Hockey's Future presents the top grouping of the Fall NHL Team Rankings. The staff's ranking of each NHL team's system is based on the strength of the entire prospect pool. 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 this ranking meant to represent the state of the prospect pools in the early stages of the 2013-14 season.
The lockout-shortened 2012-13 season left a number of established NHL players entering the 2013-14 season with 15-20 games left to meet the 65-game threshold. As the NHL season now approaches the quarter pole, a number of NHL players were graduated to better reflect the team's prospect pools moving forward.
The Tampa Bay Lightning lead the fall rankings with a prospect pool that not only boasts blue-chip talent like Jonathan Drouin and Andrey Vasilevskiy, but quality depth. The Lightning are also the beneficiaries of good drafting and player development, and currently have seven prospects contributing at the NHL level.
1. Tampa Bay Lightning
Strengths: The Tampa Bay Lightning feature elite talent and depth at forward and in goal. All eyes are on KHL goalie Andrey Vasilevskiy, but the Lightning have other strong goaltending prospects in Jaroslav Janus and Adam Wilcox. Jonathan Drouin headlines a diverse and skilled group of forwards. The system is also flush with prospects who are already contributing in the NHL, including forwards Alex Killorn, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, and Richard Panik, as well as defensemen Radko Gudas, Andrej Sustr, and Mark Barberio.
The Lightning have other intriguing prospects further down the pipeline, including Vladislav Namestnikov, Tanner Richard, Matthew Peca, and Henri Ikonen. Special attention should also be given to prospect Nikita Kucherov, who has been nothing short of sensational since coming to North America last season.
Weaknesses: The Lightning do not have a lot of top-flight center in the system. The group is, on whole, not all that big, either. The defense is lacking in high-end talent as well, at least compared to what they have on wing and in net.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Jonathan Drouin, C/W; 2. Andrey Vasilevskiy, G; 3. Vladislav Namestnikov, C; 4. Nikita Kucherov, RW; 5. Slater Koekkoek, D.
Key Additions: Jonathan Drouin (2013), Adam Erne (2013), Henri Ikonen (2013).
Strengths: The Buffalo Sabres have a stacked prospect group that will help their rebuild at the NHL level over the next few years. The team added 11 newly drafted prospects, including two towering physical defensemen in Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov. Their talent pool is extremely deep at the center, defense, and goaltending positions. The organization has many prospects already playing in the NHL, led by forwards Zemgus Girgensons, Johan Larsson, and Mikhail Grigorenko.
Weakness: Buffalo is not especially deep with natural wingers, particularly on the left side. The organization also lacks an elite, goal-scoring forward. Though many of their top prospects are already playing in the NHL, it will still take some time for them to reach their potential.
Key Losses: Riley Boychuk (trade-NJD).
3. Anaheim Ducks
Strengths: After years of solid drafting, the Ducks own one of the best all-around prospect systems currently out there. They are headlined by numerous top-level players like John Gibson, Hampus Lindholm, and Emerson Etem, while still having a collection of second-tier players who also have considerable upside. Frederik Andersen has proven to be a solid goaltender in the NHL while defenseman Sami Vatanen is also vying for more time on the Ducks roster. Further down the line, there are players like Nicolas Kerdiles, Shea Theodore, Rickard Rakell, and William Karlsson, who all have NHL potential. With relatively solid top-tier talent and a great mix of mid-level talent, the Ducks are looking at a very strong system overall.
Weaknesses: The Ducks are weak in natural left wingers, with the only one being Max Friberg. That being said they do have a number of right wingers capable of shifting over, but it is not their natural position and that transition can be problematic for some. They could use a little more depth on the defensive side, as there is a talent drop off after the four spot.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Jakob Silfverberg, RW; 2. Hampus Lindholm, D; 3. John Gibson, G; 4. Emerson Etem, RW; 5. Sami Vatanen, D.
Key Additions: Shea Theodore (2013), Nick Sorensen (2013), Jakob Silfverberg (trade-OTT), Stefan Noesen (trade-OTT).
4. Dallas Stars
Strengths: The Stars and new GM Jim Nill own one of the deepest and most complete prospect pools in the league. Both wings feature plenty of size and skill with Valeri Nichushkin, Alex Chiasson, and Brett Ritchie leading the way. The blue line has a lot of intriguing upside and has been further supplemented with recent trades. The organization owns a multitude of quality prospects at every position who are able to fill a number of different roles at the NHL level.
Weaknesses: The center position is a known concern within the organization and they are actively addressing it. Dallas possesses a lot of depth on the back line, but it is still unclear who is going to really make a major impact at the NHL level now that Brenden Dillon has graduated. There are some high profile prospects who management hopes will take a dramatic step forward in their development, similar to how Brett Ritchie did a couple years ago.
Strengths: The New York Islanders own one of the largest groups of defensive prospects in the entire NHL. They do not just have quantity along the blue line, either, as Matt Donovan, Griffin Reinhart, Ville Pokka, Ryan Pulock, and Scott Mayfield all project as top-four defensemen in the NHL.
Up front, the team is led by Ryan Strome, who is currently heading the attack for the Islanders' AHL affiliate in Bridgeport. After Strome, the team appears confident that Brock Nelson has a future in the NHL as a top-nine forward. Anders Lee is another prospect who possesses good NHL potential.
Weaknesses: With so many young forwards joining the Islanders in recent years, and with the team's overall emphasis on drafting defensemen, the forward ranks are looking thin at the moment. Swedes Johan Sundstrom and Viktor Crus Rydberg are considered to be very promising but are long-term projects. Goaltending remains an issue as well, with Kevin Poulin and Anders Nilsson struggling at the professional level. The organization has taken some measures to address their depth in net but remains years away from reaping any potential benefits.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Ryan Strome, C; 2. Griffin Reinhart, D; 3. Ryan Pulock, D; 4. Brock Nelson, C/LW; 5. Matt Donovan, D.
Strengths: The Florida Panthers have stockpiled a large amount of high draft picks over the past several seasons, many of which are just breaking into the NHL. They are particularly deep at center, with Aleksander Barkov, Nick Bjugstad, Drew Shore all showing they can play in the NHL. They also have good talent along the wings, with players such as Christopher Clapperton and Quinton Howden possessing top-six potential. The organization has solid depth on defense, led by NCAA blueliners Mike Matheson and Ian McCoshen.
Weaknesses: Though the Panthers have good defensive depth, none of their blue line prospects can match the pedigree the organization has at forward. The organization also has fair depth in net, but has struggled to develop their goaltending prospects over the years.
Top 5 prospects: 1. Aleksander Barkov, C; 2. Nick Bjugstad, C; 3. Drew Shore, C; 4. Alex Petrovic, D; 5. Quinton Howden, LW.
Key Additions: Aleksander Barkov (2013), Ian McCoshen (2013), Christopher Clapperton (2013).
Strengths: The Minnesota Wild's biggest strength is the quantity of players who are NHL-ready. The organization has particularly good forward depth, led by Mikael Granlund and Charlie Coyle. Even as Jonas Brodin has graduated, the Wild continue to have a deep and talented group of defensive prospects. The goaltending pipeline is also solid, with Darcy Kuemper and Johan Gustafsson playing well at the professional level.
Weaknesses: With most of the Wild's top prospects playing at the NHL level this season, there is naturally going to be a lack of elite potential throughout the organization's farm system. The talent pool is shallow on both wings as well.
Key Losses: Jonas Brodin (graduation*), Nino Niederreiter (graduation).
Strengths: The forward depth for the Columbus Blue Jackets is as strong as it has been in years. Leading up front is big center Boone Jenner, who is already making an impact in the NHL as a rookie. Further down the line are 2013 NHL Draft picks Kerby Rychel and Alexander Wennberg, both of whom project as quality NHL players. After them, the system features a number of skilled forwards to take note of, namely Marko Dano, Oliver Bjorkstrand, and the undersized Jonathan Marchessault.
The organization also has a vast stable of defensive prospects, with Ryan Murray, David Savard, and Dalton Prout all currently playing in the NHL. The team also remains very high on Tim Erixon and Cody Goloubef as long-term NHL options.
Weaknesses: Aside from Jenner and Rychel, the Blue Jackets do not have many forward prospects with size and toughness. Though the Jackets have some intriguing goaltending prospects in Oscar Dansk, Joonas Korpisalo, Martin Ouellette, and Anton Forsberg, all are still a couple years away from being considered viable NHL goaltenders.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Ryan Murray, D; 2. Boone Jenner, C/W; 3. Kerby Rychel, LW; 4. Tim Erixon, D; 5. Alexander Wennberg, C.
Key Additions: Alexander Wennberg (2013), Kerby Rychel (2013), Marko Dano (2013), Oliver Bjorkstrand (2013), Ilari Melart (UFA).
Key Losses: Cam Atkinson (graduation).
Strengths: The Red Wings regularly fill their prospect pool with quality talent despite frequently picking late in the NHL Draft. They take a slow and steady approach to their player development and allow their prospects to develop at their own pace in the minor leagues.
The Wings have a potpourri of talented forwards. Forwards Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar are both ready for NHL duties after spending several years in the minors. Highly-touted Swede Calle Jarnkrok has joined the Wings AHL affiliate after several excellent seasons in Sweden. Riley Sheahan and Tomas Jurco both finished their 2012-13 seasons strongly, and appear to have taken the next step in their development. Not to be forgotten up front are the likes of Teemu Pulkkinen, Martin Frk, and Landon Ferraro, all of whom are felt to have strong NHL potential at some point in the future.
Weaknesses: Goaltending continues to be one of the thinner organizational areas, even if Petr Mrazek is seen as a top NHL goaltending prospect after having guided Grand Rapids to the Calder Cup championship last spring. Jake Paterson is considered by some to be quite the battler, but his statistics have not yet pointed towards him having an NHL future.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Anthony Mantha, LW; 2. Gustav Nyquist, LW; 3. Petr Mrazek, G; 4. Tomas Tatar, LW; 5. Calle Jarnkrok, C.
Strengths: Even with Brandon Saad graduated to the NHL, the Blackhawks forward prospects pack an offensive punch with Teuvo Teravainen and Brandon Pirri among a deep and talented group of center prospects. Mark McNeill and Phillip Danault are not far behind them in terms of skill and each brings a smart, well-rounded game to the table as well. Ryan Hartman and John Hayden are two of the five forwards drafted by Chicago in 2013 that have mitigated the impact of the team's graduations in recent years. The defense also remains a strength. Adam Clendening is an offensive force in the AHL and Notre Dame senior Stephen Johns is a standout prospect with a nasty physical game.
Weaknesses: Antti Raanta may be the best goaltending prospect the Chicago pipeline has seen since Corey Crawford and Antti Niemi platooned in AHL Rockford during the 2008-09 season. Still, Raanta and the other pro goalies, Kent Simpson and Mac Carruth, are still largely unproven in the AHL. Many of the Blackhawks center prospects could slot in on the wing, but the system lacks depth in terms of natural wingers on either side.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Teuvo Teravainen, C; 2. Adam Clendening, D; 3. Phillip Danault, C; 4. Mark McNeill, C; 5. Brandon Pirri, C.
Key Additions: Antti Raanta (UFA), Ryan Hartman (2013), Carl Dahlstrom (2013), John Hayden (2013).
Key Losses: Brandon Saad (graduation*).
*Denotes prospect who, although short of 65 NHL regular season games played, was considered graduated to the NHL for the purposes of this ranking.
Follow Hockey's Future on Twitter via @HockeysFuture