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
Strength: There are four defensemen who are close to being NHL regulars in Brian Strait, Robert Bortuzzo, Joe Morrow, and Simon Despres. The Penguins also have several promising, offensively gifted forward prospects including Beau Bennett, Eric Tangradi, and Tom Kuhnhackl. Forwards such as Joe Vitale and Dustin Jeffrey provide affordable, two-way depth at the NHL level. Goaltending prospect Brad Thiessen is among the best goaltenders not playing in the NHL.
Weaknesses: In part because the organization has three young veteran centers in the NHL, there is a general lack of depth down the middle. Many top prospects are currently playing in the NCAA and still many years away from going pro. Aside from several high-end defensemen, the prospect pool is almost entirely made of complementary talent. As good as Thiessen is there is not much behind him.
Top 5 prospects: 1. Beau Bennett, RW, 2. Simon Despres, D, 3. Eric Tangradi, LW, 4. Tom Kuhnhackl, RW, 5. Joe Morrow, D.
22. Dallas Stars
Strengths: The Stars have excellent depth at defense, with a potential first pairing defenseman in Jamie Oleksiak. At right wing, there is very good depth, with Alex Chiasson and Reilly Smith developing very nicely in the NCAA, and Scott Glennie adjusting to the professional game. Additionally, netminder Jack Campbell is a potential number one netminder, who seems back on track with his development.
Weaknesses: With all of the offensive talent concentrated on the right wing, the Stars system is very weak on the left wing and at center. Several top prospects such as Glennie and Campbell have work ethic or character issues.
Top 5 prospects: 1. Jack Campbell, G, 2. Philip Larsen, D, 3. Alex Chiasson, RW, 4. Jamie Oleksiak, D, 5. Scott Glennie, RW.
Strengths: After several years of little depth in their organization, Philadelphia made several trades that rejuvenated their pool this summer. With two potential all-stars at center in Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier, the Flyers are very strong down the middle. Additionally, the Flyers have excellent depth on the blue line and a large number of third and fourth line forward prospects on the wing.
Weaknesses: Philadelphia is very weak in prospects at the goaltending position. With many young players on the NHL team, there are only the two high end centers among the forwards in the system. Also, there are no high end defensive prospects in the Flyers’ system.
Top 5 prospects: 1. Brayden Schenn, C, 2. Sean Couturier, C, 3. Erik Gustafsson, D, 4. Eric Wellwood, LW, 5. Brendan Ranford, LW.
Lost to Trade: Stefan Legein.
Strengths: The Canadiens have skilled depth at the right wing position with projected top-nine forward players like Brendan Gallagher, Danny Kristo, and Aaron Palushaj. They have speedy, skilled centerman like Michael Bournival, Louis Leblanc and Gabriel Dumont who have the versatility to play the wing position as well. The organization’s biggest strength is their deep defensive pool, highlighted by with Nathan Beaulieu, Jarred Tinordi, Darren Dietz, and many others. The Canadiens continue to develop their young players well enough to replace or fill holes due to injuries on their roster which has helped with the success of the franchise.
Weaknesses: Most of the Canadiens prospects are still several years away from possibly making the NHL. The biggest weakness for the organization is the lack talent at the goaltender position. Peter Delmas and Robert Mayer are just too raw and have not shown much success at the minor-pro level yet. The forward depth still lacks a big, highly skilled centerman and still needs more size and grit on the wings.
Top 5 prospects: 1. Nathan Beaulieu, D, 2. Danny Kristo, RW, 3. Louis Leblanc, C, 4. Yannick Weber, D, 5. Aaron Palushaj, RW.
Lost to Trade: Ryan Russell, Brock Trotter, Mathieu Carle.
Strengths: The Lightning have a nice quartet of highly-skilled forward prospects in Brett Connolly, Carter Ashton, Richard Panik, and Vladislav Namestnikov. Radko Gudas and Mark Barberio have a ways to go, but are interesting options on the backend. In goal, Dustin Tokarski is a competitor that has worked his way to success at every level.
Weaknesses: The Lightning system is extremely thin with little depth at any position, particularly defense. They have no top-pairing defenders, and only a handful that project as even NHL defensemen. Outside of their forwards, the system has no top-end talent.
Top 5 prospects: 1. Brett Connolly, C, 2. Richard Panik, LW, 3. Vladislav Namestnikov, C, 4. Carter Ashton, RW, 5. Radko Gudas, D.
26. Calgary Flames
Strengths: The Flames have made solid improvements to their overall depth at all of the positions. The biggest improvement has been at the forward position by the adding of high-end offensively skilled talent like Sven Baertschi, Paul Byron, and Roman Horak. The Flames have also seen solid offensive improvement from Max Reinhart, Greg Nemisz, Michael Ferland, Ryan Howse, and Patrick Holland over the past year.
Weaknesses: The Flames don’t have a high-end puck moving defenseman and generally lack depth on the blue line. The team’s young offensively skilled forwards are still a few years away from replacing the Flames’ aging forwards on their starting roster. Leland Irving is a talented goaltending prospect but the pool is thin behind him.
Top 5 prospects: 1. Sven Baertschi, LW, 2. T.J. Brodie, D, 3. Greg Nemisz, RW, 4. Leland Irving, G. 5. Max Reinhart, C.
Lost to Trade: Tim Erixon, Keith Seabrook.
Strengths: The Capitals have a prospect with immense upside in Evgeny Kuznetsov. Past top the top-end talent, there are a handful of players who look like solid NHLers including Cody Eakin. Goaltender Braden Holtby is a proven winner at every level of hockey he has played at.
Weaknesses: Years of graduating top prospects has left the pool shallow at every position but goaltender. Players such as Stanislav Galiev and Dmitri Orlov must prove they can play a high skill game at the NHL level or risk being career minor-leaguers. There are no prospects with proven game-breaking ability outside of Kuznetsov.
Top 5 prospects: 1. Evgeny Kuznetsov, RW, 2. Braden Holtby, G, 3. Dmitri Orlov, D, 4. Cody Eakin, C, 5. Stanislav Galiev, LW.
Lost to Graduation: Mathieu Perreault.
Lost to Trade: Francois Bouchard.
28. Winnipeg Jets
Strengths: The Jets inherited a group of solid character forwards and adequate defensive depth, though none of the Atlanta prospects boast any truly elite talents. Forward Mark Scheifele was selected seventh overall in the 2011 draft, and could join NHL youngsters Evander Kane and Alex Burmistrov as a formidable core group for the Jets.
Weaknesses: Aside from Scheifele, there are no true scorers in the bunch. The forward ranks are manned by primarily two-way players such as Carl Klingberg and Patrice Cormier who should become serviceable top-nine players, but offer little scoring punch. At defense, solid middle-pair prospects Arturs Kulda and Paul Potsma lead the group which lacks any true top-pair players. The Jets are shallow at goaltender, without significant talent.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Mark Scheifele, C, 2. Carl Klingberg, LW, 3. Patrice Cormier, C, 4. Paul Postma, D, 5. Jason Gregoire, LW.
Lost to Trade: Angelo Esposito, Danick Paquette.
Strengths: The Canucks have a handful of decent forward prospects, highlighted by two-way forward Cody Hodgson who looks to finally be over his injury woes of the past. 2011 first-round draft pick Nicklas Jensen as well as forwards Jordan Schroeder and Anton Rodin also provide hope for the future. Though the team is not really in need of goaltending prospects with what they have at the NHL level, Eddie Lack has quickly emerged as a top-flight goaltending prospect.
Weaknesses: There is a lot of uncertainty and a big drop off in talent upfront after the aforementioned four forwards. Despite the pleasant development of collegiate free-agent Chris Tanev, there really isn’t much to get excited about on the blue line as the group lacks future top-four defensemen.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Cody Hodgson, C, 2. Nicklas Jensen, RW, 3. Chris Tanev, D, 4. Eddie Lack, G, 5. Jordan Schroeder, C.
Lost to Trade: Sergei Shirokov.
30. San Jose Sharks
Strengths: The Sharks have been able to maintain a talented and deep group of goaltenders. Alex Stalock and Harri Sateri have NHL potential, and J.P. Anderson shone in Mississauga’s journey to the Memorial Cup last summer. At forward, Benn Ferriero is a feisty, two-way player. The blue line prospects have good size and defensive awareness. Taylor Doherty is a 6’7 stay-at-home type who looks to be a contributor in the NHL.
Weaknesses: San Jose has enjoyed a long stretch of better than 100-point seasons, and their success at the NHL level has left them with few quality drafts picks and a drained prospect pool. To make matters worse, the organization traded Charlie Coyle, their 2010 first-round pick and their best prospect, to Minnesota. The forwards generally lack size and those who possess skill are many years away.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Taylor Doherty, D, 2. Benn Ferriero, C, 3. Harri Sateri, G, 4. Tommy Wingels, C, 5. Matt Nieto, C.
Lost to Trade: Charlie Coyle.