Team Rankings: Columbus Blue Jackets feature improved prospect pool after busy off-season

By HF Staff

Ryan Murray - Columbus Blue Jackets

Photo: Though the Columbus Blue Jackets added several important prospects this past off-season, none were more prominent than defenseman Ryan Murray, who was selected second overall in the 2012 NHL Draft. (Derek Leung/Getty Images)

Below is the bottom third of the NHL Team Rankings 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, with the second scheduled to be published in the Spring.

The bottom third of the rankings consists of a diverse group of teams. Some of the bottom-ranked teams are successfully run organizations who simply have shallow prospect pools, or have recently graduated or traded some of their top prospects. There are other organizations however that sit among the bottom third of the rankings because of their inability to properly identify and develop young talent.

21. Columbus Blue Jackets
Strengths: Defense is undoubtedly the biggest strength of the Columbus pipeline, especially with the addition of 2012 second overall pick Ryan Murray. Along with the likes of David Savard and Tim Erixon, the big club should have an influx of defensive prospects when the NHL resumes. Columbus also has skill at forward, with both Cam Atkinson and Matt Calvert already having spent time in the NHL. Goaltending depth was addressed at the 2012 draft with the selections of Oscar Dansk and Joonas Korpisalo.

Weaknesses: While the Jackets possess skill at the forward positions, there is not much in the way of size among the top prospects. The likes of Seth Ambroz or Dalton Smith are potential power forwards, but many of the more skilled forwards are undersized.

Top 5 Prospects: 1. Ryan Murray, D; 2. David Savard, D; 3. Tim Erixon, D; 4. Oscar Dansk, G; 5. T.J. Tynan, C.

Added: Tim Erixon, Jonathan Audy-Marchessault.

22. Los Angeles Kings
Strengths: The 2012 draft class bolstered the Kings' depth on the wings, particularly at the pro level with former OHL star Tanner Pearson making his pro debut in 2012-13. Derek Forbort and Jake Muzzin each project as dependable NHL defenseman, but are not likely to be the same level of players that the system has produced in the past. Tyler Toffoli and Andrei Loktionov are both skilled forwards who could one day push for roster spots in Los Angeles in scoring roles.

Weaknesses: Trades and graduations have left Los Angeles with little in the way of blue-chip talent. For a prospect pool that contributed so heavily to the Stanley Cup run, with players like Dwight King and Jordan Nolan, there are few prospects ready for NHL duty who project as impact players at the top level.

Top 5 Prospects: 1. Tyler Toffoli, C; 2. Andrei Loktionov, C; 3. Tanner Pearson, LW; 4. Derek Forbort, D; 5. Jake Muzzin, D.

Lost to Graduation: Slava Voynov.

Added: Kurtis MacDermid.

23. Calgary Flames
Strengths: After years of poor draft selections, trading away draft picks, and bad player development, the Flames have slowly improved their organizational depth and talent pool over the last few years. Calgary has added some high end talent at the center and the left wing while acquiring and developing more depth and versatile prospects. The Flames also have a very good stock of young goaltenders.

Weaknesses: Calgary has no highly skilled prospects at right wing nor does the organization have any prospects in the CHL, NCAA, or Europe at that position. The Flames' defensive depth is okay but nothing to get excited over. The organization lacks an impactful, puck-moving defenseman.

Top 5 Prospects: 1. Sven Baertschi, LW; 2. T.J. Brodie, D; 3. Max Reinhart, C; 4. John Gaudreau, LW; 5. Mark Jankowski, C.

24. San Jose Sharks
Strengths: The Sharks have a good variety of defensemen in the prospect system, led by Matt Tennyson, Taylor Doherty, and Dylan DeMelo. The Sharks have used good scouting at the NCAA level over the last few years and finally made the use of their full draft selections to improve their overall talent pool this past off-season.

Weaknesses: The Sharks having been contenders for a long time in the Western Conference and have traded away many draft choices, leaving the organization lacking in high-end prospects. Among the forward prospects, only Tomas Hertl has impact potential. The rest of the forwards are possible role or depth players with some offensive talents and upside if they can develop into NHL talent. The Sharks have too many high risk to reward type prospects at every position that are still a few years away from possibly playing at the NHL level.

Top 5 Prospects: 1. Tomas Hertl C; 2. Freddie Hamilton, C; 3. Matt Nieto, RW; 4. Tommy Wingels, C; 5. Travis Oleksuk, C.

25. Carolina Hurricanes
Strengths: Ryan Murphy gives the Hurricanes a true offensive talent from the back end. The defensive corps in general is a strong point in the organization, with solid prospects such as Danny Biega and Mark Alt leading the way. Up front there are a few players who look like NHL regulars, although it is difficult to spot a star in their midst. Zac Dalpe has NHL experience, and Victor Rask could become the best scorer of the bunch but he is still a long way from the NHL roster. Jeremy Welsh signed with the Hurricanes over the summer after ending his NCAA career and adds skill and depth to the group of forwards.

Weaknesses: Carolina has a gaping hole on the right wing. The top prospect on the right side, Evgeni Dadonov, looks like he may never return to North America after heading back to his native Russia, and the rest of the crew are marginal NHL prospects, at best. The system's lack of a true goal-scorer is a problem, as is the dearth of goaltending talent. Daniel Altshuller is enjoying a fine season of junior hockey in the net for Oshawa, but the 2012 draft pick is years away from making an impact in the big leagues.

Top 5 Prospects: 1. Ryan Murphy, D; 2. Victor Rask, C; 3. Jeremy Welsh, LW; 4. Zac Dalpe, C; 5. Phil Di Giuseppe, LW.

Lost to Trade: Brian Dumoulin.

26. Vancouver Canucks
Strengths: Defense is the strength of the Canucks' organization. Kevin Connauton and Chris Tanev already have plenty of professional experience under their belts while Patrick McNally, Frank Corrado, and Henrik Tommernes develop at lower levels of play. Although quality forward prospects are small in number, players like Nicklas Jensen, Zack Kassian, and Brendan Gaunce project as good fits in the Canucks' lineup and bring a variety of skills to the table. Eddie Lack is among the top goaltending prospects in the AHL and could see time with the NHL club if the Canucks have a spot open up in the crease.

Weaknesses: The Canucks' organization lacks overall depth behind the top tier of prospects. Left wing is especially weak with little in the way of potential top-nine contributors at the NHL level. Goaltending is also very not deep, with only Eddie Lack and Joe Cannata as conceivable options for the organization.

Top 5 Prospects: 1. Nicklas Jensen, RW; 2. Zack Kassian, RW; 3. Eddie Lack, G; 4. Jordan Schroeder, C; 5. Brendan Gaunce, C.

27. New Jersey Devils
Strengths: The Devils' blue line is deep and quite sturdy. Jon Merrill, when on the on the ice, is a terrific prospect, while Alexander Urbom, Eric Gelinas, Brandon Burlon, and Reece Scarlett continue to round out their respective games at a high level. The defense might be around a half-dozen deep with regular NHL players in the next few seasons. The Devils have begun to rebuild their forward depth a bit, led by sniper Reid Boucher and power forward Stefan Matteau. New Jersey never seems to be too short on industrious depth forwards.

Weaknesses: While the forward depth is making improvements, it is still very weak. There is only one natural right winger in the organization in Mike Sislo, an undersized, undrafted free agent out of New Hampshire. The Devils also have issues in net. Scott Wedgewood shows some promise, but Maxime Clermont and Keith Kinkaid are not setting the globe aflame.

Top 5 Prospects: 1. Jon Merrill, D; 2. Scott Wedgewood, G; 3. Alexander Urbom, D; 4. Eric Gelinas, D; 5. Damon Severson, D.
Added: Harri Pesonen.

28. Colorado Avalanche
Strengths: The strength of the Avalanche lies on the blue line. With four quality prospects in Stefan Elliott, Duncan Siemens, Tyson Barrie, and Cameron Gaunce, Colorado should be set for some time on defense. Behind them, Calvin Pickard and Sami Aittokallio have a good amount of upside in a solid, if somewhat unspectacular, goaltending corps. Down the middle, Colorado boasts a nice group of sturdy, two-way forwards.

Weaknesses: The overall pool is very shallow and the Avalanche might be wise to stock up on some draft picks to replenish their reserves. On the wing, the Avalanche have very little to look forward to in terms of both quantity and quality. Joey Hishon's concussion issues further weaken a forward group already lacking in skill.

Top 5 Prospects: 1. Stefan Elliott, D; 2. Duncan Siemens, D; 3. Tyson Barrie, D; 4. Calvin Pickard, G; 5. Cameron Gaunce, D.

29. Winnipeg Jets
Strengths: The Jets have been methodically rebuilding their organization after years of having either lottery draft picks that ascended quickly to the NHL ranks or other picks that never panned out. Center Mark Scheifele, the first pick taken by the team after moving to Winnipeg, gives the system a surefire NHL forward, and Jacob Trouba adds top-end talent to the blue line. The Jets have some gritty, two-way types in Carl Klingberg and Spencer Machacek, as well as a bit of tough-nosed scoring in Ivan Telegin.

Weaknesses: The system lacks goaltending talent and depth. Ed Pasquale shows potential to become a solid NHL backup who could help carry the load. Behind him, however, are several projects who show the spark of talent, but all have holes in their games which will need filling before they will have a legitimate shot at an NHL job. The system as a whole lacks depth, and beyond Scheifele and Trouba, there are no real standouts in the group.

Top 5 Prospects: 1. Mark Scheifele, C; 2. Jacob Trouba, D; 3. Ivan Telegin, LW; 4. Paul Postma, D; 5. Carl Klingberg, LW.

30. Philadelphia Flyers
Strengths: The Flyers have numerous checking line forwards such as Eric Wellwood, Ben Holmstrom, and Harry Zolnierczyk who are ready for full-time NHL duties. The organization also has several defenseman, Erik Gustafsson, Marc-Andre Bourdon, and Brandon Manning, who also appear ready to contribute at the NHL level.

Weaknesses: Though they have substantial defensive depth, none of the defensemen project right now as top four defensemen. Outside of Scott Laughton and Nick Cousins, none of the Flyers forwards possess substantial offensive upside. Goaltending continues to be a concern as well.

Top 5 Prospects: 1. Scott Laughton, C; 2. Nick Cousins, C; 3. Erik Gustafsson, D; 4. Marc-Andre Bourdon, D; 5. Brandon Manning, D.

Lost to Graduation: Brayden Schenn.