Hockey’s Future Spring 2006 Organizational Rankings (1-15)

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 rank is given, and strengths and weaknesses are identified. The rankings are compiled twice a year by a committee of staff members using Hockey’s Future prospect criteria. Teams ranked 16-30 can be found here. For information on individual prospects for each of the NHL teams, please visit the various team, league, or country pages here at Hockey’s Future.

15. Ottawa Senators

Strengths: From top prospect Ray Emery, to reigning CHL Goaltender of the Year Jeff Glass and Hobey Baker candidate Brian Elliott, Ottawa is strong in goal. In total, five goaltenders rank in their top 20. Overall there is a good range of players, with top prospects at all different positions, and of different styles as well. Because the Senators draft with a focus on upside, there are a number of talented depth prospects as well such as Ilya Zubov and Vitaly Anikeyenko. With the exception of Brian Lee, all of the club’s top prospects are either in the NHL or ready to play at that level, meaning absent an outstanding 2006 draft, graduation will likely hurt the club’s ranking in the near future.
Weaknesses: While there is strong depth, there is no true elite prospect left in the stable. There is no true power forward either, although Eaves lacks only the size to fit the bill. Most of the other top forward prospects are not known for their grit. Finally, there has to be some concern that a good portion of the Senators top prospects are from Russia, including Alexei Kaigorodov, Igor Mirnov and Kirill Lyamin. Without a transfer agreement, bringing players over from Russia is a risky and complicated proposition.
Top Five Prospects: Ray Emery (G), Patrick Eaves (RW), Brian Lee (D), Alexei Kaigorodov (C), Christoph Schubert (D)
Key Graduates: Andrej Meszaros (D), Antoine Vermette (C)

14. Detroit Red Wings

Strengths: Finesse is a word used in the description of the style of play of the Detroit Red Wings and their prospects are no different. Niklas Kronwall, Igor Grigorenko, Valteri Filppula and Jiri Hudler all possess good skill and soft hands. In goal, Jimmy Howard is a projected No. 1 goalie and in brief NHL appearances has not disappointed the Detroit brass. On defense, Jakub Kindl has good skills, but is still raw. Filppula is an underrated playmaker.
Weaknesses: Size and grit are two deficiencies in the organization. Kronwall,
Grigorenko, Filppula and Hudler are all under 6’0 tall and there are no power forwards or prize defensive forwards in the upper echelon of the depth chart. There also are no defensive or gritty defensemen on the horizon. All in all, this collection is quite boom or bust. Depth in goal is also a concern, with only Howard in the top 20.
Top Five Prospects: Niklas Kronwall (D), Igor Grigorenko (RW), Jimmy Howard (G), Valtteri Filppula (C), Jakub Kindl (D)
Key Graduates: Johan Franzen (C)

13. Edmonton Oilers

Strengths: Since Doug Weight left Edmonton, the Oilers have not had a bona fide No. 1 offensive center and the team’s drafting has been desperately trying to fill that organizational need. The top three prospects are now at center. Robbie Schremp has spent the season proving his offensive mastery in the OHL while Andrew Cogliano and Marc Antoine Pouliot have continued their development in the NCAA) and AHL respectively. The Oilers also have the benefit of having quality prospects at all positions with Devan Dubnyk and Jeff Deslauriers patrolling the nets and Matt Greene, Taylor Chorney and Tom Gilbert strong blue line prospects.
Weaknesses: What the Oilers have lacked is the strong development of the prospects they already have. Robbie Schremp’s skating has again been questioned, while Marc Antoine Pouliot has battled injury and consistency. Jeff Deslauriers has had up and down seasons over the last two years and not performed in a way that gives the Oilers confidence in him as a future starter. There are a lot of question marks surrounding virtually all on the list.
Top Five Prospects: Robbie Schremp (C), Andrew Cogliano (C), Marc Antoine Pouliot (C), Devan Dubnyk (G), Matt Greene (D)
Key Graduates: None

12. New York Islanders

Strengths: With recent additions of Jeff Tambellini and Denis Grebeshkov from Los
Angeles, the Islanders have more strengths than weaknesses. The blue line is very strong with Grebeshkov, Chris Campoli, Bruno Gervais. The second tier on the blue line is also solid with Dustin Kohn and Wes O’Neill both developing well. Skilled forwards Tambellini, Robert Nilsson complement two-way forwards such as Ryan O’Marra, Sean Bergenheim, Petteri Nokelainen and Blake Comeau. The list of quality prospects in the organization is very deep.
Weaknesses: If anything were to ever happen to Rick DiPietro, the Islanders would
have to make an immediate trade because there is no depth in the organization in goal. There are no goaltending prospects that project higher than the minor league level, which means not only is there no heir apparent for Rick DiPietro, there is no heir apparent for Garth Snow.
Top Five Prospects: Robert Nilsson (LW), Petteri Nokelainen (LW), Ryan O’Marra (C), Jeff Tambellini (LW), Denis Grebeshkov (D)
Key Graduates: Chris Campoli (D)

11. Nashville Predators

Strengths: Even with the graduation of Ryan Suter from the Nashville Predators prospect list, the organization still has several blueliners who could make an NHL impact. Shea Weber leads the way with Kevin Klein, Ryan Parent and Teemu Laakso all looking to make waves at the highest level. Alexander Radulov won the CHL scoring race with an incredible 152 points including a 50-game point-scoring streak.
Weaknesses: The Predators need to improve everything other than the blue line. As
a young organization, the team has had to promote their prospects quickly. The Predators have also had trouble drafting offensive prospects so the future does not hold any offensive dynamos past Radulov. Pekka Rinne is the only goaltender in the organization who holds much promise and the Predators would be wise to improve that depth as well.
Top Five Prospects: Shea Weber (D), Scottie Upshall (RW), Alexander Radulov (RW), Pekka Rinne (G), Ryan Parent (D)
Key Graduates: Ryan Suter (D)

10. Carolina Hurricanes

Strengths: The ‘Canes system is in the best shape it’s been in years thanks to the 2005 draft lottery and landing blue chip defenseman Jack Johnson as well as the acquisition of Anton Babchuk from Chicago. Andrew Ladd has played some games at the NHL level this season. In goal, they have three netminders who are projected to be capable of starting in the NHL including Cam Ward, who is already showing he is nearly there this season, Kevin Nastiuk, and Justin Peters. The system also boasts a number of capable defensemen like Casey Borer.
Weaknesses: Outside of their top 10 prospects the ‘Canes have a significant drop off in NHL potential, and they have only two forwards in that top 10 (Ladd and Chad LaRose). One of the reasons for the drop off was that financial considerations led to the team letting many of its prospects go, and they no longer have a sole AHL or ECHL affiliate. As a whole, the pipeline severely lacks depth at every position but goal.
Top Five Prospects: Jack Johnson (D), Cam Ward (G), Andrew Ladd (LW), Anton
Babchuk (D), Kevin Nastiuk (G)
Key Graduates: None

9. Atlanta Thrashers

Strengths: The strengths of the Thrashers prospect pool lie in goaltending and defense. Between the pipes, Kari Lehtonen and Ondrej Pavelec are both starter-caliber and the OHL’s top goaltender, Dan Turple provides depth. Braydon Coburn leads a strong group of defensive prospects including Mark Popovic, Boris Valabik, Nathan Oystrick, and Grant Lewis. Nine of the top 20 prospects play at this position. Up front, Alex Bourret finished the year within the top ten scoring leaders in the QMJHL and Jim Slater’s all-weather game has been a welcome addition to the Thrasher lineup. Having four picks in the first two rounds of the 2005 draft helped restock the cupboard in all areas.
Weaknesses: Though there are some potential top six forward prospects like Bourret, Tomas Pospisil, and Chad Painchaud, none belong to the center position. Once Slater graduates, this will become a very weak position that will have to be addressed in the upcoming draft. In addition, the blue line, although deep, lacks an elite offensive defenseman.
Top Five Prospects: Kari Lehtonen (G), Braydon Coburn (D), Alex Bourret (RW), Ondrej Pavelec (G), Mark Popovic (D)
Key Graduates: None

8. Columbus Blue Jackets

Strengths: Columbus boasts a strong collection of talented forwards with nice offensive upside and strong physical presence. The graduation of Zherdev could not put a damper on the talent in this group. Brule is among the top forwards playing in the CHL this season and provides the future top-line playmaker. Picard is gritty and gifted, while Pineault crashes the net and bangs along the boards. Leclaire has finally begun to emerge as the heir apparent to Marc Denis between the pipes, with Popperle and Lacosta having promising seasons. Defensive depth is also a great strength for the Jackets, with numerous two-way options on the point.
Weaknesses: While the Jackets are strong in offensive-minded defensemen with Russell, Johnson and Wharton, a solid two-way defenseman in Tollefson, and a quality stay-at-homer in McQuaid, they still lack a top pairing defender to complement Klesla in the future. None of their top five prospects are on defense.
Top Five Prospects: Gilbert Brule (C), Pascal Leclaire (G), Alexandre Picard (LW), Dan Fritsche (C), Adam Pineault (RW)
Key Graduates: Nikolai Zherdev (RW)

7. Washington Capitals

Strengths: The Capitals have several forwards who have great potential for the NHL. Alexander Semin is a very skilled offensive winger, although there are some questions about whether he will return to the NHL anytime soon. Eric Fehr has all the makings of a terrific sniper and Chris Bourque is adapting well to his first season in the AHL. Meanwhile, both Tomas Fleischmann and Jakub Klepis played well during their short debuts in the NHL and both have bright futures. On the blue line, Mike Green has also seen NHL time in his first professional season, while Jeff Schultz had a career year in the WHL.
Weaknesses: The prospect pool took a big hit with the graduation of not only Alexander Ovechkin, but also Steve Eminger and Shaone Morrisonn out of the top five. Overall depth is a concern. Goaltending is the weakest area for the Capitals, with Maxime Daigneault heading the list of three unremarkable goalies. It’s an area that will need to be addressed in the coming draft.
Top Five Prospects: Alexander Semin (LW), Eric Fehr (RW), Mike Green (D), Chris Bourque (C), Jakub Klepis (C)
Key Graduates: Alexander Ovechkin (LW), Steve Eminger (D), Brooks Laich (C), Shaone Morrisonn (D)

6. New York Rangers

Strengths: With a forward, a defenseman and a goaltender as their top three prospects, a key strength of the Rangers organization is their balance. From Petr Prucha’s somewhat surprising NHL impact, to Jarkko Immonen leading the AHL team in scoring to Brandon Dubinsky’s breakout season in the WHL, there’s plenty of talent up front and plenty of depth as well. Meanwhile on the blue line, Marc Staal has been so impressive since New York drafted him last summer that some are already penciling him into the NYR line-up for next season. Michael Sauer and Thomas Pock, among others, provide depth.
Weaknesses: Over the course of the 2005-06 season, four players have graduated from the prospect ranks already, with a fifth (Prucha) projected to before the end of the season. The holes revealed are on defense and between the pipes. Al Montoya is a star prospect, but the goaltending cupboard is practically bare after him. Meanwhile on the blue line, there are plenty of question marks after Staal and Sauer.
Top Five Prospects: Petr Prucha (LW), Marc Staal (D), Al Montoya (G), Jarkko Immonen (C), Nigel Dawes (RW)
Key Graduates: Henrik Lundqvist (G), Fedor Tyutin (D), Marcel Hossa (LW), Dominic Moore (C)

5. Montreal Canadiens

Strengths: Montreal’s greatest strength is their immensely talented forwards, among the best in the league. The loss of Higgins to graduation has not hurt much, which is testament to their depth. Kostitsyn, Perezhogin and Plekanec are dynamic with the puck and have impressed given their time with the big club, while Locke has been dominant on the farm. Chipchura and Latendresse, both of whom played for Canada’s World Junior squad, are also having big seasons in junior. Their goaltending is also a key strength, as Price and Danis give Montreal two potential future starting goaltenders. Price has been impressive on a bad team, while Danis played in the AHL All-Star game.
Weaknesses: With all of their offensive talent, Montreal continues to lack two things up front: size and grit. Chipchura is a strong two-way player, but he is one of the few. They also need some help on the left wing, with most of their quality prospects playing the right side or down the middle. Defense is also a bit of an issue. O’Byrne was their only quality prospect on the point before Emelin splashed onto the scene with a big season, helped in large part by a big World Junior tournament. Still, they are the only two with any real shot at the big squad in the near future.
Top Five Prospects: Alex Perezhogin (RW), Andrei Kostitsyn (RW), Carey Price (G), Tomas Plekanec (C), Kyle Chipchura (C)
Key Graduates: Chris Higgins (LW)

4. Chicago Blackhawks

Strengths: The Blackhawks have incredible depth among their prospects. The club has made an amazing eight second round picks in the past three drafts. They have used these picks in particular to acquire good players, namely Corey Crawford in 2003, David Bolland in 2004 and Michael Blunden in 2005. It is an interesting philosophy for a rebuilding team. Overall, in the past six drafts they have made an incredible 76 selections, including 17 in 2004 alone. At the top, the club has two outstanding blueliners, the offensively gifted Cam Barker and soon-to-be graduated Brent Seabrook. There has not been an elite forward prospect since Tuomo Ruutu graduated, but the list of good players up front is long.
Weaknesses: Even though the club has been rebuilding for several years now, there is certainly no Evgeni Malkin in the system. While top forward prospects Jack Skille and Pavel Vorobiev are solid players, neither are necessarily cornerstones for the franchise. One glaring weakness is in goal. After failing to produce a starting goaltender from within the system, the club attempted signed Nikolai Khabibulin last summer. It’s becoming less and less likely that Crawford or Adam Munro are going to fill that void in the future.
Top Five Prospects: Cam Barker (D), Brent Seabrook (D), Jack Skille (RW), Pavel Vorobiev (RW), Corey Crawford (G)
Key Graduates: Rene Bourque (LW), Duncan Keith (D)

3. Pittsburgh Penguins

Strengths: The Penguins recently lost Sidney Crosby and Marc-Andre Fleury off their list due to graduation, but still have Russian phenom Evgeni Malkin waiting in the wings. Ryan Whitney and Noah Welch represent the best of the blue line. Center Maxime Talbot brings a high-energy game, while Alex Goligoski brings potential as an offensive defenseman. With as well as Pittsburgh’s AHL affiliate Wilkes-Barre/Scranton is doing this year, there’s little doubt they have one of the best groups of talent in the league. Most of their forward depth is down the middle with an impressive stable of centers.
Weaknesses: The Pens weakest area is at left wing, where only a fraction of the players reside. They also lack a top-line scorer on right wing. Considering their depth at the pivot position, some of those players will no doubt need to be moved to the wing in order to make the jump to the NHL. Restocking the goaltending pipeline will be necessary in the upcoming drafts.
Top Five Prospects: Evgeni Malkin (C), Ryan Whitney (D), Noah Welch (D), Maxime Talbot (C), Colby Armstrong (RW)
Key Graduates: Sidney Crosby (C), Marc-Andre Fleury (G)

2. Minnesota Wild

Strengths: Even without A.J. Thelen, their 2004 first round draft pick, in the top five, the Wild system has blossomed into one of the best in the NHL. It features a balanced mix of skilled forwards like Patrick O’Sullivan and Roman Voloshenko as well as two-way players that are key such as Mikko Koivu. The Wild added to an already impressive group of blue line prospects when they acquired Shawn Belle from Dallas at the deadline. Meanwhile, Kurtis Foster is leading all Minnesota defensemen in scoring.
Weaknesses: When pressed to poke holes in the Wild system, one of the only weaknesses is that after Josh Harding, the Wild don’t appear to have another goaltending prospect who will be able to excel at the pro level unless WHL netminders Anton Khudobin or Kristofer Westblom develop better than expected. With such star prospects up front and in net, the Wild would do well to add a top prospect on the blue line. Thelen was thought to be that top player when he was drafted, but his likelihood of reaching that potential now is cloudy.
Top Five Prospects: Patrick O’Sullivan (C), Josh Harding (G), Roman Voloshenko (LW), Mikko Koivu (C), Benoit Pouliot (LW)
Key Graduates: Brent Burns (D), Stephane Veilleux (LW)

1. Mighty Ducks of Anaheim

Strengths: Anaheim’s prospect pipeline is headlined by an impressive trio of forwards in Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. They all have the potential to be part of the Ducks top six in a few years’ time. Behind them, Ladislav Smid has been quietly impressive in his rookie season in the AHL and forward Dustin Penner is experiencing a breakthrough year that saw his NHL debut. The Ducks have plenty of depth on the blue line with players like Brendan Mikkelson and Shane O’Brien, as well as newly acquired defenders Maxim Kondratiev and Brett Skinner.
Weaknesses: The Ducks goaltending tandem in the NHL is still relatively young, but some thought needs to be given towards the future. The Ducks were forced to sign free agents to fill the void between the pipes on their farm team. Although, at times this season, there was an overflow of Ducks defensemen both at the NHL level and in the AHL, Anaheim would benefit from another top defensive prospect. Most of the current prospects only project to be defensive types that would populate the bottom pairings. Kondratiev and Skinner help in this regard, but neither of them are a sure bet.
Top Five Prospects: Bobby Ryan (RW), Ryan Getzlaf (C), Corey Perry (RW), Ladislav Smid (D), Brendan Mikkelson (D)
Key Graduates: None

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