Hockey’s Future Mid-season Organizational Rankings (1-10)

By HF Staff


The Hockey’s Future Mid-Season Organizational Rankings are
an assessment of the overall state of each NHL team’s system of prospects.  An overall ranking is given, and strengths
and weaknesses are identified.  The
ranking is being posted in installments every few days. Teams ranked 21-30 are
here, teams 11-20 are here, and teams ranked 1-10 are below, with previous rank
in parentheses.


The rankings were compiled by a committee of staff members
using the prospect criteria normally used by this site.  Since this is a mid-season ranking, players
who were projected to appear in 41 or more NHL games in 2003-04 during the
production of this list were excluded from the final draft of the
rankings.  Some of the excluded players
may still be listed as prospects on some of the team pages, however, but moving
them to “Graduated” status is a project for another day.


For information on individual prospects for each of the NHL
teams, follow the link to the various team, league, or country pages here at
Hockey’s Future.


1.  Montreal


Strengths: Montreal
has an abundance of prospects who can put the puck in the opposition’s net, and
plenty who can keep the puck out of their own, making them extremely formidable
at both ends. Leading the well-rounded crop of forwards are steady two-way
Chris Higgins, offensive dynamo Andrei Kastsitsyn, and the recently recalled
Jozef Balej, a speedy winger and leading scorer in Hamilton. 
Alex Perezhogin, Tomas Plekanec,
the raw but talented Cory Urquhart and the enigma that is Marcel Hossa complete
an extremely talented group of forwards. On the blueline Montreal has the
offensive minded Ron Hainsey, as well as the often over-looked Konstantin
Korneev to create a potentially solid bottom pair.  Andrew Archer, a big stay at home defenseman could also be a NHL

Weaknesses: The
Canadiens, with this season’s promotion of Mathieu Garon, are now missing a
blue chip goalie prospect in the system. Jaroslav Halak, Oliver Michaud and
Joni Puurula all seem to have the ceiling of NHL backup at best. Montreal’s
forward prospects aren’t very big by NHL standards, and that could be a concern
in the future.

Top Prospects: (C) Chris
Higgins, (F) Andrei Kastsitsyn, (D) Ron Hainsey, (F) Jozef Balej, (C) Tomas
Plekanec, (F) Andrei Perezhogin, (F) Marcel Hossa, (D) Konstantin Korneev, (C)
Cory Urquhart.


2.  Washington Capitals (3)


Strengths: The
Capitals are absolutely stacked in the goaltending department. Top prospect
Maxime Ouellet heads the list of potential NHL masked men and behind him are
Maxime Daigneault, Rob Gherson and the emerging Ratislav Stana.  The Capitals also have some excellent
forwards who have great potential for the NHL. 
2003 first round draft choice Eric Fehr could become a terrific sniper,
while the newly acquired Jonas Johansson is another very skilled offensive
winger. Steve Werner and Owen Fussey are solid checking wingers who should
crack the NHL as at least grinders.

Weaknesses: The
Capitals lack high-end prospect depth, largely because of the recent
graduations of some of their prospects to the NHL.  Nolan Yonkman is a big, physical defenseman, but he’s injured for
the season now.  Promising prospect
Jakub Cutta has had some trouble with consistency and has failed to make an
impact in the NHL. Most noticeable is the lack of a highly talented future
center for the Capitals; all of their top forward prospects are wingers. With a
solid 2004 Entry Draft or the expected flurry at the trade deadline, Washington
could address some of these problems.

Top Prospects: (G) Maxime
Ouellet, (F) Eric Fehr, (G) Maxime Daigneault, (D) Nolan Yonkman, (F) Jonas
Johansson, (F) Steve Werner, (F) Owen Fussey, (F) Graham Mink, (G) Rastislav
Stana, (D) Jakub Cutta.


3.  Edmonton Oilers (7)


Strengths:  With more than a dozen
forwards with a realistic chance to have a future in the NHL, Edmonton appears
to be deeper up front than at any time in the past 20 years.  Almost every role at every position has been
addressed through recent drafts and trades. 
The blueline looks very promising now with the addition of Jeff Woywitka
to a list that already included stalwarts Matt Greene and Doug Lynch.  Edmonton also believes they have their
future starting goaltender in the system with QMJHL star Jeff Deslauriers.

Weaknesses:  Despite the number of talented
players in the organization, Edmonton lacks a sure-fire superstar.  The
players closest to that status are Jesse Niinimaki and Marc-Antoine Pouliot,
who both are battling through injury-plagued seasons, and Jani Rita who has
struggled at times in the AHL.  There
still is not a defenseman who is considered an offensive leader to quarterback
the power play.  

Deslauriers (G), Jani Rita (F), Jesse Niinimaki (C), Marc-Antoine Pouliot (C),
Jeff Woywitka (D), Alexei Mikhnov (F), Tony Salmelainen (F), Doug Lynch (D),
Matt Greene (D), Colin McDonald (F).



4.  New Jersey Devils (19)


Strengths:  The Devils have a great
collection of forwards ranging from talented center Zach Parise, power forward
Tuomas Pihlman to scoring Russian winger Aleksander Slugobov.  The Devils also have a potential No. 1
goaltender Ari Ahonen in their arsenal of prospects.  There is a solid supporting cast of forwards as well as defensemen
who will compliment a stable and consistent New Jersey system.

Weaknesses:  Having both David Hale and
Paul Martin graduated to the NHL, the Devils blueline depth now looks
considerably thinner.  Behind Ahonen, there is no one of note between the
pipes to stop pucks.

Top Prospects:  Zach Parise (C), Ari Ahonen
(G), Aleksander Suglobov (F), Tuomas Pihlman (F), Barry Tallackson (F), Anton
Kadeykin (D), Adrian Foster (C), Petr Vrana (C)



5.  Phoenix Coyotes


Strengths: The Coyotes are loaded with depth
at all positions and have a ton of size up front. Forwards Kiel McLeod, Jakub
Koreis, Martin Podlesak, Jeff Taffe and Ben Eager are all well over 6’2” and
all use their size effectively. 
Goaltender David Leneveu, a second round pick in 2002, has the potential
to be a starter in the NHL. Defensively, the Coyotes have a nice blend of skill
and toughness between Igor Knyazev and Matthew Spiller.

Weaknesses: While the Coyotes have many
prospects that have NHL ability, they appear to be lacking in the top-end
talent. Fredrik Sjostrom and Taffe are the only highly skilled players on the
forward lines. Several of the large forwards are projects and it remains to be
seen whether they will develop into NHL players. Defensive depth is also a

Top Prospects: (G) David
Leneveu, (D) Matt Spiller, (D) Igor Knyazev, (F) Fredrik Sjostrom, (C) Jeff
Taffe, (C) Jakub Koreis, (F) Lance Monych



6.  Atlanta Thrashers (26)


Strengths: The strength of the Thrashers
organization lies in blue chippers Kari Lehtonen (G) and Braydon Coburn (D).
Both should be considered top 10 prospects for the NHL and are pegged to be
future stars in Atlanta. If both pan out as expected, it would give the
Thrashers a young star at each position to compliment Dany Heatley and Ilya
Kovalchuk at forward.  Goaltending
overall could be considered a strength for the Thrashers because behind
Lehtonen, former third rounder Michael Garnett is playing strongly for a future
with Atlanta. Defensive size is another solid area, as aside from Coburn, the
Thrashers have Kurtis Foster, Libor Ustrnul, Ilya Nikulin and Jimmy Sharrow,
who together average 6’4” and 205 lbs. The Thrashers also have several good
two-way forwards in Jim Slater, Karl Stewart, Tommi Santala and Derek

Most of Atlanta’s forward prospects are safe bets; guys who work hard
but have little “home run” potential. The Thrashers are also undersized up
front as the average height of the most notable forwards is less than 6’0”.
With only two goaltending prospects, they will need to restock the farm system
in upcoming drafts.

Top Prospects: (G) Kari Lehtonen, (D) Braydon
Coburn, (C) Jim Slater, (G) Michael Garnett, (F) Karl Stewart, (C) Tommi
Santala, (D) Kurtis Foster, (D) Libor Ustrnul, (D) Ilya Nikulin, (D) Jim


7.  Buffalo Sabres


Strengths: The Sabres
boast a well-balanced set of forwards and an excellent goaltending prospect.
Goalie Ryan Miller is generally considered one of the three best goalie
prospects in the world. Buffalo’s forward prospects are a well-rounded group
with leadership coming from Daniel Paille, scoring from highly regarded Tomas
Vanek and Jason Pominville, and the solid all round play of Derek Roy. Buffalo
also has a potential hard-nosed second liner in Mike Ryan, although he does
seem to need a lot of seasoning in the minors. Probable third and fourth liners
like Chris Thorburn, Paul Gaustad, Branislav Fabry and Jakub Klepis round out
the forward crop

Weaknesses: Buffalo has plenty of young
defensemen, but all seem destined to be career minor league players. The Sabres
need a stud defenseman to address the lack of quality amongst the quantity that
they currently have. Doug Janik, Denis Ezhov, Pavel Voroshnin or Nathan Paetsch
may fill the bottom pairing in Buffalo’s future, but it’s noticeable that none
of Buffalo’s top 10 prospects are defensemen.

Top Prospects: (G) Ryan
Miller, (C) Derek Roy, (F) Tomas Vanek, (F) Jason Pominville, (F) Daniel
Paille, (F) Paul Gaustad, (F) Mike Ryan, (C) Chris Thorburn, (C) Jakub Klepis
and (F) Branislav Fabry.


Columbus Blue Jackets (25)


Strengths: The Blue
Jackets have a number of standout prospects in their system.  Both Nikolai Zherdev, a potential superstar,
and Danny Fritsche, who has top 6 talent, have played at least part of this
season in Ohio. Meanwhile, others like Joakim Lindstrom, Tim Jackman and Andrej
Nedorost all look capable of challenging for an NHL job in the future.  Aaron Johnson headlines an impressively deep
group of defensemen. Johnson has seen spot duty with the Blue Jackets and looks
poised to some day quarterback the Columbus powerplay. Dmitri Kosmachev could
be a top 4 stay-at-home defenseman and Ole Kristian Tollefsen could make any
foray into the Columbus zone a miserable experience for any opponent. Between
the pipes, Columbus has yet another stud in Pascal Leclaire, one of the top
goaltending prospects around.

Weaknesses: Columbus
possesses plenty of depth, but it’s hard to say how many players, after the top
talent, will be able to make the leap to the NHL.  Despite the number of prospects the Blue Jackets have, there are
still some holes that need to be addressed. There is very little after Leclaire
in terms of goaltending support and the impressive array of talent up front
lacks size so adding a power forward type prospect should be a priority. After
Fritsche, there isn’t much reliable depth at center.

(F) Nikolai Zherdev, (G) Pascal Leclaire, (C) Danny
Fritsche, (D) Aaron Johnson, (F) Joakim Lindstrom, (D) Dmitri Kosmachev, (D)
Ole Kristian Tollefsen, (F) Tim Jackman, (F) Andrej Nedorost.


9.  Pittsburgh Penguins (2)


Strengths:  Having made many trades in
which they get only prospects in return, the Penguins greatest asset in their
system is depth, particularly on the blueline. 
Ryan Whitney, Noah Welch and Ross Lupaschuk highlight the future
blueline of the Pens.  Pittsburgh also
has several skilled character forwards in their system like Colby Armstrong and
Ben Eaves.  Down the middle and along
the left wing side the Penguins appear pretty set. 

Weaknesses:  The recent graduations of
defenseman Ryan Malone and wingers Konstantin Koltsov, Ramzi Abid and Brooks
Orpik have weakened the farm system and obviously having goaltenders Marc-Andre
Fleury and Sebastien Caron in the NHL has depleted that position as well.  There are no superstars at any level and
there is a lack of pure goal scorers in the Penguins talent pool.  

Top Prospects:  Ryan Whitney (D), Noah
Welch (D), Michal Sivek (F), Matt Murley (F), Ben Eaves (C), Colby Armstrong
(F), Maxime Talbot (C), Ross Lupaschuk (D)



10.  Ottawa Senators


Strengths: Ottawa has
a very good goaltending prospect, and solid players in every other position as
well.  Ray Emery, in his second AHL
season, is the brightest star for Ottawa and is the heir apparent to current
No. 1 Patrick Lalime. Emery’s backup at Binghamton, Billy Thompson, could also
become a capable NHL backup giving Ottawa a very good goaltending duo. Ottawa
also has solid forward prospects in NCAA scorer Brandon Bochenski, Igor Mirnov
and Alexei Kaigorodov.  The highly
regarded trio of Brooks Laich, Patrick Eaves and Antoine Vermette round out a
very impressive core of forwards for the Senators. Ottawa may have no standout
players on the blueline, but Christoph Schubert, Mattias Karlsson and Jan
Platil all have the potential to be solid, if unspectacular, NHL rear guards.

Weaknesses: Ottawa does not have much depth
on the left wing behind Bochenski.  
There is also a lack of a game breaker at any skating position with most
of the Ottawa prospects being support or role players. The Senators do not have
many prospect forwards playing for their AHL affiliate in Binghamton.

Top Prospects: (G) Ray
Emery, (F) Brooks Laich, (C) Antoine Vermette, (F) Patrick Eaves, (F) Brandon
Bochenski, (C) Alexei Kaigorodov, (C) Igor Mirnov, (D) Christoph Schubert, (D)
Mattias Karlsson and (G) Billy Thompson.