Hockey’s Future Fall 2004 Organizational Rankings (1-10)

By HF Staff

The Hockey’s Future 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. Teams ranked 1-10 are below, with previous rank in parentheses. Teams ranked 11-20 can be found here, and 21-30 here. The rankings were compiled by a committee of staff members using Hockey’s Future’s prospect criteria. For information on individual prospects for each of the NHL teams, feel free to visit the various team, league, or country pages here at Hockey’s Future.

10. Minnesota Wild (20)

Strengths: It’s not difficult to imagine the four best centers the Wild have in the system, Mikko Koivu, Patrick O’Sullivan, Rickard Wallin and Adam Courchaine, all effectively fulfilling roles in the NHL one day. Aside from center, the Wild have a top tier goaltending and defensive prospect in the form of Josh Harding and A.J. Thelen, along with a few promising wingers with skill and a few with power forward potential.
Weaknesses: After Harding, the Wild’s goaltending depth can be called into question, and it’s unlikely any of their other netminders will reach the NHL in notable fashion. The only other definite weakness for the Wild is a lack of wingers who can create offense. Brent Burns has become a bit of a mystery as to what position he’ll end up in, and Roman Voloshenko, although skilled, has some issues that might keep him from fulfilling his potential. After those two players, Minnesota has only three or four other notable wingers but they are still considerably less than sure bets.
Top Prospects: Mikko Koivu (F), Patrick O’Sullivan (F), A.J. Thelen (D), Brent Burns (F/D), Josh Harding (G).
Not Eligible: Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Nick Schultz due to career NHL games played.

9. Mighty Ducks of Anaheim (11)

Strengths: Anaheim has a top prospect at almost every position. Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Chris Kunitz and Tim Brent headline the forward lines where the Ducks possess great depth. The club has also gone to considerable lengths to bolster their blueline over the past year, so much so that defense is now one of the strengths of the organization thanks to the likes of Ladislav Smid and Mark Popovic. Efforts have also been made to add more size up front through the draft and by signing free agents such as Curtis Glencross, Dustin Penner and Shane Hynes.
Weaknesses: With the draft day trade of Martin Gerber, Anaheim now has only three goaltenders under contract and just four in the entire organization. Ilya Bryzgalov was impressive at the World Cup, but after him, the cupboard is bare. Some additional depth at the center position is also needed.
Top Prospects: Ryan Getzlaf (F), Ilya Bryzgalov (G), Ladislav Smid (D), Corey Perry (F), Mark Popovic (D).
Not Eligible: Joffrey Lupul and Stanislav Chistov due to career NHL games played.

8. Atlanta Thrashers (6)

Strengths: The strength of the Thrashers organization lies in blue chippers Kari Lehtonen and Braydon Coburn. Lehtonen won his first four NHL games played in his debut at the end of 2003. The newly signed Coburn returns to play another year of junior with Portland this season. Goaltending overall should be considered a strength for the Thrashers since behind Lehtonen, former third rounder Michael Garnett is playing strongly and the team picked up NCAA champion Adam Berkhoel and drafted the OHL’s Dan Turple this summer. Defensive size is another solid area, as aside from Coburn, the Thrashers have Boris Valabik, Grant Lewis, Libor Ustrnul, and Ilya Nikulin, who together average 6’4 and 205 lbs. The Thrashers also have several good two-way forwards in Jim Slater, Karl Stewart, Colin Stuart and Derek MacKenzie.
Weaknesses: 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. Team toughness is an issue, though the acquisition of Valabik did help a lot in that area.
Top Prospects: Kari Lehtonen (G), Braydon Coburn (D), Boris Valabik (D), Jim Slater (F), Jim Sharrow.
Not Eligible: Garnet Exelby, Francis Lessard, Ilya Kovalchuk, Dany Heatley due to career NHL games played.

7. New York Rangers (29)

Strengths: Aggressively dumping over-priced veterans at the trade deadline enabled GM Glen Sather to completely restock his prospect system with several impact players. Add in two first round picks and multiple second round selections from June’s draft and the Rangers are a completely different franchise from six months ago. There is at least one top ranked player at every position with the exception of center, but in place of one stud in the middle there are instead several players with top 2 potential. The Rangers have scorers like Josef Balej, players with size like Hugh Jessiman, defensive specialists such as Dwight Helminen as well as two top-rated netminders in Al Montoya and Henrik Lundqvist.
Weaknesses: To find a flaw in this now deep pool of prospects one would have to look strictly at potential. A few key individuals like Nigel Dawes, Brandon Dubinsky and Roman Psurny have great promise but could also face more than their share of obstacles in attaining that potential.
Top Prospects: Al Montoya (G), Hugh Jessiman (F), Fedor Tjutin (D), Josef Balej (F).
Not Eligible: Jamie Lundmark due to career NHL games played.

6. Nashville Predators (14)

Strengths: The Nashville Predators have a very solid foundation that starts on the blue line. While the defense boasts the likes of Ryan Suter, Kevin Klein and Shea Weber, Nashville’s forwards are equally as impressive, highlighted by snipers Alexander Radulov, Konstantin Glazachev and Timofei Shishkanov, as well as character forwards such as Scottie Upshall and Brandon Segal. The organization possesses a strong combination of defense, offense, talent and grit.
Weaknesses: If the Nashville Predators have one weakness, it would be goaltending. The Predators lack a true potential No. 1 goaltender, with only injury-prone Brian Finley coming close to that claim. The organization also lacks top flight centermen.
Top Prospects: Ryan Suter (D), Scottie Upshall (F), Timofei Shishkanov (F), Alexander Radulov (F), Shea Weber (D).
Not Eligible: Dan Hamhuis, Adam Hall and Jordin Tootoo due to career NHL games played.

5. Montreal Canadiens (1)

Strengths: Montreal’s forward corps is the organization’s best asset. Responsible two-way forwards like Chris Higgins, Maxime Lapierre and Kyle Chipchura balance offensive players like Andrei Kostsitsyn, Tomas Plekanec and Alex Perezhogin. They have players who have yet to realize their potential, like Marcel Hossa, and some riskier players, such as Cory Urquhart and Corey Locke. Yann Danis and Jaroslav Halak give the Canadiens stability on their goaltending depth chart. Ron Hainsey also still has a good shot at being a NHL player sooner rather than later.
Weaknesses: The bulk of Montreal’s defensemen are more likely to be marginal NHLers or career minor leaguers. Ryan O’Byrne and Konstantin Korneev are the best of the bunch and both would likely max out as third pairing players. Ron Hainsey and Marcel Hossa, both drafted in the first round in 2000, have so far struggled to make a permanent home in the NHL. Perezhogin’s year-long suspension from the AHL may or may not have lasting ramifications on his development.
Top Prospects: Chris Higgins (F), Marcel Hossa (F), Andrei Kostsitsyn (F), Alex Perezhogin (F), Ron Hainsey (D).
Not Eligible: Michael Ryder and Mike Komisarek due to career NHL games played.

4. Edmonton Oilers (3)

Strengths: The dominant feature of Edmonton’s prospect system is its depth; each position boasts talent that projects to varying levels of NHL success. The Oilers were once thin down the middle and also in net, but both positions have been replenished in recent years to the point that they are now both strengths. Up front the Oilers are led by dynamic playmaker Rob Schremp not to mention high-potential pivots Marc-Antoine Pouliot and Jesse Niinimaki. The blueline boasts no less than three exceptional rearguards in Jeff Woywitka, Doug Lynch and Matt Greene. Edmonton is protected between the pipes by a pair of future starters beginning with Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers and ending with Devan Dubnyk.
Weaknesses: Despite the number of players the Oilers have in their stable, a true No. 1 defenseman is still a glaring need. Also, many of the high talented forwards come with question marks because of injuries or competition for jobs.
Top Prospects: Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers (G), Rob Schremp (F), Jeff Woywitka (D), Marc-Antoine Pouliot (F), Jesse Niinimaki (F).
Not Eligible: Ales Hemsky, Jarret Stoll, Raffi Torres and Alexei Semenov due to career NHL games played.

3. Chicago Blackhawks (17)

Strengths: Headlining the impressively deep and well-rounded Blackhawks stable of prospects is the third overall pick from the 2004 draft, Cam Barker, who projects to be a top pairing defenseman with lots of offensive upside. Two other top defenseman, Anton Babchuk and Brent Seabrook both project to be top 4 players. Babchuk in particular has an intriguing combination of size and skill, and should be in the Hawks lineup fulltime soon. At forward, a trio of Russians in Igor Radulov, Mikhail Yakubov, and Pavel Vorobiev are all NHL ready, and any one of them could have a future on a scoring line. The supporting cast includes solid prospects like David Bolland, James Wisniewski, Jakub Sindel and Colin Fraser.
Weaknesses: Corey Crawford, Craig Anderson and Mike Brodeur are a trio of capable netminders, but if Chicago is lacking anything it is a true and clear-cut, future starter between the pipes.
Top Prospects: Cam Barker (D), Anton Babchuk (D), Pavel Vorobiev (F), Brent Seabrook (D), Craig Anderson (G).
Not Eligible: Mark Bell, Tuomo Ruutu and Travis Moen due to career NHL games played.

2. Pittsburgh Penguins (9)

Strengths: While the future face of the franchise seemed to be goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury a year ago, Pittsburgh’s 2004 first rounder, center Evgeni Malkin now challenges for that title. Beyond those two players still lies an impressive crop. The duo of Ryan Whitney and Noah Welch represent the top pair of blueline prospects on the club, both of whom figure to be top four defensemen. Whitney, the fifth overall pick in 2002, has not progressed quite as well as the Penguins scouts had hoped, but there is still potential here. Behind Fleury is Andy Chiodo who played eight games for the Penguins in 2003-04. With potential role players like Maxime Talbot, Colby Armstrong, and Ben Eaves, and a couple of highly thought of European scorers like Sergei Anshakov, and Johannes Salmonsson, the Penguins have displayed a knack for finding good players past the first round.
Weaknesses: Although talented, Pittsburgh’s wingers are not sure NHLers. Also, because of the immediate need of help on the NHL roster, there is the risk of rushing some players into roles that they are not yet ready for.
Top Prospects: Marc-Andre Fleury (G), Evgeni Malkin (F), Ryan Whitney (D), Noah Welch (D), Sergei Anshakov (F).
Not Eligible: Ryan Malone, Milan Kraft, Rico Fata, Konstantin Koltsov, Tomas Surovy, Brooks Orpik and Kris Beech due to career NHL games played.

1. Washington Capitals (2)

Strengths: The Capitals performed a major upgrade to their prospect depth at the 2004 NHL trade deadline by acquiring forwards Jared Aulin, Jakub Klepis and Tomas Fleischmann, as well as defenseman Shaone Morrisonn. At the June Entry Draft the Caps added first-round defensemen Jeff Schultz and Mike Green but the most significant recruit was Alexander Ovechkin who some have already declared as possibly the best Russian prospect ever drafted. Another area of obvious strength is goaltending. Top prospect Maxime Ouellet heads the list of potential NHL masked men, and behind him are Maxime Daigneault, and the emerging Ratislav Stana. Beyond Ovechkin, the Capitals have several other forwards who have great potential for the NHL. 2003 first round draft choice Eric Fehr could become a terrific sniper, while Alexander Semin is another very skilled offensive winger.
Weaknesses: Defense is one area of concern for the Capitals. Beyond Steve Eminger and Shaone Morrisonn, there are a few that are surefire NHLers but most are years away from contributing.
Top Prospects: Alexander Ovechkin (F), Alexander Semin (F), Maxime Ouellet (G), Steve Eminger (D), Eric Fehr (F).
Not Eligible: Josef Boumedienne due to age.

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