano, LW; 4. Oliver Bjorkstrand, RW; Gabriel Carlsson, D
Key Additions: William Karlsson (Trade – ANA), Michael Paliotta (Trade – CHI), Gabriel Carlsson (Draft)
Key Losses: Marko Dano (Trade – CHI), Alex Wennberg (Graduation)
11. Dallas Stars (9)
Strengths: While the prospect pool does not have a real game-breaker currently, the Dallas Stars possess a number of excellent role players that could help their talented, young NHL core. With Julius Honka, Brett Ritchie and Radek Faksa being the most recent early-round headliners, some solid secondary prospects have made strides. Euro products like Esa Lindell and Denis Guryanov, have potential, as do other North American skaters like Brett Pollock and Stephen Johns. Devin Shore, Mattias Janmark and Patrik Nemeth are also proving to be quality prospects. The Stars have few top-shelf talents but quite a number of good second-tier prospects in the ranks. They also have a whopping 18 defensive prospects.
Weaknesses: As stated before, there is just a lack of overall game-breakers. The shine has really worn out on players like Jason Dickinson, Jack Campbell, and Radek Faksa. Also, outside of Ritchie, Honka, and maybe Shore there is no sure-fire talent. There are a lot of names in this pipeline, and options are good, but there is limited true quality across the board.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Julius Honka, D; 2. Brett Ritchie, RW; 3. Cole Ully, LW; 4. Denis Guryanov, RW; 5. Patrick Nemeth, D
Key Additions: Mattias Janmark (Trade – DET), Mattias Backman (Trade – DET), Stephen Johns (Trade – CHI) Key Losses: John Klingberg (Graduation), Jamie Oleksiak (Graduation), Jyrki Jokipakka (Graduation)
Key Losses: John Klingberg (Graduation), Jamie Oleksiak (Graduation)
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